What it Means to be a Polyurethane-Free Mattress

December 30, 2021

What it Means to be a Polyurethane-Free Mattress

For many years, consumers only focused on finding a comfortable mattress to sleep on without worrying about its components. However, over the last few years, many homeowners have become increasingly aware of toxins found in different products and materials used at home. These toxins are unsafe for the environment, and can cause various health-related problems.

Surprisingly, some materials such as mattresses have high quantities of toxic chemicals; polyurethane is a good example. Yet, some of these mattresses lure buyers with extremely low prices, despite emitting harmful Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), gasses known to cause respiratory irritations and other health problems.

For this reason, if you're looking for a polyurethane-free mattress, you've come to the right place. Read on to learn more about toxins found in some mattresses, and some great alternatives available in the market.

What are the Chemicals Found in Some Mattresses?

Synthetic mattresses are commonly known for emitting potentially harmful chemicals known as Volatile Organic Compounds, especially when new. However, recent findings suggest that body heat can trigger the emission of these gasses every time a sleeper uses such mattresses. These VOCs mainly derive from polyurethane- a petroleum-based compound used to make memory foams.

Flame retardant chemicals and plastics used in some mattresses also contain more toxic compounds that emit these off-gassing odors. Unfortunately, not all mattresses that claim to be all-natural or organic are free of these harmful chemicals. As a result, many sleepers get confused when shopping for chemical-free mattresses.

Here are common materials used to manufacture mattresses you may not know contain harmful chemicals.

Memory Foam and Polyurethane Foam

Polyurethane foam is commonly used as the support layer of many mattresses because of its softness.

Polyurethane foam contains di‐isocyanates and polyols, chemical compounds known to cause several health-related problems.

On the other hand, memory foam contains polyurethane as the main building block of its structure. However, by nature, polyurethane compresses under pressure, and can't withstand the weight of a sleeper's body for a long time. To avoid this, the foam manufacturers add other chemical compounds to polyurethane to make it elastic and denser, thus creating memory foam.

Because polyurethane is petroleum-based, memory and polyurethane foam mattresses are highly flammable. As a result, manufacturers soak these foams in chemical-based fire retardants to create a fire barrier over their layers. The bottom line is these mattresses contain several toxic chemicals that emit harmful Volatile Organic Compounds.

How Dangerous is Memory Foam?

Memory foam is still widely used in the mattress industry because it is cheap and lightweight. Although some manufacturers claim to use plant-based foams in their mattresses, a large percentage of the foam is often synthetic. Unfortunately, the VOCs emitted by these mattresses pose numerous dangers to sleepers.

Some of these dangers include:

  • chemical sensitive sleepers may experience eye, skin, nose, and throat irritation
  • VOCs gasses can cause headaches and nausea in some sleepers
  • asthmatic sleepers may experience breathing difficulties
  • toluene, a toxic compound found in polyurethane foam products, is a neurotoxin
  • polyurethane also contains propylene and TDI chemicals, which are known to cause mammary gland tumors

Synthetic Latex

Synthetic latex is an artificial rubber that mimics the properties of natural latex. However, this latex also contains two petroleum-based compounds- styrene and butadiene. These compounds emit harmful VOCs linked to several health conditions.

Some mattress manufacturers mix synthetic and natural latex to form a blended latex foam to increase the durability and performance of the mattresses. Unfortunately, blended latex only contains 30% of natural latex, while the rest is chemical-filled synthetic latex. As a result, these mattresses are no better than synthetic latex mattresses, because they both contain similar potentially harmful chemicals.

How Dangerous is Synthetic Latex?

Styrene and butadiene can cause the following problems to sleepers:

  • long-term exposure to styrene can affect the sleeper's central nervous system
  • Increased risks of lymphoma and leukemia
  • the VOCs emitted by synthetic latex are notorious for causing headaches, fatigue, nausea, and depression

Chemical Flame Retardants

Chemical flame retardants are added or applied on the mattress foams to prevent flames from igniting or spreading during fire accidents. Although these chemicals effectively prevent huge fires, they can cause various health problems. Most mattress manufacturers use chemical flame retardants as an inexpensive option to organic wool.

Dangers of Chemical Flame Retardants

Examples of chemicals commonly found in mattresses include boric acid, halogenated flame retardants, and antimony. Here are some of the health problems associated with these chemicals:

  • Halogenated flame retardants are often associated with delaying puberty and reproductive development
  • These chemicals can cause neurobehavioral changes in sleepers
  • Long term exposure to the chemicals can cause brain and nerve damage
  • Some compounds in these fire retardants are neurotoxic

What is Polyurethane?

Polyurethane is a petrochemical resin known to cause respiratory problems due to toxins known as isocyanates. Polyfoam and memory foam mattresses contain large quantities of polyurethane, which release gaseous chemicals often described as off-gassing.

Some of the health issues caused by isocyanates include:

  • nausea
  • headaches
  • eye irritation
  • coughing
  • shortness of breath
  • vomiting
  • skin irritation

These symptoms can be very severe among sensitive sleepers, such as those with asthma, when exposed to low concentrations of these toxins. Therefore, mattresses claiming to have low concentrations of polyurethane are still unsafe for sensitive sleepers.

What is a Polyurethane-Free Mattress?

A polyurethane-free mattress is the ultimate non-toxic mattress.

A non-toxic mattress is a healthy option for sleepers, including children and those struggling with chemical sensitivity.

However, not all mattresses indicated as toxin-free are free of polyurethane; some mattress manufacturers use polyurethane and other chemicals in what they refer to as "safe quantities". However, no limit is safe for sensitive sleepers. Besides, different reports have proven the harmful effects of long-term exposure to such chemicals.

Why Buy a Polyurethane-Free Mattress?

Sleeping on a non-toxic mattress has several advantages. Here are some examples of the benefits of sleeping on a non-toxic mattress:

Chemical-Free Mattresses

Most polyurethane foams are treated with chemical-based flame retardants, adding more toxins to the mattress. However, buying a non-toxic mattress, also known as a chemical free mattress, reduces the chances of having chemicals in your mattress. As a result, with a non-toxic mattress, you sleep on a cleaner and healthier mattress, without the risk of exposure to unhealthy chemicals.

Better Breathability

Off-gassing chemicals emitted by polyurethane mattresses cause several respiratory problems to chemical-sensitive sleepers. They also affect the quality of air sleepers inhale and can cause nausea, headaches, vomiting, among other problems. Polyurethane-free mattresses don't emit gaseous chemicals, leaving the air fresher and safer for sleepers.

Environmental Sustainability

Chemicals found in mattresses are also harmful to the environment and other living organisms. For example, studies show that chemicals from flame retardants can kill some fish species, change soil composition, and promote the growth of invasive plants. These mattresses also don't decompose when disposed of, increasing the menace of mattresses and chemicals in landfills.

On the other hand, chemical-free mattresses are eco-friendly, and healthy for sleepers. Mattresses that contain natural materials such as latex and organic cotton are biodegradable, and therefore don't harm the environment or other living organisms.


Generally, synthetic mattresses have a shorter lifespan than natural mattresses, because the chemicals weaken their fibers. For example, an average traditional memory foam mattress lasts approximately 7 to 10 years, while a latex mattress can last for 20 years or more. Although polyurethane-free mattresses cost more, they are worth the investment in the long run.

What to Look for When Buying a Polyurethane-Free Mattress?

Humans spend almost a third of their lives in their beds, while infants spend even more. That's such a long time to be exposed to health-endangering chemicals such as polyurethane.

Finding a non-toxic mattress can be distressing, given that there are several mattresses in the market today. However, suppose you're determined to eliminate toxic items in your home. In that case, you need to prepare a checklist of important factors to consider when buying a non-toxic mattress, as discussed below.


Some mattresses branded as "natural" add harmful chemicals fillers to the natural materials during the manufacturing process. Others use natural materials such as latex, but contain chemical flame retardants, or synthetic flame barriers. That means when a mattress company claims to use natural products to manufacture their mattresses, it is not always enough. The only way to prove the authenticity of the materials used is through acquiring product certifications.

When shopping for a 100% natural latex mattress, check the organic mattress labels for the following certifications:

Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS)

The Global Organic Latex Standard certification guarantees that a product contains at least 95% organic latex. This certification proves that the manufacturer used latex that meets all the set quality standards of organic latex foam.

Some of these standards of organic latex foam include:

  • organic planting and harvesting practices
  • chemical-free processing of the organic rubber harvested from a rubber tree
  • environment-friendly manufacturing units
  • abiding by the social and humanitarian regulations, such as safe working conditions

Global Organic Textiles Standards (GOTS)

The Global Organic Textile Standard certification monitors the processing of organic textiles, such as organic cotton and organic wool, to ensure that they meet globally acceptable quality and safety standards. The product must meet the following Global Organic Textile Standard requirements:

  • Must contain at least 95% of organic fibers to qualify as organic
  • Must contain at least 75% organic fibers to be labeled as made with organic
  • Must be planted, harvested, and processed without harmful chemicals, dyes, and pesticides
  • Processing methods should be mindful of sustainable environmental factors

OEKO-Tex Standard 100

The OEKO-Tex Standard 100 certification tests for harmful substances and chemicals in textiles, such as organic wool and organic cotton. This certification assures customers that they are using toxin-free products. In addition, the certification sets standards for every component of the textile, including the thread, zippers, buttons, and any prints on the product.

Certified Organic Materials

Opt for mattresses made with 100% certified organic materials, such as certified organic cotton, 100% organic latex, or certified organic wool. Natural organic materials, like certified organic cotton, don't need toxic chemicals when manufacturing.

When buying hybrid or innerspring mattresses, ensure that they are not filled with memory foam or polyurethane foam, and have a support core made of natural latex. Also, avoid bleached casings and toxic glues used to put together different mattress layers.

No Chemical Flame Retardants

Mattresses with chemical-based flame retardants contain a lot of toxic chemicals. These chemicals also produce VOC gasses, exposing sleepers to several health risks. Instead, choose mattresses that use organic wool as a natural flame retardant.


Organic mattresses are generally pricier than synthetic mattresses because of the long production chain. However, these mattresses are very durable, making them worth the investment.

When choosing a latex mattress, you may want to avoid incredibly cheap options because they may contain synthetic latex. This latex is cheap because it is chemically manufactured, and not grown, nurtured, or harvested from a plant. However, that doesn't mean that organic latex mattresses are overpriced.

Many latex mattress companies eliminate middlemen markups to reduce the cost of their mattresses. Instead, these companies buy latex from single credible sources, and sell their mattresses directly from their websites. Shoppers are also awarded free shipping from mattress factories to anywhere in the contiguous US, so they won't have to worry about the extra costs of making shipping arrangements.

Type of Mattress

Only a few mattresses in the market today qualify as non-toxic mattresses. You already know that polyurethane mattresses and memory foam mattresses contain the highest levels of toxins and chemicals.

Some hybrid mattresses and innerspring mattresses also contain comfort layers made of these foams, and other toxic materials, such as glues and dyes. The bottom line is that organic latex mattresses are the best non-toxic mattresses available in the market today.

What are the Benefits of a Non-Toxic Mattress?

Besides being chemical-free, natural latex non-toxic mattresses offer numerous benefits to sleepers. Some benefits of non-toxic mattresses include:


Hypoallergenic mattresses are naturally resistant to microorganisms, such as dust mites, pet dander, mold, and mildews. As a result, these mattresses are safe for infants, vulnerable sleepers, and allergy-sensitive sleepers.

Temperature Regulation

Latex mattresses are best known for their ability to regulate the temperature of a sleeper's body. They have an open-cell structure that allows air to circulate freely around the sleeper's body, keeping them cool all night.

Pressure Relief

Organic latex mattresses are very responsive and soft. These mattresses cradle the pressure points, and keep the spine in neutral alignment. That helps solve health issues by promoting healthy sleep quality, and relieving body aches, such as back, hip, and joint pain caused by poor-quality mattresses.


If you are looking for a mattress with great support, consider buying an organic latex mattress. These mattresses have strong fibers that support heavy sleepers without collapsing, as memory foam mattresses do. A mattress that lacks support can cause pain in different parts of your body, such as low back, neck, hips, and joints.


Natural latex mattresses are good for you and the environment as well. Purchasing toxin-free mattresses promotes healthier manufacturing habits, and saves the planet from pollution. This is because quality certification agencies monitor the whole production chain of manufacturing organic mattresses, ensuring that they practice sustainable manufacturing methods. For example, restricting pesticides and genetically modified growth boosters ensures that the soil and water are not contaminated.

FAQs About Polyurethane-Free, Non-Toxic Mattresses

Here are common questions asked about non-toxic mattresses.

Can Toxins Found in Mattresses Cause Cancer?

Some toxins such as flame retardants, formaldehyde, and benzene can cause some types of cancers and other health-related problems, such as infertility and brain disorders. Although some mattress manufacturers claim that their mattresses have low concentrations or food-grade quality of some of these chemicals, long-term exposure can lead to such serious health issues in the future.

What Type of Mattresses are Polyurethane-Free?

An organic latex mattress is a non-toxic mattress free from chemical toxins found in most types of mattresses. However, it is always advisable to check the non-toxic mattress certifications to ensure they contain certified organic products.

How Long Does a Polyurethane Mattress Off-Gas?

Typically, a new memory foam or polyurethane mattress can release the VOC toxins for 3 to 5 days. However, recent findings suggest that a sleeper's body heat can continuously trigger the emission of these gasses.

What is the Difference Between Non-Toxic and Organic Mattresses?

Many manufacturers use the terms non-toxic mattress and organic mattress interchangeably, although they differ slightly. For example, a non-toxic mattress isn't treated with toxic chemicals during the manufacturing process, although the non-toxic mattress may not contain organic materials.

On the other hand, an organic mattress contains organically grown materials, but the so-called organic mattress may be treated using chemicals during manufacturing. Therefore, the only way of proving authenticity of a non-toxic mattress or an organic mattress is by checking for the various certifications when buying a safe mattress, as discussed earlier.

About Eco Terra's Non-Toxic Mattress

Eco Terra Hybrid Organic Latex Mattresses are clean and healthy. In a market full of substandard mattresses, Eco Terra provides the healthiest, toxin-free option at pocket-friendly prices. Here's what you get when you buy an Eco Terra Mattress:

Zero Chemicals

Eco Terra Beds makes it clear that our hybrid mattress contains no chemicals, synthetics, toxins, or polyurethane. Instead, the mattresses are made using 100% natural latex, organic cotton, and organic wool.

Certified Organic Products

Eco Terra holds the ECO-INSTITUT Standard 100, OEKO-TEX Standard 100, and GOTS certifications to prove our products are sustainable and safe for human use.

Free Shipping

You'll receive your order right at your doorstep for free within the contiguous US, so you don't have to spend more money on shipping.

15-Year Warranty

These nature-inspired mattresses allow you to have healthy and restorative sleep for a longer time. As a result, you can enjoy 15 years and more of sleeping on a chemical-free mattress.

Check out the Eco Terra hybrid latex mattress collection, and select your ideal mattress from the different sizes and firmness levels available at Eco Terra Beds. You can also take advantage of the holiday sale for a chance to buy a top-quality latex mattress at the best-discounted prices, and enjoy free shipping anywhere in the contiguous US!

Patrick Gunther

Patrick is an accomplished writer. He has been in the retail mattress space for the past 13 years, and more specifically in the natural mattress niche. He blogs on the subjects of natural mattresses, sleep, health, fitness, and green living.