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August 2013

All about natural fibres

Natural fibres are the best quality of mattress components that you can use. They are more breathable, responsive and durable than any synthetic counterparts. However, the mattress world is full of confusing descriptions of these. Can you tell the real from the fake? The useful from the useless? This article will help you to find the best natural materials for your mattress.

Natural fibres take your mattress choices from the average to the sublime. They are far more breathable than their synthetic counterparts or dreaded foams. They enable a cooler sleeping experience as they are high wicking.

Bamboo 250
Bamboo is a soft plant fibre that is high wicking and temperature regulating

Natural fibres are also incredibly resilient and far outlast polyester and ‘white fibre’ However, did you ever wonder why retailers don’t tell you the exact GSM (grams per square meter) of these wonderful fibres? Instead, they lead with sumptuous, exquisite or dreamy descriptions that give no real detail. Why is this?

Would it shock you to know that the majority of ‘Natural fibre mattresses’ may only contain 1%-3% actual Natural Fibre? That these fibres can be blended with polyester and other cheaper fibres. meaning you’re paying for a Natural Fibre mattress but really just getting a cheap synthetic one instead.

If you see descriptions like ‘Contains silk, cashmere and wool’ then the chances are this is just a tiny portion of the overall fibre blend. You really need to know the exact GSM to know if its a true natural fibre mattress.

Natural Fibres fall into two categories

1. Animal fibres

2. Plant fibres

Nothing More. However, the products that can be manufactured from just these two categories are immense. The variations and combinations that can quite possibly be produced could well be in the hundreds, but thankfully this is not the general case.

The first thing for you to do is understand the order of usage in which all these material are placed within the mattress, and which materials can deem to be considered a quality product that can be used within mattress upholstery.

 

Plant fibres include Bamboo, Flax, Coir and Hemp
Plant fibres include Bamboo, Flax, Coir and Hemp
Animal fibres range from Wool, Horsehair, Horsetail, Alpaca, Vicuna and Cashmere
Animal fibres range from Wool, Horsehair, Horsetail, Alpaca, Vicuna and Cashmere

All Mattress upholstery products are divided into just three elements

1. Support

2. Support and comfort (Bridging layers)

3. Comfort

There is a post here on the techniques of mattress construction that will detail this aspect in greater detail. The basic thing to understand is that mattresses should be built using ‘gradual suspension’ as the fundamental basis of design. Quite simply, this means that as the sleeper lays on top of the mattress the supportive properties should be minimal on the first layer and slowly progressing slightly firmer through each element until you reach the spring support which will be the firmest element within the mattress.

As a general guide, the following materials can be broken down into elements showing which component is used for each general purpose.

1. Support elements:

  • Horsehair
  • Coarse cashmere
  • Coir
  • Cattle hair
  • Mohair

The support elements in a mattress are used usually directly on top of the spring unit. For example course cashmere is often used as an insulator directly on top of the pocket spring unit in our Artisan 1500 mattress. They can also be used further up the upholstery to help provide support and stability.

White cashmere mattress fibres
Cashmere makes an excellent mattress insulator between the springs and the softer upholstery layers

2. Support and comfort elements:

These fibres can be used for both support and comfort with Horsetail being the prime example. Horsetail acts as a secondary spring unit when used further up a mattresses upholstery. Wool also has great support properties along with providing softer comfort, making it an excellent dual use fibre.

Blended wool and cotton mattress
Wool is an incredibly versatile and highly breathable mattress upholstery fibre

3. Comfort elements:

These comfort layers are the fibres that will give you the overall ‘feel’ of the mattress. So it is worth paying particular attention to the layers used above the spring and support unit. The list above gives you the order with the more expensive at the bottom. Alpaca is one of the worlds finest fibres being both super soft and breathable.

Mohair is a premium insulator fibre for a mattress being resilient and breathable
Mohair is a premium insulator fibre for a mattress being resilient and breathable
Wool and Alpaca are super soft which makes them great for the top comfort layer
Wool and Alpaca are super soft which makes them great for the top comfort layer

Now, this is not a hard and fast breakdown. Although the materials listed above can be used individually or coupled together to produce a fabulous mattress, elements can be interchanged to produce bespoke models for the end user.

For example, to produce a very soft mattress upholstery, bonded wool and cotton can be used as the support element and separate layers of wool and blended wool and cotton can be used as the comfort elements.

luxury mattresses & bases
The Artisan Naturals is our Softest mattress in the range

To create a slightly more supportive feel to the upholstery a blended horsehair and wool component can be used in the middle of the upholstery layers along with Alpaca as the finishing layer.  The variables are endless, creating a subtle difference to the overall feel of the mattress depending on the layers used.

Artisan Bespoke
Our Artisan Bespoke features Alpaca, Bamboo, Coir and Horsetail providing a medium feel with a slow sink.
Blended wool and cotton1200 V2
Blended Wool & Cotton is a breathable and soft upholstery fibre

There is a product missing from the above list known as hempure. This is a blended product of hemp and other material (specifics, unfortunately, unknown to us) to create an upholstery layer unique to Harrison Spinks and utilised within many of their mattresses. This product is grown on their production farm in Yorkshire. If you would like to know more about this product and the composition/benefits etc please contact Harrison’s direct.

Introducing Hybrids

The use of entirely natural fibres in a mattress sets the mattress apart from those that utilise man-made fibres such as polyester or/and foams. There is a middle range known as hybrids where the mattress is upholstered with a mix of both – natural Fibres and man-made. This type of build can be where confusion is most likely to be had when reading product descriptions as some manufacturers tend to ‘forget’ to list the man-made components and just mention the natural fibre elements – therefore, you could be misled into thinking your mattress contains a greater degree of premium natural fibre upholstery than it actually does!

Nine times out of ten you can spot these products just from the retail price asked – however, it is unlikely you will know the actual value of a particular component and therefore, quite wrongly take the description for granted that it is what it is is. In general terms and once you know the value and worth of a product you too will be able to spot if something is not right and so the list below puts the most popular components into some kind of value pyramid:

The cost of natural fibres

Natural fibreCost / Availability
AlpacaVery expensive (low supply chain)
Bamboo Average price (good supply chain)
CamelVery expensive (low supply chain)
CashmereExpensive (good supply chain)
Cattle HairAverage price (good supply chain)
CoirAverage price (good supply chain)
CottonVery expensive (good supply chain)
FlaxAverage price (good supply chain)
HempAverage price (good supply chain)
Horsetail Very expensive (low supply chain)
Horsehair Less expensive (good supply chain)
SilkVery expensive (low supply chain)
VicunaVery Expensive (Most expensive natural fibre in the world)
WoolModerate to expensive (good supply chain)

If you take the above list of products to be the bulk of what you will find within a mattress you will see that there really isn’t that much a manufacturer can include within a specification to significantly differentiate one model from another. Knowing this should make you realise that for all the mattresses out there, there has to be a significant number of models that are practically identical. Read How to compile a mattress comparison. Of course, to really differentiate you will have to know the weight of each product actually utilised (GSM).

Mattress horse tail stuffing
Our Artisan Range features an array of 100% Natural Fibres

You will notice that most of the expensive products are animal fibre components and generally, due to the processing costs involved they do carry the premium prices. The plant fibres are obviously in abundant supply and the availability is greater but again, the costs to harvest and process give the product it’s value and worth.

Summary

It has to be said that the worth of all-natural products far supersedes the worth of synthetic man-made fibres. Man-made are cheap to manufacture and are in abundant supply. They are all polyester-based and can be manufactured to suit a particular element of the mattress – supportive or comforting. Due to the affordability of this product, it is used 100% in low price range mattresses. Polyester can be blended with some natural products such as cotton or wool to produce a mid-range component such as polycotton or poly-wool. These particular blends will more often be used in mid-price range mattresses as a bridge between all man-made and all-natural.

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