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The facts on memory foam smell and mattress off-gassing

Memory foam mattresses usually have the highest ratings for comfort, durability, and customer satisfaction. However, some memory foam mattress owners have complaints about memory foam’s initial “chemical-like” smell, otherwise known as off-gassing. This unpleasant odor is caused by the petrochemicals used to make the mattress and lasts up to 4 weeks.

The good news is, some mattress brands make their foam from better components, like plant-based oils, that reduce or eliminate memory foam smell. This article explains how, and tells you what to look for to make sure your mattress comes odor-free.

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What causes memory foam smell?

New foams and many other manufactured products experience off-gassing. If you’ve ever smelled fresh paint, dry cleaning, or the inside of a new car, that’s off-gassing.

Off-gassing occurs when “volatile organic compounds” (VOCs) break down. As opposed to being stable, these “volatile” (or unstable) compounds break apart, most commonly forming gasses — hence the term off-gassing.

In mattresses, the most common place to find VOCs is in the foam and adhesives. They can include chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), formaldehyde, benzene, methylene chloride, toluene, trichloroethane, naphthalene, perfluorocarbons.

Is off-gassing from memory foam toxic or dangerous?

The short answer is no. While the odor from mattress off-gassing is unpleasant, it’s not harmful to most people. A small percentage of owners report difficulty breathing, headaches, nausea, eye and throat irritation, and asthma. The symptoms stop when the person is no longer near the mattress though, and go away once it airs out.

Also, despite the fact that some of the chemicals that cause mattress off-gassing odors are classified as carcinogens or potential carcinogens, no studies have shown memory foam is toxic or causes cancer. Still, many people choose to reduce their chemical exposure as a lifestyle choice and want to sleep on a mattress that uses cleaner and healthier components.

How can I avoid memory foam smell and off-gassing?

While a completely chemical-free mattress doesn’t exist, you can limit your exposure to chemicals by finding a bed certified by CertiPUR-US®. CertiPUR-US® independently tests and verifies foams to guarantee they’re made without harmful VOCs, phthalates, CFCs, heavy metals, formaldehyde, and PBDEs.
If your mattress does have a “new mattress” smell after unboxing, you can let it air out for 3 to 7 days in a well-ventilated room or garage before putting any bedding on or using the mattress. Giving your bed time to breathe allows any off-gassing scent to dissipate quickly so you can enjoy an odor-free mattress in only a few days.
Not only does the foam in our Amerisleep mattresses meet the CertiPUR-US® standards, but it’s also eco-friendly and plant-based. To make our Bio-Pur® foam, we incorporate castor oil, resulting in a bouncier and more breathable foam.

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Memory foam smell complaints and how other brands compare

<5%

of Amerisleep users have odor complaints

18-20%

of leading national brands have odor complaints

Each memory foam mattress brand uses different materials and methods to create their products. That means some have significantly more problems with mattress off-gassing than others.

Research has also connected higher density foams with increased rates of odor complaints. Therefore brands using foam with a density over 6.0lbs will likely smell worse.

However, most mattress brands prefer to limit the information they share about what goes into their products. They claim it is to protect their trade secrets. That also makes it hard for consumers to feel confident they are choosing a relatively chemical-free mattress though.

Looking for certifications from independent organizations like Certi-PUR® can help. Since they independently test mattress foam for VOCs and other chemicals, they give prospective buyers the information they need to make the best choice.

Amerisleep’s memory foam meets CertiPUR-US® standards for content, emissions, and durability, and is analyzed by independent, accredited testing laboratories.

Mattress off-gassing vs. other mattress odors

Mattress off-gassing refers specifically to odors from the breakdown of VOCs. A new mattress can also have other smells unrelated to memory foam off-gassing though. Even products like plant oils and natural fabrics can produce some scents.

If you buy a mattress low in VOCs (like from Amerisleep) and it still has a slight scent, don’t worry. It’s probably not memory foam off-gassing, and will often quickly go away.

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Frequently asked questions

 
How long does off-gassing usually last?

Off-gassing usually only lasts a couple of days, but some mattresses can off-gas for several weeks. If you notice your bed has an off-gassing scent upon unboxing, place your mattress, without any bedding, in a well-ventilated room so it airs out quicker. Mattresses with a CertiPUR-US® certification contain few very VOCs, so those beds don’t off-gas for very long, if at all, after unboxing.

 
Do air purifiers get rid of VOCs?

Air purifiers are good at removing things like dirt, dust, and allergens from the air, so naturally, they make the air in your living space feel fresher and cleaner. However, most air purifiers can’t eliminate VOCs from the air—only PECO air purifiers and air purifiers with carbon filters can reduce VOC levels. If your mattress has a strong off-gassing scent, we recommend cracking a window or running a fan so the smell dissipates.

 
Should I wait until my mattress is done off-gassing to sleep on it?

If your mattress’s off-gassing scent is strong enough to disrupt sleep or cause headaches, you might want to avoid sleeping on it until the smell fades. On the other hand, if the off-gassing is faint and not bothersome, then you should be fine to sleep on your new bed the very first night.

Of course, if you order a bed in a box mattress, you’ll want to give your bed some time to expand. Full expansion will take up to 24 hours, but you can sleep on your bed as soon as a couple of hours after unboxing.

 
Is off-gassing the same as outgassing?

Yes! Both off-gassing and outgassing refer to the release of VOCs from a product or materials. These terms differ in how they’re used: off-gassing is used to describe indoor air quality and household goods while outgassing is used more often in lab settings. When referring to the chemical-like scent in mattresses, the majority of brands will use the term “off-gassing.”

 
What is the healthiest mattress?

Mattresses with eco-friendly, organic, or natural materials are considered to be the healthiest because they contain the fewest chemicals and synthetic materials. Materials like natural latex and plant-based memory foam are cleaner and safer than their counterparts, and hybrids with upcycled steel are easier on the environment than other coil systems.

When shopping for a non-toxic mattress, look for third-party certifications like CertiPUR-US®, OEKO TEX, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Rainforest Alliance, GREENGUARD, eco-INSTITUT, and more.

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