What Is Mattress Off Gassing?
You know—and might love—that new-car smell. But new-mattress smell? Not so much.
In both cases, the odor comes from off gassing, the term for what happens when volatile organic compounds (VOCs) leak out of upholstery materials and mattress foams and into the air you breathe. Common VOCs include such fumes as formaldehyde, toluene, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), benzene, trichloroethane, and perfluorocarbons.
Most mattress foams do some degree of off gassing. The question is how much, and whether it happens at the factory during manufacture or inside your home. Saatva foams, for example, are shipped stable, which means any off-gassing happens before the mattress ever gets to a customer. We also use foams that are certified to be low in VOCs and free of toxic chemicals.
Buying an organic mattress is one way to eliminate off gassing. But mattresses that are 100% organic also tend to top out on the price scale. So whether or not you choose to go that route, here’s what you need to know about off gassing.
Health risks of mattress off gassing
Most off gassing directly linked to modern mattress materials has not, to date, been proven to be harmful. Ithasbeen shown to cause irritation in those with chemical sensitivities or respiratory conditions, like asthma. Some people also report feeling nauseated or dizzy from the smell.
When it comes to VOCs in your home, though, the effect on indoor air pollution can be cumulative. Furnishings, paint, carpeting, and plastics are all potential sources. The greater the exposure, the greater your risk of experiencing symptoms.
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, inhaling low levels of VOCs over the course of several years—or a lifetime—can increase the risks of cancer, central nervous system damage, and liver and kidney damage. Actual risk depends on the type of chemicals and level of exposure, but the bottom line is that lessening VOC exposure from the get-go can only help reduce the possibility of long-term issues.
How long mattress off gassing lasts
The “new mattress” smell is usually temporary and dissipates within a matter of days or weeks. How long it lasts depends on the type and density of the foam and whether it contains other ingredients like chemical flame retardants.
How the mattress arrives also makes a difference. Many modern foam mattresses come vacuum-packed and boxed, which makes them easy to ship but may cause them to smell more upon arrival. That’s because the mattress is rolled and wrapped in plastic; once it’s unsealed and starts to expand, the odors are released too. The worst off gassing happens within a few hours of unwrapping, but most so-called “bed-in-a-box” manufacturers recommend letting the mattress spring to life in a room with lots of open windows.
Ways to reduce mattress off gassing
Not all mattress foam is the same. Some, like the foam in Saatva’s Loom & Leaf mattress, contains natural ingredients derived from corn and soybean oil in place of some of the standard petroleum-based derivatives. Foams that carry the CertiPUR-US label are guaranteed to be free of harmful chemicals like PBDEs, TDCPP, and TCEP flame retardants and are verified low-VOC, meaning they meet low-emission requirements for indoor air pollution. Plus, CertiPUR-US foams are manufactured without ozone-depleting chemicals like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), making them better for the environment.
If you want to eliminate worries about off gassing all together, you may want to consider buying an organic mattress. In those mattresses, fabrics like cotton and wool, and other components, aren’t treated with harmful chemicals. Another option is a natural latex mattress; since latex is a plant-based material, you never have to worry about pesky off gassing odors.
The facts on memory foam smell and mattress off-gassing
Memory foam mattresses usually have the highest ratings for comfort, durability, and customer satisfaction. One of the only complaints owners have is about memory foam smell. This unpleasant odor is caused by the materials used to make the mattress and lasts up to 4 weeks.
The good news is that some mattress brands make their foam from better components that reduce or eliminate memory foam smell. This article explains how, and tells you what to look for to make sure your mattress comes odor-free.
What causes memory foam smell?
Memory foam smell comes from a reaction called “off-gassing.” If you’ve ever smelled fresh paint, dry cleaning, or the inside of a new car, that’s off-gassing.
New foams and many other manufactured products experience off-gassing. It happens when “volatile organic compounds” (VOCs) break down. As opposed to being stable, these “volatile” (or unstable) compounds break apart, most commonly forming gasses — hence the term off-gassing.
In mattresses, the most common place to find VOCs is in the foam and adhesives. They can include chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), formaldehyde, benzene, methylene chloride, toluene, trichloroethane, naphthalene, perfluorocarbons.
These "volatile" (or unstable) compounds break apart, mostly forming gasses.
The short answer is no. While the odor from mattress off-gassing is unpleasant,for most people it’s not harmful. A small percentage of owners report difficulty breathing, headaches, nausea, eye and throat irritation, and asthma. The symptoms stop when the person is no longer near the mattress though, and go away once it airs out.
Also, despite the fact that some of the chemicals that cause mattress off-gassing odors are classified as carcinogens or potential carcinogens, no studies have shown memory foam is toxic or causes cancer. Still, many people choose to reduce their chemical exposure as a lifestyle choice, and want to sleep on a mattress as chemical-free as possible.
No studies have shown memory foam is toxic or causes cancer.
While a completely chemical-free mattress doesn’t exist, you can limit your exposure by finding one containing foam certified by CertiPUR-US®. CertiPUR-US® independently tests and verifies which foams are made without harmful VOCs, phthalates, CFCs, heavy metals, formaldehyde and PBDEs.
Also, plan to let the bed air out for 3-7 days in a well-ventilated room or garage before use.
Not only does the foam in Amerisleep mattresses meet the Certi-PUR® standards, but we also use plant-based materials instead of petroleum to make our foam. On top of that, our patented manufacturing process is the only one that meets the standards of the Clean Air Act. No other mattress brand is more sustainable or eco-friendly than Amerisleep.
CertiPUR-US® standards for content, emissions and durability, and are analyzed by independent, accredited testing laboratories.
Mattress off-gassing refers specifically to odors from the breakdown of VOCs. A new mattress can also have other smells unrelated to memory foam off-gassing though. Even products like plant oils and natural fabrics can produce some smell.
If you buy a mattress low in VOCs (like from Amerisleep) and it still has a slight scent, don’t worry. It’s probably not memory foam off-gassing, and will often quickly go away.
Learn how Amerisleep memory foam compares to other memory foam.
How Long for Mattress VOCs to Offgas?
In a previous blog post, I established that foam mattresses from Casper and Tuft & Needle had high VOCs in the packaging and that they should be opened outdoors. For good measure, I tested yet another manufacturer’s product… Nest Bedding’s Love Bed. I got the same results as with the other manufacturers:
What do all these videos prove? They demonstrate that foam mattresses shipped straight to your home should be opened outdoors and allowed to air out. But that begs the question,“For how long should they air out?”
To test that question, I did a “backyard” experiment after testing the Nest Bedding mattress. I pressed my VOC measuring device (ppbRAE 3000 photoionization detector) right up against the mattress. The video below shows what happened over the next 24 hours:
So as you can see in the video above, it’s important to not onlyopenyour mattress outdoors, but let it air out also. The vast majority of VOC emission occurs in the first hour, and drops considerably after a day. The mattress will continue to off gas at a much lower rate for an unknown amount of time, which is true of all furniture, finishes and building materials.
For a frame of reference, I let my foam mattresses air out for 2 days before bringing them indoors. Once inside, I kept the windows open in the bedroom for a week as weather allowed. If you are chemically sensitive, consider letting your foam mattress air out for even longer (or skip foam altogether).
These backyard experiments have lots of limitations. Nevertheless, they demonstrate that independent tests should be carried out in the mattress industry. I hope this message doesn’t fall on deaf ears. Share this blog post and pass on the message!
Is Mattress Off-Gassing Dangerous?
Find out whether that pungent new mattress smell is harmful to you
At Mattress Advisor, you’ll find comprehensive, unbiased reviews on the best mattresses and bedding products and thoroughly researched tips for getting your best sleep.
If you have ever unpacked a mattress, you have probably noticed the smell: something chemical, like a new car or a can of paint. This mattress off-gassing can be off-putting, and you will probably start to think that this smell can’t be healthy to inhale. To discover the answer to that burning question, we must first explore what causes off-gassing.
What is Mattress Off-Gassing?
The process of mattress off-gassing begins when you open the package to your brand new mattress. Inside the package, there is plastic wrap which holds the vacuum sealed mattress, full of VOCs or Volatile Organic Compounds. These VOCs break down and form gasses, and when the gasses are released after you unbox the mattress, they create a chemical smell—also known as that “new mattress smell.”
Which VOCs Are Released?
VOCs are usually found in foams and adhesives, which is why memory foam mattresses have stronger gassing odors than other types of mattresses. These VOCs are a strong component in making mattresses flame retardant during the manufacturing process and are found in many household products. VOCs are a mix of chemical compounds:
- Chlorofluorocarbons CFCs:a non-toxic mix of chemicals with atoms containing hydrogen, carbon, fluorine, and chlorine that are used for refrigeration, packing, and most aerosol sprays. This compound is a known ozone depleter and is being phased out.
- Formaldehyde:a naturally occurring compound that is used mainly in paper and wood products or for preservation. Some people have great sensitivity to the smell of this compound.
- Toluene:a solvent used to make adhesives, paint thinners, gasoline, and rubber.
- Benzene:an organic chemical compound used in detergents, plastics, and dyes. Benzene is naturally released through fires and volcanoes. It is also responsible for the pungent smell of gasoline.
- Methylene:a chemical compound used in paint stripping, oven cleaners, and foam production.
- Naphthalene:a chemical compound used in mothballs, plastics, insecticides, and synthetic fibers in foams.
- Trichloroethane:an organic compound used as a solvent. It usually helps make adhesives, inks, and oil cleaners for metal car parts.
- Perfluorocarbon PFCs:a mix of non-toxic organic compounds that contain carbon and fluorine that are used in solvents and oxygen tanks.
The Effects of Off-Gassing
Now that you know the gist of what mattress off-gassing is, you are probably wondering how this process will affect you. This is a hot-button issue under heavy debate, but the answer depends on how long you expose yourself to these VOCs.
Just to be clear, most people only deal with mattress off-gassing in the short-term—right after unboxing, and mattress off-gassing is not really dangerous if the VOC exposure is temporary. During short-term exposure, levels of VOCs are low enough to just be mildly annoying or irritating. No scientific study has definitively proven health risks for this brief amount of time, but it is still being tested. The side effects you may experience with this exposure length are headaches, nausea, dizziness, or eye irritation. These should dissipate when you are no longer near the mattress.
Long-term exposure to VOCs is a little more risky, but unless your career is strictly unboxing mattresses or sticking your nose into household cleaners, you should be safe. Some VOCs, such as formaldehyde, are known carcinogens, and it is not just mattresses that suscept you to these harmful chemicals: home furniture, cleaning products, and carpeting all have some level of VOC emission. Some of the long-term effects of VOC exposure include difficulty breathing or worsening asthma symptoms, asthma attacks, coughing, congestion, throat irritation, allergic reactions, fatigue, increased cancer risks, and damage of kidneys, liver, or the central nervous system. However, as long as you properly air out the mattress, these long-term effects should not be applicable.
What About Sleeping?
After reading about all the effects off-gassing can have, you might be scared to sleep on your memory foam mattress—but do not worry. There are ways to prep and sleep on a mattress that is off-gassing without fearing for your safety.
The first step is to open your new mattress and remove the plastic immediately. Either do this outside or in a well-ventilated area. Using fans and opening windows should also help air circulation. Most VOCs will escape within the hour, and the toxic chemicals will go with them. The rest will take a little longer to leave. If you want to be extra safe, the best thing to do is let your mattress air out for 3 days to 1 week. The smell should be a good indicator of whether or not it is done.
If you are still worried about off-gassing, there are a few barriers you could put between yourself and the mattress. A regular mattress cover or sheets will not do the trick because a stronger layer of protection is needed—fabric simply is not thick enough. The best blocking agent is a set of polyethylene sheets or a polyethylene cover. Polyethylene is non-toxic and thick enough to prevent gas from permeating the sheets or mattress cover. They make these sheets from crib mattress sizes to king mattress sizes, so people of all ages are protected from any off-gassing effects they fear.
Can You Prevent Off-Gassing?
The best way to prevent off-gassing to keep yourself away from products that off-gas—it really is just that simple. While buying an off-gassing mattress is not really harmful, some people prefer to live a chemical-free life. If that describes you, purchasing a certified organic mattress is the best way to go because they shy away from anything that is not all natural, including harmful chemicals. There are organic memory foam mattresses, organic innerspring mattresses, organic hybrid mattresses, and natural latex mattresses, so you have quite a few options.
However, the organic path is the more expensive one because they are not as mass produced. If this is the case for you, that does not mean you are stuck with off-gassing mattresses forever if you do not want to be, just check for a CertiPUR US certification. While the EPA does not regulate VOC levels in household products, independent testing can assure you of the levels you are getting.
Mattresses that are CertiPUR US Certified means that the mattress materials are made without ozone depleters; PBDEs, TDCPP or TCEP; mercury, lead, and other heavy metals; formaldehyde; or phthalates. CertiPUR also independently tests to make sure their foam has very low VOC emissions, so the off-gassing process is over within a matter of hours rather than days.
Mattress off-gassing is the process of VOC release, causing a strong odor when you first open your new memory foam mattress. The answer to the question “Is it dangerous?” is a simple one—not in the short-term, which is about the amount of time it takes for your new mattress to off-gas: the VOC levels are not high enough and are not around long enough to cause adverse health effects. If you do not want to risk it, cover it with polyethylene sheets or opt for a mattress that is organic or CertiPUR US certified.
New Mattress Off-Gassing: How Long Will the Smell Last?
Are you growing tired of your old coil spring mattress? If you are thinking about making the switch to memory foam, you are not alone. A growing number of people are turning to online “bed-in-a-box” retailers that offer the chance to get a new mattress quickly and easily delivered right to your front door. All that you have to do is open the box, sit back and watch your mattress expand to full size. Before you do, learn more about the “new mattress smell” that you can expect when you lay out your new bed, and whether you should be concerned about its effects on your home’s indoor air quality.
What is causing my new mattress to smell?
Most new mattresses will have a certain chemical odor when they are first delivered. This is especially true for those that come in a box, rolled up and vacuum-sealed, because the lack of airflow through the package can cause the “new mattress smell” to become concentrated. When you open your mattress, you will probably notice an odor coming from the foam, caused by a process called off-gassing.
Off-gassing is that “new” smell that we associate with new cars, a fresh coat of paint and, yes, new mattresses. When your mattress comes in an airtight package, the volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) used in the manufacturing process remain trapped in the mattress with nowhere to go. After you open the box and lay out your mattress, the foam starts to expand and some components used to make the mattress will start to break down. These VOCs are then released as a gas, causing the distinct off-gassing smell.
What chemicals do mattress release during off-gassing?
The off-gassing smell usually comes mainly from the foam and adhesive elements of the mattress. The exact chemical makeup of the VOCs that off-gas from a mattress varies from mattress to mattress, but independent tests have shown that they can include benzene, toluene chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and formaldehyde.
On the websites of many leading mattress brands, such as Purple, Casper and Tuft & Needle, you can find information on the different VOC certifications and standards that they adhere to. Common certifications to look for are CertiPUR-US, GREENGUARD Gold and STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX.
Is off-gassing harmful to your health?
VOCs are emitted by a wide range of household products, including furniture, paint and cleaning supplies. Exposure to VOCs can cause nausea, headaches, dizziness, loss of coordination and eye, nose and throat irritation, though, in the case of mattress off-gassing, many consumers report that these symptoms go away once the mattress has been aired out. Some of the more severe health effects caused by VOC exposure can include damage to the kidneys, liver or central nervous system. Additionally, some VOCs that off-gas are suspected or known carcinogens, such as formaldehyde.
One thing to remember, however, is that you are exposed to relatively low levels of VOCs while your mattress is off-gassing, and studies have yet to show whether exposure to low levels of VOCs during mattress off-gassing will cause increased health effects over time. Even so, the cumulative off-gassing of items in your home can contribute to adverse health effects, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. Long-term exposure to VOCs in the air can increase cancer risks, as well as cause damage to the kidneys, liver and central nervous system. For this reason, both mattress manufacturers and indoor air quality experts recommend letting your mattress off-gas in a well-ventilated area, preferably one outside of your home.
How long will my mattress off-gas?
Some mattress manufacturers may take steps to make sure that some of the off-gassing processes happens before the mattress is packaged and shipped. However, it should be noted that even if the bulk of the off-gassing occurs outside of your home, your mattress will still off-gas in some capacity throughout the time that you have it in your home.
The amount of off-gassing that you can expect depends on the type of mattress that you buy, the density of the foam inside the mattress, the chemicals used in the manufacturing process and the way that your mattress is packaged. The strongest off-gassing smell will fade within a few days to a couple of weeks, according to most major mattress manufacturers, though you may notice a faint smell for longer.
How much do leading brand mattress off-gas?
Tuft & Needleoffers two different polyfoam mattress options: the Original and the Mint. Both hold CentriPUR-US, GreenGuard Gold and STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX certifications. Buyers of Tuft & Needle mattresses can expect mild off-gassing that dissipates within a few days.
Leesamattress is a CertiPUR-US certified multilayer foam mattress made from a combination of memory foam and polyurethane. After opening, buyers will notice a strong off-gassing smell that should fade within a few days.
Casperoffers three different mattresses: the Caper, the Wave and the Essential. All three are made with layers of memory foam and polyurethane, but the Wave also includes a layer of natural latex. All Casper mattresses are CentriPUR-US certified. You can expect some off-gassing from Casper mattresses, but the odor typically dissipates within 24 hours.
Purplemattresses consist of an elastic polymer grid layered over CertiPUR-US certified polyurethane foam. New Purple mattresses may have a very faint off-gassing smell that fades quickly. However, many consumers report no off-gassing smell at all.
Tempur-Pedicoffers a wide range of memory foam mattresses. The off-gassing odor strength varies among models, but consumers can expect it to dissipate within the first two weeks.
Tips for off-gassing a new mattress
Some manufacturers recommend airing out a new mattress for three to seven days in a garage or well-ventilated room before sleeping on it, while others claim that you can start using your mattress within the first few hours after opening it. Use your nose as your judge. Avoid sleeping on your new mattress while you can still smell a strong off-gassing odor. If the strong smell persists after a week or two, consider returning your mattress and searching for a more air-quality-friendly alternative.
How can I speed up the off-gassing process of my new mattress?
When searching for a new mattress, pay attention to the VOCs used in the manufacturing process. If you cannot easily find the chemical compounds present in the mattress, and you cannot get a straight answer from the manufacturer, consider exploring other brands. You have a right to know which potential chemical emissions you may be bringing into your bedroom.
Your mattress manufacturer will list recommendations for the off-gassing of your particular mattress, but listed below are some helpful tips to speed up the off-gassing process.
- Open your mattress outside of your house and let it off-gas for at least two days in a well-ventilated area with a cross breeze.
- If you cannot avoid off-gassing your mattress inside of your home, you should open your windows and increase air circulation where possible. Fans and air filtration systems can also help improve the ventilation in your house.
- If you have a spare room, try leaving your mattress in there to off-gas for the first few days before bringing it into your bedroom.
- Some manufacturers recommend pouring baking soda on the mattress while you air it out to speed up the off-gassing process.
- If you would like to use the new mattress but the off-gassing smell persists, you can add a mattress cover to help contain the chemical smell to the bed. When you remove the cover to wash it, you will likely smell the off-gassing odor again, though it should dissipate over time.
While the health effects of mattress off-gassing are still being studied, it is always a good idea to protect yourself from VOC exposure whenever possible. It may be hard to avoid off-gassing altogether when you buy a new mattress, but by following the simple steps above, you can enjoy a good night’s sleep knowing that you are actively protecting your indoor air quality.