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What Harmful Chemicals are in Mattresses?

October 12, 2022

What Harmful Chemicals are in Mattresses?

Shopping for a new mattress is an exciting time for many because there are so many options available to test, allowing you to determine the best fit for your needs. Many mattresses are filled with many natural and chemical ingredients that are hidden well beneath the surface and fine print of the labels. Thousands of people continue using a mattress well past its expiration date, making it harmful to your health, but does your new mattress contain harmful chemicals, too? Though all products are manufactured to meet the same federal guidelines, it is important to understand that chemicals can hurt your overall health. Before buying a new bed, it is important to know what harmful chemicals are in mattresses, and how to avoid them.

What Materials are Used to Make Mattresses?

Choosing the right mattress is important to ensure your sleep quality is not affected; however, it can be a daunting task for many shoppers because there are a multitude of options available. The most common materials include:

Foam

Foam is among the most common mattress materials used by mattress companies dating back several decades of use. The type of foam, ingredients used, and manufacturing process allows for a variance in density, sponginess, temperature regulation, and pressure relief. Foam mattresses may be found using:

Memory Foam

Memory foam consists primarily of polyurethane with chemical additives to increase the density and viscosity of the foam layers, creating a comfortable sleep space. Commonly referred to as viscoelastic polyurethane foam, memory foam offers unmatched body support, as it wraps around sleepers, cradling them throughout the night. Though memory foam mattresses are excellent options at an affordable price, these mattresses are notorious for trapping body heat, making it difficult to get a good night’s sleep.

Gel-Infused Foam

Polyurethane foam mattresses infused with gel microbeads offer the same comfort as memory foam, with a breathable structure and gel-infused temperature regulation to control your body heat throughout the night.

Latex Foam

Latex mattresses offer pristine sleep conditions through temperature regulation, pressure point relief, and body contouring. These mattresses are made from rubber tree sap, and formulated with comfort in mind. Latex mattresses can be found in a variety of blends, including natural latex, synthetic latex, and a blended variety.

Synthetic vs Natural vs Blended Latex

Natural latex is made from rubber tree sap with no chemical additives to create organic mattresses safe for all sleepers. Synthetic and blended latex mattresses are made using rubber tree sap and other chemicals added for more affordable, comfortable sleep.

Innerspring Coils

Innerspring mattresses utilize a combination of materials, including steel coils designed for optimal springiness. These mattresses are among the oldest, traditional mattress styles available for purchase, and are offered at an affordable price for all; however, they do not last as long as foam mattresses, as the springs eventually give out.

Wool

Wool is a textile fiber gathered from the fur of sheep and other mammals. It is produced year-round, and offers additional padding and temperature regulation when used in combination with other mattress materials. It also acts as a natural flame retardant, though it is more expensive to use in this way compared to chemical flame retardants.

Cotton

Cotton is a fluffy textile used inside and outside of mattresses and other products to offer breathable comfort and superior softness. It is used to manufacture clothing, bedding, mattresses, and much more.

Adhesives

Adhesives are used to bond mattress materials, layers, and seams together to ensure your mattress lasts several years.

Flame Retardants

All mattresses are required to contain a minimum amount of flame retardants, due to flammability laws set at a federal level for fire resistance. Many mattress companies utilize chemical flame retardants, as they are less time-consuming to prepare, and are more cost-effective.

What is Mattress Off-Gassing?

Have you recently, or ever, purchased a new mattress only to begin unpackaging it at home, and are met with a foul odor? This is known as mattress off-gassing, and occurs as certain chemical compounds are exposed to the air around you. Many mattresses are vacuum sealed using plastic packaging that is full of VOCs that begin breaking down into a gaseous state, creating that “new mattress smell” consumers talk about.

The Effects of Mattress Off-Gassing

Mattress off-gassing leaves many mattress owners weary of their recent purchase, and often has them reconsidering keeping the mattress altogether. Some mattress owners find themselves ready to return their recent purchase, while others simply wonder how the new mattress smell will affect them. For those that routinely experience sensitivity to odors, you may experience nausea, headaches, upset stomach, or dizziness upon unboxing; however, the effects will lessen as the odor begins to dissipate.

Short-Term Off-Gassing Effects

Temporary exposure to VOCs generally does not produce harmful effects. Exposure may result in mild eye and respiratory irritation, asthma symptom exacerbation, headaches, nausea, and other non-life-threatening symptoms that are often temporary.

Long-Term Off-Gassing Effects

Prolonged exposure to VOCs, primarily from those who are tasked with frequent unboxing of mattresses and other VOC-containing packages are exposed to higher concentrations of known carcinogens, and other toxic substances. Symptoms associated with long-term exposure include difficulty breathing, worsening asthma, prolonged cough and congestion, allergic reactions, and cancers.

What are VOCs?

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are chemical compounds found in polyurethane foams, petroleum fuels, paint thinners, and several cleaning agents. Volatile organic compounds used in mattresses react when met with exposure to the air during unboxing, resulting in an unpleasant odor being emitted. VOCs are known to release harmful chemicals into the air, like benzene and formaldehyde, that are known to harm a person’s health.

What Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are Used When Manufacturing Mattresses?

Volatile organic compounds are commonly hidden among other ingredients of mattress foams and adhesives used to bond materials together. Common VOCs in mattresses include:

Chlorofluorocarbons

CFCs can be found in a non-toxic mattress. They are a blend of chemicals with atoms containing various substances including carbon, fluorine, chlorine, and hydrogen. Chlorofluorocarbons are less frequently used by mattress manufacturers, as they are known to impact air quality and deplete the ozone.

Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is commonly used as a preservation agent; however, it is also used in mattresses as an adhesive to bond layers of materials together. It can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation, and commonly affects those with sensitivities to smells.

Toluene

Toluene is a colorless chemical compound liquid used to make paint thinners, rubbers, gasoline, and adhesives.

Benzene

Benzene is a chemical compound naturally released into the air from volcanoes and fires; however, it can be found in plastics, detergents, and dyes.

Trichloroethane

Trichloroethane, also known as methyl chloroform, is an organic compound used to make adhesives, oil cleaners for metal parts, and varying types of ink. It is colorless; however, it is accompanied by a sweet smell that was commonly used as an industrial solvent.

Perfluorocarbon

PFCs contain a mix of non-toxic organic compounds used in many solvents as well as oxygen tanks.

The Connection Between Volatile Organic Compounds and Health Issues

Exposure to VOCs from your mattress is often minimal; however, the effects range in severity depending on the type of exposure, your sensitivity to these chemicals, and the length of exposure. While many report mild symptoms of headaches, nausea, or dizziness, volatile organic compounds have been linked to an increased risk of serious medical conditions like kidney disease, liver damage, fertility issues, miscarriage, nervous system and neurological problems, and certain cancers.

VOC emissions are often linked to health problems; however, volatile organic compounds used in textiles are known for their environmental impact as well. These harmful chemicals contribute to climate change from increased hazardous air pollutants to decreased air quality and ozone depletion.

Are These Toxic Materials in Your Mattress?

Toxic chemicals found in your mattress, mattress cover, and mattress topper can become harmful to your health with frequent exposure. It is said that most foam mattresses lose half of their total weight within ten years of use due to off-gassing. The average adult spends 7 to 9 hours sleeping on a mattress, so why choose a mattress that continually emits toxic chemicals? Below are common mattress materials, and why you should avoid them.

Foam Materials

Polyurethane foam, memory foam, and other foam mattresses are often made using petroleum-based products. Foam mattresses are often loaded with volatile organic compounds, like propylene oxide, that are slowly released into the air around you. Foam is a highly flammable material, meaning it requires more flame retardants than other mattress materials. For most companies, chemical flame retardants are less expensive to utilize in comparison to natural materials, making them the preferred choice to boost profits.

How can Foam Mattresses Impact Your Health?

Petroleum-based foams are made with a concoction of chemical compounds that break down with time, and are breathed in during sleep hours, leaving you to experience increased headaches, nausea, and respiratory irritation. Polyurethane mattresses and other foam mattresses contain chemicals like propylene oxide, TDI, toluene, and toxic flame retardants. Companies market these chemicals as “safety features”, or “comfort increasing” features; however, they can result in harm over time.

Synthetic Latex

Synthetic latex is marketed as an affordable alternative to natural latex mattresses with similar comfort and support; however, companies fail to mention the increased risk of exposure to the petroleum-based compounds used during manufacturing. The two common compounds used to manufacture synthetic latex are Styrene and Butadiene, often referred to as Styrene-Butadiene rubber.

How can Synthetic Latex Impact Your Health?

Styrene and butadiene are the two main ingredients in the manufacturing process to create synthetic latex mattresses, however, there are a plethora of chemicals added during the process. These chemical compounds have been linked to an increased risk of central nervous system disorders, cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, depression, hearing loss, eye and skin irritations, and generalized weakness. Toxic mattress symptoms associated with synthetic latex range in severity, but can have a lifelong impact.

Chemical Flame Retardants

Flame retardants used in the mattress industry often contain Boric Acid, Antimony, or Halogenated flame retardants. Most chemical flame retardants do not bind fully to materials, leaving them to be released into the air, exposing sleepers without them knowing. Based on federal regulations, flame retardants are required in all mattress textiles; however, there are fewer harmful alternatives available.

How can Flame Retardants Impact Your Health?

Chemical flame retardants are an inexpensive way for mattress companies to remain within minimum federal regulations regarding fire safety.

  • Antimony, a toxic heavy metal, may lead to heart, lung, and eye problems with frequent exposure.
  • Boric acid has been linked to eye and respiratory irritation.
  • Halogenated flame retardants have the most severe impact on a person’s health, leading to thyroid hormone imbalances, delayed puberty, cancers, and even damage to a developing brain.

Vinyl

Vinyl is commonly found in crib mattresses and other mattresses, as it offers a cheaper route to protection from household dust, dust mites, bacteria, and liquids. Though waterproof properties and allergen resistance are enticing, vinyl production utilizes chemical ingredients from start to finish.

How can Vinyl Impact Your Health?

Vinyl production uses many toxic chemicals like phthalates and toxic heavy metals as a cheap alternative to water and dust resistance. Phthalates have been known to trigger asthma attacks and allergies, as well as impact behavioral problems in children that have been exposed. Other chemicals like Dioxin have been linked to birth defects, brain development delays, and some cancers. Vinyl is commonly used in crib mattresses, due to its waterproof ability; however, it can impact many babies well before signs and symptoms would appear.

How to Avoid Toxic Chemicals in Your Mattress

Are you currently in the market for a new mattress? Mattress companies have become experts in burying toxic chemical ingredients in an ingredients label, making it difficult to detect without transparent advertising. Whether you are looking for a new mattress because yours is past its expiration date, or are interested in investing in your health, it is important to research the company you choose to do business with.

At Eco Terra, we have spent countless hours perfecting the secret to deep, comfortable sleep. With 100% natural latex sustainably harvested at our rubber plantation in Sri Lanka, we offer affordable natural latex mattresses free from the added charges accrued with a middle-man. All of our products are handcrafted in the United States, and are offered in standard mattress sizes, as well as Twin XL and California King.

We offer a hybrid latex mattress that is backed by the strictest purity standards and certifications to include GOTS-certified organic wool, certified organic cotton, and all-natural latex. The Natural Latex Hybrid Mattress offers unbeatable comfort and support, with a cushioned foam layer, supportive fabric-encased quantum coil core, and a breathable organic cotton cover. It is offered with a 90-night risk-free trial, free shipping, and a 15-year limited warranty to ensure it lasts. In addition, our mattress topper is made with 100% natural latex, and surrounded by a breathable cotton cover for optimal comfort. It is offered in all sizes as well as the standard levels of soft, medium, and firm.

Through decades of research, sustainable harvesting, and unmatched purity standards, our mattress and mattress topper offers a safe, durable sleep environment, sure to withstand frequent use, with no health impacts.

Patrick Gunther

Patrick is an accomplished writer. He has been in the retail mattress space for the past 11 years, and more specifically in the natural mattress niche. He blogs on the subjects of natural mattresses, sleep, health, fitness, and green living.



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