You’re probably here because you’ve read about the chemicals that are used in the production of mainstream mattresses, or you’ve heard about the process of “off-gassing”, and you’re now at least vaguely concerned about whether or not your mattress is slowly murdering you in your sleep.
Well, we’ve all been there.
The thing is though, when I began to research this topic on a deeper level, I slowly but surely found… nothing. And that’s really the main problem. There hasn’t been any significant study on the effects of mainstream chemical mattresses and their longterm impact on human health. Apparently, such studies would be very difficult to reliably conduct. We’re all about evidence here, and on this subject, there’s just not enough to go on, so – brace yourselves – we’re going to have to do something a bit heinous and resort to logical presumptions and intuition.
We're presented with a choice on which attitude to adopt:
Most of the human population sleeps soundly on mainstream mattresses without a second thought. So why shouldn’t we?
Humans cannot be trusted. We used to line our houses with asbestos, and our mouths with mercury fillings. We later found out those ideas were rather bad. So what’s the likelihood that mattresses that are produced with petroleum-based materials, and chemicals that are known to be carcinogenic (cancer-causing) to humans, will one day be denounced as another of our completely awful ideas?
It’s impossible at present to make any sort of correlation between the levels of chemical exposure in our mattresses, and the detrimental health conditions that they are capable of contributing to. Mainstream mattresses could be doing more damage to our health than we might ever imagine, or perhaps, none at all.
So this is where intuition unfortunately has to take over, for lack of sound evidence in either direction. For me, based purely on the fact that we spend a third of our lives with our faces pressed right up against our mattresses, I feel that the best option is to spend the extra money and remove the possibility that I’m inhaling damaging levels of toxins for 6-8 hours every night.
And so, when the time came where I needed to buy a new bed, my mission to find a natural one was born. Cue a lot of terrorising hours staring at vague mattress descriptions and deciphering my way through marketing spiels to find the best possible options available on the market today. If you’ve found yourself in that same boat, I hope you can use my experience below to give you ideas on your options, or simply save you some time on your research.
The Bed Base
The first thing you need to know is that to best preserve a natural mattress, you must have a base that offers good ventilation – generally this means a slatted bed frame.
I love the bed frames made by The Natural Bedding Company, and if you’ve got the budget for one – go for it, as they are your absolute best option. The Natural Bedding Company’s products are undeniably well-crafted and built to last a lifetime. They were able to confirm for me that their bed frames are all completely vegan and that the coating used is a non-toxic stain made by Livos. According to their website, Livos “offers a natural range of sustainable 100% declared, safe, eco friendly paints, floor & furniture oils and cleaners”. Unfortunately, The Natural Bedding Company don’t ship their furniture at this time, so you’d either have to pick it up from their warehouse in Sydney, or arrange your own delivery service.
For me, the price point of The Natural Bedding Company was just too high for my budget. They predominantly use premium wood types like oak, whereas my budget puts me at more of a cottonwood/pine sort of level. Their cheapest bed frame is called the Lo-line and is made of untreated pine. It comes in at $1409 for the queen size.
Instead, I ultimately chose the timber bed base by Koala. You may already know the brand, as they are quite aggressive marketers for their main product (polyurethane foam mattresses), which I wasn’t interested in for obvious reasons. Their bed base however ticked all the boxes.
The Koala Timber Bed Base is 100% recyclable, made with an oakum surface and cottonwood ply, with an inner honeycomb layer made from pressed cardboard to keep it light and easy to move. The best thing about it is that it takes just 4 minutes to put together and take apart with no tools needed. I timed myself and took closer to 7 minutes because I didn’t think the downstairs residents would appreciate the noise of me thundering around in chaotic fluster in a race against nobody to put a bed together. But whether 4 minutes or 7, it’s pretty impressive. The construction feels very sturdy and is put together like puzzle pieces that lock in together, meaning there are no screws or tools involved. It also provides plenty of ventilation holes. After enquiring with Koala, I was advised that only water-based glues and surface coatings are used, and they also confirmed it is vegan and cruelty-free, so we’re all good on the vegan front. I was also advised that their coatings and glues are classified as E0, which means that they have no formaldehyde emissions. At $800 for the queen, the price is very reasonable for such a modern, well-designed product.
I was vaguely aware natural latex mattresses were heavier, but oh boy, was I in for a fun surprise. Before buying the mattress, I had specifically asked how much it weighed among various other questions. The weight question was the only one that was answered pretty vaguely. The company admitted they were heavy, but gave no actual measurement. And I can see why now!
The first hint was when the two big strong delivery men staggered breathlessly into my lounge room with my new mattress. I asked them to leave it at the door, as I didn’t really want to introduce them to the hideous state of my room at the time. When it came time to get the mattress from the doorway, down to my room, a fairly pertinent problem became very apparent.
Natural mattresses are heavy as all hell. But as well as the sheer weight, they also don’t hold their shape very much. They flop over and bend very easily, making them that much more difficult to move. My mattress basically ended up being tumble rolled, tiny bit by tiny bit, all the way down the hallway.
When I first began the process of research, it was hugely daunting. There was so much to learn and a lot of marketing trash to filter through. However, that’s not what you’re here for. Thankfully, over time, I was able to narrow the selection down to two main options with a clear winner (if you’ve got the budget for it).
If you’re looking for the best possible natural mattress and you are prepared to pay for it, you need look no further than The Natural Bedding Company. The list of benefits this company offers is endless. For a start everything is locally made in Sydney, which they are very transparent about. Your mattress will be hand-made to order. This does mean it takes longer, but I feel this is ultimately more worth it. Their mattresses are made entirely of organic materials, including 100% pure organic latex foam. This is the only truly safe type of foam you can get in mattresses, and is made from the sap of rubber trees. The mattress covers are made from organic cotton and hemp. While the mattresses do contain a layer of wool by default, the company encourages you to request yours to be made without wool should that be your preference, so vegans are covered.
The only drawback of this company is the price. In the grand scheme of things, the prices aren’t crazy. But in an Ikea sort of world, they can feel quite steep. Their entry level, regular sort of mattress (Supreme) begins at $2732 for a queen size. This mattress is reportedly very firm however, which I wasn’t sure I’d like. Their less firm mattresses (Cloud 9 & Dreamer) come in at $3095 and $3420 respectively for queen sizes. Shipping comes in at $116.51 for the Sydney area – this may differ for other states or regional areas however.
A second option is available, and is ultimately the option I went with. I struggled a lot with this decision, as this option contains wool and I ultimately always want to avoid all animal products and by-products. However, the price of the completely vegan options were really pushing my budget limit, and the only other option was to go for a chemical-heavy, yet vegan, mattress. I was pretty damned either way.
Totem Road’s Natural Organic Latex Mattress comes in at $2250 after their current promotional discount, with $125 for shipping. This is $845 cheaper than the mattress I was looking at from The Natural Bedding Company. It’s less transparent how this mattress is made and whether it is as chemical-free as The Natural Bedding Company’s options. They still however get full eco-INSTITUT certification, as well as Standard 100 by OEKO-TEX® cerification for their fabric treatment. Totem Road also have a prominent focus on sustainable products and materials, so I felt this mattress was still well above the grade even if it isn’t quite on the same level as those from The Natural Bedding Company. From enquiring with Totem Road before purchase, I learnt that they get their 100% pure natural latex from Germany, and that the mattresses are manufactured in Melbourne, Australia.
Your decision is your own, and I wouldn’t blame you if you found yourself struggling to fit the fully vegan mattress option into your budget. We can only do our best and always keep trying to improve.
As a side note, when I checked with Totem Road about the rest of their furniture range, they confirmed they sometimes use animal by-products (but not animal products), in their glues. This probably means they use milk in their glue composition. So considering both their (probable) milk and wool usage, their range could only be classed as vegetarian-friendly at this stage. This is something to keep in mind if you are looking at their other items, such as bed frames.
When I began researching natural options here, I quickly discovered Bio Oz’s buckwheat hull pillows for $59 each in standard size, with free shipping. Basically, there’s not much to it. They are literally full of natural buckwheat hull and encased in a %100 cotton case. Keep in mind that this brand is not labelled as organic. If you’d like to go for the best possible option, you can get organic versions from Pure Earth at $110 each for the standard size, plus $25 shipping.
When my pillows arrived, I was (probably stupidly) surprised by their heaviness. They are a little bit like a beanbag in the way they feel, except instead of beans, it is soft buckwheat hull. When you open the case and touch the hull, it feels very light and soft. But when you use the pillow as intended, it feels surprisingly rigid and firm. This might be a good thing depending what you like. You can manouvre and bunch up the hull to suit how you want it to sit, and it won’t really budge – very similar to how you’d manouvre a beanbag to suit how you want to sit in it. It feels decently soft when you place your head on it, just rigid – you really won’t move from your starting position. If you like sinking into a squishy pillow, as I apparently do, you might find this a tough adjustment. I also noticed that there’s a soft noise for the first minute or so when you rest your head, as the buckwheat bunches together under the weight of your head. It sounds to me like simmering water and eventually dissipates as the hull settles into place. I didn’t think the sound bothered me very much, but after a few weeks I did get a little fed up with having to stay very still while listening to videos or audiobooks in bed.
It may be worth persevering with buckwheat pillows, as these pillows are advertised to last 10-15 years, or more. This is certainly a lot better than mainstream pillows which usually come with 1-2 year timestamps on them. They may also really suit you if you need a superior level of neck support.
That all being said, I’ve since replaced my buckwheat pillows with standard-sized Organature 100% Certified Organic Cotton Pillows, available through Biome. They charge $62 each for the standard size. These pillows only last 2-4 years, so don’t have quite the same value, but they’re the squishy, silent type of pillow that I apparently insist on having. Sorry buckwheat, it’s not you, it’s me. But also sort of you.
The Mattress Protector
The main reason for my spontaneous learning curve in all things polyurethane is that I require a waterproof protector, due to sharing my bed with a particular feline who suffers from anxiety. Delightfully, this causes her to soil the bed on occasion. As such, I’m splitting this section into two parts, depending on whether you personally need a waterproof protector or just a regular one.
For Those Who Do Need A Waterproof Mattress Protector
So as much as I would have liked to ensure this bed was indeed fully toxin-free, I was backed into a corner on this one. After plentiful research, I found that there is currently no way to offer waterproofing without resorting to rubber, plastic (vinyl/PVC, PEVA/EVA or polyurethane), or chemical treatments. I was drawn to the rubber option first, hoping that perhaps it could be a natural plant-based rubber – but found nothing whatsoever on the market. I also learnt that of the plastic options, the only one that can be safe is polyurethane. The other two options, vinyl/PVC or PEVA/EVA, should be completely avoided due to containing proven harmful chemicals.
It would seem that the most common materials used for “natural” mattress and pillow protectors are an absorbent layer of either lyocell, bamboo or cotton with a waterproof layer of polyurethane. While polyurethane is still a plastic, it can at least be safe in terms of not “off-gassing”, depending on how it is formulated. Some polyurethane is formulated without any chemical additives, meaning it comes out in a stable form that can stand the heat of tumble drying and regular machine washing. But finding which products use safe polyurethane gets difficult, as you have to dig deep to find out how each company formulates their polyurethane.
After a lot of digging and long, long process of elimination, you have one main option in Australia from what I could see:
- Price: $79.99
- Protective/absorbent layer: Non-organic Tencel®, which is a brand name for lyocell. According to Wikipedia: “Lyocell is a form of rayon which consists of cellulose fibre made from dissolving pulp (bleached wood pulp) using dry jet-wet spinning.”
- Waterproof layer: Miracle Layer™, which is made of polyurethane. This product achieves Standard 100 by OEKO-TEX® cerification, which would suggest it does not off-gas.
- Vegan: Awaiting a reply from the company.
- Packaging: Plastic sleeve with zipper and paper inserts.
- Cleaning: Machine washable and tumble dry-able.
- Extra notes: Lyocell is more absorbent than cotton, enhancing waterproof qualities. I personally find lyocell quite neutral in regards to how cool/warm it feels to sleep on and it doesn’t feel too cold if you move to a new spot.
This option is not completely ideal, but no completely ideal option currently exists. I do believe this is our next best option for now.
For Those Who Don't Need A Waterproof Mattress Protector
Congratulations! Life is just a little bit easier for you if you fall in this category. Completely toxin-free mattress protectors are easy to find if you do not require them to be waterproof. I found the very affordable Organature range through Biome. You can pick up an Organature 100% Certified Organic Cotton Mattress Protector for $38 – $165 depending on the size you need (to give you an idea, the queen size is $121.25).
The Pillow Protectors
My best recommendation here is to go for the matching pillow protectors to the mattress protector you went with. If you went with a waterproof mattress protector, you may not necessarily feel that you also need your pillow cases to be waterproof too, in which case you can grab the non-waterproof option below instead. I personally prefer it all to be waterproof as the pillows can sometimes also touch any soiling incidents.
For Those Who Do Need Waterproof Pillow Protectors
Once again for lack of a perfect option existing, I’d recommend the Protect-A-Bed Cumfysafe Tencel® Pillow Protectors for $24.99 each for the standard size. This is the matching product to the waterproof mattress protector mentioned above.
For Those Who Don't Need Waterproof Pillow Protectors
If you went with the Organature 100% Certified Organic Cotton Mattress Protector, you can pick up the matching Organature 100% Certified Organic Cotton Pillow Protectors. They’re available through Biome for $23.50 – $26 depending on size (to give you an idea, the standard size is $26).
The Sheets and Pillowcases
First of all, I think it’s definitely possible to get away with using only a fitted sheet and pillowcases, and forgoing the additional flat sheet that usually goes on top of you. The only reasons I can find for having a flat sheet are; 1. to add extra warmth in winter, 2. to make the bed look nicer, 3. to protect the quilt from getting dirty faster, 4. to use alone on warmer nights. If any of those reasons are drastically appealing to you, by all means go ahead, but if you’re looking to minimise your bedding, feel free to go without – I have for years and still appear to be breathing. I would get even more extremist in my anti-sheet views if they made mattress protectors in any other colour than white (so as not to show up natural body oil staining over time), in which case I think you could easily forego sheets entirely. But you can be damn sure the world is not that simple.
As such, I would recommend the Organature 100% Certified Organic Cotton Sheet Set, available through Biome. The sets sell for $72 – $192.50 depending on the size ($175 for queen size) and come with a fitted sheet, flat sheet and either 1 or 2 pillow cases depending on the size you buy (2 for double size and up, 1 for everything else).
How is it that the human race can walk on the moon but not create decent blankets. For a start, I refuse to own a quilt which requires a quilt cover. That’s just yet another thing that needs washing. The theory is that you should never need to wash your quilt, and only ever wash the cover. To me that seems not really sanitary. Surely after a few years there will be a decent amount of bacteria build-up in that unwashed quilt, and also, with my little feline friend who takes out her toilet anxiety issues on my bed sometimes, I absolutely need to be able to machine wash my quilt.
Most quilts on the market are white, which shows up stains very obviously. Your quilt will naturally stain over time from the oils produced by your body and certain ingredients in any skin care products you use. Even after washing, these stains will probably remain. So white is eventually going to get pretty unsightly, even when your quilt is freshly washed and clean.
In an ideal world, you’d be able to buy a quilt that is:
- Made with natural, organic, vegan materials
- Comes in a natural, unbleached/undyed colour such as beige
- Is machine washable and tumble dry-able
- Is light enough for summer (then you can simply add an extra blanket for winter)
But guess what? You’re being absurd.
Organature’s websites suggests: “Any quilt which is made with 100% natural fibres is normally not washable; the fabric would have been preshrunk; the filling would not have been preshrunk . Should you ever see a washable natural fibre filled quilt, it is likely to contain a certain quantity of polyester, or silicone has been applied, without disclosure on the label. Washing should not be necessary if you use a quilt cover, shake and air regularly. Spot cleaning and airing is recommended.”
So right away that kills my expectation of machine washable, but to be honest, I have found several quilts that state 100% natural fibre compositions while still being machine washable, so it’s a little hard to know what to believe. My instinct tells me that it is possible to have both, and that Organature may be erring heavily on the side of caution. It could also be due to how the quilt is designed. If it is divided by stitching into quite small squares, the filling inside won’t be able to move around so much, which would explain why it could hold its shape decently even with machine washing.
With all that in mind, I would recommend the Bhumi 100% Organic Cotton Quilted Blanket, which sells for $299 – $389 ($369 for the queen size). This blanket states a composition of 100% organic cotton, while being machine washable and tumble dry-able on low (though line drying is preferable). It also comes in a range of neutral colours to prevent staining showing over the years. Finally, Bhumi state that it is suitable for all seasons, meaning it should be light enough for summer. I doubt it would suffice for winter too, but you can then easily add a second blanket on cold nights.
The Extra Blanket
My idea is that you should be able to get away with owning just two blankets; one for summer, and a second one that you add on top for winter. Alternatively, you could get a standalone summer quilt and winter quilt if you don’t like stacking blankets for any reason.
To keep things economical, this part of the bed can potentially be sourced from something you already own. For me, I already owned a natural woollen blanket that I purchased many years ago, before buying vegan items was a consideration for me. I’m not going to include the purchase link for this blanket as I would no longer buy it, but you too may have a natural or old blanket around the house that you can use here.
If you don’t have anything suitable and you’re looking for a recommendation, I’ve still got you covered!
- Organature’s 100% Certified Organic Cotton Fleece blankets range from $38 to $264 ($213 for the queen size).
- Bhumi’s 100% Organic Cotton Soft Knit Throws go for $159, but come in one size only that is slightly smaller than a double bed when laid out flat. That may still be fine on any bed size when used on top of another blanket. It really depends how much coverage you like.
If you feel adventurous, you could also check out some of the organic blanket options available on Etsy. There is a little more of a risk when buying from Etsy sellers, as you are frequently buying from smaller merchants around the world, as opposed to established Australian businesses. On one hand it’s great to support small merchants, wherever they may be, but on the other hand it’s hard to verify their claims about their products, such as whether they are truly natural/organic or not. Unfortunately, there are some people out there who will label their products incorrectly to improve sales – but there are also many who are completely honest, so it’s up to you. I personally err on the side of optimism and go for it, so long as the seller has a good number of positive reviews.
And that's a wrap!
Got anything to add? Know of any great products that would fit into any of the sections above? Did you use any of this guide to help you put your own natural bed together? I’d love to hear from you in the comments down below!