Back in the mid-18th century, mattresses were stuffed with natural products, including coconut fibers (known as coir), horsehair, cotton and wool.
|These great photos are from a 1940s USDA circular promoting home production of cotton mattresses.|
Coconut fiber (coir) mattresses fell out of fashion after latex mattresses were introduced in the 1920s and then innerspring mattresses were introduced in the 1930s. Fibrelux introduced a mattress made from rubberized coir in 1992, the same year that Tempur-Pedic revolutionized the mattress industry with its memory foam mattresses. If there ever was a coir vs. memory foam battle, Tempur-Pedic definitely won.
NASA invented memory foam in the 1970s, and now you'll find Tempur-Pedic's mattresses and its many generic memory-foam clones in every mattress store in America. The big problem with all memory foam mattresses is that they're petroleum-based products, so they off gas toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) for a very, very long time. If you sleep on a memory-foam mattress, you're spending eight hours a day (more or less) inhaling chemicals that can cause everything from respiratory problems to cancer.
Coir mattresses aren't available in every or even many mattress stores today, but they are back. Palmpring is one company that manufacturers mattresses made of alternating layers of latex and coir topped with a cotton and wool cover.
Palmpring's Colva mattress is made of alternating layers of coir and latex.
Natural latex mattresses feel similar to memory foam mattresses, but latex is a healthy alternative to foam because it's naturally hypoallergenic, dust-mite resistant and does not off gas VOCs. According to Palmpring, coir is a shock-absorbing alternative to metal springs. Coir also resists dust mites, a common allergy source, and prevents the growth of mold and bacteria.
I have a 3"x 3"x 6" sample of Palmpring's mattress that stacks two inches of latex on four inches of coir. It looks rather like a really thick coir door mat topped with latex. I just wish that I could lie on a coir and latex mattress to see how a mattress made from products of the mid-18th and early-20th centuries compares to the mattresses that are popular in the 21st century.