What Makes an Organic Latex Mattress Organic?
The "Organic Bed"
In the mattress industry, organic certification and regulation are relatively new concepts. During the last ten years, organic certification standards have slowly expanded from fruits and vegetables to packaged foods to textiles and now are branching further out into other consumer markets. Enter the "organic bed". With any new concept comes the chances for misuse, misapplication, and misunderstanding, which is one of the reasons we felt the need to clarify organic latex mattresses in our latex mattress reviews. Let's have a look at the ways the term "organic" is applied and misapplied in the Latex mattress world.
There are two major certification bodies for organic producers. One is the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA, and their certification is used largely in American markets.
The other is the Global Organic Textile Standards, or GOTS certification. GOTS certifies products and foods at two levels: "organic," which includes at least 70% organic ingredients and materials; or "certified organic," which includes at least 95% "pure" organic ingredients.
GOTS is used mostly in European markets but will occasionally show up in the U.S., though it is not an officially-recognized USDA-approved certification. Only USDA's organic standard is "official" in U.S. markets.
Troubles With Organic Certification
Increasingly, you can find official-looking labels that make the "organic" claim on everything from fertilizers to packaged foods to bedding. Look carefully at what else is on that label. If you don't explicitly see a USDA or GOTS certification, you're dealing with a product that's making a claim based either on the company's opinion or an unofficial third-party association.
Even with solid USDA certification, there are concerns, according to The Washington Post. The USDA allows up to 5% of ingredients to be non-organic, as long as they're approved by the National Organic Standards Board. And in some cases, certain pesticides or other chemicals are allowed in approved processes that are still labeled organic.
In many cases, you'll find reference in the latex industry to natural latex that has been organically grown. "Organically grown" refers to the processes involved in growing the rubber tree plant (Hevea brasiliensis) that produces liquid latex when tapped (just as a Maple tree is tapped for maple syrup without killing the tree).
Organically grown latex comes from a tree that is grown according to organic agricultural standards. Such latex can still be processed using non-organic chemicals and additives while making the journey from liquid plant product to comfy mattress, so don't be fooled by the label.
Organic Latex Mattress Production
When a latex mattress or mattress component is produced using the Dunlop method, it is at least theoretically possible to create a completely organic mattress. The most traditional Dunlop methods insert the latex into a mold and allow it to dry. However, in order to minimize particulate separation in the liquid, most Dunlop processes used today do employ various additives such as sulfur to give you the most even and resilient latex mattress possible.
When latex mattress components are produced using the Talalay method, it is basically impossible to have a 100% organic product. Talalay latex is produced in a lab on specialized equipment. While the process creates a soft and incredibly responsive mattress, it requires the latex to be transported from the rubber tree estate to the processing facility.
In order to keep the latex in its liquid form, chemicals must be added to slow the liquid latex's natural congealing process – usually ammonia. Though most companies claim that the ammonia completely evaporates or "burns out" in the vulcanization process, the final product cannot be certified as organic by the USDA once ammonia has been added.
The Last Word
It's very difficult to produce a latex mattress that is entirely unblemished, with no chemical additives or surfactants. And it's entirely within the realm of possibility that the mattress you're considering is marketed as "organic" when only one component say, a wool mattress topper or an organic Dunlop core is actually certified organic.
It is perhaps inevitable that the "organic mattress" term should be used to market latex bedding. After all, latex is the only biologically produced bedding material in the world that is suitable for large-scale production. And with the "green" ethic that's sweeping the country, latex is a natural choice (no pun intended).
When looking at an "organic latex" mattress, be sure to ask whether the latex was organically grown and how it was treated during production. Most mattresses that claim to be an "organic latex mattress" are not entirely organic, or even entirely natural. If having natural bedding is most important to you, consider looking for the term "100% natural latex mattress" on the label instead.