We spend about a third of our lives sleeping and getting quality sleep is essential to a healthy lifestyle. But recent research has shown that up to a third of the population may suffer from lack of, or poor quality sleep.
So, when the time comes to search for a new mattress, what should you be looking for?
Alongside sustainable and ethical practices, when it comes to mattresses people should also be considering toxicity.
Mattress companies, which are not required to disclose what goes into their mattresses, employ a wide variety of fancy features — memory foam, cool gel — to mask their ingredients. Especially concerning are the mattresses you order online and have delivered in a box. “A lot of those are just foam that gets squished, and then you open them up and let them reinflate,” Wilding says.
The current winner of the online mattress wars, Casper, calls the materials in its products “planet-friendly” but admits on its website that memory foam can “temporarily leak off-gassing chemical odors, due to volatile organic compounds (VOCs).” That’s that new car smell. In the short term, VOCs can irritate your eyes, throat, and skin and cause breathing problems, headaches, fatigue, and nausea. Long-term exposure can damage your liver, kidneys, and central nervous system.
The main thing to know is that mattresses made of natural materials such as wool and cotton are inherently fire resistant and don’t require the application of chemicals to meet safety standards. Choosing a bed with layers that are sewn together also avoids potentially toxic glues. And as long as you’re not allergic, natural latex provides a cushy alternative to polyurethane foam.
Conventional mattresses cause harm predominantly through emitting VOCs, as well as flame retardant chemicals linked to cancer, hormone disruption and adverse effects on the immune system; and PVC or vinyl covers that can damage developing reproductive systems. According to EWG, people should prioritise organic options, with no polyurethane foam or added chemical flame retardants, fragrances or antimicrobials, no PVC or vinyl, and certifications such as GOTS, GOLS or OEKO TEX 100.
Luckily, in the UK, Naturalmat are handcrafting ethical, sustainable and non-toxic mattresses to keep people safe, improve sleep, and minise impact on the planet.
Who are Naturalmat?
Naturalmat hand make organic mattresses and beds in their solar-powered Devon workshop, on the banks of the river Exe. Their team of craftspeople handle every stitch, fibre, tufting button, and cover all under one roof. They also use only natural and organic materials, buying all raw materials directly from the source, with no plastics, VOCs or other harmful chemicals. They control the whole journey, from farm to bedroom, to give people the best possible experience and the best night’s sleep.
In 2023 they also became the first B Corp certified bed and mattress company in the UK, and are certified living wage employers.
Naturalmat was founded by Mark and Peter in 1999. Mark had grown up in the family boatyard in Devon and Peter was a keen sailor; they realised that while expensive boats had all the mod cons in most departments, the mattresses were woefully inadequate. They were made of cheap, synthetic slabs of polyurethane foam, an unsustainable oil-derived material which retained heat and moisture, creating a hot and uncomfortable night’s sleep.
They realised the solution was to use breathable, natural fibres that wick heat and moisture away from the body, creating a healthier, more comfortable, and longer-lasting mattress. Here, Naturalmat was born. One year later, when Mark and his wife Alice were expecting their first child, their research on nursery mattresses revealed that they too were made from man-made synthetic fibres with plastic covers. Within six months Naturalmat launched the first nursery mattress to pass all British standards with no plastics, synthetics, glues or chemical fire retardants.
Sustainable & ethical mattresses
Sustainability is at the heart of Naturalmat’s operations, and their sustainability strategy is based on five key pillars.
Natural, renewable and organic materials
Naturalmat source only the highest quality certified natural, organic and renewable materials. Organic wool is purchased and collected from certified local farmers, eliminating middlemen and offering farmers a premium of at least 30% more than standard market auctions, and ensuring ethical and sustainable practice across farms.
Every key material that goes into a Naturalmat has been carefully selected from natural, regenerative and sustainable sources to minimise impact, with everything handpicked from suppliers they trust. Materials include:
- Organic coir: coconut fibre, or coir, is an entirely natural fibre extracted from the coconut husk. Naturalmat sources this springy, breathable material from a GOLS-certified organic supplier, which means the farmers and workers are paid well and have good working conditions. Regular audits also ensure that the coconuts are grown without any chemical pesticides and fertilisers, keeping the soils healthy and enhancing biodiversity. The coir fibre extracted from the coconut tree is pressed into coir sheets which, when layered in mattresses, provide strong, long-lasting support and exceptional breathability
- Natural Latex: a natural replacement for synthetic foam in conventional mattresses, which encourages air circulation to help regulate temperatures and prevent overheating. Latex sap is tapped from Hevea Rubber trees and filled with air bubbles and additives to transform it into a naturally hypoallergenic, durable and supportive mattress filling, while also being naturally fire-retardant due to the addition of a touch of graphite. Naturalmat’s latex is certified by OEKO TEX 100, Eurolatex and Rainforest Alliance.
- Organic Wool: directly sourced from local wool farmers in Devon, Dorset and Cornwall who are organic certified either by the Soil Association or Organic Farmers & Growers. This wool is both comfortable and a wonderful insulator, while also being naturally fire-retardant and antimicrobial, making it free of chemicals and dust-mites.
- Recycled Denim: denim offcuts from textile factories are washed, shredded and mixed in with recycled polyester to create a GRS-certified soft and breathable material, perfect for Naturalmat’s economy range of mattresses and toppers while saving tonnes of textile waste.
- Organic Cotton: Naturalmat’s natural bed linen is made of 100% unbleached, undyed and GOTS-certified organic cotton, sourced directly from Indian manufacturers, eliminating the middleman and ensuring the producers recieve a better price. The cotton and wool covers wrapped around each mattress are OEKO-TEX® 100 certified to Class 1, which means they have the most stringent standards that are safe for babies. They are also treated with an OEKO-TEX certified plant-based geraniol which ensures mattresses are protected from bed bugs and dust mites without the addition of any harmful chemicals.
- Tagua Nut: buttons on bedding are made from seeds of the Tagua Palm, which grows naturally in equatorial forests with each tree producing up to 1800 nuts in a year. This helps to employ local communities and eliminates deforestation in these areas.
Circular design and low-waste
Naturalmat are working towards a mattress industry without waste. For over 20 years they’ve worked to cut waste at every step of the production cycle. While their mattresses are designed to be used for a long time but, when the time comes to replace a mattress, they’ve worked to create a closed-loop service.
At the end of its life, every layer of their mattresses can be disassembled and then either composted, recycled or left to naturally biodegrade, ensuring that nothing ends up in landfill.
They also deliver mattresses in plastic-free, sustainable packaging. Since 2021, over 75% of adult mattresses have been delivered in specially-made reusable waterproof bags, which can be used over and over again. These bags are now also being used to deliver beds, bases and headboards, saving over 6,200kg of single-use plastic.
For the few situations where a reusable bag can’t be used, Naturalmat uses a certified carbon-neutral bioplastic, made of sugarcane blended with post-consumer recycled plastic. Whenever possible they bring the used bioplastic back to the workshop and return it to their supplier, who recycles it into more packaging, however it’s also recyclable at home for all councils that collect LDPE 4 plastics (~30% of UK based councils), and can be taken to local supermarkets to be recycled through the flexible plastic recycling scheme.
Nursery mattresses are also delivered in certified home-compostable potato starch inner and a recycled cardboard box, all of which is fully biodegradable when placed in a home compost for 6-12 months, leaving no contaminants behind. Simply rip it into tiny pieces, and mix it in with compost. They even print branding using a water-based ink, to ensure no toxins leech into the soil when composted. Pillows, duvets and wool protectors are packaged in drawstring sacks handmade from ethically sourced, undyed cotton, and printed using water-based inks, and paper bags used for an outer layer are fully recyclable and printed with water-based ink.
They also partner with The Haines Collection to find a new home for offcuts from upholstering beds, bases and headboards. The Haines Collection has a carefully curated selection of high-quality offcut fabrics from the textile industry which they offer to consumers at a heavily reduced price, saving them from ending up in landfills.
Reaching net zero
Naturalmat have committed to reach absolute zero emissions across their operations by 2025. This means completely eliminating all carbon emissions that are directly under their control (Scope 1 and 2 emissions) without using any offsets.
Naturalmat have been powered by 100% renewable energy for over a decade, which has put Scope 1 emissions at a bare minimum. Emissions only come from the gas used for some heating and delivery vans. They’re currently working on swapping gas boilers for electric heating, and are aiming to switch to electric delivery vans as vehicles with better battery capacities for longer drives are released. They’re also currently working on reduction of emissions associated with manufacturing materials, and tackling scope 3 emissions to aim to hit net zero by 2030.
Tackling bed poverty
With many families across the UK struggling to make ends meet, thousands of children are forced to share a bed or sleep on the sofa or floor, leading to devastating effects on their health and lives.
Through a collaboration with the Cotton Lives On Recycling Programme, Naturalmat have developed a new & unique mattress that is filled (and covered) exclusively with recycled cotton made from old jeans, tshirts and all things cotton. These mattressess are then donated to various charities working to alleviate bed poverty, such as Single Homeless Project, Refuweegee and Shelter, who offer them to people in need.
A Mattress for Life
5 million mattresses end up in UK landfills every year, but Naturalmat’s Mattress for Life Initiative™ is a unique and innovative service that ensures a Naturalmat will never end up in a landfill. When a Naturalmat reaches the end of its life, you have three options: Refurbish, Recycle or Donate.
All in all, if you’re looking for a mattress for better sleep that also kind to people, planet, and your health, Naturalmat is the way to go.