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Manufacturers use petroleum-based chemicals to create memory foam mattresses. So, when you get one of these mattresses home, it has to go through a mattress off-gassing process, which releases fumes and a strong chemical odor into the air.

One advantage that latex mattresses have over other mattresses, such as memory foam mattresses, is that 100 percent natural latex mattresses are free of toxic gases and do not undergo an off-gassing process.

What Is Off-Gassing?

Off-gassing occurs when new, manufactured items release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other chemicals into the air. These particles hang in the air and settle as dust, where they can be inhaled and ingested.

When you buy a petroleum-based polyurethane memory foam bed-in-a-box mattress, the volatile organic compounds used in the manufacturing process release into the air as your mattress is rolled out. This is what causes the intense new mattress smell.

The odor can be so strong that sleeping on a new mattress, or even in the same room as the new mattress, is impossible for days or even weeks until the mattress off-gassing is complete.

How Does Off-Gassing Affect Consumers?

Off-gassing means that items saturated with industrial VOC chemicals do not just contain those chemicals inherently. They also give off those chemicals as particles, sometimes in large quantities. It is not an eco-friendly process.

Simply sitting or lying down on a new memory foam mattress can release an invisible cloud of these unwanted chemicals. Sometimes you can smell these particles, and sometimes you cannot. Off-gassing can be especially unpleasant when a product is new.

Less obvious, but also concerning: some chemicals that off-gas from new memory foam mattresses have no noticeable smell. Phthalates, for example, are odorless chemicals that off-gas. This means you cannot detect their presence using your senses, so there is no way for the average person to know what their mattress is emitting.

What Exactly Are Volatile Organic Compounds?

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, most VOCs are man-made industrial solvents or by-products of certain industrial processes. Depending on the chemical makeup of VOCs, they can have adverse effects on a person’s health, especially when concentrated indoors. This is why mattress off-gassing is so worrisome.

One of the troubling things you discover as you research memory foam and off-gassing in mattresses is that there is a wide range of chemicals and processes in use. Yet, there is so little information from the mattress companies about those chemicals.

This secrecy makes it difficult for the average person to assess, understand, or even identify what risks their mattress may pose to themselves, to their children, to their pets, and to the environment.

Transparency in Manufacturing

Latex for Less makes mattresses from one simple material: 100 percent natural eco-friendly latex, with no industrial chemicals or fillers. Latex for Less mattresses do not off-gas.

We disclose our mattress ingredients because we have nothing to hide, and we believe you deserve to know what you are sleeping on every night.

What Kinds of Mattresses Off-Gas?

Memory foam mattresses and polyfoam mattresses are hugely popular, especially the convenient bed-in-a-box types that you can order online. In the last few years, several Silicone Valley startup companies have taken the mattress world by storm, promising convenient delivery and a comfortable night’s sleep.

However, these mattresses made of polyurethane foam come with an unpleasant new mattress smell for which consumers are often not prepared. Since these memory foam mattresses are folded up tightly and compressed into a small box, the unrolling process unleashes pent-up VOCs. A large concentration of chemicals is expelled from the mattress customers experience exposure to VOCs in large amounts.

Do Innerspring Mattresses Off-Gas?

Conventional spring mattresses do not put off much odor because their insides are essentially hollow. Any chemical smell coming off an innerspring mattress will likely be from flame-retardant materials. However, the cheaper the mattress is, the more likely it is to have polyurethane elements.

Natural, organic latex mattresses do not off-gas at all. They do not contain VOCs, so there is nothing to off-gas. Synthetic latex mattresses are more likely to include VOCs since synthetic latex is made from chemicals designed to mimic the feel and behavior of natural latex.

Is Mattress Off-Gassing Harmful?

Off-gassing creates an unpleasant new mattress smell, but is the odor harmful or toxic to those who breathe it in? Mattress off-gassing is not known to be toxic. Most major memory foam mattresses are CertiPUR US certified, meaning they have acceptable VOC emission levels.

A non-profit organization is in charge of naming CertiPUR US certified mattress foams. For a memory foam mattress to be CertiPUR US certified, it must be created without formaldehyde, mercury, lead, or other heavy metals, phthalates, PBDEs, TDCPP, or TCEP flame retardants and have low VOC emissions for indoor air quality.

However, just because certain mattress chemicals are toxic does not mean they cannot be harmful. Exposure to VOCs released in the off-gassing process can cause several side effects. In fact, studies have shown that a sleeper’s body heat can increase the VOC emissions from a mattress.

  • Throat irritation
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Headaches
  • Allergy attacks
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting

So, while VOCs from an off-gassing mattress might not be life-threatening, the side effects can be severe. Additionally, the VOCs eventually settle into the corners of a home and mix with common dust and debris on the floor. Babies and toddlers that crawl all over the ground are more likely to come into contact with them and ingest them.

When choosing a memory foam mattress, be sure to look for CertiPUR US certified mattresses because they will have low VOC levels and will be less likely to induce serious side effects. Other certifications include UL’s GREENGUARD Gold and OEKO-TEX’s STANDARD 100.

Potential Symptoms of Off-Gassing

If you are exposed to off-gassing, you could experience the following symptoms.

Sore Throat

VOC exposure can irritate the throats of those in close proximity to an off-gassing mattress. Coughing can also occur.

Difficulty Breathing

Those with respiratory issues like asthma should avoid an off-gassing mattress because the chemical odor will exacerbate breathing problems and could even trigger an asthma attack.

Headaches

Strong chemical smells and odors can trigger severe headaches, especially in people who are sensitive to them.

Allergies

People with allergies are often hypersensitive to strong odors. In this case, a chemical odor will likely bring on allergy attacks.

Dizziness

Without proper ventilation, the off-gassed chemicals have nowhere to go. If someone breathes in those chemicals for too long, they will become light-headed.

Nausea and Vomiting

Along with dizziness, a steady supply of new mattress smell can cause nausea and vomiting due to light-headedness. It is unwise to breathe in off-gassed VOCs for too long.

How to Let a Memory Foam Mattress Off-Gas Properly

Unlike a new car smell, a new mattress smell is not something you will want to hold on to. To ensure you are protecting your indoor air quality and avoiding as many harmful chemicals as possible, you must let a polyurethane foam mattress off-gas completely in a well-ventilated room before using it.

Some manufacturers recommend letting your mattress off-gas outside when possible. If you have a covered porch or balcony, those are great places to let your mattress off-gas away from your family. This is, of course, not always an option, so airing it out in a well-ventilated space like a garage or a spare bedroom with the windows open and the fans blowing is also suitable.

Other manufacturers state customers can use their mattress as soon as it is out of the box. However, if you smell a strong chemical odor emanating from your mattress, use your own discretion and let your mattress air out before sleeping on it to avoid unpleasant symptoms like headaches and respiratory issues.

You should unpack your box as soon as you receive it and take it into the room where it will off-gas. It is a good idea to put an air purifier in the same room to aid in the smell and improve the indoor air quality of that room, even while you have the windows open. A good air purifier with a HEPA filter can trap some of those nasty VOC particles and prevent negative respiratory side effects.

Can You Sleep on a Mattress Before It Is Done Off-Gassing?

You should not try to sleep on a mattress that is still off-gassing. Sleeping on an off-gassing mattress can increase VOC emissions due to body heat, exacerbating any issues.

So, while mattresses that are not in use can cause unpleasantness, mattresses that are in use can be even more problematic.

How to Speed Up the Off-Gassing Process

Major memory foam mattress brands can take anywhere from one day to several weeks to completely off-gas. This long wait time is not conducive to a comfortable sleeping arrangement. There are some tips you can use to get rid of the off-gassing smell more quickly.

  • Let the sun speed up off-gassing.
  • Use baking soda to speed up off-gassing.
  • The white sock treatment.

If, for some reason, you need to significantly speed up the rate at which off-gassing occurs, these methods can help.

Using the Sun

If you have a place to put your mattress safely outside in the sun, this can shorten the time it will take your mattress to off-gas. Just be sure your mattress gets direct sunlight and keep it out of the rain or other elements.

Using Baking Soda

Baking soda has deodorizing properties, so it can get rid of the chemical smell from mattress off-gassing. Sprinkle baking soda on your new mattress and leave it on for a while before vacuuming it off. It can remove the VOC chemical smells.

Using the White Sock Treatment

This is a clever name for jumping on your new mattress in socks. You can recruit the whole family to jump on every inch of your new mattress to expel the gasses more quickly, rather than waiting for them to off-gas naturally.

Be cautious when using the white sock treatment, however, because this will leave you with a large quantity of VOC gasses in the area at once. Only do this in a very well-ventilated area and do not use this method if anyone in the home is susceptible to respiratory illness or other side effects.

How to Avoid Off-Gassing Altogether

If you buy a memory foam or polyfoam mattress, some amount of off-gassing is going to occur from your new mattress.

Some of the chemicals that are disbursed by memory foam mattresses are classified as carcinogens, or potential carcinogens. Mattress adhesives and memory foam usually contain solvents like acetone, which can irritate your eyes and respiratory tract, or trigger asthma symptoms.

However, not all mattresses off-gas. If your mattress is made from 100 percent natural latex with nothing added, you save yourself the trouble of worrying about off-gassing at all. That is because natural, organic latex with no added fillers has no VOCs to off-gas.

Does Natural Latex Off-Gas?

No, natural latex does not off-gas. Natural latex is made from rubber tree sap, so there are no VOCs that release when you lay your mattress out. Due to how heavy natural latex mattresses are, they are not likely to be rolled up in a small package, either, so there is not going to be a rolling out process.

There is no chemical odor from VOCs or other lab-created synthetics. And there is nothing in a natural latex mattress that will harm you or your family, unless, of course, you have a latex allergy.

Do some research, and know what materials are in each layer of your mattress, and look at all certifications to verify their safety.

Does Natural Latex Have a Smell?

New natural latex does have a smell, but that is not due to off-gassing.

It is the natural scent of hevea milk (rubber tree sap), and it is not unpleasant or industrial-smelling. It is not that formaldehyde “new car” smell, or nail polish smell of acetone adhesives. It is a nutty, natural smell somewhat like vanilla, and it dissipates. There is much less urgency to get rid of this eco-friendly smell.

Latex Mattresses: Natural vs. Synthetic

If off-gassing is your worry, you will want to stick with 100 percent natural latex mattresses. Synthetic latex mattresses are not organic, and are made from chemicals. Therefore, they will have a chemical smell. Their off-gassing will not be as intense as memory foam or poly-foam mattresses, but it will still occur.

Synthetic latex mattresses do not last nearly as long as natural latex mattresses, which are known to last upwards of 15 years. So, when synthetic latex mattresses begin to break down, those chemical ingredients off-gas again. Not only are synthetic latex mattresses less durable, but they are far more likely to have unpleasant chemical odors, and cause irritating reactions.

Natural latex mattresses offer you peace of mind that other mattresses cannot. When you lay your head down at night, you can be sure that you are sleeping on natural materials. No harsh chemicals or mystery substances are leaching into your skin, or into the air you breathe.

Latex for Less Natural Latex Mattresses

Latex for Less’s mattresses are free of industrial chemicals or fillers. Not only is 100 percent natural latex the healthiest and safest sleeping surface you will find, but it has these added bonuses:

  • Natural latex is naturally hypoallergenic
  • Natural latex is naturally antimicrobial

Latex for Less’s mattresses are 100 percent natural latex, and they are made by pouring the latex into molds, and then steam-baking them. With our process and our principles, we err on the side of caution. We do not add artificial chemicals . Why would any mattress company choose to expose consumers to these risks?

You deserve to know what materials you are sleeping on. With Latex for Less, you will never have to wonder. Your new latex mattress, pillow, or mattress topper is not only comfortable, but it is healthy to sleep on.

What Exactly Have We Been Sleeping on?

Although companies may want to protect their “trade secrets,” we have a right to know what we spend one-third of our lifetime sleeping on.

One problem with “memory foam” is that it is an open-ended description. Memory foam is a manufactured substance that does not exist in nature, and there are many ways to make it. Different mattress brands use different materials and processes.

Some mattress brands have more problems with off-gassing than others. And, perhaps because their marketing departments know that customers are put off by too many strange-looking ingredients and industrial chemical names, many mattress companies choose to hide exactly which materials you are sleeping on.

This may be to protect trade secrets, but should they keep you in the dark about the mattress you sleep on every night?

The chemical mixtures used to produce mattresses vary from company to company.

  • Solvent-based adhesives are generally used to hold mattresses together
  • Foam mattresses also may contain Asbestos Fluorinated Polymers or Chlorofluorocarbons, the chemicals widely associated with thinning of the Ozone
  • Other chemicals include carbon tetrachloride, chloroform, and dioxins
  • There is also formaldehyde, which is the chemical mainly responsible for the "new mattress smell"

To make matters worse, many of the chemicals that are legal to use in furniture and other products in the U.S. have never been independently studied for their impact on people, animals, or the environment. So, while many claims are made stating that VOCs are not toxic, these claims are less than convincing.

Consider a Natural Latex Mattress

If you want to avoid the unpleasant and inconvenient off-gassing process, consider purchasing an all-natural latex mattress for your next mattress. You will find that natural latex mattresses are extremely bouncy, soft, and comfortable. They are also cooling and breathable for a good night’s sleep.

Additionally, you will not have to worry about its effect on your indoor air quality.

Fully organic latex mattresses are not in everyone’s budget, though, and that is okay. If you are still on the market for some kind of foam mattress or a latex blend, keep in mind the available certifications for mattress materials. Choose a mattress that has safe materials, and will not cause issues for you, your family, or your environment.

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, LIVESTRONG.com, Big Interview, HealthNews, Intuit Small Business Blog, Intuit Health, American News Report, Travels.com, 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.