Are you growing tired of your old coil spring mattress? If you are thinking about making the switch to memory foam, you are not alone. A growing number of people are turning to online “bed-in-a-box” retailers that offer the chance to get a new mattress quickly and easily delivered right to your front door. All that you have to do is open the box, sit back and watch your mattress expand to full size. Before you do, learn more about the “new mattress smell” that you can expect when you lay out your new bed, and whether you should be concerned about its effects on your home’s indoor air quality.
What is causing my new mattress to smell?
Most new mattresses will have a certain chemical odor when they are first delivered. This is especially true for those that come in a box, rolled up and vacuum-sealed, because the lack of airflow through the package can cause the “new mattress smell” to become concentrated. When you open your mattress, you will probably notice an odor coming from the foam, caused by a process called off-gassing.
Off-gassing is that “new” smell that we associate with new cars, a fresh coat of paint and, yes, new mattresses. When your mattress comes in an airtight package, the volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) used in the manufacturing process remain trapped in the mattress with nowhere to go. After you open the box and lay out your mattress, the foam starts to expand and some components used to make the mattress will start to break down. These VOCs are then released as a gas, causing the distinct off-gassing smell.
What chemicals do mattress release during off-gassing?
The off-gassing smell usually comes mainly from the foam and adhesive elements of the mattress. The exact chemical makeup of the VOCs that off-gas from a mattress varies from mattress to mattress, but independent tests have shown that they can include benzene, toluene chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and formaldehyde.
On the websites of many leading mattress brands, such as Purple, Casper and Tuft & Needle, you can find information on the different VOC certifications and standards that they adhere to. Common certifications to look for are CertiPUR-US, GREENGUARD Gold and STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX.
Is off-gassing harmful to your health?
VOCs are emitted by a wide range of household products, including furniture, paint and cleaning supplies. Exposure to VOCs can cause nausea, headaches, dizziness, loss of coordination and eye, nose and throat irritation, though, in the case of mattress off-gassing, many consumers report that these symptoms go away once the mattress has been aired out. Some of the more severe health effects caused by VOC exposure can include damage to the kidneys, liver or central nervous system. Additionally, some VOCs that off-gas are suspected or known carcinogens, such as formaldehyde.
One thing to remember, however, is that you are exposed to relatively low levels of VOCs while your mattress is off-gassing, and studies have yet to show whether exposure to low levels of VOCs during mattress off-gassing will cause increased health effects over time. Even so, the cumulative off-gassing of items in your home can contribute to adverse health effects, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. Long-term exposure to VOCs in the air can increase cancer risks, as well as cause damage to the kidneys, liver and central nervous system. For this reason, both mattress manufacturers and indoor air quality experts recommend letting your mattress off-gas in a well-ventilated area, preferably one outside of your home.
How long will my mattress off-gas?
Some mattress manufacturers may take steps to make sure that some of the off-gassing processes happens before the mattress is packaged and shipped. However, it should be noted that even if the bulk of the off-gassing occurs outside of your home, your mattress will still off-gas in some capacity throughout the time that you have it in your home.
The amount of off-gassing that you can expect depends on the type of mattress that you buy, the density of the foam inside the mattress, the chemicals used in the manufacturing process and the way that your mattress is packaged. The strongest off-gassing smell will fade within a few days to a couple of weeks, according to most major mattress manufacturers, though you may notice a faint smell for longer.
How much do leading brand mattress off-gas?
Tuft & Needle offers two different polyfoam mattress options: the Original and the Mint. Both hold CentriPUR-US, GreenGuard Gold and STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX certifications. Buyers of Tuft & Needle mattresses can expect mild off-gassing that dissipates within a few days.
Leesa mattress is a CertiPUR-US certified multilayer foam mattress made from a combination of memory foam and polyurethane. After opening, buyers will notice a strong off-gassing smell that should fade within a few days.
Casper offers three different mattresses: the Caper, the Wave and the Essential. All three are made with layers of memory foam and polyurethane, but the Wave also includes a layer of natural latex. All Casper mattresses are CentriPUR-US certified. You can expect some off-gassing from Casper mattresses, but the odor typically dissipates within 24 hours.
Purple mattresses consist of an elastic polymer grid layered over CertiPUR-US certified polyurethane foam. New Purple mattresses may have a very faint off-gassing smell that fades quickly. However, many consumers report no off-gassing smell at all.
Tempur-Pedic offers a wide range of memory foam mattresses. The off-gassing odor strength varies among models, but consumers can expect it to dissipate within the first two weeks.
Tips for off-gassing a new mattress
Some manufacturers recommend airing out a new mattress for three to seven days in a garage or well-ventilated room before sleeping on it, while others claim that you can start using your mattress within the first few hours after opening it. Use your nose as your judge. Avoid sleeping on your new mattress while you can still smell a strong off-gassing odor. If the strong smell persists after a week or two, consider returning your mattress and searching for a more air-quality-friendly alternative.
How can I speed up the off-gassing process of my new mattress?
When searching for a new mattress, pay attention to the VOCs used in the manufacturing process. If you cannot easily find the chemical compounds present in the mattress, and you cannot get a straight answer from the manufacturer, consider exploring other brands. You have a right to know which potential chemical emissions you may be bringing into your bedroom.
Your mattress manufacturer will list recommendations for the off-gassing of your particular mattress, but listed below are some helpful tips to speed up the off-gassing process.
- Open your mattress outside of your house and let it off-gas for at least two days in a well-ventilated area with a cross breeze.
- If you cannot avoid off-gassing your mattress inside of your home, you should open your windows and increase air circulation where possible. Fans and air filtration systems can also help improve the ventilation in your house.
- If you have a spare room, try leaving your mattress in there to off-gas for the first few days before bringing it into your bedroom.
- Some manufacturers recommend pouring baking soda on the mattress while you air it out to speed up the off-gassing process.
- If you would like to use the new mattress but the off-gassing smell persists, you can add a mattress cover to help contain the chemical smell to the bed. When you remove the cover to wash it, you will likely smell the off-gassing odor again, though it should dissipate over time.
While the health effects of mattress off-gassing are still being studied, it is always a good idea to protect yourself from VOC exposure whenever possible. It may be hard to avoid off-gassing altogether when you buy a new mattress, but by following the simple steps above, you can enjoy a good night’s sleep knowing that you are actively protecting your indoor air quality.