Is Memory Foam Toxic?


Memory foam is regarded as an affordable option for a mattress while still providing comfort and quality. It has unique benefits too like the way it hugs your body to give you extra support. It’s also basically noiseless so absorbs the movements of tossing and turning in the night. In this article, you’ll learn more about memory foam and what it is. But we will also answer the question, is memory foam toxic?


What is Memory Foam?


You cannot make memory foam without polyurethane. Polyurethane, a petroleum-based material, is made up of three basic ingredients.

  • Polyols: These make up the bulk of the foam. They react with the isocyanates (you’ll hear more about those in the next point) to create the actual polyurethane foam.
  • Diisocyanates: This element is used to create the rigidity and flexibility that we associate with memory foam.  There are two types that we see used in manufacturing, but the type used most often in furniture, including bedding,  is called TDI. This stands for toluene diisocyanate. It’s widely considered to be carcinogenic. But the low quantity found in memory foam mattresses renders it less toxic.
  • Blowing agents: These are used in the process of converting the liquid to foam. They are commonly chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, but some manufacturers use safer alternatives like water.


is memory foam toxic


The manufacturing of polyurethane foam is considered to expose people to these sources of health disruptions – methylene chloride, TDI (it is considered to be a problematic chemical when you consider an environment that concentrates it, such as a factory), hydrogen cyanide, and the neurotoxin – toluene.

Memory foam doesn’t just contain polyurethane foam. It could also come with these hidden toxins.

  • Styrene
  • Antimony
  • Formaldehyde
  • Methyl benzene
  • Acetone
  • Dimethyleformamide

On its own, polyurethane foam, or memory foam, is highly flammable. It’s basically solidified gasoline. So to protect the material, it’s doused in flame retardants. A common flame retardant used is called PBDEs, which stands for polybrominated diphenyl ethers. This chemical has been linked to cognitive impairment, memory loss,  as well as delayed puberty, hormone disruption, and cancer.

The mattresses are required to meet strict standards such as withstanding a two-foot-wide blowtorch flame for at least 70 seconds (or up to a half-hour) to prove that it has been sufficiently fireproofed. However, the standards seem to drastically drop or disappear when it comes to the regulation of the flame retardants being used in these products and most of them contain fiberglass which can be dangerous if the cover gets torn and it can escape into the air you breathe.


is memory foam toxic


Is Memory Foam Bad for Your Health?


As with all toxins, the severity of your negative reaction will depend on the extent of your exposure to it. The trouble with giving a clear “yes” or “no” answer about the effects of memory foam on your health is that studies are too vague. There is practically no way to truly test the long-term effects and the likelihood of the VOCs (volatile organic compounds) from your mattress being the cause of health problems. The chemicals themselves are proven to be dangerous, but they are only as dangerous to you as much as you are exposed to them.

The memory foam itself is made of some ingredients you want to avoid. If you are chemically sensitive or have allergy issues, then conventional memory foam mattresses may just aggravate the conditions. The chances are that you could be repeatedly exposed to those chemicals because of your mattress off-gassing for months after you purchased it.

There is reason enough to say that memory foam is bad for your health just by reason of the flame retardant treatments it undergoes. There are many known toxins in those mixes. Luckily, more manufacturers are starting to make low-VOC mattresses. This means you will still have to be around the chemicals, but not in doses that could cause real harm. In essence, your level of exposure or harm is up to you through your choice of which mattress to buy.


How to Choose a Safe Memory Foam Mattress?


The companies who are trying to move towards making safer, less toxic memory foam mattresses are making substitutions for safer alternatives. Companies can substitute some of the petroleum used in making polyurethane with a plant-based material instead that will decrease the off-gassing after production.

There are many “green” companies that do try to cut corners or abuse the trust of consumers by labeling themselves as clean, green companies when they are not. In fact, it’s easy to be confused about who to believe, especially now since it’s become fashionable to call your company green. For your peace of mind, here are some certifications to look out for when shopping for your next mattress. No fakes, no hidden toxins.

  • CertiPur-US: This certification can guarantee that the product is made without ozone depleters, PBDEs, TCEP flame retardants, heavy metals, lead, mercury, phthalates, formaldehyde, etc. They aim for low volatile organic compounds (VOC) emissions to help your indoor air quality.
  • Oeko-Tex: This certification is for textiles and fabrics. It guarantees that the product is free from over 100 chemicals. The company with this certification has to go through thorough yearly testing to qualify and maintain its certification.
  • Greenguard Gold: The products protected by this certification have been tested for indoor use. They must meet chemical emissions limits. The products are also tested for over 10,000 chemicals and VOCs.
  • GOTS: It stands for Global Organic Textile Standard. The materials certified must be made without toxic bleaches, dyes, or other chemicals. The product must contain at least 95% organic fiber, be colored with non-toxic dyes, go through no formaldehyde treatment, and be produced in an eco-friendly mill or plant. These standards apply outside of the US too, extending globally.

Best Organic Mattresses for Back Sleepers (1)

What Are the Best Non Toxic Memory Foam Mattresses? 


When shopping for a non toxic memory foam mattress, make sure it’s Certipur-US certified and that the cover is made from organic materials, such as organic cotton or wool. These materials, if certified organic, have not been treated with pesticides and other chemicals so they will further reduce your exposure to toxins when you sleep. One of the best non-toxic memory foam mattresses is:


The Cool Bliss Mattress

Certificates: Greenguard GOLD, GOLS, GOTS

Sleep Trial Period: 100 Nights

Warranty: 25 years

Sizes: Twin, Twin XL, Full, Queen, King, Cal King, Split King


PlushBeds is an award-winning company that boasts a long list of certifications and claims to have made the world’s first Greenguard Gold certified memory foam mattress. Their patented gel memory foam allows improved airflow and dissipates heat and moisture three times faster than conventional swirl gel foam. The unique 5 layer system consists of the following to give you extra support and comfort:

  1. The cooling cover
  2. Cool Bliss gel memory foam
  3. Natural latex
  4. AirFlow layer
  5. Supportive care

To finish it off, you need a good foundation or bed base to give the maximum support to yourself and your bed. The mattresses are compatible with an adjustable base too.

The gel memory foam gives a cooling comfort to solve the common problem with traditional memory foam mattresses – overheating. You can choose the size that suits you. Your choices are:

  • Twin
  • Twin XL
  • Full
  • Queen
  • King
  • Cal King
  • Split King

You can try the mattress free for 100 nights and if you love it, you have a 25-year warranty on it. They offer free shipping and returns.

PlushBeds prides itself on locally handcrafting every mattress in its own factory rather than outsourcing the work to an uncertified factory overseas. They are committed to transparency, sustainability, and using renewable resources. This is evident especially in the certifications they qualify for. Not only are they one of the few GOLS and GOTS dually certified factories, they also have these certifications:

  • GOLS
  • GOTS – for their cotton
  • GOTS – for their wool
  • USDA Organic
  • Greenguard Gold
  • Oeko-Tex Standard 100
  • CertiPur-US
  • Control Union
  • Rainforest Alliance
  • Eco-Institute
  • FSC
  • Arpico Certified Organic Latex

They have offset their website’s carbon emissions as well, so they are a TerraPass Carbon Neutral website.

All the materials used in the production of their luxurious mattresses are 100% certified. And the materials are harvested in an ethical, sustainable manner. When the mattresses are complete, they go through a rigorous 95-point inspection before they are shipped to you.


What Are the Best Non-Toxic Alternatives to a Memory Foam Mattress?


An organic mattress is usually produced by a layer of mixtures made with either natural cotton and wool (or both), and natural, organic latex. These materials are cultivated with no pesticides and then manufactured without chemicals involved in the processes. Most people define an organic mattress as:


  • Being free from synthetic materials
  • No chemical treatments done to it (whether that be pesticides on the plants or dips for the sheep)
  • Along the same lines, no flame retardant chemicals are added to the mattress
  • Complies with organic standards


In addition to those characteristics, most organic mattresses are also:


  • Hypoallergenic
  • Temperature regulators
  • Sustainable and biodegradable
  • Naturally flame-resistant
  • Mold resistant and anti-bacterial
  • Breathable
  • Environmentally friendly
  • Made of biodegradable materials


An organic mattress will offer you the benefits of conventional memory foam mattresses, like elasticity, extra support, and comfort, without needing to use toxic chemicals. You get even more than you would with regular memory foam mattresses too. Organic mattresses are fantastic at regulating temperatures, wicking moisture, and being adaptable to your specific needs.


Avocado Green Mattress
From $899

Mattress Type: Hybrid Mattress

Certificates: GOTS, GOLS, Greenguard GOLD

Material: Natural Latex

Warranty: 25 Years

Sleep Trial: 1 Year

Sizes: Twin, Twin XL, Full, Queen, King, Cal King

Promo Code: GREEN175 (Save $175 on your mattress)


Avocado organic, handmade mattresses are manufactured in the USA. You have a 1-year free trial and a 25-year warranty. You can choose a Vegan option that is made without wool. But otherwise, their mattresses are made with organic, certified cotton, wool, and latex. There is a standard option and you can choose to add a pillow top. These are 2 inches of permanently attached organic latex that will give extra help to alleviate pressure and add luxury.

You can get a removable pillow top if you’d prefer that; it’s called a mattress topper. Your Avocado mattress will have up to 1,414 individually pocketed, tempered support coils. These will be reinforced around the edges with a steel perimeter for support. The flexibility of the coils provides extra luxurious comfort that is perfect for any sleeper, but especially for a side sleeper.

The mattresses are finished with a traditional technique that is centuries old called needle tufting. This highly functional technique creates rosettes with white organic wool. These rosettes act to bind the layers of the mattress together by pulling the ribbons through it in up to 32 locations.

It means no toxic solvents or water-based adhesives are necessary. This beautiful, unique process improves the durability of the mattress too. On the side panels of the mattress, you’ll find heavy-duty handles securely sewn on to make any adjustments easier. But, you won’t need them for flipping the mattress – it doesn’t need to be flipped!

The certifications of the company are a proud way of displaying their compliance with strict standards. But it’s also a way of telling the consumer just how much effort has gone into ensuring the product they buy is safe and non-toxic. Here are the certifications Avocado possesses:


  • Greenguard Gold
  • Standard 100 by Oeko-Tex for their wool, cotton, and latex
  • GOTS
  • GOLS
  • Formaldehyde Free by the UL Environment
  • Made Safe certified (Avocado is one of only three mattress brands in the world to have met the incredibly strict standards enforced by Made Safe.)


This brand is also a carbon negative business which means they offset more than 100% of their emissions. This includes emissions through all the steps of the process, from resource gathering to shipping. They achieve this by supporting the Bonneville Environmental Foundation.

To show you their commitment to transparency, Avocado gives you the legal tag information ahead of time, available in full on their website. This is a unique gesture that many mattress companies will not do because it may give away discrepancies in marketing versus the reality of their mattresses. The legal tag must include exactly what material makes up the interior filling of the mattress. Avocado has nothing to hide, and they prove that.


What Are the Pros and Cons of Memory Foam Mattresses?




  • Comfort: If you sleep comfortably, your sleep will improve. So, the comfort of your mattress is also directly related to how well you sleep. A memory foam mattress conforms to your body, making it more comfortable.
  • Little maintenance is needed: It’s easy to care for. It doesn’t sag and there’s no need to flip it.
  • No motion transfer: The movements of your sleeping partner will be isolated thanks to the density and motion absorption of the memory foam.
  • Durable: If your mattress is dense enough, it will be durable. A memory foam mattress typically has a longer lifespan than a spring mattress.
  • Pain relief: Using your body weight and heat, the mattress conforms to your body and relieves the pressure points that are causing you pain.




  • Heat: There are new varieties of memory foam that are designed to reduce the body heat retained in the mattress. But, still, memory foam has a reputation for keeping your body heat – especially if you live in a warm climate without central heating.
  • No water resistance: The memory foam mattress doesn’t mix well with liquids. If it comes in contact with a liquid, it can reduce the mattress lifespan, not to mention, it’s also very difficult to clean.
  • Delayed response: Even though it does conform to your body, if you change your position while sleeping, it could take a few seconds to warm up and conform to the new position. If you’re the kind of person who moves a lot in their sleep, this could be a problem. This isn’t usually a problem with very high-quality mattresses, but if your memory foam is made of lower-quality materials, it can cause a delay.
  • Off-gassing: The fumes of the mattresses, especially if they are made with low-quality materials, can be irritating and even dangerous. The “new mattress” smell is something you will need to avoid.
  • There are many fakes: The market for memory foam mattresses is full of promises and lies. You have to find a high-quality, certified company to know that your mattress is made of the best materials. Otherwise, you could find yourself overheating, with no proper support, and breathing in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) every night!


is memory foam toxic


Can Memory Foam Cause Back Pain?


This study illustrates the effects of your mattress choices, not just limited to memory foam mattresses. It shows that your mattress is directly related to your quality of sleep. And furthermore, your sleeping position also determines which mattress density is right for you. So, depending on the type of sleeper you are (back sleeper, side sleeper, etc.) your memory foam mattress could cause back pain if you choose the wrong type.

The ideal firmness for your mattress will keep your spine neutrally aligned, thus alleviating the pressure points. If your mattress is too soft or too firm, it can cause back pain because it will not be giving you the right support.


Do Memory Foam Mattresses Sag?


Yes, eventually, it will sag. The natural process of wearing it down over many years can cause an indentation that will not bounce back. You can slow down the process that leads to sagging by following these steps:

  • Buy a high-quality mattress because the materials are made to withstand more weight over more time. A high-quality mattress should have a long lifespan.
  • Sleep on a different side every now and then to distribute your weight over the whole mattress.
  • Rotate the mattress if you don’t want to change your sleeping pattern. Just rotate it, there’s no need to flip it.


How Long Does a Memory Foam Mattress Last?


As mentioned before, high-quality memory foam mattresses will have a longer lifespan than those made with lower-quality materials. The average time a memory foam mattress will last is between 8-10 years. This is the average, but of course, there are exceptions. You can decrease the lifespan by a build-up of bacteria or the wrong mattress foundation (a lack of support can lead to premature sagging and indentation).


is memory foam toxic


Is Gel-Infused Memory Foam Safe?


Yes. There are no official studies showing the dangers of the gel. However, its effectiveness is in question. The gel is a conductive material, so while it may feel cool initially, it will warm slowly to your body temperature after all. Therefore, it will not really take away the overheating problem that memory foam mattresses are known for. So, it may be an ineffective addition to your mattress, but at least it is safe.


Why Do Mattresses Smell?


The materials used in memory foam mattresses could be toxic and off-gassing VOCs. Studies have proven that polyurethane mattresses specifically have a higher rate of off-gassing VOCs. Thus, you would smell a “chemical-like” odor coming from your mattress for a few weeks.

However, the strength of the smell is determined by the materials. A low-quality memory foam mattress can contain added chemicals like benzene, flame retardants, and formaldehyde. These chemicals and the polyurethane makeup of the mattress itself can smell strong until you let it air out.


How Long Does Off-Gassing Last?


You could stop smelling it after just three days if you let the mattress air out without bedding and in a well-ventilated room. So, avoid sleeping on it for that period. But, it can continue off-gassing after that, just with a faint smell. The smell could potentially last up to 2 weeks. But, the length of time depends on the materials used, the manufacturing process, the density of your mattress, etc.


is memory foam toxic


Are IKEA Foam Mattresses Toxic?


While IKEA mattresses certainly aren’t non-toxic, they are not as bad as other mattresses you could buy. They comply with European chemical restriction standards, so the chances are that although their mattresses do contain some chemicals, they probably aren’t as bad as some of the options from the USA.


Is Tempurpedic Memory Foam Toxic?


Some Tempurpedic mattresses (mainly Tempur-Pedic Tempur-Breeze, Tempur-Pedic Tempur Adapt, Tempur-Pedic Tempur LuxeAdapt, Tempur-Pedic Tempur ProAdapt) are Certipur-US certified, which means that the levels of toxic chemicals used are very low and these mattresses are safe. As long as you buy one of those mattresses, you’ve got the guarantee that you won’t be exposed to toxic chemicals that could affect your health. The only way to know your mattress is toxin-free is to buy a natural, certified non-toxic type.


What Is the Difference between Foam and Memory Foam?


To feel the differences, you need to sleep on plain foam versus memory foam. You will immediately feel the difference, but to save you time, here are a few of the key things that distinguish them. Memory foam is a type of foam that has added components to change the way it feels. that’s why it can hold its shape longer. Plain, old foam is soft, as is memory foam. But, foam does not retain shape or indentation like memory foam will.

Memory foam will give you pinpointed support because of its “sticky” ability to hug the contours of your body. Foam fails to provide any constructed support and tends to collapse quicker under pressure. Foam is also not as durable because of its often lower density. Memory foam is usually denser and more expensive. It will also eliminate motion transfer, unlike foam, which cannot completely do away with the transfer.

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