All about natural fibres in mattresses
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.
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.
All Mattress upholstery products are divided into just three elements
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:
- Coarse cashmere
- Cattle hair
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.
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.
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. The difference in price is due to exclusivity and how readily available certain animal fibres are. For example, the are far more sheep readily available than Alpacas. They are also relatively easy to shear with more skilled shearers available for sheep than Alpacas. Did you know that nearly all UK Alpacas are sheared once a year by a specialist team from the USA that comes over to shear independent Alpaca farms? This is due to the skill and care needed to shear their super soft fleece.
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.
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. You need to take care when looking at natural fibre mattresses that are claiming to be filled with super soft fibres that they also claim to be a medium or firm feel in the upholstery layer. The reason is that wool, cotton and alpaca are allvery soft so need to then be layered with firmer fibres like horsehair or hemp to help keep their loft and stop compression.
However, a number of retailers will blend wool or alpaca with polyester to help firm it up drastically reducing the benefits of the natural fibre and lowing the cost. You’re still left paying a premium price though. So when looking at natural fibre mattresses you need to ask ‘is this mattress 100% natural fibre?‘ and if not you will need to enquire about what fibres they have blended and with what!
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.
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 fibre||Cost / Availability|
|Alpaca||Very expensive (low supply chain)
|Bamboo||Average price (good supply chain)|
|Camel||Very expensive (low supply chain)|
|Cashmere||Expensive (good supply chain)|
|Cattle Hair||Average price (good supply chain)|
|Coir||Average price (good supply chain)|
|Cotton||Very expensive (good supply chain)|
|Flax||Average price (good supply chain)|
|Hemp||Average price (good supply chain)|
|Horsetail||Very expensive (low supply chain)|
|Horsehair||Less expensive (good supply chain)|
|Mohair||Expensive (low supply chain)|
|Silk||Very expensive (low supply chain)|
|Vicuna||Very Expensive (Most expensive natural fibre in the world)|
|Wool||Moderate 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).
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. With mattresses upholstery you really do get what you pay for so it’s in your best interests to ask as many questions about those fibres as you can.
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.
It can be a murky world shopping for a natural fibre mattress on the high street. Many models are blended with cheaper synthetic fibres which drastically reduces the benefit to you. If you’re unsure about what’s inside a mattress why not get in touch with our small friendly team who can help identify whether it is 100% natural or maybe a polyester wolf in sheep’s clothing! Call us on 0161 437 4419.
John Ryan the most trusted bed retailer