In Search of the Affordable Natural Bed

The Pièce de résistance.

I truly believe that if you are going to green one thing, you should green your beds, because people (babies and children especially) spend so much time sleeping.  About a year ago, we bought a full size bed for our 2 small children to sleep in together.  I couldn't afford my ideal bed (all natural materials, no plastic, no toxic chemicals), but I ended up with a decent compromise. Below you'll find information about my ideal bed, very affordable eco-friendlier options, and what I actually bought.

But what if you aren't in the market for a new mattress right now?  Hopefully, you'll find the information below on bedding, pillows and mattress protectors useful.  Honestly, I chose not to research the mattress issue until I was ready to buy a new bed to avoid unduly stressing myself out.  I will say that if I had a new baby sleeping in a crib it would be my number one shopping priority to buy a 100% natural crib mattress (probably made of organic cotton and wool) with zero added flame retardants and a wool puddle pad for protection.


The ideal.  100% natural materials (wool, cotton, hemp, bamboo, natural latex).  Enough wool used that no flame retardant chemicals are necessary to pass flame retardant regulations.  There is some argument out there about whether it is appropriate to use wool or latex in children's bedding products, since some believe them to be potential allergens.  The green manufacturers that use latex and wool argue that because of the way the materials are cleaned and used in the mattress, their mattresses are very unlikely to cause an allergic reaction.  We don't have any allergies in our family, and I've slept directly on wool puddle pads with both of my babies, so this wasn't a concern to me. 

Eco-nomical.  It can be challenging to find an affordable mattress with neither polyurethane foam nor chemical fire retardants (two things I like to avoid).  Polyurethane foam is made from nonrenewable petrochemicals and can emit volatile organic compounds, which have been linked to respiratory irritation and other health problems.  Over time, foam also sheds tiny particles that become part of your household dust and are easily inhaled. Spring mattresses might contain less foam, or you could try some of the new soy-based foams, which are partly derived from renewable sources (but still contain polyurethane).  Manufacturers now often use undisclosed chemicals to make polyurethane foam flame retardant. If you can, buy a mattress whose manufacturer actually discloses what chemical is used for the fire retardant treatment.   For example, during my research, I got an email from Sealy stating that their mattresses use a flame retardant system called "Fire Blocker" which utilizes boric acid.

Futons are a great affordable option for polyurethane foam-free mattresses made of natural materials (often cotton and wool).  However, if you are used to sleeping on a spring or foam mattress, it could be tough for you to get used to a traditional futon.  Your kids might not mind one bit though, especially if they are too young to know the difference (my brother's kids all sleep on traditional futons).  One adult friend of mine says that sleeping on a traditional futon has done wonders for her back. If you opt for conventional (not organic) futons, they are really not too expensive.  For example, a Japanese futon place near my home sells twin cotton futons for as low as $145 and cotton/wool futons for as low as $180.  Note that the thinnest (and cheapest) varieties offered might not be thick enough for slats or your personal taste.  They also sell crib-sized futons for even less (beginning at $95 for an all-cotton futon).  Although many online futon manufacturers will ship nationally, I would suggest searching in your local area for a local store (especially if you have a sizable Asian population in your area), because it will allow you to try lying down on the futon to make sure you find it comfortable and will save you a bundle on shipping.

In most cases, cotton and cotton/wool futons are treated with boric acid to meet flame retardant standards (you can often opt out of even the Boric acid: see section entitled "
A Note about Flame Retardants in Mattresses" below).  Boric acid is a naturally occurring substance (used in roach killer, for example, so don't eat your futon), and, according to my research, one of the least toxic options for flame retardant treatments.  Much safer than the synthetic chlorinated and brominated chemicals, for example. You could also search out a futon with enough wool to meet federal flame retardant standards with no treatment, but it would be quite a bit pricier because of the cost of wool.

If you live in the Bay Area, you can buy a spring twin mattress made with all natural materials (steel coils, wool, cotton) and with zero chemical flame retardants for less than $400 from a Berkeley company. This mattress has enough wool to meet federal flame retardant standards without any additional treatment. I first learned about this one while browsing some local parenting forums for ideas on natural mattresses. Since I drove by a sign that said "twin mattress $99" yesterday, I'm not sure I can call this mattress "eco-nomical," but I think this is the least expensive all natural no-chemical twin that still meets federal flame retardant standards that I know about.  But since it only comes in the twin size , it wasn't an option for me.  If you are in the market for a mattress, be sure to ask around and check your local parenting forum for any threads on "natural mattresses" before buying this big-ticket item.

If you aren't in the Bay Area, My Green Mattress makes a twin mattress with organic cotton, natural wool, and coils for less than $500 including shipping (full is $660, queen is $680). They make a few pricier styles as well.

For those with sewing skills, you could also try making your own mattress.    

What I bought: An (almost) 100% natural futon mattress stuffed with organic cotton and organic natural latex.
Our new full mattress had to be firm/extra firm because that's how we like our mattresses around here, and we expect to spend some time sleeping with our kids.  In addition, my husband does not believe in spring mattresses.  I bought my futon mattress and wood frame together for less than $600 total (on special).  The "natural" mattresses I found recommended on green websites all cost $1,000-plus.  Our full futon mattress is not all natural because it has a polyester/cotton case.  I wasn't willing to pay several hundred dollars more for a custom bamboo/cotton cover.  Our futon mattress also was treated with boric acid to make it more flame retardant.  Even though you can expect to find pesticide residues and possibly other chemicals in conventional cotton batting and conventional wool, buying an organic mattress was not essential for me.  My top priorities were avoiding polyurethane foam and avoiding synthetic chlorinated and brominated flame retardant chemicals.  It was actually more important that we find the mattress comfortable to sleep on.  The organic materials were a nice bonus.

My futon mattress was not only made in the USA, but made less than 50 miles from my home!  I laid down a good chunk of change for my natural mattress, but it is a long-term investment (10 years) and we can use it as a sofa/guest bed when my kids outgrow it.  I used all my Craig's List money (several hundred dollars earned through selling stuff previous to our last move) on this eco-splurge.

A Note about Flame Retardants in Mattresses
Many smaller local futon shops are willing to make mattresses completely free of flame retardants, as long as you provide a doctor's note.  Several books that I have read about decreasing your exposure to chemical toxins have recommended this route.  Should you sidestep flame retardant regulations and get an untreated mattress?  First, keep in mind that by sticking to natural materials like cotton and wool (rather than foam), your mattress is already less flammable.  Polyurethane foam is, after all, basically solid fuel.  After following the flame retardant controversy for several years, it is my opinion that the evidence for the harm caused by flame retardant chemical treatments is far more substantial and definitive than the evidence that flame retardant chemical treatments actually prevent fire injuries or save lives. In other words, many experts believe that the risks of flame retardant chemicals probably outweigh their benefits.

Bed Frame

The ideal.  Nicer hardwood (maple, oak) with FSC certification, no box spring necessary (wood slats), finished with child-safe eco-friendly stain in a lovely shade of brown.

Eco-nomical.  An unfinished wood bed frame with wood slats from IKEA (under $100).  Futon shops are often a good bet for unfinished solid hardwood frames too.  Avoid particle board and pressed wood if you can.

What I bought.  An unfinished pine futon frame made from eco-friendly Southern Yellow Pine. Because it's unfinished, I don't have to worry about what the stain is made of (although unfinished wood has its disadvantages, of course). Because of the wood slats, I need no box spring.


The ideal.  Organic natural fiber sheets with certified eco-friendly manufacturing and dying process.

Eco-nomical.  Aim for sheets made of 100% cotton (or other natural materials), lighter in color (less harsh dying process), with no finishers.  According to the Sierra Club, any poly/cotton sheets, or sheets marked as permanent press, easy care, or no-iron (who irons sheets?) contain formaldehyde, which off-gasses.  Sheets marked as stain or water resistant have probably been treated with Teflon.  Avoid all those things.

What I bought:  organic sheets with self-proclaimed eco-friendly dyes.
Sheets are in direct contact with your child's skin and face, so it's nice to get organic sheets in order to limit exposure to chemicals.  Organic cotton is also so much nicer for the planet.  I bought organic sheets from a discount online store.  The description proclaimed eco-friendly dyes, but since there was no certification, I'm just taking the company's word for it.  Note that the color is not that awesome.  Clearance shoppers cannot always be choosy.


The ideal.  Organic, natural fibers, eco-certified dyes, really cute kiddy pattern.  No flame retardants.

Eco-nomical.  100% natural fibers (including filling) with no flame retardants.  Check the label:  if it references flame retardant regulation such as TB 117, it's probably been treated.

What I bought: Heavy 100% White Egyptian Cotton Blanket.
Initially I wanted to get a 100% cotton quilted bedspread/coverlet.  However, I found several that said on the tag that they were in compliance with flame retardant regulations (TB 117).  This made me suspicious of all bedspreads, so I decided to just buy a cotton blanket instead.  Since I was avoiding toxic flame retardants in my mattress, it seemed a shame to buy bedding with it.  I ended up buying a high-quality heavy white Egyptian cotton blanket on clearance at a chain home goods store.  The blanket was probably bleached and possibly was treated with optical brighteners, which ideally are to be avoided, but the white color means I don't have to worry about dyes.  I originally envisioned something more colorful, but the bed is always covered with books and toys anyway.  In the winter, we will throw the machine-washable twin-sized down comforter (with 100% cotton duvet) over the top for extra warmth.


The ideal.  Organic natural filling and cover.  No flame retardant treatment.  These days you can buy pillows filled with buckwheat, kapok, wool, organic cotton, flax seed, corn -- all kinds of crazy stuff.

Eco-nomical. A washable pillow with a high-thread count cotton cover.  No flame retardant treatment (check the label).  Wash it frequently.

What I bought:   wool pillows with hemp/ organic cotton cover
This is the closest I got to my ideal.  I spent a little extra on the pillows because my kids' faces will be in contact with it.  I had never previously addressed the pillow issue, but this time I was really going whole-hog with the natural materials.  The company I buy from uses untreated, unbleached, uncarbonized wool from locally raised sheep that graze on chemical-free fields.  The certified "Eco-wool" is washed with mild soap and never treated with chemicals.   I think wool is an ideal material for pillows.  Although it's not machine washable, wool is naturally anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and lots of other good stuff.  You can find many makers of wool pillows these days, but they can be very pricey, so shop around.

The Mattress Protector/Pad

The ideal.  Washable nearly waterproof full-size puddle pad made of organic wool.  If you have bed-wetting in your family and want a plastic barrier, consider a PVC-free waterproof mattress cover certified by Greenguard (for low chemical emissions) such as this one by Naturepedic which uses food-grade polyethylene.

Eco-nomical.  A vinyl-free mattress protector.  IKEA uses no vinyl in any products and has a waterproof mattress protector.  I've also found PVC/vinyl-free mattress protectors at Target.  This list provides specific PVC-free suggestions.  Keep in mind that you generally need some kind of plastic layer if you want it to be waterproof.  Another economical (but not 100% waterproof) option would be to simply use an all wool or mostly wool blanket (such as you would find at an army surplus or emergency supply store).  You can always do a little test by pouring a cup of water on top of the blanket to see how well it prevents moisture from passing through to the mattress.

What I bought:  full-size wool felt with twin-size wool puddle pad.
Once you lay down the cash for the expensive natural mattress, you really feel like you don't want to let it get ruined.  But I really wanted to try to avoid plastic all together on my "natural" bed.  The washable wool puddle pad that we used on the twin bed was too expensive in the full size, so I purchased some wool felt (spot clean only) instead.  I also put the twin puddle pad on top of the full size wool felt at the top of the bed, where my kids mostly sleep.  I'm not really that scared of pee, which is sterile after all  (and I could air out the mattress if need be).  However, although neither of my kids has ever vomited in bed, it is definitely a possibility that gives one pause.  Thus, the wool felt plus wool puddle pad.  After a year of use, and several leaky diapers/ potty training accidents, I can tell you that our wool pads have never allowed any moisture to pass through to the mattress itself.  You can also utilize a nice plush mattress pad above or below the wool pad to absorb any moisture, but be aware that some pads are treated with flame retardants, even though they aren't labeled as such (I found this out by calling several manufacturers of 100% cotton mattress pads).

Additional Resources

Do you have a tip for affordable eco-friendly bedding?  Please share it below!

Note: this is an updated version of a post published in September 2010

Are you interested in Going Green Gradually? Sign up for my free email subscription to get each of my posts delivered to your inbox (I usually post two or three times a week). You can also follow me on FacebookTwitter, or with your favorite RSS Reader. I hope to see you again soon!


  1. The more I learn, the more I really just want to scream! It's about impossible to avoid harmful off gassing and dangerous chemicals today. Thanks for the informative post.

  2. You've done a really good job of covering all the bases! One of my boys has a Lifekind mattress, we all have organic rubber or whatever pillows from either Lifekind or Gaiam but I gave up on the bedding. When they were younger, they had the organic wool mattress cover and we have owned organic cotton sheets. Now, though, it's mostly just whatever in terms of bedding..

  3. Wow, what an amazingly well-informed post. I have not had to buy new bedding (although we don't have all-natural bedding right now) until now. Baby girl is getting her "big girl" room and will need a new bed, mattress, etc. I know so much more now, but can't afford my ideal. I love how you have everything organized though. I will have to check out all your suggestions!

  4. We currently have a normal mattress, we did get a metal frame that didn't need a box spring so we could ditch that (free cycle) that part and have less chemicals. We do have an organic mattress pad and bedding. We also have natural latex pillows. We want an organic or natural latex mattress but will have to save up for that.

  5. Congrats on being chosen as the blog of the week! Great article. We have been on he move for the last 2 years so we have no invested in an organic mattress. When we get home in March we are going to buy our daughter's bed. We decided on a non-toxic organic mattress and non-toxic eco-friendly bed! After that, we will do the same for us. We didn't buy a crib for our daughter so we could take that money and get a great bed and mattress for her! Thanks for sharing! :)

  6. Great post!
    I hadn't thought of using futons because they seemed too thin to be comfortable.

    The one thing I will say is that I found in my research that soy-based foam is not really soy-based. It is polyurethane foam with a touch of soy. It is what my greenwashed bed is made of and I seriously doubt that it is any safer than any other foam bed.

  7. True enough, Bethany. My futon is very thick and I think as comfortable as a conventional mattress, but the less expensive more authentic Japanese futons can be quite thin -- I'd definitely recommend trying one out in person if at all possible!

    I found the same thing about soy foam -- but I guess at least PART of the mattress is made of renewable materials. I'm not sure it lowers your exposures to toxins much. It seems there is plenty of greenwashing going on in mattresses -- like the "organic" crib mattresses I sometimes see which still have plenty of junk in them.

  8. Thanks for all the awesome information. The Berkley company does deliver to the Los Angeles area if anyone is interested. Wondering if this mattress is better than the Organic mattress sold by Land of Nod.

    I'm so confused. I need 2 twin natural/chemical-free mattresses asap. Any help is appreciated.

    1. My friend bought two twins from the Berkeley company (for a 6yo and 4yo) and seems happy with them. Can't comment on the mattress by Land of Nod. All I know is -- ask lots of questions. Just because it's "organic" doesn't mean it's chemical-free. I wish I had time to do a more comprehensive mattress post, but i don't at the moment -- if you are looking for something that can be shipped, I would check some of the links (like the NYTimes one) at the end of the post, which I think lists companies.

  9. Really appreciate your efforts, many people want to achieve that but don't have enough time to spend on research, you have done a fantastic job and i am very thankful to you for sharing all this information with us.

  10. Great post!

    I use layers of old wool blankets on top of wide pine boards. There are about 8 blankets, totaling 3 or 4 inches. The blankets are from before the days of pesticides (and artificial dyes; they're practically antiques). No back pain at all; not even during pregnancy. I'm sure all these over-soft mattresses are why we are a nation of back pain.

    Before that we had a DIY organic buckwheat hull mattress, but hubby didn't like that it had to be 'fluffed up' every day, because the hulls shift a bit when you move in your sleep. Now I have 250 lbs of organic buckwheat hulls in a closet waiting for the day I decide to make a few dozen breastfeeding pillows.

  11. Thanks for this post! We're currently hunting for a green mattress for my daughter and are considering a futon from the Futon Shop. Would love to know how it has held up since you purchased it. Any sagging issues?

    1. We do not have sagging issues. We do try to rotate regularly. One issue we do have is that the mattresses tend to be a little on the large size (with somewhat bulging sides rather than perfectly straight up and down sides) and sometimes it's hard to stuff them into the bed frame, which can lead to the mattress being slightly higher on the sides than in the middle. It hasn't been a big issue for us honestly, except when we try to fit 3 people in a full bed and the person on the end sort of has a tendency to roll towards the middle because it's hard to stay right on the edge as it is a little sloped. I hope that makes sense.

  12. The problem with the mattress you recommend is that it uses a toxic fire retardant. To keep the price down and green wash, the futon shop is suggesting that their mattresses are completely natural and organic but in order to meet state and federal fire codes they skimp and use questionable and unhealthy chemicals. Why not go all the way and manufacture a futon that doesn't need the addition of toxic chemicals? Consumers must realize that natural and organic sleep systems are worth the extra cost if they are truly concerned about their health. Me, I'd rather skimp on buying latte's at starbucks for a couple of months and buy a mattress that is not going to compromise my health...

    1. As far as I know, boric acid is the only flame retardant the Futon Shop uses, which I believe is one of the safest options available. You can also get no boric acid with a doctor's/ chiropractor's note. I have some mattresses with, some without. P.S. I'm not affiliated with The Futon Shop in any way : )

  13. Thank you so much for your research! I have been in the process of finding a new queen mattress / bed for my husband and I. I had pretty much settled on Cozy Pure, because they offer a deal where you can get bedding, pillows, everything in one package. The thing is that the mattress (and pillows) in this option contain "natural" latex. They say there are NO chemicals at all in their products - so can you tell me, is "natural latex" safe? Thank you SO much!!

    1. My mattresses also are made with "natural latex." I believe the term is usually used to distinguish it from synthetic latex, which isn't really latex at all but a latex-like material synthesized from other substances. According to this article from another mattress manufacturer, all latex has some additives to be stable:

  14. I would go with the futons, personally. Be sure and find out how they handle flame retardant regulations. It sounds like your futon will be fine without a plywood sheet due to thickness, although density also matters. Our bunk beds had slats that were quite far apart (8-10 in.) so we bought wood to add additional slats between the existing ones. We have used waterproof covers from IKEA and Target. I feel OK about waterproof covers as long as they aren't vinyl. Nonideal, but you don't want a ruined or moldy mattress either. Once our kids are more reliable, we switch to wool, but it's definitely not as waterproof.

    Naturapedic is a great option as well! And they might actually last longer than the futons (not sure about that -- we've had futons for 5+ years now that are still great). Actually not as natural as an all-cotton futon, but they do use Greenguard certification so you know no VOCs. Hope this helps. Good luck! Beds can be such an agonizing decision : P

  15. I was hoping to get your opinion on longevity of the futon matress. I'm in the New England and called a reliable futon store and was told that they don't carry the wool cotton futons anymore because they don't last long? Are you still happy with your purchase and have they lasted?

    1. Yep, still going strong. I will say that you have to rotate them regularly to insure even wear, but overall we are very happy with them. Some of my futons have a latex core and others are 100% organic cotton. All are doing well, but I imagine the thickness and density of futons varies considerably. Ours are both thick and quite dense.

  16. How are the pillows holding up that you purchased? Also, Thank you so much for all the time that went into putting this article and wonderful resource together! I've referred back to your page very frequently as I've been researching bedding for my kids.

    1. Thank you for the kind words! We absolutely love our wool pillows and have since ordered several more. You can't wash them in the machine, and they have been thrown up on... but I find a little spot cleaning and deodorizer (biokleen) and some time in the sun and they are A-OK for use again :)

  17. I realize your post is old. I am very curious about your pregnancy. During your pregnancy, did you sleep on your side on the layers of wool blankets?


    1. I am not entirely sure what you are asking. I think you may have read a comment above that someone else wrote and attributed it to me? I still have the same cotton/latex futon mattress mentioned in this post. It has a wool felt pad on top that offers some water resistance. And yes I slept on it through at least one (maybe two) pregnancies. And night nursing and bed sharing : )

    2. Yes, I did. I thought I asked adamantya through her post. D'oh! Sorry about that. It is just that I have 100% cotton futon mattress on wood platform, but the futon mattress is too firm for my sciatic nerve (right hip). I have very few wool blankets, but it looks like I need to buy more wool blankets on ebay to cushion my hip.

  18. Betsey, what are your thoughts on all wool futon mattresses or latex and wool?

    1. Both sound good to me! But I would test it out and make sure you are OK with the level of firmness.

  19. The links to the futon store are defunct. Can you re-link, please?

  20. Also, I have questions about dust mites and wool. Any thoughts on this?


Have something to say? Please leave a comment!
I read all comments and try to respond to questions in a timely manner.
Comments are now moderated due to spam overload and have to be approved (by me) - so don't worry if your comment does not appear immediately after you publish it.


© 2008-2020 Eco-novice: Going Green Gradually All Rights Reserved

Copyright © Eco-novice | Powered by Blogger

Design by Anders Noren | Blogger Theme by