You’ve come to the conclusion that you need a new mattress. The first questions are, “What kind of mattress and bed do we want? What are our needs? What will help us get the restful sleep we really need?”
When you determine what kind of bed you want, you want to know what the best brands and models are. Other people’s experiences can help, so we get online and check the reviews. But which reviews can we trust?
Now it’s time for serious shopping. So do we visit mattress stores? Or do we shop online? This is a choice almost unheard of a decade ago. Now almost anything can be sold over the Internet—clothing & shoes, groceries, appliances, musical instruments, pets, even automobiles and mattresses.
Shopping for clothes involves getting the right fit. I don’t know whether a shirt or a pair of jeans really fits until I wear it. Shopping for a mattress is not far off. We don’t really know if the mattress is right for us until we’ve slept on it. We are like Goldilocks in a way. A mattress can be too soft or too hard, too warm or too cool; it may or may not be suitable for my sleeping position; and so on. So how do we know that a particular mattress is right for each of us before buying it?
A quick check on mattress prices reveals that they are generally lower online than in stores for the same or equivalent model from the same manufacturer. Also, online retailers usually have trial periods, which means that if the mattress is not the right fit, we can exchange it for another or just send it back. However, It has to be shipped back (unless a contract service company picks it up). In some cases you, the customer, have to pay for the shipping, which makes you wonder if returning the mattress is worth the hassle. So, before buying a mattress online, find out what the return policies are—not only for the seller, but for that mattress model—and get it in writing.
If we go to a store which sells several brands of mattresses, we can try several of them for comparison. But one to three minutes on a mattress in a retailer’s showroom is not the same as sleeping on a mattress for a week or a month.
☞Just a hint: Some mattresses manufacturers precompress their bedding materials so that they are already broken-in when you try them in the showroom and when they’re delivered.☜
The uncertainty of a showroom tryout is reflected in the satisfaction rates between mattresses purchased in stores and online, which generally differ by only a couple of percentage points. But returning a mattresss to a local store is easier than shipping it.
According to several reports, the current trend is toward combining shopping online with shopping in stores. This generally takes one of two forms: webrooming and showrooming. Webrooming is researching mattresses online then purchasing them in the store. Showrooming is visiting retail showrooms to look at mattresses up close, even try them out, then purchase the same mattress or an equivalent online. Some retailers sell both online and in stores, which makes either method easier (have you ever tried to compare mattresses at different retailers?).
This only works for lines of matresses available in both venues. However, there are a handful of mattress manufacturers who sell their products exclusively online.
Buying a mattress online and buying one in a store each has its own advantages and disadvanteges. In the end, you have to answer the question for yourself, “Should I buy a mattress online?”
Sleep Like the Dead
US News & World Report – Money
Mattress Inquirer (a supposedly independent review site owned by a mattress manufacturer)
Get Rich Slowly (a financial advice site)
Sleep.org (by the National Sleep Foundation)
Lycra, Spandex and Elastane are all names for the same fiber. First developed by DuPont, Lycra is a polyurethane fiber. The two prepolymers, one long and flexible and the other short and stiff, link to form a folded or twisted fiber which can be stretched up to five times its length. When tension is released, the fiber springs back to its original length.
Diagrams of Spandex Production (from How Products Are Made) —
Lycra is the trade name used by Invista, the DuPont spin-off which developed this material. “Spandex” is the generic name used in North America, “Lycra” has become the generic in Britain, while “Elastane” and its linguistic derivatives are used in Europe. “Spandex” was coined by switching the “ex” and the “s” in “expands.”
The development of spandex extends back to the search for rubber substitutes in 1940. Lycra was first produced commercially in 1962 by DuPont. Since then it has become widely used, especially as the cost of the material has dropped to more affordable levels. The popularity of this fiber is largely attributable to the use of spandex by entertainers and athletes. It is especially beneficial in activities requiring a great deal of movement, such as in sports. Loose clothing is no longer required for high flexibilty in doing a job. Also, loose clothing can get in the way, get caught, which gives spandex a safety advantage as well.
Several bedding manufacturers use spandex in the covers of their mattresses. Company and retailer descriptions variously call it Lycra, spandex or elastan. Many mattresses have stretch-knit ticking, which allows the cover to flex with the top-layer foams and the sleeper. Using spandex in woven fabrics makes them more flexible, while it enhances flexibility in knits (thus the “super-stretch” knits). Beds.org reviews of mattresses by seven manufacturers mention Lycra, spandex or elastan. Other manufacturers’ use of this super-stretch fiber may have escaped notice or have not been included in manufacturer and retailer accounts.
Depending on the real life perfomance of spandex on mattresses used by consumers, more bedding manufacturers may use it in the future.
Several mattresses are described as having foams or fibers infused with graphite or diamond particles. Graphite and diamond are two kinds of carbon crystals. Both are pure carbon, but they differ in the crystalline structure. The structural difference makes diamond extremely hard and graphite relatively soft. Real diamond particles (a.k.a. diamond dust) are very abrasive and are used industrially for grinding and polishing. Solid graphite is commonly used for pencil lead, while granular or powdered graphite is a lubricant (for example in locks).
How and why are graphite and diamond dust used in mattresses? The stated reason given by those mattress manufacturers who use “diamond” particles in their mattresses is for cooling (it is usually infused into foams). According to them, diamond dust is highly heat-conductive, transferring heat away from the sleepers to where it can dissipate.
The same reason is often listed for the use of graphite, but graphite is also credited with adding strength to mattress components, from foams to fibers. Graphite is more heat conductive than foam, cotton, rayon and polyester. This would be true whatever the shape of the graphite: powder, flakes, sheets or fibers.
The strengthening factor indicates the likely use of oriented monocrystaline graphite fibers, similar to the carbon/graphite fibers used in high-performance fishing rods. In this case, the term graphite may have been applied to carbon nano-tubes. However, it may also be the use of graphene (a single sheet of graphite) rolled up into a fiber.
Technical literature about the use of graphite in foam and topside mattress components (just under the cover) addresses another, less glamorous reason, one seldom linked with graphite in mattress descriptions: fire safety. Certain forms of graphite flakes will expand at the combution temperatures of polyurethane foam (and its derivatives, such as memory foam). This will cover the foam and cut off the supply of oxygen. For this to be effective, the exact form of the graphite must be balanced with the combustion point of the foam. It’s not perfect, but it is a non-chemical method of flame retardation, which should be a selling point.
Graphite is not very commonly used in mattresses, at least not yet. Before 2013, a few mattresses with graphite were introduced. On Beds.org, reviewed mattresses with graphite or diamond represent only ten manufacturers out of 115.
As to diamond powder/particles/crystals/dust, I suspect that this could be a more fashionable wording for graphite. After all, both diamond and graphite are carbon crystals.
For two or three generations, most beds consist of a mattress, a foundation (box spring, box platform or slatted box) and a bed frame. The bed frame for these is usually side rails, cross bars, and (for larger sizes) a center beam, made of angle steel. These frames have legs (or feet), usually with gliders or casters to facilitate moving the bed.
The invention of this kind of metal bed frame without slats is credited to Henry Feldman of The Fredman Brothers Furniture Company, who developed it in the 1950s. Glideaway is a subsidiary of Feldman Brothers. By now, there are several manufacturers of slatless steel bed frames, including Mantua, W Silver Products, and Knickerbocker Advanced Bed Support Systems. Most United States manufacturers of bed frames use steel angle made by Jersey Shore Steel from recycled railroad tracks, one of the toughest types of steel.
Before Feldman developed frames without slats, particularly useful with the almost universally used box springs, most mattresses were used with wooden or iron beds. This kind of bed had a head and foot with side rails. Between the side rails were slats to hold the mattress.
With the introduction of innerspring mattresses, usually 6″ to 8″ high, and box springs, which were usually 8″ to 10″ high, a mattress and box spring on a bed with 18″ to 24″ legs made the surface too high for many people. The slatless bed frame sitting only about 6″ above the floor made for a lower bed, easier to get into and out of at about 20″ to 24″ high. Higher mattresses stimulated the introduction of low profile foundations, solidifying the roles of slatless steel bed frames.
Now there are many variations of steel bed frames. The category has expanded to include steel bed foundations. These are steel frames with a steel grid to support a mattress directly without a box spring, slatted box or other foundation. These can have longer legs, achieving the same overall bed height with room under the bed for storage.
In another development, the increase in heavier sleeper and heavier mattresses and foundations has led to the introduction of sturdier bed frames. One example of these is the Heavy-Duty Bed Frame by Knickerbocker, which is sold by several retailers in this country.
Although many steel bed frames are imported, a good percentage of those sold in North America are made in the U.S.A. or Canada. Most bed frames sold as brands of mattress manufacturers are made by Glideaway or Mantua.
A very old wish for a good night’s rest is “Sleep tight, and don’t let the bedbugs bite.” This is testimony to the fact that bed bug bites can disturb sleep, robbing a person of needed rest. Bed bugs have been recorded in ancient history, being mentioned as early as 400 BC. The historical accounts of these insects indicates their spread from the Mediterranean region to northern Europe, then to North America. Our word “bug” is derived from bugge, the original English name for these creatures.
The bed bug (Cimex lectularius) is a small, oval, flat wingless insect. Its only food is blood. The bedbug has mouth parts designed to pierce the skin of a host, inject an anti-coagulant with a painkiller, and suck the blood. A bed-bug can survive as long as half-a-year on one meal. These small parasites–an adult is only 5mm long–can hide in almost any crack or crevasse.
Bed bugs are so called because they are usually found in and around beds and mattresses. They can slip through the seams of mattress covers, hide in a box spring, or seclude themselves in the frames and upholstery of other furniture, or behind baseboards. Their small size and avoidance of light makes them hard to see, but signs of their presence can be found: feces, molted skins, stains from crushed bugs, etc., even odor.
The most personal sign of bed bugs is their bite. When a bedbug bites, a pain killer is injected along with the anti-coagulant. This anesthetic keeps the victim numbed long enough for the bug to finish its meal. But later, the bite site begins to itch. It may swell and become fevered. If scratched or rubbed, it can become infected. It is the irritation of the bite which disturbs sleepers, causing restlessness.
From the time they hatch until they die, bedbugs are bloodsuckers. The chart above shows their average sizes from the egg to adult from less than 1 mm as a newly hatched nymph to the 5 mm long adult.
Bed bugs had become almost unheard of in North America and Western Europe, but now they have made a comeback. A few years ago, these pests were being found in many high-class hotels. This has been blamed on travelers going to and from areas of the world where bed bugs and other parasites are common. Due to their minute size and secretive habits, they hitchike unnoticed in luggage.
Because they hide so well, bed bugs are hard to combat. Complicating this is the fact that many of them have become resistant to insecticides. The only sure way to eliminate bedbugs in a room is to heat it to about 130° F long enough to kill them. This is a job better left to experts who know how to do it safely.
The most effective way to prevent bed bug bites is to keep the little critters from getting to you. As noted in a previous Beds Blog article, mattress encasement serves this purpose two ways. First, bedbugs cannot get into a properly encased mattress. Secondly, if a bed bug happens to already be in a mattress, encasement will keep it from biting you.
All the seams in an effective mattress encasement will be sealed to close this avenue. And the zipper must have not gaps in the teeth big enough for a bed-bug, with the zipper kept tightly closed at the end. Some manufacturers of encasements have a special bug-proof zipper for this purpose.
The most effective means of prevention is to deny the bed-bugs a place to hide or to prevent them from getting up to the bed. This means reducung or eliminating clutter. Other measures are keeping bedding from touching the floor and drying bedding and nightclothes with heat to kill any bugs which may be there, and thoroughly cleaning luggage when returning from a trip. A couple of generations ago, some people placed the feet of their beds in cans or pans of kerosene and kept the bed away from the wall. This worked because bed bugs cannot fly or jump.
Bed bugs have not been found to transmit disease-causing organisms from one human to another, even though they ingest pathogens with a host’s blood. The apparent reason for this is that, unlike mosquitoes, bed-bugs do not insert any of a previous host’s blood when they inject the anti-coalgulant. However, there is the opportunity for infection to enter the wound. Also, some persons may be allergic to bedbugs with the potential for a serious reaction, especially if they are already allergic to other insect bites and stings.
Although the potential for infectious diseases from bed bugs may be very low, sleep disturbance and lack of rest can be a hinderance to good health. We all need a good night’s rest, and one way is to not let the bed bugs bite.
Sleep Train: http://www.sleeptrain.com/education-bed-bugs.html
Many producers and sellers label or describe their merchandise as “natural” or “organic” products. “Organic” and “natural” food, clothing, bedding and many other goods are fashionable. Significant numbers of shoppers now ask, “Is it natural? Is it organic?”
Two concerns drive this trend: health and the environment. There is also, for some, a philosophical or religious undertone, a belief that there is an intrinsic value to being as natural or organic as possible. While the last perspective may be considered debatable by many, the first two considerations do have some empirical basis.
Before going on, let’s define natural and organic.
Natural materials are those produced by natural means, as opposed to artificial materials. These may be produced by plants or animals or be naturally ocurring compounds and elements (for example, minerals). For instance, natural fibers include linen (plant), wool (animal) and asbestos (mineral). One fiber used in bedding and clothing is on the borderline between natural and artificial. Rayon is naturally produced cellulose, but it has been extracted and liquified from natural sources and reconstituted as sheets (cellophane) and fiber (rayon/viscose).
Organic is not the same as natural, though it is related. Cotton, for instance, is a natural fiber, but not necessarily organic. Modern cotton farming uses chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Organic farming, whether of cotton or some other crop, is without any applications of chemicals. Being organic extends to the processing of raw materials into finished products without the uses of harmful substances.
There is good reason to be concerned about the impact of what we eat, wear, sleep on or otherwise use on our health. Many things once assumed to be safe have now been found to be detrimental to health, some even deadly. For example, Paris green was a fashionable color for walls. then people with Paris green in their houses became ill, some even dying. The pigments in Paris green contained arsenic, which escaped into the air and poisoned the residents. Now we ban lead-based paint and asbestos because they are health hazards.
Many chemicals used in agriculture and manufacturing are suspected or proven health hazards. Notable are pesticides and fungicides, designed to be deadly to organisms that damage and destroy crops, and chemical fire retardants applied to clothing and bedding. Also suspect are cleaning and bleaching agents and certain fabric dyes and food colorings. Recently added to the list are BPAs used in plastics.
Concern for the environment includes not just the natural ecosystem, but also those who work in the fields, mines and factories, and the communities in which they live and work. Today, for many, this also includes the economies where materials are produced and products made.
The keyword for agriculture is now not just organic, but organic and sustainable. More than how a crop is fertilized and pests are controlled, it is also how agricultural practices treat the land itself. Consumers today want to know how rubber plantations affect the rainforests, how much water is used on the cotton, and whether trees cut for wood used in the foundations are replanted.
This is the easy question. The two sources of natural materials in beds and bedding are plants and animals. These include fibers in the textiles and padding, wood for frames and slats, and oils for foams. It also includes plant-based dyes for fabrics.
Until early in the 20th Century, all fibers used in textiles came from either plants or animals. Even the first man-made fiber was made of cellulose extracted from plants. Plant produced fibers used in beds include cotton, linen (flax), kapok, bamboo fibers, hemp, sisal, ramie, and others. Some of these, such as cotton, come from the seed pods. Linen is from the bast (outer layer) of flax stems. Hemp fiber is from the hemp stem, while coconut fiber comes from the seed itself.
Organic concerns for plant fibers are the fertilizers and pesticides used in growing the plants. For instance, raising cotton uses an extraodinarily large proportion of pesticides and fertilizer compared to other crops. Only in the past two decades has raising cotton organically become economically viable.
With bast fibers, this extends to extraction of the fibers. Traditionally, linen fibers have been extracted from flax stems by retting, letting the stems rot until the fibers are separated. Modern extraction uses acids or enzymes to speed the process. However, disposal of the retting water is a problem.
Bleaching of plant fibers raises environmental concerns, especially with the disposal of liquid waste.
Animal fibers are the oldset used in clothing. Wool seems to be the longest used animal fiber. Other animal fibers used are cashmere and mohair (goat hair), alpaca, angora (rabbit) and silk. All but silk are hairs shorn or combed from the animal. Silk is threads extruded by silk moth caterpillars to make thier cocoons.
Concerns related to animal fibers are care of the animal, pest control and processing the fiber. Does raising the animals damage the land? Are the animals treated humanely?
With wool, are chemicals used to treat the sheep for ticks? How is the wool cleaned after shearing?
In 2013, leaders of clothing companies discussed the environmental impact of their businesses, whether synthetic or natural. The answer was not simple. It was complicated by the raising of cotton, the most widely used natural plant fiber. The same issue is also faced in choices of materials for mattresses, pillows, sheets and blankets.
Organic Trade Association – http://www.ota.com/
Organic.org – http://www.organic.org/articles/showarticle/article-224
NCBI – NIH – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10968564
Sustainable Cotton Project – http://www.sustainablecotton.org/
CoolNotCruel – http://www.coolnotcruel.com/
Hemp Industries Association (NA) – www.thehia.org
Natural Life Magazine – http://www.life.ca/naturallife/0406/organic_fibers.htm
Vermont Organic Fiber – http://vtorganicfiber.com/
Fabric University | Fabric Seminar | Fiber History – http://www.fabriclink.com/university/history.cfm
Suppose someone taking a survey asked you, “Do you get enough sleep?” How would you answer? The answer to this depends on knowing the answers to two other questions: “How much sleep do you get?” and “How much sleep do you need?”
For most of us that means how long do we sleep in bed at night? That is, minus interruptions. New parents know all about this, waking up to check on the wee one, responding to a cry or a whimper in the dark, taking time to feed, change, or rock the newest member of the family. But most of us sleep through hours at a time with little or no interruption.
For some others, this includes a nap or two taken during the day. This may include a new mother or father compensating for nighttime interruptions. It could include a rotating shift worker trying to reset his body clock on days off. Sometimes it is a bored stay-at-home person, or an older adult whose body no longer tolerates lying down very long at one time.
The simplest answer is, “That all depends.” How much sleep is needed depends on a few factors, such as developmental stage, age, sex, physical condition, and health. It may also be affected by the demands of ones occupation. It may surprise many to learn that more rest may be necessary for non-physical work requiring alertness and a sharp mind than for physically demanding jobs.
It is common knowledge that babies sleep a lot. A newborn is asleep for more time than awake. By the time an infant is a year old, this balance is even or reversed, but a large part of the day is still spent sleeping. Kindergarten used to be known for the naptimes when the entire class lay on their mats. By the time a child is in the grades, all the school day is waking hours. The average time needed for sleep lessens as one approaches adulthood, where it levels off for the last two-thirds of a person’s expected lifetime. But in the senior years, it does shrink by about an hour.
I was surprised to learn how prevalent sleep deprivation is. Study after study shows that a significant percentage of people own up to dozing in meetings, glazing over while working, and driving while drowsy, some of the common signs of not enough sleep. This and statistics underscore the importance of adequate sleep. Lack of sleep causes accidents on the road, in the shop and at home. Quality of products depends on engineers, technicians, operators and inspectors being alert. How many costly recalls are due to sleep deprivation? How much lost business? How many injuries and loss of life? Sleep deprivation has economic and social costs.
Most youth enter adolescence during their teenage years. The hormonal changes include the circadian rhythm, the cycle of wakefulness and sleep. The adolescents naturally stay awake later (such as until 11 PM) and naturally wake up later. Studies show that they need, on the average, 8½ to 9½ hours of sleep a night. This includes a long deep-sleep (slow-wave) cycle in addition to the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) cycle.
Statistics show that sleep deprived high school students have more traffic accidents, doze more in class, and have lower scores on tests. One contributing factor in teen sleep deprivation is early school hours. High school students do better overall when school begins at 8:30 AM or later (the “ten-o-clock scholar” in the nursery rhyme).
Class schedules are not the only culprit in teens’ lack of sleep. Others include extracurricular school activities, non-school activities, and modern technology. Some of the observations made by organizations and professionals include keeping electronic devices out of the bedroom and allowing non-structured social time within accepted waking hours. Also recommended is encouraging and promoting physical activity each day. Of course, it is easier to motivate a teen to get more sleep when we set the example.
Several organizations have recommended hours of sleep for childrenn, youth and adults. The National Sleep Foundation, which Beds.org is a member of, has used decades of sleep research to make a chart of recommended hours of sleep per night for nine age groups: Newborn (0-3 month), Infant (4-11 months), Toddler (1-2 years), Pre-school (3-5 years), School age (6-13 years), Teenage (14-17 years), Young adult (18-25 years), Adult (26-64 years), and Older adult (65 years and older). In each of these categories, the recommendation is a range of hours per day, from 14-17 hours for a newborn to 7-8 hours for an older adult. Outside each recommended range is a range of acceptable hours, from 11-19 to 5-9.
The ranges of hours of sleep are based on the needs of members of each age group. However, we are individuals, and our need of sleep does differ from one person to another. The same studies leading to these recommendations also show that some individuals require more or less sleep than the hours in the range for their age group. When considering our own needs, it can be hard to be objective, so it is wise to listen to other’s observations, such as, “You’ve been more irritable lately,” and “You’re nodding off.”
How much sleep we need involves not only the number of hours, but the quality of sleep itself. Our health status affects how long and how well we sleep. So do our activities and what and when we eat.
Another factor in how well and how long we sleep is what we wear. Even in a climate-controlled house, this can be a seasonal issue. We want to be warm enough in the winter and not too warm in the summer. Also, of course, irritating and ill-fitting nightclothes would interfere with sleep.
Another major factor is the bed. In this case, each one of us is a Goldilocks. Is the mattress too hard, too soft or just right? Mattresses are available from ultra firm to ultra plush and the range between. Do we prefer to lie on or in the bed? This could be the difference between memory foam and latex. Does a partner’s snoring or motion keep you awake? Motion isolation will eliminate partner movement disturbance. Is the bed too small? The next size up helps. Can you find the optimal position? Here’s where adjustable beds come in, and some of them deal with the snoring issue too. With so many choices, it pays to know what you yourself need and look for a mattress and bed that meet those needs.
National Sleep Foundation <http://sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need>
Center for Disease Control <http://www.cdc.gov/features/dssleep/>
Huffington Post <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/20/get-enough-sleep_n_4475645.html>
In February 2014, I posted an article about wood coils, a new kind of mattress innerspring invented and developed by a Hungarian company. Not long before the launch of wooden coils in the bedding market, another new kind of mattress spring was invented and introduced into the market by Willy Poppe, a Belgian. Poppe is CEO of a family-owned bedding manufacturer, Diamond Spring Company, in Sint-Niklaas, East Flanders, Belgium.
Willy Poppe’s invention is the foam spring, an eight-sided hollow column made of memory foam. The column is cut in a honeycomb pattern, which resembles expanded metal. Poppe dubbed this “Octaspring.” the Octaspring can be compressed like a spring. According to Willy Poppe in a video, these MemoryCoils were first used in memory foam pillows. However, while these memory foam springs worked well in pillows, they were not firm enough for mattresses. So the Octasprings were reinforced with the addition of firmer polyurethane. These EcoSprings could be made soft or firm or somewhere in between.
Now a grid of Octasprings would be the support core of a mattress. With a 1″ foam layer between, one layer of foam springs can be placed on another. Dormeo, a company set up to manufacture and distribute Octaspring memory foam matresses, has models with one to three foam core layers.
One advantage of foam springs instead of metal is that they are not felt the way metal springs are. Also, like the wood coils reviewed earlier, they do not focus environmental electromagnetic radiation on the users.
An additional advantage is airflow. The honeycomb cuts go all the way to the open core of the Octaspring, allowing air to flow all the way through. Pressing down on the “coil” forces air out, and releasing pressure lets it back in. So any movement by the sleeper pumps air through the mattress, increasing the cooling effect, another advantage over metal springs.
The article on wooden coils ended with a paragraph asking, “What Will They Make Springs from Next?” Foam springs were already being made, and foam spring mattresses are selling. Look for other firms to develop their own types of foam springs or buy a license to make Octasprings, the way that Tempur-Pedic was quickly and widely imitated in using memory foam.
Now an American manufacturer is making its own foam springs. Models in Kingsdown‘s new Elliptica Collection have three kinds of foam coils made with different types of foam. Qualatex Foam Coils are made from Qualatex, a proprietary synthetic latex developed by foam manufacturer Carpenter. Omalon Foam Coils consist of Omalon, a foam also developed by Carpenter. The third kind of foam spring in Kingsdown Elliptica mattresses is the DNA Foam Coil.
With a U.S. company developing its own foam coils, the likelihood of more manufacturers using foam springs has increased. Look for more foam coil mattresses to reach the market in the next few years.
Nylon is a thermoplastic amide polymer.* Invented in 1935 by DuPont chemical engineer Wallace Carothers and first used for toothbrush bristles, nylon is the most used synthetic fiber. In 1940 it was introduced as a substitute for silk in stockings. Nylon is very similar to silk, and with Japanese occupation of China the supply of silk was restricted. Then in 1942, nylon replaced silk in parachutes. Ripstop nylon, developed for sturdier parachutes, is now used for tents and awnings, coats, ponchos, and bags. And solid nylon is used for gears, rollers and bearings in light applications. By the way, it is still widely used for toothbrush bristles.
Nylon is also used in mattresses. Invacare and Paramount Mattress use nylon in covers of institutional and healthcare mattresses. Some Beautyrest Recharge mattresses use a nylon/polyester blend. Boyd Specialty Sleep uses nylon tricot in the covers of the support modules for its Broyhill Cube Series mattresses.
The two variations of nylon used today are nylon 6,6 and nylon 6. With essentially the same final product, the difference between these two is how they are made. The 6 stands for the six carbon atoms in the precursor molecule. Nylon 6,6 was patented by DuPont, so other manufacturers had to find another way to make nylon. DuPont‘s process simply linked two six-carbon chain molecules together with amide bonds (which also exist in silk). Other manufacturers discovered how to open the ring of an aromatic molecule (one with a six-carbon ring) and link it to others. Either way, what you get is nylon.
Two other types of fiber developed from nylon are Kevlar® and Nomex®. Nomex replaced asbestos in fireproof clothing, and Kevlar is used for bulletproof vests. These are called aramids, because they are actually made of carbon rings.
Nylon is not widely used in mattress covers. Except for the Beautyrest Recharge, it is used in top panels of healthcare and institutional beds. The advantage of nylon in this usage is that it can be resist fluids and still be breathable. This protects the mattress foam core and is easy to clean without trapping heat the way totally impermeable vinyl would. Boyd uses it for its support cubes so they can be removed and reinserted easily.
Thermoplastic means that it gets softer when heated.
Polymer means that it is made of bonded chains of similar molecules.
Amide means that one molecule is bonded to the next by an amide group: one atom of nitrogen with a hydrogen atom (NH) linked to a carbon atom with a double bond to an oxygen atom (C=O). The link can be typed out as NH-C=O. The two components are linked to the N and the C respectively.
Several manufacturers claim that some or all of the foams used in their mattresses are either partially or wholly made from plant oils. Terms used for these are soy foam, plant-based, botanical-oil, natural oils, etc. Plant oils used include those extracted from soy beans, castor beans, canola (rapeseed), palm kernel, coconut, peanuts, and other seeds. How are these oils used in making foam? And how does this affect the use of fossil fuel sources (petroleum and coal oil)?
Oil itself does not form foam, at least not the kind you can sleep on. Bedding and furniture foams, other than latex foam (foam rubber), are forms of polyurethane foam, a semi-rigid, flexible material which is both supportive and cushioning. Polyurethane is a polymer, chains of repeated links of molecules. These molecules are polyols, alcohols with several hydroxyl branches. An alcohol is an oil (hydrocarbon) which is partly oxidized. A hydroxyl is an -OH branch of oxygen and hydrogen.
Some polyols are always produced when refining petroleum. One plant oil, castor bean oil, contains a natural polyol. Most other plant oils have to be modifed to make polyols. The components of these oils are fatty acids, like mono-, di- and triglycerides, the precursors of cholesterol. The fatty acids used are long chains with a double carbon bond (C=C on a diagram) in the middle. Using ozone or other reactors, hydroxyls are added to the chains.
To make the polyurethane, the polyols are combined with isocyanates. The reactions form endless chains which cross-link to form the polyurethane. Gasses released by the reactions and air introduced during the process make the foam.
Until recently, only a small portion of petroleum in polyurethane foam could be replace by plant polyols (aka biopolyols) and still produce a quality foam. Refinement of the process, including using water for the solvent, make it possible to use a higher percentage of biopolyols. However, we need to carefully examine the claims of manufacturers and retailers in promoting their products. Don’t be afraid to ask what proportion of the oils used in making the foams are plant derived.
Use of polyols derived from natural plant oils reduces the use of petroleum in more than one way. First, it means less petroleum is used as the raw material. Second, this means less petroleum used as fuel for refining petroleum for polyols. Third, modifying plant oils requires less energy.
Other advantages of using plant polyols in manufacturing polyurethane and its derivative foams include 1) less or no VOCs (volatile organic compounds), and 2) less degradation of the foam by moisture (such as from sweat), and some plant-oil foams are less flammable.
However, use of plant oils has its own environmental concerns. First is land use for growing plant oil crops. Is the land chosen wisely? Or does it degrade natural resources (such as rain forests)? Second, are the farming practices environmentally acceptable? This includes preventing erosion and whether chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers are used. Also, does raising and using plants for this purpose compete with food crops, thereby raising food prices?
In the final analysis, using natural plant oils to make polyurethane, memory foam, and other foams for bedding products is a net benefit for health, safety, and the environment. And this will grow as technological development improves the processes involved.
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