Mattress Pads

The Best Eco Friendly Mattress Pads

Hey! Now that we’ve gotten your attention with our greenwash-y, SEO-friendly title (thanks, Google), you should know that while there’s no such thing as “eco-friendly” mattress pads, here’s what to be wise on when you’re shopping so you can pick the best option for you, the planet, and the people making your stuff.

We will spend a third of our lives sleeping (or at least desperately trying to!), so it’s no wonder we put so much into making our beds as comfortable as possible. Mattress pads can give beds a little more plush, but that extra inch of fluff can come with a high cost to humans and animals. Read this guide to avoid making a purchase that will keep you up at night.

What to Be Wise On:

We use mattress pads for extra comfort, which means that no matter which one you purchase, it will be stuffed with something. Most of today’s options use either natural materials like down and cotton or synthetic materials like polyfiber. Before you buy, you should know that either option may cause undue harm to living creatures and their environment. For a quick cheat sheet, check out the ‘Certifications’ section below to minimize this negative impact as much as possible.

The Factors To Consider:

Fill Materials

Goose/Duck Down

Down-filled mattress pads are known for being incredibly soft and breathable, but unfortunately not every aspect of their production process will keep you breathing easy. First things first – let’s talk about the difference between “down” and “feathers”. Down refers to the soft layer of feathers that are taken from the chest area of a goose or duck. Down is highly valuable (by traditional capitalist standards) since these feathers don’t have quills, which makes them insulate better and keep their plushness longer. Feathers, on the other hand, are taken from the back and wings of waterfowl and will flatten out over time as the quills line up. Even though tons of products are advertised as down, many manufacturers will use a mixture of both to cut down on costs. 

Regardless of whether down or feathers are used, the production process isn’t always the prettiest picture. Since waterfowl meat is already being sold for consumption, we’d hope that the down and feathers could be a byproduct that limits the amount of waste to landfill. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. 

Instead, the horrifying reality is that in conventional down production, waterfowl are often plucked while they’re alive. And, even though this practice is outlawed in the U.S., it still takes place in Hungary, Poland and China, which are the world’s largest down producers. The commercial down industry produces 270,000 metric tons of down annually, and it’s estimated that 50-80% of that is live-plucked (queue the creepy horror music). If you choose to buy a down mattress pad, check for certifications like Global Traceable Down Standard and Responsible Down Standard (more on those soon). 

The upside (if there could ever be an upside to live-plucked living beings…) is that down and feathers are recyclable, limiting their environmental footprint if disposed of properly. Since down retains its structure over time, it can be collected, cleaned and used all over again in new products without any degradation of quality. So, better yet, buy recycled down.  

Polyfiber

Synthetic alternatives to down, like those made from polyester, aren’t the most glamorous or innocent of options. These materials are derived from crude oil, which means they’re extracted from fossil fuels, require a lot of energy to produce, and are non-renewable. While that doesn’t sound too appealing, the reality is that most mattress pads are made from synthetic materials because they are more affordable than other options. 

If you’re on a budget or can’t stomach down in any form, keep an eye out for mattress pads made with recycled polyfibers. Recycled polyester requires two-thirds the amount of water it takes to produce virgin polyester and can cut down on energy use by 59%. Not too shabby. Whether you end up with virgin or recycled polyfibers, however, there’s still the problem of microplastics. Polyfibers shed microplastics when they’re laundered (which should happen every few months, BTW) and those microplastics can accumulate in our bodies and waterways. Neither turtles nor humans benefit from consuming plastic unwillingly, so please dispose responsibly! In fact, try donating before tossing. 

Cotton

Some mattress pads are filled with cotton because they are plush, durable and relatively affordable compared to a down option. As a renewable material, you might think cotton is a wiser choice than polyfiber, but it’s no silver bullet. Cotton comes with a significant environmental toll, particularly due to land degradation, the use of agrochemicals (like pesticides), and high water consumption. In fact, cotton uses nine times more water in its production than polyester. However, cotton also uses 25% less energy to manufacture compared to polyester. 

If you’re sold on cotton, do what you can to buy a mattress pad made with organic cotton. Organic cotton produces 46% less CO2e compared to conventional cotton because it’s grown without harmful chemicals and typically utilizes rain more than irrigated water. Opting for organic cotton will cost you because it’s rarer than conventional cotton - organic cotton represents roughly 1% of global cotton harvest. Whether you end up with organic or conventional cotton in your mattress pad, look out for GOTS or OEXO-TEX labels (more on that in ‘Certifications’ below). 

Exterior Materials

While the fill of mattress pads will greatly differ, many use similar materials to package in all that fluff. Materials such as cotton and polyester are often used to construct the exterior shell of the mattress pad. Cotton is chosen for its softness to coat the fill of the mattress pad, while polyester helps create the elasticity required to hug your mattress. For more on the pros and cons of cotton and polyester, refer back to the ‘Cotton’ and ‘Polyfiber’ sections under ‘Fill Materials’, respectively. 

Certifications

Know how we always say “there’s no such thing as sustainable {insert product here}”? Starting to see why? Regardless of the option you choose, any mattress pad is going to have its own host of challenges and considerations. The best option would be to skip the mattress pad altogether, but if you really want some extra fluff, look out for these certifications to make a wiser choice. 

Global Traceable Down Standard (GTDS): This certification ensures that no down comes from live-plucked or force-fed birds, and that animals have access to the Five Freedoms of animal welfare, including freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury, and disease; freedom to express normal and natural behavior; freedom from fear and distress. Facilities must be audited on the criteria every three years to maintain the certification. While animal welfare standards are flying to new heights above the Five Freedoms, GTDS is currently the strictest standard for down production and covers apparel, household items, and commercial products.

Responsible Down Standard (RDS): This certification also ensures that no down comes from live-plucked or force-fed birds, and that animals have access to the Five Freedoms of animal welfare mentioned above. Audits are conducted annually to ensure that facilities are following the criteria. RDS is the most popular down certification program with about 150 brands on board.

OEKO-TEX: This standard guarantees that every component of a product has been tested for potentially harmful substances such as pesticides, heavy metals, and formaldehyde, which predominantly impact people working at manufacturing facilities. This label means that the product is relatively harmless to human health, which is great for the people who make the mattress pads AND the people who sleep on top of them.

Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS): GOTS is the gold standard of textile certifications (which is why we like to pronounce it as GOAT-S). It requires that at least 70% of materials in the product are organic and that the product complies with multiple environmental and social criteria along its entire supply chain. If you opt for a mattress pad made with cotton, definitely prioritize finding this label.  

A Few Key Takeaways:

If you can choose the right mattress for your best night’s sleep, then you can avoid using a mattress pad altogether. That said, we can appreciate that it’s easier (and cheaper) to add a mattress pad to your existing mattress instead of buying a new one. So, here’s what we suggest: keep your eyes peeled for as many of the certifications we’ve listed as possible. You’ll be able to rest easier knowing that no cruel ingredients went into the making of your fluffy pad.  

Want to see science-backed sustainability ratings on all of your fav products?

Common Questions We Get

“Are mattress pads recyclable?”

TLDR: Not quite. Depending on the materials, you may be able to salvage some components. If your mattress pad is made of synthetic materials, sorry but this material is not something that can be recycled through your local waste collection. However, you could send it to Terracycle and they might be able to make use of some of the materials. Even if your mattress pad is filled with down or feathers, we recommend also sending it in so that it can be endlessly repurposed. While down and feathers are technically compostable, the exterior shell is not unless it’s made of 100% cotton, so save yourself some effort by sending to a recycling program to handle.

“What can I do with old mattress pads?”

Since mattress pads aren’t likely to get fully recycled, another option is to extend its useful life. Depending on its condition, you could donate the mattress pad to a local charity or animal shelter. If you’re crafty, you may be able to repurpose the material into small pillows or animal beds with some extra fabrics. Whether you’re able to recycle or repurpose, try tackling one of these options before resorting to tossing it in the trash. 

Want to be in a cozy cocoon? Check out our Wise Guide for duvet inserts to keep you comfy on top, too.