Colgate claims that eco-friendly foam and innerspring mattresses tend to be made with fewer chemicals, plastics, and PVC (vinyl), and a greater percentage of renewable and sustainable materials, such as cotton, fast-growing bamboo, coir, plant-based foam, and natural latex (rubber from tree sap that's been injected with air). Plus, "the manufacturing process for some eco-friendly crib mattresses tends to produce fewer carbon emissions," says Dennis Schuetz of Colgate.
There are some industry associations that have set their own standards. Schuetz says the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute is a reputable group that tests products for harmful emissions. But there's no industry standard for what constitutes a "natural" mattress. Parents should ask specific questions about each component of a mattress to determine whether it meets their expectations.
For example, a mattress labeled organic might have a cover made from 100 percent organic cotton while everything inside the cover isn't organic. It's possible to buy a "natural/organic" crib mattress made of just 5 percent organic or natural materials. "One of the newest mattresses on the market is probably 85 percent plastic but advertised as ‘organic'," Schuetz says, noting that it has one layer of organic cotton, and adding that it's not a Colgate mattress. "The consumer is being fooled by this."
You can also get a mattress that's supposed to be all natural but has a vinyl or plastic covering on top. If that's enough for you, that's fine. But shopping in this category will require extra research, and it's still possible to wind up with something that's not quite what was advertised.
"If a mattress is waterproof, it is not natural or organic because of whatever is being used to make it waterproof," Schuetz notes.
Shoppers might find the USDA logo on organic textiles, but it applies only to how the fiber was grown, not necessarily how it was processed. Another textile label shoppers can look for comes from Europe and Japan. That label, called Oeko-Tex (from the International Oeko-Tex Association) means that testing was been done to screen for harmful substances. It also takes processing into account, including any dyes or other components used in making the mattress.
Some mattresses sold in the U.S. carry the Oeko-Tex label, but in many cases the label only relates to part of the mattress, not the whole thing. For example, the Colgate Natural I mattress has a 5-inch layer of coir fiber with natural latex that's certified by Oeko-Tex. Ask about each component to find out whether it's more organic or natural. It's also helpful to know what's typically used so you can gauge the difference in value.
Another standard you might see mentioned is GOTS, or the Global Organic Textile Standard. But it hasn't been universally adopted. It's a processing standard for textiles made from organic fibers. Only textile products that contain a minimum of 70 percent organic fibers can become certified, according to GOTS.