Are Mattresses Toxic? How to Limit Off-gassing of Harmful Chemicals from Mattresses

Do mattresses have toxic chemicals? Unfortunately, many are made with chemicals that release with time, which we can inhale. These chemicals can lead to harmful health effects. Here's what to do to limit toxic mattress symptoms.

Get your beauty rest without inhaling toxic chemicals or absorbing them through your skin. Avoid mattresses that release toxic chemicals.

Getting a good night's sleep is crucial for your overall health and well-being. However, many conventional mattresses contain harmful chemicals that can off-gas into the air you breathe night after night. These chemicals are especially toxic to babies and young children, who are more vulnerable to toxic chemicals in mattresses [1]. Is your mattress toxic? Read more about how to minimize your exposure to mattress chemicals. 

Why Are There Toxic Chemicals in Mattresses?

Selecting a mattress is a crucial decision that affects your health and well-being every night. Unfortunately, many mattresses contain toxic chemicals. 

These substances are often added to meet strict safety standards for flame retardancy. They’re also added to various materials to improve stain resistance and enhance the overall durability of the product. 

While these chemicals do serve practical purposes, their presence in mattresses can pose potential health risks. Be aware of these chemicals so you know how to limit your exposures to them. Let’s take a closer look at the toxic chemicals in mattresses. 

Common Toxic Chemicals in Mattresses

Rest easy without exposing yourself to toxicants. Conventional mattresses often contain a variety of harmful chemicals designed to meet safety and durability standards. Let’s take a closer look at harmful chemicals in mattresses and why they’re used by manufacturers. 

Fire Retardants

One common chemical found in mattresses is polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). PBDEs are used as flame retardants. These chemicals are typically added to the foam layers to reduce the risk of fire. 

Water and Stain Resistors

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are often used in mattresses primarily for their water- and stain-resistant properties. These chemicals are applied to the fabric or outer layers of the mattress to create a barrier that repels liquids, making it easier to clean and maintain. 


Also, formaldehyde-based adhesives are commonly used to bind different layers of the mattress together. These chemicals enhance the mattress's structural integrity. 

Foam Materials

Lastly, synthetic foam materials like polyurethane are widely used in mattresses, especially in memory foam. These chemicals offer enhanced support and cushioning. However, they are often treated with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like toluene, formaldehyde, and benzene. VOCs increase their flexibility and longevity, ensuring the mattress maintains its shape and comfort over time. 

Also, VOCs help the foam remain pliable and resilient, which is crucial for providing the adaptive support that memory foam is known for. However, these chemicals can also emit harmful gasses, contributing to air quality issues and potential health risks in the sleeping environment. This process is known as off-gassing.

What is Mattress Off-gassing?

Mattress off-gassing is a term that describes the release of harmful chemicals from a mattress into the air. Food, clothing, furniture…everything in this world gradually breaks down over time, and mattresses are no exception.

When it comes to mattresses, especially those made with synthetic or inorganic materials like VOCs and PBDEs, this breakdown process can release various chemical compounds. 

The release of these chemicals is most noticeable when the mattress is new because the materials start breaking down almost immediately after manufacturing. 

This is why you might notice a strong smell when you first unwrap a new mattress [2]. When you unwrap a new mattress, the trapped chemicals begin to escape into the air. 

Heat can speed up this process, causing these substances to leak out more quickly into your sleeping environment. Let’s get to know the most typical toxic chemicals that mattresses off-gas. 

Common Chemicals That Mattresses Off-gas

Choosing a mattress is an important decision that impacts your sleep and overall well-being. It's empowering to be informed about the materials used in these products, especially when it comes to understanding the potential health risks. Many mattresses can release harmful chemicals into the air through off-gassing. Knowing which chemicals are commonly found in mattresses can help you make safer, healthier choices for your home. 

Here are some of the common toxic chemicals that mattresses may off-gas:

  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as:
    • Benzene
    • Toluene
    • Propylene oxide
    • Formaldehyde
    • Acetone
  • Flame retardants, such as:
  • Chemicals from synthetic latex:
    • Styrene
    • Butadiene
  • Phthalates from vinyl/PVC waterproof covers
  • Isocyanates
    • Toluene diisocyanate (TDI) from polyurethane foam
  • Dibutyltin from polyurethane foam manufacturing

Health Effects Associated with VOCs from Mattresses 

Understanding the health effects of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and flame retardants in mattresses is crucial for making informed decisions about your home environment. Exposure to these chemicals can result in both short-term and long-term health issues. Know what to look out for so you can take the steps needed to protect your family. 

Most Common Short-Term Effects

Exposure to VOCs such as formaldehyde, benzene, toluene, and xylene, as well as flame retardants like PBDEs, can lead to immediate symptoms [3]. 

Symptoms of mattress off-gassing include:

  • Eyes, nose, and throat irritation
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Respiratory issues
  • Coughing 
  • Wheezing
  • Worsening asthma

These chemicals are irritants, and their volatile nature means they can be easily inhaled, leading to these short-term discomforts.

Most Common Long-Term Effects

Long-term exposure to VOCs and flame retardants in mattresses poses more serious health risks. Chemicals like benzene, formaldehyde, PBDEs, organophosphate flame retardants (OPFRs), and halogenated flame retardants (HFRs) are linked to chronic conditions [4].

These include:

  • Various cancers (lung, liver, kidney, etc.)
  • Neurological effects (cognitive impairment, developmental delays, and behavioral issues)
  • Reproductive and endocrine disruptions

These substances are known or suspected carcinogens and their ability to persist and accumulate in the body can lead to increased cancer risk over time. Additionally, their neurotoxic and endocrine-disrupting properties can cause significant long-term health impacts, particularly during critical periods such as pregnancy and early childhood.

Taking this information to heart allows you to make safer choices for your household. Opting for mattresses made with natural, organic, or low-VOC materials and ensuring proper ventilation can significantly reduce your exposure to these harmful chemicals. By staying informed and taking action, you can create a healthier sleeping environment that prioritizes the well-being of you and your loved ones.

Signs of a Mattress Off-gassing

Being aware of mattresses off-gassing is an important part of preventative healthcare. If you notice signs of off-gassing, you can take active measures in your environment to minimize those exposures. 

Common signs and symptoms of exposure to chemicals in mattresses:

  • Unusual Odor: A strong, chemical smell is often the most immediate and noticeable sign.
  • Respiratory Issues: Experiencing coughing, sneezing, or shortness of breath after spending time near the new mattress.
  • Headaches and Dizziness: Feeling lightheaded or experiencing headaches, particularly in the mornings.
  • Eye, Nose, or Throat Irritation: Burning or itching sensations in these areas can indicate exposure to off-gassed chemicals.
  • Skin Reactions: Rashes or other skin irritations after direct contact with the mattress.
  • Asthma or Allergy Flare-ups: Increased severity of asthma or allergy symptoms can be triggered by off-gassing.
  • Fatigue: Unexplained tiredness or feeling unwell after sleeping on the new mattress.

If you notice any of these signs or symptoms of toxic exposures to mattress chemicals, consider making some changes to your daily routine and living quarters. Some of these changes can happen overnight, while others may require budgeting. Let’s take a closer look at ways to minimize exposures to harmful chemicals in mattresses. 

How Long Does A Mattress Release VOCs?

The first few days after you receive a new mattress are going to produce your highest chemical exposures. However, it will be an ongoing process throughout the life of the mattress. Here is a general timeline of VOC emissions from mattresses in your home. :

Initial Period (First Few Days to a Week)

The most significant off-gassing usually takes place within the first 24-48 hours after unpacking. During this time, it's advisable to let the mattress air out in a well-ventilated room or outside if possible, keeping windows open to expedite the process.

Subsequent Weeks

While the majority of VOCs are released in the initial period, low-level emissions can continue for several weeks. Keeping the room ventilated and using air purifiers can help reduce your exposure during this time. 

Toxic chemicals can get trapped in dust. Open your windows daily, if possible. Dust and vacuum or mop often to prevent inhalation of these linger chemicals. 

Long-Term Emissions

Some mattresses may continue to emit trace amounts of VOCs over several months, though at much lower levels.  

However, these chemicals can be harmful in low doses. So, it’s best to avoid these chemicals as best as possible. 

Continue to follow the recommendations we’ve made about air purification, cleaning regularly, and opening windows daily. However, you should also consider budgeting for a new mattress in the future that contains fewer harmful chemicals.  

How to Stop a Mattress from Gassing

Getting a new mattress is inevitable in our lifetimes. So, we must do whatever we can to make the best out of the situation by making decisions with our health at the forefront.

Breathe fresh air into your new mattress by leaving it outside, if weather permits. If outdoors isn’t an option, consider placing it in a well-ventilated room for a day or two. Try to keep the window open as much as possible during those days.  

For an existing mattress or once your new mattress is acclimated, there are several strategies you can employ to further minimize exposure. Using air purifiers with HEPA filters can help capture airborne VOCs and improve indoor air quality [5]. 

Incorporating certain houseplants, such as spider plants, peace lilies, and English ivy, can also aid in filtering the air naturally [6]. Additionally, regularly washing bedding and vacuuming your mattress and bedroom can reduce the build-up of dust and other potential irritants.

As you consider ways to create a healthier living space, think about shopping for organic mattresses in the future. These mattresses often use natural materials and fewer chemicals, reducing the potential for off-gassing. Stay tuned for our next section where we'll delve into the benefits and options available for organic mattresses!

How to Shop for Non-Toxic Mattresses

Creating a safe and healthy sleep environment starts with choosing a mattress made from certified organic materials, such as GOTS organic cotton and GOLS organic latex. These rigorous certifications guarantee that at least 95% of the materials are genuinely organic and free from harmful chemicals, flame retardants, and PFAS.

The CertiPUR-US® certification is a voluntary testing, analysis, and certification program developed by the nonprofit organization Alliance for Flexible Polyurethane Foam. This certification aims to ensure that the foam in mattresses, upholstered furniture, and other products meet specific health, environmental, and safety standards.

We understand that navigating the world of non-toxic mattresses can be overwhelming, especially with the prevalence of greenwashing. Additionally, mattresses are significant investments, and their high cost can be daunting. However, it’s important to remember that a quality mattress lasts many years, making it a worthwhile long-term investment. 

Consider saving up for this big-ticket purchase to prioritize your health and well-being. Demand full transparency about the materials used in your mattress and avoid companies that cannot provide complete disclosure. Investing in an organic mattress is a commitment to your long-term health, allowing you to breathe easier, both literally and figuratively.

Don't let confusing and misleading marketing deter you from making informed decisions. You deserve a safe, low-toxic sleeping space. Rest easy on Million Marker Approved Bedding & Mattresses

Reduce Harmful Chemical Exposures

Beyond managing mattress off-gassing, you can reduce your overall exposure to harmful chemicals by being mindful of other sources in your daily life. Opt for personal care products free from parabens, phthalates, and synthetic fragrances. Choose foods that are organic and free from pesticides and artificial additives whenever possible. By focusing on these areas, you have more control over your environment and can make choices that benefit your health.

Need a little more help? Get personalized recommendations with Million Marker’s Detect & Detox Test Kit. This mail-in urine test measures levels of bisphenols, phthalates, parabens, and oxybenzone in your body. It helps you pinpoint your highest causes of exposure so you can minimize your exposure. The key is to control what we can. Get some control back in your hands with a Detect & Detox Test Kit.