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.

Bamboo 250Natural 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.


View our Natural Fibre Mattresses


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.

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
Horsetail Very expensive (low supply chain)
Horsehair Less expensive (good supply chain)
Cattle HairAverage price (good supply chain)
SilkVery expensive (low supply chain)
Cashmere – Dependant on gradeExpensive (good supply chain)
Bamboo Average price (good supply chain)
CottonVery expensive (good supply chain)
WoolDependent on grade (good supply chain)
AlpacaVery expensive (low supply chain)
CamelVery expensive (low supply chain)
CoirAverage price (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.


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.

Ask us a question: We would be incredibly interested to hear from people who have questions on natural products that haven’t been mentioned within these posts. Also, we would love to hear from people who work within this industry to share their knowledge, particular those who understand these products on a molecular level.


View Comments
  • Sam Pinnock says:

    Since Wool is stated to be a necessary layer for ‘Comfort’, and you advised the use of a wool Topper, would it be sense for me to buy a mattress with a lower specification of padding and put onto it one, or even two, wool toppers?

    Or, because they would not be ‘tufted’, would the wool toppers move about too much?
    Presumably the mattress would need to have a sound ‘Support’ element.
    Could you recommend one of you mattresses that would be suitable for this approach?
    I think that this approach could lead to a lower total cost??

    Regards Sam Pinnock.

    Hi Sam. A perfect question and a very good approach of how to spend your budget wisely. There is another comment pending on this site asking a similar question – At what point does the comfort of the mattress stabilise as to the price paid? eg; Does a two thousand pound mattress afford twice the comfort to a one thousand pound mattress? Of course the answer is No. This was such a good question I am preparing a separate post to take in all the variables of this approach.

    I imagine you have read the post on Toppers [Here] which goes into great depth about the value of such, and if used as separate cushioning (Comfort) layers on top of a mattress acting as the support you will be getting as close as possible the perfect mattress for your available budget.

    Movement is not an issue. A double topper approach is a perfect combination – The first topper being directly on your mattress and held in place with the bottom sheet. The second topper (within a duvet case) used on top of the bottom sheet and this will be your sleeping platform. In the morning the bed is made and you have the opportunity to shake and air your topper – now the primary layer – something that cannot be done by relying on the built in comfort layer of the mattress alone.

    As for recommendation? All our mattresses will be suitable for this approach. Even as low as The Origins Reflex but still take into account the support qualities of such. For example if you are of a heavy disposition, The Origins Comfort would not be suitable (built to be a soft support for light people). Ideally though, the better mattress you buy will have the properties contained to complement further the toppers you use.

    I will shortly be experimenting with three toppers – the final one being more luxurious than the two underlying ones (Feaher and Down (supportive) Ultimate Microfiber (Comfort). During the hot summer there was a time when I slept directly on the duvet (Goose Feather and Down) and the diference in overall comfort was indeed greatly improved. Good question Sam. Please comment further as to what you end up with and how it works. John and Ryan.

  • Elizabeth Hunter says:

    I have many allergies to chemicals and really want to buy a mattress made from natural fibres like your Artisan Natural. I have previously had bad headaches from off gassing from a memory foam mattress. Are natural mattresses sprayed with fire resistant chemicals or are they just natural? I have seen a wool mattress that claims to be chemical free but was wondering about others.

    Hi Elizabeth. There seems to be an inordinate number of enquiries about this subject of late. Currently we are trying to find out what the actual FR chemicals used to make the mattress ticking FR. This is tending to be a long drawn out process as not many people actually know. We are looking into the possibility that some fabrics are constructed using 100% polyester or majority polyester to give the fabric the FR requirement without having to use additional chemical. We then have to look at how polyester fabrics are developed to see what chemical constituents they contain. This is going to be a long winded process.

    Looking at chemical additives to actual [Natural Fibre] upholstery layers currently seems that the use is non existent. We have asked our suppliers to inquire further on our behalf and when all the results are in we shall write a specific post on this. Wool is naturally FR and is used as the FR when bonded with Cotton (which is not naturally FR). Please leave this with us for a while and I will try and find conclusive answers for you as soon as I can. John and Ryan.

  • Fiona says:

    I’m looking for a mattress suitable for allergy sufferers. Can you help please. I also have hyper mobility which means I suffer a lot with joint pain particularly in my hips and back. I’m getting to the end of my tether looking for a new mattress and can’t afford to make a mistake. Thanks

    Hi Fiona. I have just a look at the NHS site about Hyper Mobility [Here] and my heart went out to the commentators about the level of pain you and they are enduring. I’m not going to take your question lightly and therefore will get Lee to contact you to see if he can provide something that will help. What I did notice whilst skimming through the comments was that there was no mention of their sleeping arrangements – considering that fatigue was a noticeable symptom of this condition.

    We have had good response from previous customers suffering with Fibromyalgia who find relief with a combination of good support but coupled with maximum cushioning primary layers. I’m sure we can come up with something to suit your requirements. John and Ryan.

  • Sandy says:

    I am looking to replace the mattress currently in my Ikea bed frame (160×200). My husband and I are both vegan, so would like a mattress without animal fibers. We are both fairly large also (my husband is 105kg), so it would be good if it could take some weight. I read that you rate latex very highly, could you point me to a mattress you recommend that might meet our needs? Are you able to make Ikea sizes?

    Thanks in advance.
    Hi Sandy, Apologies in the delay responding to your comment its been an incredibly busy time for us at John Ryan! Latex is an incredible material in offering progressive comfort and support. We have our John Ryan Contemporary Fusion Latex range, which is available in 80% natural 20% synthetic and 100% natural latex blends. These are solid core latex mattresses, fully turnable and of the highest quality. So much we are one of only a couple of manufacturers in the UK to offer these. Given your weights our Fusion 2 or 4 maybe suitable. Please see here for more details and to get in touch. Thanks. Lee (John Ryan Contemporary)

  • Tania says:

    Hi there,

    I am interested in purchasing a natural latex mattress for my 10 yr old daughter. I am particularly drawn to one that has coir beneath the latex layer. How hard wearing is coir? We had a coir cot mattress for her when she was a baby, but I seem to remember it dipped after a time. Any comments on coir would be gratefully received.

    Hi Tania, this is a very interesting question you raise around coir especially with contemporary latex mattresses. Coir has been used relatively recently in the mattress world. Its usually coconut husk or equivalent, not to be blunt but for those who are scratching their heads, or coconuts, its the equivalent of a door matt in terms of its raw state. Coir is then sometimes sprayed with latex and or topped with latex usually as you state in a cot mattress. You’re right that sometimes due to its nature it will dip over time, like most materials. You can avoid this with regular maintenance, turning etc. Moving onto natural latex, the reason why cot mattresses use coir is that the weight of a baby or child is a lot less than say an adult. Using solid latex would be expensive and over kill for this purpose. It means that you can use a thin slice of latex for comfort whilst using the relatively cheap coir for the majority of the mattress.

    We have a range of 100% natural latex mattresses on our John Ryan Contemporary site under the Fusion range. The benefits of solid core latex is that its incredibly progressive in its comfort, allowing a soft sink before support. Due to the fact its a solid core of latex means its very durable, there are less components and moving parts to fail or deteriorate. Please have a look here for more detail. Please get in touch directly if you want to discuss further. Lee (John Ryan Contemporary)

  • Vicktoria says:

    wonder if you can answer this one for me. I’ve recently purchased an expensive natural fibre mattress from Relyons top range. Unfortunately the mattress smelt so strongly of ‘stable’ that I had to change the sheets and duvet covers every day. Even our pyjamas smelt after a nights sleep. After a week I did challenge the store where we purchased them and after talking to the manufacturer they replied that it is to be expected that there is a smell but it would eventually wear off and that I should air the mattress every day. Unfortunately even after 5 weeks of airing daily there is still a distinctive ‘rural’ smell, albeit slightly less but still existent. We had an independant ‘furniture technician’ sent out from the store check the mattress over and he confirmed thst the smell originsted from the materials used and was ‘normal’, we should keep ariring it and it would eventually disapear. I have bought several mattresses in my lifetime and my prior one was a expensive ‘natural fibre’ one from Vispring and never have had a smell like that. Everyone who smelled the mattress agreed that it was a distinctly ‘horsey stable’ smell they had equally never come across. Anyhow, the store have agreed a refund or exchange. I can not believe that it is normal for a mattress to smell for weeks, can you please enlighten me as to what is to be expected before I decide on the next?
    Thak you

    Hi Vicktoria, It is normal for the natural fibres such as wool and horsehair to give off an odour, which may last for some time after unwrapping, however, there is no specific time limit which can be applied. As the store have agreed a refund or exchange, it might be prudent to exchange at this time, provided you can get an assurance that if the new mattress has the same strong smell after 5 weeks, you could still return that for a refund. I hope that this helps and please let me know how you get on, kind regards Mike.

  • Sandra Neale says:

    I think your website is amazing. I have learnt so much about mattresses.
    I have had my present mattress for 20 years and always thought it was good quality. After reading your posts I now realise it ISN’T!
    I am 8stone and would like soft feel with support. After much informed consideration I have 2 products to make a final decision: Comfort mattress and a really good quality topper or hybrid laygel soft. Please help with my final decision. Do I need to pay more to make me happy?
    Why is the comfort only guaranteed for 3 years?

    Hi Sandra, I’m glad you like the John Ryan By Design site and our information has proven useful. If you want a soft feel either the Origins Comfort or the Hybrid 1 laygel would be our softest mattresses. The difference is the sensation of each. The comfort is a traditional mattress and the Hybrid 1 is a contemporary foam based mattress. Ths Hybrid will have a softer progressive sink to it compared to the comfort and a softer edge on the bed. The comfort will have softer top layers but a more robust support unit and edging due to the construction of pocket springs.

    Have you tried any contemporary beds before? If you like the idea of progressive comfort you could always pair up a comfort mattress with a laygel topper for a super soft extra deep sink?

    The guarantee matches the components used with the mattress, with good care and attention the mattress will far exceed this duration but we obviously have to provide a guarantee to suit the materials and wear and tear. Our guarantee is a no quibble guarantee so unlike say a 5 year warranty thats on on a proportional basis, ie you et some but not all of your money back based on how long you’ve had it, we say if the mattress fails we will repair or replace, no fuss within the guarantee period if defective. To have a higher guarantee you would need to increase the components to say natural fibres or calico pocket springs which are a higher specification and therefore last longer.

    I think it may help if we advise over the phone given you’re looking at two soft but very different mattresses! Lee

  • Shireen says:

    Really interesting. I am looking for a new mattress. I have allergies so was initially thinking if going for a sprung mattress with geltex on the top to aid both allergies and comfort, but suddenly thought perhaps it was better health wise to stick to natural materials as not sure how much is known about geltex. I have heard some people complain about side effects with memory foam which is also man made. Do you have any views on geltex, latex, memory foam and whether they could possibly have health impacts?
    Many thanks

    Hi Shireen, You’ve raised a really interesting point about the health impacts on various materials. To be honest each individual will need to assess the benefits of each material and its components in relation to allergies as it depends what you are allergic to. You’re right in that there is little known about Geltex at this time as Sealy don’t provide much information on this new hybrid foam. If you like the feel of geltex but are worried about the synthetic nature of such foam then you’d be best sticking to 100% natural latex for toppers. This blends the comfort, progressive moulding but keeping the synthetic components to a minimum. We have a range here you can view. – Lee

  • Lavinia says:

    I am thinking of buying a Highgrove Sovereign mattress 2000 pocket sprung with wool and silk stuffing. I cannot see any comments about this brand on your site… is this because you don’t recommend them?


    Hi Lavinia, We do not specifically recommend mattresses made by other manufacturers because we cannot be sure what the construction details of mattresses other than the ones we make. In addition, it is impossible to make any observation regarding mattress suitability without more detail such as body weight, preferred feel and budget. Regards Mike.

  • jen says:

    I need a new mattress. Having bought an expensive memory foam one we have suffered with being too hot ever since.
    I am tempted by natural fillings and willing to pay a premium for a good night’s sleep but nervous about the fillings.
    I am not aware of being allergic to them but am allergic to duck feathers. Do I get man made to take away the risk or are the natural fibres treated to make them non allergenic? Advice would be appreciated

    Hi Jen,
    Memory foam is notorious for heat retention and we tend to advise against the purchase of mattresses predominantly comprised of this.

    Natural upholstery layers are better than synthetic, but you do pay more for them. The natural layers in our Artisan range are not treated for allergies, however, to alleviate your concerns, it is possible to purchase a cover, which goes over the whole mattress and would protect against anything which might cause an allergic reaction. This would not affect the comfort provided by the natural upholstery layers.

    It is difficult to recommend a mattress without knowledge of the body weights involved and the preferred feel required. Please view the details of the Artisan range on our site and for more specific detailed advice as to the suitability of products in that range, call our office. Kind regards Mike.

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