Petrochemicals are chemical products derived from petroleum. Chemical free mattresses use ingredients such as virgin wool, organic cotton, and natural latex. A truly chemical free mattress should not employ the use of any petrochemicals.
Memory foam and foam mattresses: Memory foam and foam (polyurethane) mattress cores have historically been a very non-green choice due to their high reliance on petroleum and chemical blowing agents (which have included ozone-destroying CFC’s and heat-trapping HFC’s), catalysts and flame retardants.
They also have been known to sleep hot. Some foam makers are making headway improving the sustainability of their industry via a variety of greener source materials, manufacturing processes, and even nature-inspired designs:
Greener source materials
A green materials trend that has emerged over the past decade is to replace petroleum source materials with plant oils. Integrating plant oils (sunflower, soy) into foam formulations has been the new green alternative.
Cotton and Wool Mattresses
Cotton and Wool are naturally chemically free.
A lot of companies make claims about their latex being chemical free. Makers of latex (aka rubber) mattresses, ostensibly made from the sap of the rubber tree (Hevea brazilensis, native to Brazil) claim that this material is naturally resistant to allergens like mold and dust mites and is more resilient than polyurethane. In my experience, it’s often a very comfortable material for mattresses.
However, when I started looking into latex’s green credentials, I found that it is usually mixed with petrochemical fillers to add durability and firmness. Even worse, the fact that these fillers are used – sometimes even in mattresses that claim to be “100% natural latex” and “pure latex” – is usually not disclosed. Fortunately, there are alternatives to sourcing latex from monoculture plantations, including choosing mattresses made with sustainable forestry-oriented “jungle rubber.” Like shade grown coffee, these operations grow rubber trees in a more diverse agro-forestry matrix. Unless you’ve found a mattress with latex that’s certified as sourced from this type of operation, it’s probably not as eco-friendly as claimed. The key is to look for latex that is certified organic.