Memory foam is considered an affordable mattress option 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 it 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?
You cannot make memory foam without polyurethane. Polyurethane, a petroleum-based material, is made up of three basic ingredients.
The manufacturing of polyurethane foam is considered to expose people to these sources of health disruptions – methylene chloride, TDI (it is considered 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.
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.
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 is 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. Conventional memory foam mattresses may aggravate the conditions if you are chemically sensitive or have allergies. 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 because 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.
The companies trying to move towards making safer, less toxic memory foam mattresses are substituting 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.
Many “green” companies try to cut corners or abuse consumers’ trust 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.
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. Take a look at these non toxic memory foam mattresses:
An organic mattress is usually produced 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:
In addition to those characteristics, most organic mattresses are also:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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 firm, it can cause back pain because it will not give you the right support.
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:
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 6-8 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).
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.
While some memory foam mattresses can off gas and release potentially harmful chemicals, there are many safe options available. Look for mattresses made with CertiPUR-US certified foam, such as Cool Bliss Mattress or more affordable Cypress Mattress, which means they are made without harmful chemicals like formaldehyde and heavy metals. These mattresses are also low VOC, meaning they release very few volatile organic compounds into the air.
If you’re concerned about off-gassing, you can also look for
So, while memory foam mattresses are not necessarily toxic, it’s important to research to find a safe and healthy option. With so many great choices available, there’s no need to take risks.
My name is Kamila, and I'm passionate about researching non-toxic, organic products for the home. I believe it's so important to create a safe and healthy environment for our families, and I enjoy helping others do the same.