Mattress for the Chemically Sensitive

We have been looking for a new mattress for most of a year. The last time we bought a mattress was about 12 years ago, and we purchased a custom foam mattress (synthetic) from a small local retailer. Since it was still off-gassing a bit when we received it, we aired it out for several weeks before sleeping on it and didn’t experience any further problems.

In the years since then, I have become extremely chemically sensitive and have developed sensitivities to many natural products as well. I can be reactive to things that most people would consider beneficial to benign. You can imagine that this is making mattress shopping quite challenging.

Typically we prefer a good quality foam mattress because of the limited motion transfer. So purchasing a natural latex mattress seemed to be the best choice this time around. Until I stopped into Savvy Rest just days before placing an order for a three-level latex mattress in a natural wool cover in order to determine our final “firmness” and latex combinations. The store had just received a delivery of a number of new latex layers, both Dunlop and Talalay, and there was a strong odor when I walked in. Within 10 minutes, I had a headache and was beginning to lose my vision (my typical sensitvity reaction), at which point I left with samples of both types to take to my health practitioner for sensitivity testing, courtesy of the store manager who expressed a genuine concern for my health. The verdict was that I was reactive to both kinds of latex.

This is not an indictment of Savvy Rest. They appear to be a good company with a good product. I can be equally reactive to chemicals as well as to some natural materials, so I concluded that latex was a substance that I shouldn’t be living with, particularly in my bed. (I have had previous mild skin reactions to other latex products, but thought that if my skin didn’t touch the latex, it wouldn’t be a problem.)

In recent months, we have been spending a fair amount of time on natural/organic mattress web sites trying to determine what product will best meet our needs. And shopping for a mattress on line can be very confusing.

So, I have several questions related to all this:

Has anyone else ever experienced/reported a negative reaction to a natural latex mattress or to any odors/off-gassing?
Do you know if Savvy Rest latex is truly “natural”?
What kind of mattress would you recommend for someone like me and what manufacturers would you recommend?
Could a small amount of latex in a mattress be safe to consider?
Is it possible to find a “healthy” foam mattress, or are we now destined to be innerspring consumers?

I have read much of the information on your educational web site and very much appreciate the depth of experience I have discovered here. Thank you for your help!

Hi Chinchilla,

[quote]So, I have several questions related to all this:

Has anyone else ever experienced/reported a negative reaction to a natural latex mattress or to any odors/off-gassing?[/quote]

Yes … you certainly aren’t alone although it’s certainly not common or the norm. While the smell wouldn’t be harmful to the large majority of people (all the latex you are likely to encounter has been independently tested through Oeko-Tex or Eco-Institut for harmful substances or VOC’s) … some people are more sensitive than any testing or may have sensitivities or even allergies to latex or the the substances used to manufacturer it (see post #2 here) or even to the smell itself (see post #2 here) and in these rare cases they would need to rely on samples and/or their own personal experiences to determine if a particular type of latex is suitable for them.

Like many other manufacturers … Savvy Rest uses different types of latex. Their Dunlop is organic (see post #2 here) and their Talalay is 100% natural (which means that all the rubber in the core is natural rubber not synthetic rubber) but all foamed latex cores also use smaller quantities of other chemicals or substances (such as foaming agents, accelerators, curing agents, gelling agents, and others) to make the latex so the actual natural latex content of the final product may only be in the range of 90% - 95% rubber.

There is really no way to answer this on an individual basis and this would be more of a medical question than a mattress question that only your doctor or medical professional can answer. If for example you have been medically tested for a latex allergy or sensitivity and have discovered that you have an actual type I latex allergy (which is rare) then even small amounts of natural latex could trigger your allergy and produce some serious symptoms and I would avoid exposure to natural latex completely in every area of your environment and experience. If you have a latex sensitivity or a type IV allergy then this would normally be to the chemicals in the latex and not the latex itself and would be a contact allergy in which case a latex mattress would normally be OK because there is no contact with the latex.

While innersprings would likely be fine … I would keep in mind that an innerspring is just a support layer and there would almost always be some type of foam in the comfort layers of an innerspring mattress (either memory foam, polyfoam, or latex foam). Some mattresses may also use only innersprings and natural fibers (such as cotton and wool) which would likely be fine.

All of these types of issues can be very complex and it can be frustrating to find out all the information you need to make meaningful and “safe” choices when there is so much misinformation on both sides of the issue. When researching the many issues that are connected to safety on an individual basis is more necessary than it would be for most people … then post #2 here and the many posts and sources of information that it links to would be a good place to start and can help you answer the question of “how safe is safe enough for me?” when the answers that would apply to most other people may not apply to you.


Thanks, Phoenix, for your very thorough response. (Forgive me if this message is a duplicate. I thought I had already responded.)

I have read your information and the links you included – very helpful. It sounds like an innerspring mattress with a natural comfort layer might be the best choice based on my sensitivities, but I’ve noted on your site that you’ve said that natural comfort layers can compress and not recover as well over time. Sounds like there’s no real good substitute for a foam (latex or synthetic) in the comfort layer from a durability and consistency standpoint. And if I do consider latex, it might be better to go with Dunlop since it’s a more pure material from the standpoint of being a single ingredient.

I’m not sure if my sensitivity reactions are from allergies (I technically don’t have a level IV latex allergy per tests, and my reactions don’t classify as typical level I allergy) or from cumulative toxin/chemical exposure. Sometimes I have equally strong reactions to substances that classified as safe and natural. If a manufacturer is willing to give me very small samples of their mattress contents, I can have them tested ahead of time for compatibility with my system, which would be a more certain way of making a good mattress choice. Have you ever heard of manufacturers providing customers with small samples (1" is plenty) of their materials?

You repeatedly encourage your readers to find an outlet to try mattresses before they buy. For me, it would really help to talk to a professional who could help educate us and point us in the right direction. Are there any outlets in our area where we could try a few mattresses and get some good advice and information? We are in Fairfax County VA, zipcode 20171.

Thanks for your help.

Hi Chinchilla,

Natural fibers do tend to be firmer than softer foam materials (especially as they compress over time) but that’s not always the case and it can depend on how the specifics of what type of fiber is used, how it’s manufactured or tufted, and on the type and firmness of the innerspring that is underneath them. There are certainly some manufacturers who make softer versions of innerspring/natural fiber mattresses (usually with one or more pocket coils) but these tend to be more costly (and in some cases in very high budget ranges). There is a list of some of the innerspring / natural fiber mattress manufacturers and some of the “ultra premium” manufacturers in post #4 here.

I’m not so sure this would be the case and there would be a valid argument on both sides of the discussion. Neither one would contain any synthetic latex in their formula. Talalay latex uses flash freezing to stabilize the latex and CO2 as a gelling agent while with Dunlop these would be actual substances that were part of the compounding formula in the latex. Dunlop may also use lower levels of ammonia to prevent putrefaction because it’s manufactured close to the plantation while with Talalay the liquid latex is shipped before manufacturing so it would need higher levels to avoid contamination by bacteria but the foaming and manufacturing process would remove most of this in both cases. Both are washed to remove impurities after manufacturing. No latex manufacturer discloses all the details of their compounding and manufacturing process so which one was “purer” would be open for debate.

I think this would be a good idea and there are many manufacturers that will provide a sample of their latex if you ask them so you can carry it with you for a few days to see how compatible it is for you.

Some of the better options and possibilities I’m aware of in the Washington, DC area are listed in post #2 here. While they are in a much higher budget range … Urban Mattress carries VI Springs which are a line of very high quality pocket coil natural fiber mattresses that would have some softer versions that may be worth testing just out of curiosity and to see what a soft mattress of this type can feel like for you.