With the development of the Green Leaf Inn, the first purpose-built, sustainable, net zero inn in the country, our overriding mission has been, and continues to be, to provide our guests with an experience in sustainable green luxury in ways they may never have even thought possible. Knowing that interior design is of utmost importance in delivering on that promise of luxury, we found ourselves struggling with one of the most important elements in a guest’s visit; the bed – or the mattress to be more specific. The room can be amazing – unique, beautiful, comfortable – but when the guest finally lies down, it is the mattress that can make or break their experience.
There are hundreds of mattresses on the market today – from high quality coil spring, feather tops, memory foams, latex, cotton batting – so many that at first I felt we would never be able to pick one. Short of having a variety of mattresses throughout the hotel, which did not appeal to us at all, we knew we had to choose the type that had the best chance of pleasing the guest, and also pleasing us.
We made the first eliminations with “green” in mind. Coil spring mattresses, although state of the art these days, add to the land fill and the recycle process is still in its infancy. Feather tops, while luxurious, do not have the support most people need and can cause allergic reactions. Memory foam mattresses don’t need to be flipped every month, but are totally synthetic with chemical and outgassing problems, and cotton batting, while recyclable, is just not luxurious. That left latex as the choice.
The Many Faces of Latex
Deciding on the type or brand of latex, however, proved to be even more complex. We hit the internet, and spoke to as many manufacturers of latex mattresses as we could and came up with this check list to help us find the best of the best.
1. Is the latex 100% pure? Surprisingly, there are many different kinds of latex – and some hybrid blends still claim they are latex though only a small percentage is actually found within their product. Even some synthetic brands of latex will call themselves “natural”. Compared to synthetic, however, 100% pure latex has no outgassing problems from chemicals and the compression strength or “support” is better. It also does not need to be flipped or turned, and is 100% biodegradable at the end of its life span. Always make sure the mattress is labeled 100% natural latex.
2. Is the mattress made of Talalay or Dunlop latex? These are the two manufacturing processes that turn raw rubber into latex mattresses. Simply put, Talalay latex involves a more complex procedure than the standard Dunlop procedure. The Talalay system uses high pressure and freezing, producing a superior latex that is consistent throughout the mattress, and is also more resilient than the Dunlop version. Talalay latex also goes through a five stage washing process that eliminates any allergic reactions, while Dunlop is washed once. Latex International, based in Connecticut, is the only manufacturer of Talalay latex in the US – and most of the mattress companies using Talalay latex in this country are supplied by them.
3. Are the latex layers of the mattress glued together? Some manufacturers glue their layers together for stability; however glue just adds more chemicals to the mattress and is really unnecessary. Loose layers inside the mattress cover don’t shift, and actually provide more flexibility; a layer can be replaced if worn and the feel of the mattress can be tailored for comfort by choosing different densities per layer.
4. Is there a layer of wool between the mattress and the cover? Organic wool is one of the best fire-retardants around. Some companies integrate the wool into their organic cotton cover, but the most effective choice is a separate layer, providing not only fire protection, but breathability and comfort. Organic wool from New Zealand is typically used for this layer, but California organic wool is making real progress in the industry – and again, greener than shipping from overseas.
5. Is the natural latex certified sustainable? This is one of a number of certifications that the manufacturer should be able to show you. Latex is collected from the rubber tree – much like harvesting syrup from Maple trees. The manufacturer should be able to tell you where the rubber was harvested, and that it was from a sustainable rubber tree farm. Ask to see their Oeko-Tex certification too. This independent lab certifies that there are no harmful chemicals used in any part of the mattress, such as chemical retardants, formaldehydes, petroleum fillers, anti-fungicides or other harsh chemicals. The manufacturer will have this certificate proudly displayed and they must earn it every year.
6. Is the mattress cover made of organic cotton? There should be a certificate for this, as well. Texas is beginning to supply this country with a large amount of organic cotton fabric; much greener than shipping from Europe. The cotton fabric should also be Non-Woven, which increases durability and better protects the mattress. Organic is more breathable and of course, there are no pesticides.
7. Does the mattress company of choice offer a good warrantee? The trial period should be generous for the consumer as well as the return policy. Typically, the higher quality mattresses will have more generous policies, because they have less customer complaints.
Companies who passed our check list:
AstraBeds has mattresses that passed every item on the check list. By and far the most impressive company we researched! From certified organic materials to their zero-emissions factory, to lessening their carbon footprint in shipping, this is a company with obvious concern for their customers and the planet. If only they bought their organic wool from California instead of New Zealand! But clearly AstraBeds is a company deeply concerned with creating a green product in every possible way, so perhaps that time is coming.
Lifekind has a variety of products including an inner spring latex hybrid (which I found confusing), but their attention to quality is obvious. They did mention having to flip their latex mattresses once a year which I also found confusing, as quality latex should not need this to be done. Except for these items, their latex mattress passes the test.
Bliss also has an amazing assortment of mattresses – from 100% natural to hybrid models. Their quality is apparent; however, the biggest difference is in the use of a synthetic layer barrier instead of organic wool. Called ActiveFusion Climate Control, it can be found in their “natural” line, designed to balance the temperature of the sleeper. And in their “all natural” line, there is no mention of a wool layer.
Is your hotel currently providing natural latex mattresses? Thinking about it? Let us know your experience!
Contributor: Catherine McQueen is the co-owner of the Green Leaf Inn, the first net-zero energy hotel being built in North America, and President of Admin Center, Inc., providing back-office support for companies involved in energy management and sustainability.
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