If you’ve spent any time researching non-toxic or organic crib mattresses for your baby, chances are you’ve come across a coconut crib mattress.
Coconut crib mattresses are made from coco coir, which is created from coconut husk. These types of crib mattresses have increased in popularity in recent years, which may have you wondering what the hype is all about. In this article, we’ll answer all the questions you never knew you had about buying a coconut crib mattress.
What is Coconut Coir?
Coconut coir is made from coconut husks. It’s the hairy, stringy stuff you find between the leathery outer coat and the hard inner shell.
Coir can be made from unripe, green coconuts (the resulting coir is white in color) or mature brown coconuts (the resulting coir is brown in color). Brown coir is rougher but sturdier than white coir, which makes it an excellent material for a firm mattress filling.
You’ve probably come across coir before without realizing it. Chances are, you have something made from coir in your house already.
You know that loosely matted light brown stuff used to line hanging flower baskets? That’s coir.
You’ll also find plenty of natural-fibre coir ropes.
Same goes for coir door mats.
In fact, as North Americans wake up to the ecological and practical benefits of using coir, it’s growing in popularity for all kinds of applications.
Which also means you should probably learn how to say it. Pronounce it like core or coy-er, not choir.
At a Glance – The Best Coconut Crib Mattresses 2019
Naturalmat Coco Mat
Brentwood Home Wildfern
Emily Natural Crib Mattress
Nook Pebble Pure
History of Coir
Used by our ancestors for thousands of years, coir is an ancient and incredibly useful fibre. In the past, people used coir primarily for transportation: lashing together boats, creating saltwater-resistant ropes for ships, etc.
Throughout history, there are a number of coir references that show just how long humans have known about this fibre’s strength, usability, and benefits.
- Around 60 AD, a Greek traveler in present-day Tanzania noticed boats sewn together with coir fibres.
- In the 11th century, Arab traders referenced using coir for ropes and rigging on their oceanic ships. These Arab traders most likely introduced coir to India and Sri Lanka, which today are powerhouses of coir production (Naturalmat, for example, sources from Sri Lanka for their Coco Mat crib mattress).
- Marco Polo also noticed the use of coir on his travels, noting both Chinese and Arab people he encountered on his travels making use of coconut coir.
- Early Hawaiians arrived on the island in the 5th century with canoes lashed together with coir.
How do you Make Coir?
Coir manufacturers break the process into five steps: harvesting, husking, retting, separating the fibre, and finishing.
Harvesting & Husking
Workers manually harvest coconuts from the tree (or the ground, in the case of mature coconuts).
While harvesting is done manually, husking can be done either manually or mechanically.
Traditionally, a husker impales the coconut with a sharp spike to split the shell. They peel away the leathery outer skin and remove the pulpy inner fruit.
The remaining middle bit – the hairy brown part of a mature coconut – is the building block of coir.
Remarkably, husking machines can handle up to 2000 coconuts per hour. That’s about the same as what a skilled manual husker (aka: a person) can do in a day.
Here again, traditional methods and mordern, mechanized methods differ.
Traditionally, workers need to soak the outer husks of mature coconuts in freshwater for at least six months. This process decomposes the pulpy part of the husk, allowing the fibrous strands to separate and soften.
With modern retting machinery, manufacturers shorten the soaking process to a week to 10 days. Machines then crush the fibres to mechanically separate the fibres.
Separating the Fibre
Depending on whether the husks have gone through manual or mechanical retting, they may require a further step: separating the fibre.
When coconut husks go through a manual retting process, they also need to be manually de-fibred. In this case, workers beat the fibres with a mallet to separate the coconut pith and outer skin from the useable fibres, isolating the fibres that become coir. Workers then hand-separate the useable fibres (or use a mechanical tumbler), and dry them in the sun as separate strands.
Mattress coir requires a specific finishing process.
Fibres are spun into a loose yarn and left to rest. The yarn curls itself up during the rest period, creating natural springs. To make the finished coir, workers felt the springs together into a loose mat. The mat is sprayed with either natural or synthetic latex, which acts as a glue. Finally, it’s dried, heated, and treated with sulphur to harden the rubber (this process is called vulcanizing).
How do you Use Coir in a Coconut Crib Mattress?
There are a number of organic crib mattress manufacturers that use coir to create a coconut crib mattress. They mostly use it in the inner part of the mattress, forming a firm, breathable and moisture tolerant inner core.
In the cross-section of the Naturalmat Coco Mat below, you can see the inner coir mat. It’s surrounded by wool batting and an organic cotton mattress cover.
And here’s what the Brentwood Home Wildfern looks like on the inside – a thick layer of coir, covered in organic latex:
Why Buy a Coconut Crib Mattress?
Advantages of Coconut Coir in a Crib Mattress
- Coir is naturally moisture resistant and breathable. When conventional mattresses get damp from sweat and accidents, they become a breeding ground for mildew and mold. Coir resists mold and mildew growth by allowing moisture to evaporate.
- Coir is a naturally firm mattress material. While many adults may find coir too firm for their tastes and bodies, it’s a natural choice for a baby crib mattress, which needs to be firm for safety.
- Coir is a great choice for keeping dust mites under control. Coconut crib mattresses are far better at resisting dust mite colonization than mattresses made of synthetic fibres.
- Coconut crib mattresses are good all season mattresses, good at temperature regulation, another important factor in preventing SIDS.
- Coir isn’t a terrible choice from an environmental perspective (although, there are pros and cons here – see below, as well). Recent consumer trends toward coconut water and oil means there is a surplus of coconut husk which might go to waste without the coir industry. One byproduct of coir production – coconut pith – has also become popular among gardeners in recent years as an alternative to peat moss.
Drawbacks of Coconut Coir in a Crib Mattress
- Coir is heavier than foam or a specialty material like the Newton Wovenaire® crib mattress, so pay close attention to weight when choosing the best crib mattress for your family. Weight is an important consideration when choosing a crib mattress: you’ll be lifting the mattress frequently to change sheets.
- Over time, coir can come loose from its latex “glue” and start poking out of the mattress. As most crib mattress manufacturers use coconut coir in combination with other materials, this isn’t a huge concern. However, it’s worth paying attention to the construction to ensure other materials engulf the coir.
- Coir isn’t as durable as an innerspring mattress. Whereas an innerspring mattress can last 10 to 15 years under an adult’s weight, a coir mattress may start sagging after 5 to 7 years under adult weight. You should choose a respected manufacturer with good reviews.
- While moisture resistant, coir doesn’t do well when it gets really wet. If you choose a coconut crib mattress, you’ll want to do your best at preventing “accidents” by using a non-toxic crib mattress cover to protect it.
- Coir is primarily manufactured in Sri Lanka and India, meaning it comes with a heavy carbon burden due to shipping. Further, the increase of monoculture coconut plantations and the use of pesticides is destroying biodiversity in the area. At minimum, ensure the coir you purchase is organic.