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Is there such a thing as an organic futon or sofa bed? I found one that uses part raw untreated cotton and part “dense foam.” What’s in that foam? Is it toxic? —Phaedra Muirhead
What a timely question considering we'll all gain an hour of sleep early this Sunday when daylight savings ends. Although many bed companies use the term “organic,” there is technically no such thing as an organic futon, mattress, or sofa bed. Only agricultural products—and food, fiber and cosmetics made from them—can bear the USDA certified organic label. Futons, mattress sets and sofa beds are not products that can be certified organic in their entirety.
However, the marketplace is well-stocked with beds that are made with USDA-certified materials. These include organic cotton, wool, soy and the newest organic sleeper on the block: latex tapped from certified organic rubber trees. Below are some things to consider as you shop for the greenest, healthiest mattress in your budget.
Organic fiber vs. fabric dyes and finishes
It’s great that you’ve found a bed made with raw, untreated cotton. But keep in mind that "organic" only regulates production of a fiber, not to how it’s dyed or finished. For your own immediate health, avoid potentially toxic, irritating, allergenic finishes that repel water, stains, moths or wrinkles. For specifics, see our Econundrum about upholstery treatments. The best choice is an untreated, undyed cotton mattress. Most organic mattress companies avoid synthetic treatments and toxic dyes, but you should always ask before purchasing.
But for your budget’s sake, keep in mind that you can always buy an untreated mattress cover made of luxurious organic cotton and/or wool to put between you and a treated mattress.
Petrochemical or plant-derived foam?
Most mattress cores contain synthetic polyurethane foam made from petrochemicals. Synthetic foams, made from nonrenewable fossil fuels, are not only planet-unfriendly but iffy for our health because they are highly flammable and treated with toxic fire-retardant chemicals.
To find out what’s in the “dense foam” in the bed you’re considering, ask the retailer or manufacturer whether it’s made from natural (preferably organic) rubber tree sap or soy. It may be a blend of renewable soy and polyurethane, which is still preferable to all-synthetic, especially if you can get 50 percent or more soy.
By law, all mattresses are required to have fire-retardant components. Luckily, wool is naturally fire retardant, so mattresses wrapped in a thick layer of wool qualify. Look for labels that say the mattress meets the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) and State of California fire retardancy standards.
For more information, check out my product list of organic and untreated mattress options.
Now, if only we could get some certified organic slumber!
Mindy Pennybacker regularly answers readers' green-living questions. She is also editor of GreenerPenny.com and author of Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices.