What mattress certifications should you think about when buying your next bed?
We dug in to explain what CertiPUR-US, Greenguard, GOTS, GOLS, and other seals even mean.
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It’s challenging enough to shop online for a mattress in a box. There are a lot of considerations at hand, from how you sleep to your budget. But when you start researching specific products, you’re inundated with claims about organic fabrics, sustainable manufacturing, ethical business practices … mattresses are marked with so many different terms, it can be dizzying. What do they actually mean?
With consumers looking for a deeper understanding of their products, including how they’re made, what they contain, and where they’re from, certification labels can provide a helpful shorthand. Mike Brown, an expert in sustainability and environmental health policy, suggests consumers ask themselves what they care about, and look for a certification that addresses those specific issues.
However, these seals can also be overblown or misleadingly marketed, making you think they signify more, or something different, than what they mean in reality. Here’s your guide to the most common mattress certifications, and which bed-in-a-box companies have them.
Seals for air quality and potential health effects
One of the biggest issues with boxed mattresses is their tendency to off-gas—or air out chemicals leftover from manufacturing—after being opened. Off-gassing occurs because the mattress is tightly wrapped in plastic shortly after production. These volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are released by a range of materials used in mattresses, from adhesives to flame retardants to the foam itself. Current research supports that common mattress VOCs do not pose health concerns for most people, but they may be problematic for sensitive groups like those with asthma or other pre-existing respiratory conditions. Still, there are multiple certifications that set stringent guidelines on VOCs in mattresses to make things easier for consumers who are concerned about VOCs or who have underlying conditions.
Greenguard certifications are issued by the Sustainable Furnishings Council and indicate that a mattress or other furnishing emits low levels of pollutants. There are two levels of Greenguard Certification: Greenguard and Greenguard Gold. Both levels demonstrate that a product is “low-emitting … suitable for environments where people, particularly children and sensitive adults, spend extended periods of time.”
The criteria for the Greenguard Gold certification mandate products meet even more stringent requirements for the same chemicals and byproducts tested for Greenguard, as well as other chemicals entirely. Greenguard Gold also has a “total VOC limit, which limits the overall number of VOCs a product can emit,” says Lori Hemingway, spokesperson for UL (formerly known as Underwriters Laboratories), the issuing body. UL was founded in the early 1900s, and its mission is to promote safety and sustainability through science and data. Labels, like Greenguard, are one way of advancing both the safety of consumers, as well as businesses’ sustainability and environmental impacts. Brown says Greenguard fills an important consumer advocacy niche that wasn’t subject to government standards. In the past, air quality focused on air outside the home, rather than indoor air quality and how products inside a space could worsen it.
CertiPUR-US certifies just the foam components a company uses in mattresses. To earn a CertiPUR-US certification, the foam must be tested by an independent lab to meet a variety of requirements, from excluding heavy metals and certain flame retardants from manufacturing, to meeting low thresholds for formaldehyde, benzene, and other volatile organic compounds—a slate of which was selected in collaboration with experts in a variety of fields, including scientists and environmentalists.
Unlike some of the other material certifications, CertiPUR-US does not demonstrate a product is organic, nor does it require foam manufacturing facilities to meet any workplace standards such as compulsory overtime pay, limits to work-week hour, or minimum age requirements.
This certification is well-known and widely used by companies that produce foam mattresses. In fact, nearly every mattress we’ve tested has the certification, including Leesa, Helix, Layla, Casper, Zinus, Saatva, PlushBeds, Nectar, and Puffy.
Standard 100 by Oeko-Tex
In the realm of mattresses, the Standard 100 label by Oeko-Tex indicates that a mattress underwent textile testing by a third-party lab for a variety of substances that may pose a threat to human health. Even non-fabric components that are sewn in, such as zippers and the thread used in stitching, must meet the standard’s requirements for a product to gain certification. Products with the certification are tested for more than 350 substances, a list set by Oeko-Tex, that include low thresholds for certain chemicals and compounds, such as mercury and formaldehyde. The Standard 100 certification criteria include quality control measures that guarantee products maintain their quality between annual renewals, but do not require companies meet social and workplace criteria, such as minimum wage regulations and prohibiting child labor.
A few years ago, Oeko-Tex introduced an even more strict and difficult to obtain label, Made in Green. In addition to testing and ensuring that products are safe, the Made in Green label also demonstrates a product is manufactured “sustainably,” meaning the company has a low environmental toll, whether that be throughout the manufacturing process and chemicals used, or by steps taken to mitigate the environmental effects of certain byproducts or chemicals and treatments. Manufacturers must also have “socially responsible” working conditions, based on standards outlined by a variety of international organizations, including the UN and International Labor Organization. Products with a Made in Green label also need to be STeP certified—another certification offered by Oeko-Tex that emphasizes sustainability.
No mattresses are currently certified as Made in Green, though Avocado holds the Standard 100 by Oeko-Tex for its entire product. Aside from Avocado, you may see the Standard 100 by Oeko-Tex seal on other mattresses, but it likely only applies to certain components of the mattress, not the entire product. The rubber latex foam used by PlushBeds, for example, is Standard 100 certified.
Eco-Institut is a German laboratory that certifies mattresses and other furniture and construction products as emission-free or low-emission for a variety of pollutants such as formaldehyde, chlorophenols, a “reasonably anticipated carcinogen,” and benzene. All to say, products with the certification have limited chemical off-gassing.
In the context of mattresses, the label demonstrates a product is low emission and low pollutant—it's agreeable to health and can be kept or used, without concern, in indoor spaces. The criteria for this label is lower than the legally required standards in Germany, which are still considered safe for human health, meaning the Eco-Institut’s requirements have a very low threshold.
Intertek VOC Gold and Silver CleanAir Certifications
Intertek’s VOC Clean Air certifications require mattresses meet criteria for low VOC emissions, based on the ANSI/BIFMA standard issued by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which accredits and oversees the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturer’s Association (BIFMA). BIFMA worked with various groups, including the EPA, environmental groups, and design firms, to develop the ANSI/BIFMA standard, says Brad Miller, the director of advocacy and sustainability at BIFMA. VOC CleanAir Certification expert chemists and accredited labs test products before they are certified.
Purple is the only mattress with this certification.
Made Safe Certified Non-Toxic
The Made Safe Certified Non-Toxic seal is awarded to products that meet testing standards showing they do not contain a long list of ingredients and chemicals that are known, or suspected, to cause harm to human health. These chemicals include a variety of flame retardants that harm the endocrine system.
Seals that certify materials
Americans’ growing appetite for organic food doesn’t stop with what’s on the table—some seek out organic products, as well. In terms of mattresses, “organic” pertains to how the raw materials that make up the textile cover—such as the cotton used in the ticking—or other components, are grown. These standards also include requirements related to human health and fair labor practices.
Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
GOTS certifies fabrics based on a smattering of ecological and social criteria. There are two sub-certifications: “GOTS Organic,” and “GOTS Made with Organic.” Fabrics with GOTS Organic certification are made of at least 95 percent organic fibers, while the GOTS Made with Organic certification requires fabrics to be made with at least 70 percent organic fibers.
The GOTS Standard is based on multiple internationally recognized organic standards, including the USDA National Organic Program. Organic agriculture supports ecological balance and biodiversity, according to the USDA. As such, maintaining water quality, wildlife, and natural habitats are also considerations for recipients of this certification. Even down the line in manufacturing, GOTS requires a product’s final packaging material not contain polyvinyl chloride, also known as PVC, a common source of phthalates, plastic softeners that may pose a threat to human health.
For both GOTS labels, fabric manufacturers and processors must follow certain fair labor practices, including meeting a minimum age requirement, based on criteria set by the International Labor Organization, and wage regulations for workers. Companies holding the certification are required to collect and analyze data on wages, including the lowest paid worker, and average earnings, and commit to ensuring working hours are not excessive (for example, full-time workers cannot exceed 12 hours of overtime per week). Manufacturers complete annual inspections, and “on any given day, they can receive an unannounced inspection,” says Lori Wyman, a GOTS representative for North America. Inspectors have access to all HR files, and are required to interview workers in a private space, she says.
Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS)
GOLS sounds like GOTS, but targets a specific internal component of mattresses: the latex used in foams. The certification was developed and is awarded by the Control Union, an organization that works to foster sustainability in business and production.
To meet the GOLS standard, products must be made from more than 95 percent certified organic raw material sourced from rubber trees grown at USDA-certified rubber plantations. The standard also requires companies to abide by various fair-labor practices, including minimum wage standards as determined by local law, and fair wages and overtime pay, even if the latter is not mandated by local law.
Seals that certify manufacturers’ environmental impact
The consumer trend toward valuing eco-friendly manufacturing has pushed companies to provide more transparency on their production practices, and in producing clear information on whether, and how, their products are “sustainable”—a buzzy term with no standardized, legal definition. “Sustainable” products may indicate companies are working toward achieving a neutral environmental impact in their manufacturing processes. Approaches include: lessening or mitigating the toll of their manufacturing by reducing wasteful byproducts; changing the chemicals used in manufacture to less environmentally damaging ones; or buying “carbon credits,” or “offsets,” which are investments into climate-change solutions, such as solar initiatives, to counteract their carbon footprint, or the total carbon emissions they produce as a company by way of the delivery and manufacturing process.
While “sustainability” is a term that’s thrown around a lot, Brown cautions that mattresses with certification(s) for sustainability may not be truly sustainable. These certifications rely on differing criteria to determine what sustainability means and how companies can meet their standards. Without uniform definitions, claims of sustainability still come down to certifiers, in essence, saying “take our word for it,” he says. Certifications that address environmental issues may still be useful, but approaching them with skepticism and knowing the certifiers’ criteria will give you a better idea of what the label actually indicates.
Climate Neutral Certified
The Climate Neutral Certified label is issued by Climate Neutral, a 501c3 non-profit. The organization is relatively new, having been founded in 2019. The certification requires most companies self-measure their carbon footprint with a tool Climate Neutral provides. Companies whose annual revenue exceeds $100 million must have their carbon footprint reports verified by a third-party environmental auditor. Companies then offset their total carbon emissions by purchasing carbon credits from various third-party organizations that are verified under groups such as Climate Action Reserve, which quantifies and maintains the integrity of carbon credits to ensure their efficacy and validity. In addition to immediately offsetting their footprint, companies with the certification must have a long-term plan to reduce their emissions.
Rainforest Alliance Seal
The Rainforest Alliance Seal sets benchmarks for environmental, social, and economic sustainability. Companies who obtain the seal must meet a multi-pronged set of criteria that address a variety of factors: the traceability of products through production; social issues, such as eliminating any child labor and addressing workplace violence or harassment with individuals specifically appointed to assess and address these issues; and environmental concerns, including land use and farm management.
Avocado and PlushBeds, Happsy and Awara hold this certification. However, the Rainforest Alliance’s rubber certification program, which addresses the main component in mattresses that make this seal worthwhile for the category, is being discontinued as part of the rollout of a new certification program.
Economic and business certifications
There are also certifications that cover corporate responsibility issues well beyond the product itself, including ethical and safe business practices. Only a handful of mattress companies hold this type of certification, and there are fewer economic certifications to begin with—but that doesn’t diminish their significance.
The ultimate goal of B-Corps, according to the organization's website, is to use “business as a force of good.” To become a B-Corp, companies undergo a rigorous assessment that addresses how the business impacts workers, the community, and customers, through an array of considerations like supply chain, employee benefits, and even charitable contributions. Certification demonstrates that companies met “high standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability.”