Breaking Down Mattress Materials from Natural to Synthetic

Breaking Down Mattress Materials from Natural to Synthetic

Whether you choose an organic or non-organic mattress, it’s important to know how it was made. Standard mattresses contain chemicals that off-gas into your home and may damage your health.

Recycling is one of the best options, but it’s not always easy for junk haulers or homeowners to transport a mattress to a recycling center. However, you can make it easier by breaking down the materials before transporting.

Natural Latex

Latex is a milky substance that comes from the rubber tree (Hevea Brasiliensis). It’s harvested without harming the trees, and the process can be repeated over and over. The liquid latex is whipped, poured into molds and then baked into layers to create the soft foam used in mattresses.

All-natural latex has many benefits, including its odor-neutrality and anti-microbial properties. It’s also durable and won’t off-gas. It’s important to note, though, that organic latex is pricier than non-organic. Look for GOLS certification if you want to buy an organic latex mattress.

The Dunlop company figured out how to transform liquid rubber tree sap into a soft, flexible material for mattresses in the 1920s. At the time, all latex for mattresses was natural; however, during WW2, raw rubber was diverted to the war effort, and synthetic latex (which was made from petroleum compounds) became popular. Synthetic latex is cheaper to produce than all-natural but has problems with color changes, crumbling and a shorter lifespan than its natural counterpart. Luckily, 100% natural latex is back on the rise thanks to consumers becoming more aware and educated about the products they use in their homes.

Natural Fibers

Natural fibers are fibers that come from plants, animals, or minerals. There are many different kinds of natural fibers including cotton, silk, wool, and more. They can be divided into two categories based on their source – plant fibers and animal fibers.

Natural fabrics are eco-friendly as they do not use as many chemicals during production. They also biodegrade quickly, unlike synthetic fibers which can take hundreds of years to break down.

In addition to being eco-friendly, natural fibers are also resistant to fire and possess incredibly high absorbency. They are breathable and make for the perfect choice in warm weather. They are also hypoallergenic and antibacterial, making them the ideal choice for those with sensitive skin or allergies.

Fiberglass, on the other hand, can cause rashes and irritation to the skin and eyes. It can also irritate the lungs and exacerbate asthma, especially when inhaled. Using fiberglass in a mattress can also expose you to toxic fumes, as fiberglass has been known to release harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and carbon dioxide into the air. Putting a fiberglass mattress in a landfill will cause it to release these harmful chemicals into the environment, where they will seep into soil and water and pollute the ecosystem.

Synthetic Fibers

Modern mattresses are constructed with a wide variety of synthetic fibers, such as polyester and terylene. These fibers are produced by using a chemical process called polymerization, which combines solids into liquid form. Afterwards, they are melted, stretched, and shaped into a yarn or thread. Depending on the type of fiber, some have consumer-friendly properties such as stain resistance and stretching.

Most synthetic fibers are made from petroleum or coal-derived chemicals, whereas semisynthetic fibers like rayons use natural reoccurring materials as the base. Organic cotton and wool are also sourced from plant and animal matter.

A common chemical used to make olefin, or polypropylene, fibers is naphthalene. This chemical is a highly flammable substance that can cause irritation for those who are sensitive to it. It also releases volatile organic compounds that deplete the ozone layer and cause air pollution.

Despite its toxicity, naphthalene is the most affordable of all the synthetic fibers. This is why many manufacturers choose to use it for their mattress covers and top-side fabrics. Another popular synthetic fiber is polyester, which is derived from a petroleum-based compound called ethylene. It has similar qualities to natural latex and can be blended with it.

Polyurethane Foam

Polyurethane foam is a key ingredient in many bedding products, including mattresses, mattress pads and box springs. It’s also found in furniture cushions and upholstered products, as well as packaging materials like packing peanuts. It’s an ideal material for mattress cores and paddings because it is very resilient and can be made to conform to a specific shape. Polyurethane can be produced using a variety of oil sources, and the most eco-friendly varieties use plant-derived oils (15 to 20 percent) such as soy or palm.

However, this type of foam is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions because it is made with petrochemicals. Foam products also contain formaldehyde, which can lead to a host of health problems if inhaled, including cancers of the bladder and rectum. Another potential hazard is the toxin benzene, which can cause leukemia and other diseases if inhaled.

Terheiden and her colleagues at Evonik have developed a process for breaking down flexible polyurethane foam into its chemical components. This will enable it to be recycled, reducing the amount of waste it produces by more than half when compared with the production of new mattresses from fossil raw materials. It’s a big step in the right direction, but the ultimate goal is to produce mattresses from recycled materials that will have an even lower ecological footprint.

Metal Springs

A metal mattress spring can sell for 10-20 cents per pound when sold to scrap metal recyclers. This is a great way to make some extra cash when recycling materials from an old mattress and box spring. Learn more about Australian bed sizes at the link here.

Synthetic latex (as found in memory foam mattresses) is created from petrochemicals and may off-gas harmful vapors in your home. In contrast, natural latex is tapped from rubber trees and processed into foam without adding any chemicals. The result is a sustainable mattress that’s healthier for your body and the environment.

To break down a mattress, put on a pair of gloves and start pulling back the fabric to reveal the stuffing underneath. Stuffing is made of cotton and foam, which can be recycled at a facility or reused elsewhere. The wood and steel from the frame can also be recycled or upcycled into furniture or other household items.

Once you’ve pulled back the outer layer of the mattress, look for staples binding the fabric together and cut them with a heavy pair of pliers. Store the pieces of the mattress in bags and boxes to keep them organized as you go. Other than selling, these pieces can be used for creative art projects or unique decor.


Using a utility knife and working outdoors, people can dismantle their own unwanted mattresses for repurposing. The first step is removing the mattress cover, which can be cut up for crafts or used to protect items during moving or storage. The foam and fibers inside the mattress can be stuffed into pillows, pet beds, or recycled for garden use or in compost. The metal springs and coils can be sold to a scrap yard or melted down for other projects like a wine rack or plant trellis.

For the next steps, individuals can assess their options for each of these materials and break them down into smaller pieces to recycle or reuse. If they don’t have the tools to complete this DIY project, they can contact their local municipal offices that handle waste collection and recycling to see if any special disposal services are available. If they have the space, people can also set their broken-down materials out for curbside pickup as long as the materials are separated and placed in heavy-duty garbage bags or cardboard boxes. Taking the time to break down their unwanted mattresses can save people money when it comes to disposal fees and can help prevent additional waste from entering landfills.


A lot of mattresses wind up in landfills around Seattle, where they take up valuable space and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Thankfully, many parts of old mattresses can be recycled or repurposed.

Look for organic fabrics like cotton that has been grown without chemical fertilizers and pesticides, or natural latex that’s made from rubber trees, not petroleum-based polyurethane. If you choose a hybrid mattress, check that it has at least 95% organic materials and meets the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS).

To break down a mattress for recycling or repurposing, you’ll need a utility knife, a seam ripper and/or a shop box cutter to cut fabric, a heavy pair of pliers for removing staples and bolt cutters or wire clippers to cut metal springs from a box spring frame, and a saw to cut wood from the mattress base or the box spring frame. You may also want a heavy bag or box to hold the pieces until you can give them away or take them to your local recycler. The stuffing can be used to make a cozy pet bed, add insulation to your shed or home, or make a weed barrier for your garden.