Natural Mattress Terminology
There is a lot of jargon and tricky language involved with shopping for a natural mattress. This "mattress dictionary" along with our blog will hopefully help you get a clearer view of the pros and cons of the various materials and designs that are available in the mattress industry.
Bamboo has become very popular as an eco-fabric of late and is commonly used as a mattress cover on natural latex mattresses. It's important to keep in mind, that to use bamboo fibre to make fabric, you basically have to convert it to rayon, which does require chemicals of course. The amount of time that it takes for bamboo to mature is 3-5 years, which is a bit longer than alternatives such as cotton, hemp, or flax.
Bamboo is a beautiful and fantastic fiber, but it's eco-friendliness may be a bit exaggerated.
Bed in a box
You have probably seen advertisements for new mattress companies and that ship their mattresses in a box directly to your door. These companies are typically building polyurethane mattresses, and then compressing them and shrinking them into a vacuum sealed bag. They are delivered right to your door, in a fairly small box (thus bed-in-a-box). You open up the back, and half a day later your mattress has grown back to full size and is ready for use.
And to be honest, if you are young, have no pain, aren't concerned about VOC's, sustainability isn't a priority, and want a price point mattress then these aren't a terrible option.
Bonnell Coil or Spring
A bonnell coil is an hour glass shaped coil, that is laced together with cross wires. You experience a little more "bounce" with a bonnell coil compared to a pocket coil, and experience a little more motion transfer between partners. Air flow and breathability are two of the strengths of a bonnell spring, which is why when you match it with wool we think it is the perfect foundation for our big kid bed.
Chemical Fire Retardant
All polyurethane foams are petrochemical products, and thus are actually basically fire balls if not treated with some type of fire suppressant. Because of this, the government has regulated (with good reason) that they are treated with a fire retardant when being manufactured to help minimize the damage in the event of a fire.
What is the concern? Well unfortunately while there are a variety of chemical cocktails that are mixed to achieve the desired safety effect and they all tend to be toxic to humans. Studies indicate fire retardants have been found in virtually all American populations (and thus it is safe to assume Canadians). Chemical fire retards have been correlated with lowering natural hormone production, delayed mental and physical development in children, lower birth weights, autism and the list goes on. It's important to recognize that these studies tend to prove coorelation not causation. One thing is for sure though, we aren't seeing a lot of data coming out suggesting that these chemicals are helping us to live longer, happier and healthier lives.
Keep in mind that this isn't even discussing the environmental impact of all these chemicals ending up in our water systems and thus impacting virtually everything on the planet.
Isocyanate and di-isocyanate
We're starting to dive pretty deep into the chemistry world here, but as simply as possible, isocyanate are chemicals that are manufactured to react with polyols in the production of polyurethanes. There are actually two groups that are manufactured (thus diisocyanate).
They easily react with alcohols, amines and even water, which is one of the reason's why they become vapors or gases so easily. Factory workers and individuals who are regularly exposed to high levels of these chemicals have been shown to have eye irritation and problems with the respiratory tract at alarmingly high rates.
So why are we allowed to sleep on this stuff? Well in theory, if the reaction is complete and the foam has been cured properly, the number of free chemicals that can become gas is so small it is considered negligible. In reality? Well, that depends on the manufacturer. That is why if you choose to sleep on a polyurethane mattress, it is in your best interest to make sure that it is made in a very strict factory to the highest standards.
Generally, this refers to products that are made out of the sap of a rubber tree. Rubber gloves, costumes, condoms and latex foam are examples of commonly used latex products.
Synthetic latex refers to a petrochemical based product that is designed to mimic the properties of natural latex. It is much less durable, and also contains a much higher percentage of harmful VOC's and chemicals. For more information on latex read our blog post about it.
Memory foam is an OPEN-CELL viscoelastic or low-resilience polyurethane foam. The elasticity and the slower reaction is created by using the open cell structure, and then add MORE chemicals to the polyurethane mix.
It was originally developed by NASA for a purpose that was not making mattresses... and we think outer space is the best place for memory foam. It tends to sleep very warm, which is why you often see it accompanied with "cooling gel" (more chemicals) to help the sleeper not get too hot.
To be fair, it may be of great benefit in a hospital or long-term care setting with patients who are bed ridden, as it has been shown to assist with problems like bed-sores.
At Natural Mattress, we will occasionally use a high grade, closed cell polyurethane foam for custom projects where unusual sizing or shapes are required, or where the mattress weight needs to be kept down. But we NEVER work with memory foam, unless we get a contract with NASA or a hospital (we are still waiting for the call).
This is a tricky one. To us, it means that you can manufacture it without the use of advanced chemistry. It means you can identify and pronounce the materials and ingredients in the product. Unfortunately, the rest of the manufacturing world has a faster and looser definition of natural. It may mean that a small percentage of the end product is made from organic materials. It's hard to quantify exactly what "natural" is. Kind of like asking what salt tastes like. But just like you know salty when you taste it, you have a tendency to know natural when you see it.
Natural Latex Foam
This is the foam found in latex mattresses. To be considered natural it needs to contain 95% or more rubber tree sap. If you'd like a little more detail about how it's made we highly recommend spending a half hour with google search to get the basics down, and to learn the difference in how dunlop and talalay latex is manufactured.
Off-gassing is just a term that refers to the molecules a material releases into the air. It's important to remember that EVERYTHING off-gasses. If it has an odour, even a pleasant or very mild one like a flower, that means it is off-gassing.
What we are trying to avoid is materials that off-gas harmful VOC's, which have been connected with things like breathing problems, allergies, autism, and cancer.
If you want to get really technical, it means that the chemical structure is carbon based. By that definition, plastic could be considered organic to a certain degree. Often times it is used to denote products and materials that are found occurring naturally, without excessive manufacturing or processing. This is very different from certified organic, which means that a third party organization has inspected the supply chain and manufacturing process, and determined that the end result is a product which meets their standards for being natural, sustainable and ethical.
Every organization has their own criteria and standards, and if you really want to dive into the details to find out for example what that certification means regarding water conservation or labour standards, you should visit the governing body's website and do a little extra research.
Organic Cotton vs Regular Cotton
Cotton is taking a bit of a publicity beating lately, as it has become more widely spread how much water, pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizer are used to raise the crop and convert it into the vast amounts of designer clothing that we all seem to need more and more of.
This is for good reason. For example, hemp requires approximately half the water and almost no pesticides to produce twice the yields of cotton on a per acre basis. Cotton isn't really a great product for the environment as the pesticides get into our ground water and it wastes water, our most precious resource so that you can buy your 37th t-shirt from H&M for $9.99.
Organic cotton is a better choice though. Organic cotton farmers are regulated on the amount and types of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizer that they use. This naturally leads to smaller yields, which thus leads to a premium paid for organic cotton. Organic cotton also has stricter regulations on packaging and ensuring the whole supply chain is acting in a more sustainable and ethical manner. We dive into our choice to use hemp over cotton as often as possible in our blog.
A pocket coil is a spring where the coils have been individually wrapped, allowing the coils to flex and work independently. These are considered the highest quality springs that are used in mattresses. They are desirable because they last longer than a conventional spring, and really cut down the amount of motion transfer between one partner to the next on the mattress (think of the bowling ball commercials). We use pocket coil in our Marshall Coil mattress.
This is basically fabric made of plastic threads. That's why it melts when it get's too hot, and has a tendency to get smelly as it ages. It has advantages though as it can be weaved and manufactured to create very soft and silky feeling fabrics.
There are appropriate uses for polyester (ideally recycled polyester) such as technical apparel, or fabrics that require a lot of stretch. It doesn't tend to age well though and we don't think it is an ideal material for a mattress cover.
Is a polymer composed of organic units joined by carbamate (urethane) links. Does that clear it up? Basically, it is a petrochemical (the same as plastics and polyester) based foam that was designed post WWII as an inexpensive and lighter alternative to natural latex. It has become widely adopted by the mattress industry as a material used for things like memory foam, pillow tops, and the new shippable bed-in-a-box.
This is a term that a marketing team somewhere, sometime came up with that means a thick piece of soft foam on top of a coil. You can't flip a pillow top mattress, and they tend to be very prone to impressions and hammocking.
Soy or Vegetable Oil Based Foam
These are polyurethane based foams where a small amount (generally 15%-20%) of the compound is made of a soy or vegetable oil based products.
Is it better? Kind of. We are fans of becoming less reliant on fossil fuels, and this is a step in the right direction. Polyurethanes also tend to be manufactured much more locally, which has advantages from a sustainability perspective.
Is it healthier than a traditional polyurethane? No. The amount which any polyurethane based foam off-gasses harmful VOC's is still very much dependent on the quality of the manufacturing of the foam.
This is an abbreviation for volatile organic compound, which is a substance that easily becomes vapours or gases. Not all VOC's are harmful, but if they are it is important to be aware of them as they easily become gases in our living environment, which in turn leads them to enter into our bodies are wreaking potentially damaging havoc.