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How to Tell if Your Mattress is Toxic

One place few people think to look when rooting out toxins in the home is the mattress. After all, it is one of the items you spend the most amount of time, on an average day, in close proximity to. Wouldn’t you know if it is a source of toxicity in your home?

Probably not. In fact, many mattresses are filled with a variety of toxins. The older the mattress, the greater the likelihood that it contains ingredients and materials that are banned in mattresses today. Now is the perfect time to explore the mattresses in your home, and seek out healthier options to expose yourself and your loved ones to.

Non-Chemical Toxins

Most people look for chemicals as the primary source of toxins in mattresses and other things. While chemicals in the mattress are excellent starting points, you must not overlook a few unexpected toxins that may be lurking in your mattress. Especially if you have an older mattress. They include:

  • Dust mites. Not only is the thought of microscopic insects crawling around in your mattress enough to make your skin crawl, knowing what they leave behind inside your mattress is enough to make you want to take a turn in the sanitize cycle on your dishwasher. In fact, a single dust mite “dropping” can contain as many as 20 allergens, and is a “root cause” of asthma in children, according to the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.
  • Microbes. Most people spend as much as one-third of every day in bed. When you’re sick, that time can double, or even triple. This means when you are filled with bacteria and/or viral materials, you’re spending even more time than normal in bed. When you sweat, sneeze, cough, etc. in bed, these microbes can sink deep beneath the mattress layers lingering there, causing your illness to linger.

Choosing a mattress that is dust mite resistant and has anti- microbial, viral, and bacterial properties can be a huge difference-maker when it comes to the long-term health of your family. If your existing mattress does not have these important qualities, it might be time for a change.

Chemicals to Watch for in Mattresses

Mattresses are made with many different materials and manufacturing processes. These differences create mattresses that have varying degrees of comfort, firmness, support, and durability. Some of these mattresses use natural ingredients in the manufacturing process, introducing few, if any, chemicals into the mix. Others, though, use chemicals that can be dangerous when exposed to humans, including those listed below.

  • Formaldehyde. This preservative has a caustic odor that can cause serious irritation, and is commonly used in the adhesives that hold mattress layers together.
  • Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). These chemicals are commonly used as fire retardants. While they have been banned in many countries for use in mattresses, there are plenty of older mattresses making the rounds that still contain these harmful ingredients associated with low fertility and hormonal changes in adults as well as hyperactivity, low birth weight, and developmental delays in children, according to the Green Science Policy Institute.
  • Diisocyanates. Commonly used in memory foam mattresses, diisocyanates have fallen under scrutiny by the EPA for causing potential harm. They have been associated with a variety of conditions, including causing asthma, irritating eyes, lungs, and skin, damaging lungs, and, in extreme cases, causing fatal reactions.
  • Boric acid. Commonly used by mattress companies to make mattresses that are resistant to bed bugs and bacteria, boric acid can have devastating effects, according to Dr. Axe, with long-term exposure that include neurological and developmental problems, convulsions, skin blistering, and damage to the upper respiratory tract.
  • Benzene. A petrochemical identified by the World Health Organization as a carcinogen, for causing aplastic anemia, chromosomal aberrations, and more with prolonged exposure.

With lesser exposure, these chemicals may not cause extensive damage. However, most people spend large amounts of time exposed to their mattresses, in much closer proximity than they may come to many other toxins and chemicals. That is why it is important to look for mattresses that do not contain these types of chemicals.

What’s the Big Deal about Off-Gassing?

Most people think of off-gassing as something that is mildly painful, but incredibly brief. After all, the caustic odor associated with off-gassing only lasts a few hours in most cases, and a few days at worst. Right?


Off-gassing occurs when volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are released into the open air, exposing products to oxygenated air. This typically happens when removing the plastic sheeting around mattresses. Some mattresses are notorious for off-gassing, including many popular and very famous brands. Unfortunately, most people believe, erroneously, that off-gassing lasts only as long as the odor lingers in the air.

While it is true that the initial odors that are so repugnant only last a brief time after opening your new mattress, the effects can linger for several years, depending on the precise chemicals used in making the mattress, according to Nontoxic Living. Even if you can’t smell the chemicals in the air, they can remain to cause a wide range of symptoms including:

  • Eye, nose, and throat irritation
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Asthma
  • Central nervous system (CNS) damage
  • Damage to your liver and kidneys
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

    There is even some evidence that it can contribute to some types of cancer. The problem is that many mattresses contain numerous VOCs, and while the effects of individual VOCs are known, there have been few studies that focus on the combined effects of multiple VOCs. In other words, we don’t know how bad it could be.

    How Can You Know if Your Mattress is Toxic?

    While most mattress makers do not reveal everything that goes into the mattresses they create, and many will even market their mattresses as safe, green, and healthy, it is important to dig deeper than the advertising to find out the truth about your mattress.

    One way to do this is to look for mattresses that are 100% natural, like the Latex For Less 100% natural latex mattress. Check to see the mattress has Oeko-Tex certification, and GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certification. Oeko-Tex Standard 100 ensures that there are no harmful chemicals in your mattress, and GOTS is a certification for the outside covering, letting you know that the cotton cover is certified organic. The Latex For Less all-natural latex mattress is an excellent choice for families seeking a non-toxic sleep experience. While it is rare to be able to tell from looking at a mattress what lurks beneath the mattress surface, choosing the right mattress from the beginning can contribute greatly to the indoor air quality of your home and the health of your home, your family, and your guests.

    Elizabeth Magill

    Elizabeth Magill is a professional freelance writer and editor who holds an MBA. Liz specializes in writing about health news, medical conditions, healthy living, small business, career and work, personal finance, and green-living, including news and trending topics in these specialties. Her clients include Healthline, The Motley Fool, GoBanking Rates,, Big Interview, HealthNews, Intuit Small Business Blog, Intuit Health, American News Report,, IFX Medical, and many others. She’s also a published eBook author and ghost writer for various clients in the health, medical, career, small business, and personal finance niches.