is memory foam toxic

Is Memory Foam Toxic?

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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?



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 creates the rigidity and flexibility we associate with memory foam.  There are two types 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 to convert 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 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 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.



How to Choose a Safe Memory Foam Mattress?


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.

  • 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 must undergo 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. Take a look at these non toxic memory foam mattresses:


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


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:


  • 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.


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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 Memory Foam Mattress 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.


Disclaimer: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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 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: New varieties of memory foam 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’s lifespan, and it’s also very difficult to clean.
  • Delayed response: Even though it does conform to your body, changing your position while sleeping 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 must find a high-quality, certified company to know that your mattress is made of the best materials. Otherwise, you could be 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 firm, it can cause back pain because it will not give 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 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).


is memory foam toxic


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.





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 organic mattresses made with natural materials like wool, cotton, and latex. These mattresses are often more expensive, but they provide peace of mind for those looking for a safe and healthy option. Some of the most reputable organic mattress producers in the US are Naturepedic and Avocado.

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.

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