Is It Time To Move Beyond Organic?

time to move beyond an organic mattress


If you’ve never owned an organic mattress before, and you’re thinking about it, this is the post for you. Wondering if organic mattresses are worth the money? 

If you’re reading this post, what you’re probably looking for is a clean mattress with no chemicals that won’t off-gas. What we’re here to tell you is that you absolutely CAN find all of that — though it may not be certified organic. What you may not know is that the organic certification is pretty meaningless, and we’ll explain why. 

First of all, though — who the heck are we? We’re the Garfield family from Bedrooms & More in Seattle. We’ve been in business since 1972 and like most businesses that stick around that long, we’ve gone through several iterations and changes, to keep pace with the market and to respond to customer tastes, needs, and requests. We’ve learned a lot about what works and why when it comes to a long-lasting, comfortable mattress that’s easy on the body and the environment.

We consider it our job — maybe even our duty — to share what we’ve learned with you.

So let’s start by reviewing the legal definition of ‘organic.’

Oh, wait — there isn’t one.

But there are a lot of perspectives and descriptions.

Various textile-related organizing bodies have set up standards for what makes a textile or a textile-containing product organic. The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is the most widely recognized organizing body handing out certifications. From the GOTS website: “The [organic] standard covers the processing, manufacturing, packaging, labelling, trading and distribution of all textiles made from at least 70% certified organic natural fibers. The final products may include, but are not limited to fiber products, yarns, fabrics, clothes and home textiles. The standard does not set criteria for leather products.”

This all sounds important, but let me step into your shoes for a minute — the shoes of the shopper.

If what you want is a clean and chemical-free mattress, here’s what to look for when you go mattress shopping:

  • untreated fibers like silk, wool, cotton, and horsehair
  • made without chemicals — no memory foam (which is made of chemicals)
  • if latex, then 100% certified tree rubber, like Botanicore

But if you feel you simply must have an organic mattress, be sure to get one that’s 100% certified organic. Not 95%. That missing 5% can cause a world of problems for some people, especially those who are allergic to toxins and/or sensitive to endocrine-disruptors.

Let’s shine a little light on the organic certification process so you can understand how it actually works.

Time for a reality check 

In 45 years, we’ve seen and been involved in all aspects of the mattress and bedding industry. We started off as retailers and later got involved in design and manufacturing our own products. We also have a wholesale division, where we sell our goods commercially to other stores for distribution.

From our family’s close-hand observation of manufacturing processes over the years, here’s what we’ve observed about the organic certification process. You can think of this as two major a-has.

The First A-Ha

Most often, a product bearing an ‘organic’ certification has earned that certification on one or more product components, NOT on the entire product.

To illustrate what this means, let’s use an example we’re all familiar with . . . the humble cupcake.

But let’s elevate it to an organic cupcake. In your average organic-certified cupcake, you might have sugar and flour that actually are organic. But the baking powder, the butter, the vanilla, and/or the coloring in the frosting? Not organic. Yet the cupcake gets labeled ‘organic’ and customers purchase it thinking the item they’re eating is ‘organic’ through and through — with no chemical additives. And that simply isn’t true.  

As for Cupcakes, Same for Mattresses & Bedding

The same is true of non-food products that are certified organic, like mattresses and bedding. Mattress manufacturers may get an organic certification on ONE component of their mattress, like a quilt layer featuring organic cotton, but it may also have components made with chemicals — for instance, memory foam. For this reason, we don’t think the mattress as a whole should be called organic, even though it has a certification on a certain component.

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The Second A-Ha

Most often, product components get evaluated and certified at a certain point in the manufacturing process, but not at multiple points and not overall.

For this example, let’s look at organic wine. The organic certification here may be only on the quality of the water run-off from the orchard where the grapes are grown. If the water passes certain tests and meets certain standards, organic certification is granted. And so the vintners can put an ‘organic’ label on their bottles.

But what’s happening to the grapes themselves? Were they grown organically? Were they handled at every step of the way using a process with organic certified components?

Unfortunately, we can’t assume that organic handling in ONE part of the process or product means organic handling in the rest of the process or product. In your perspective, is it fair to  say the wine is truly organic?

Most people would answer no. But the organic industry often says yes.

The truth is: when it comes to organic certification, it’s just not foolproof.

Currently, the certification process is a bit like the Wild West, and even more so in some countries than in others. Sometimes a highly political game — manufacturers learn to pull the right levers and shake hands with the right people to get the right piece of paper. An even darker revelation is that in some places, certifications can be ‘bought’ for the right price.

What organic does & doesn’t mean for mattresses & bedding

Organic? Pure? Natural? You may have seen these words in bedding and mattress marketing and taken them at face value. But now you know that ‘organic’ may not be what you once assumed it was.

Just as in the food and wine industry, an organic certification on a mattress or a blanket does not mean the product is organic through and through. It does NOT mean the mattress, pillow, comforter, what have you, is made with all certified organic ingredients, and is manufactured with an organic process that introduces no chemicals. It simply means that at some point in the process from beginning to end, some component of the product earned an organic certification.

Now let’s look at organic’s two wily sisters: Pure and Natural.

Unfortunately, the words ‘pure’ and ‘natural’ have been used irresponsibly in the mattress and bedding industry for far too long. These words don’t actually mean any one thing. They’re fluffy marketing descriptors used to make people feel good about their purchase.

The bottom line: products can be good for you, healthy, and ethically and sustainably sourced, without being certified organic.

Begging the question: organic or bust?

Now let’s get back to the mattress industry. Is an ‘organic’ mattress really organic? How about an ‘organic’ pillow or ‘organic’ bed linens?

Is it necessary to buy organic to get something good for your body and good for the environment?

Our answer: a resounding NO.

Quite simply, what most shoppers actually want is NOT guaranteed with an organic certification. Head-scratcher, isn’t it? So how can you get what you’re really looking for?

Moving beyond organic

In our view, it’s time for consumers to move beyond looking for organic only, and start looking for products made with earth-friendly ingredients that have been grown and harvested with care and made without chemicals through sustainable manufacturing processes.

What is important to look at: product components. Read labels. Does that blanket contain cotton? Wool? Polyester? Does that mattress contain memory foam (chemical foam), or is it all botanical latex, straight from the tree?

A corollary to this is to look at the proportions of natural fiber to synthetic fiber in the product. You can see this on the product tag. If something is 35% organic cotton and 65% poly, then the product is mostly synthetic. If a product tag or packaging doesn’t have this info, ask a sales person.

Another important thing to look for is disclosures the retailer or manufacturer makes. If they say a product contains no added chemicals, that’s a good thing (assuming they have accurate information and are being truthful). The words ‘pure’ and ‘natural,’ on the other hand, sound good but don’t say anything. In the absence of facts, they may just be adjectives used to make a product seem easier on the earth and on human bodies, when in fact they may be anything but.

So there you have it. Now you know what organic actually means and doesn’t mean when it comes to mattresses and bedding.

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4 Comments on "Is It Time To Move Beyond Organic?"

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Hendrik
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Hello Wanda,
really great article. Lots of good information in there on such an important topic that people tend to underestimate! Keep up the good work and I am looking forward for many more!

Hendrik

Wanda Garfield
Guest

Thank You! We try to share the knowledge we’ve gained over the years with our customers.

Mark Wright
Guest

For a moment there, I thought I would read something like “You’ve never owned an organic mattress before even if you’ve thought you have”

blake
Guest

It’s not that dire. It’s just confusing, and difficult to verify. I hope we’ve helped add some clarity. Thank you for reading.

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