A reader wrote in to ask what we think about the Helix mattress. Is it sustainable, non-toxic, worth checking out? Here’s the 101 on the Helix mattress and why we don’t recommend it.
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Helix Sleep is a popular mattress brand, marketing itself as “More than a memory foam mattress.”
What does that actually mean, though? Is Helix Sleep a worthy contender for your next mattress purchase?
Here’s the reader question that compelled us to write this article:
Your site/blogs have been extremely helpful, but I’m curious if you have any feedback on the Helix mattress. They seem to be a big competitor with Avocado & I’m sure with others, too. Any thoughts or helpful feedback on that brand & all your research?Leah
So, what’s the verdict? Does Leaf Score recommend Helix Sleep?
The short answer is…
Like Casper mattresses, Helix Sleep mattresses are still made with petrochemicals, making them wildly unsustainable and not eco-friendly.
Let’s dig in.
What is Helix Sleep?
Like many bed-in-a-box companies, Helix Sleep focuses on comfort, support, and marketing. Helix specializes in hybrid mattresses comprising memory foam and innersprings.
The company offers a sleep quiz to help you find the ‘perfect mattress’ for you, and to its credit, there’s a large range of mattress options at Helix. These mattresses are put together to cater for your sleep position, body type (with models specific to bigger and taller people), and comfort needs, such as extra pressure relief.
It also makes a song and dance about ‘sleep science’ to make it seem like the company’s mattresses will magically improve your sleep and life.
The reality is that however good Helix Sleep makes its mattress designs sound, they’re still made with fossil fuels foamed with toxic chemicals to create polyfoam that traps heat and degrades far faster than natural materials.
Why are Helix mattresses not sustainable or eco-friendly?
When I think about mattress sustainability and eco-friendliness, I think about:
- Manufacturing processes
- End of life.
When we look at the Helix Sleep mattresses using those criteria, it’s not a pretty picture.
Helix uses polyurethane memory foam with the greenwashing CertiPur-US certification. That means it emits lower levels of (but not zero) volatile organic compounds (VOCs), i.e., less off-gassing than traditional memory foam.
Polyfoam is a petroleum-based product that isn’t biodegradable. The extraction of gasoline to create polyfoam is very resource intensive and environmentally damaging. It is totally unsustainable and not at all eco-friendly.
As with all polyfoam manufacturing processes, Helix Sleep will need to use a variety of toxic chemicals to make the foam. In addition to crude oil, polyfoams require diisocyanates, typically toluene diisocyanate (TDI), which is itself toxic.
Many of these chemicals are workplace health hazards. That means the folks making your new mattress end up suffering respiratory irritation, eye and nose symptoms, and higher risks of cancer and other diseases. That certainly wouldn’t help me sleep well at night.
The chemicals necessary for polyfoam manufacture also pose a risk to the wider environment. Many are aquatic toxins, meaning they kill fish and other wildlife when they (inevitably) wash into rivers, streams, and the ocean.
Note: If you want to know what’s in your mattress, you can send foam samples to Duke University for a toxicity analysis through their Foam Project.
As well as the materials themselves, the manufacturing process for polyfoam mattresses is also energy intensive and can release harmful emissions. There’s no indication that Helix Sleep takes extra care to use renewable energy in its manufacturing plants or to safeguard the environment in any way beyond what the law requires.
Lifespan/Durability of Helix Sleep mattresses
We haven’t tested the Helix Sleep mattresses personally (I wouldn’t want one in my home), but we can make some assumptions about lifespan based on materials and the Helix mattress warranty.
Most polyfoam used in mattresses breaks down fast. It can lose a significant amount of its original mass within just a couple of years. This loss of mass means a lot of toxic dust floating around your home. It also means a lot less support, pressure relief, and comfort.
Using individually wrapped innerspring coils does make a Helix mattress a bit more durable than a straight up polyfoam mattress, but only just. And once the foam layers lose enough mass, chances are you’ll be able to feel those springs through the foam.
It’s revealing to read the fine print of the Helix mattress warranty. Under this warranty, Helix views an indentation as a defect only if it is deeper than 1.5 inches. That’s a significant dip in the mattress. Especially given that the Core mattresses are only 11.5 inches to start with.
Helix Sleep offers a 10-year limited warranty on its Core collection, and a 15-year warranty on its Elite and Luxe mattresses. This in itself suggests the company isn’t confident the mattresses can last as long as a natural latex mattress.
Savvy Rest and Turmerry, for instance, offer a 20-year warranty on latex mattresses. Avocado and PlushBeds offer a 25-year warranty on most mattresses!
All in all, don’t expect a Helix Sleep mattress to last more than 10 years or to actually be comfortable for more than a handful of years. This lack of durability is far from sustainable, especially because polyfoam mattresses don’t biodegrade and trashing a mattress means using even more resources to make and ship another mattress.
Like other bed-in-a-box mattresses, the Helix Sleep ships compressed in a plastic bag. This helps to reduce the overall shipping footprint, meaning less carbon emissions, but it’s still not as efficient or eco-friendly as shipping a longer lasting mattress once every 25 years instead of every six or seven years.
Helix Sleep also makes no effort to replace its plastic bags and other packaging with more sustainable materials.
In contrast to Helix (and a lot of other mattress makers), Avocado has switched a lot of its packaging to recycled and plastic-free alternatives. Avocado is also actively researching ways to reduce plastics even further. It now ships all its mattresses without the extra plastic wrap around the vacuum sealed bag, for example.
End of life
Technically, some polyfoam is recyclable. Chances are, though, that it won’t be recycled. Instead, most Helix mattresses will end up in landfill, breaking down into microplastics and toxic dust.
Helix Sleep also uses some antimicrobial and water repellent treatments on its mattresses, as well as synthetic flame barriers. This means that recycling is much more complicated, if not impossible given current facilities and technology in the U.S.
In contrast, mattresses made with simpler, natural materials can be more easily recycled. Organic cotton and wool covers and batting without antimicrobial, water repellent, or flame retardant chemicals can be shredded and turned into new clothing or textiles. The latex can also be recycled or will biodegrade without concerns over toxicity. And innersprings can be reused or recycled with ease.
Helix Sleep carries two certifications for its mattresses:
- Greenguard Gold
I’ve already said why I think CertiPur is a greenwashing, industry-created seal.
As for Greenguard Gold, this is nice to see as it means the Helix Sleep polyfoam isn’t quite as egregious as most memory foam. Still, even Helix notes that:
our mattresses do not contain additional chemicals, and meet emissions safety standards to produce only low amounts of VOCs.Helix Sleep
Neither certification inspires much confidence.
Final thoughts on the sustainability of of Helix Sleep mattresses
Many conventional mattress companies are taking steps to green their business practices. As far as I can tell, Helix Sleep isn’t one of them.
Sure, the parent company also offers the Birch mattress, which is made with natural, organic materials and carries a raft of eco-certifications. But Helix itself doesn’t mention sustainability once on its website and relies on CertiPur and Greenguard Gold to make its mattresses sound greener than they really are.