Is Your Memory Foam Mattress Toxic? 3 Tips to Detox Your Mattress Exposures

home detox Feb 19, 2020

Do you think your memory foam mattress might be toxic? Research shows you may be right.

Memory foam is a commonly used material in mattresses, mattress toppers, pillows, and other household items.

In this article, we will discuss the safety concerns surrounding memory foam mattresses, as well as share our best tips for choosing a nontoxic mattress for your home.

How Safe is Your Memory Foam Mattress?

Safety concerns

The main ingredient of memory foam mattresses is polyurethane, which contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Common VOCs found in memory foam mattresses include formaldehyde, benzene, and naphthalene. Exposure to VOC emissions can contribute to a multitude of short and long-term health effects, including:

  • Headaches, nausea, loss of concentration
  • Eye, nose, and throat irritation
  • Damage to your liver, kidneys, and central nervous system

In addition, memory foam is highly combustible, which means memory foam mattresses often contain flame retardants.

Many flame retardants are associated with adverse health effects in humans, such as endocrine disruption, and damage to our immune systems and neurological function. 

Researchers have also found that children usually have higher flame retardant levels in their bodies than adults - which means exposure can be even more dangerous for them.

Some memory foam mattresses may also contain isocyanates, which may lead to lung problems, as well as irritation of skin, eyes, nose, and throat.

Common side effects

The most common VOC emission side effects include:

  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Nose and throat discomfort

If you are experiencing shortness of breath, wheezing, or nasal congestion, it may be a sign of isocyanate exposure.

Is Your Memory Foam Mattress Toxic?

Check ingredients

If you are worried that your mattress may be toxic, simply check the ingredients list to see if any of the VOCs mentioned above were used in its production.

Pay particular attention to the type of material used for fire protection. If it’s not organic wool, your mattress likely contains at least one toxic chemical.

Watch out for symptoms

Look out for the aforementioned symptoms of VOC exposure.

If you recently bought a new mattress, and are experiencing fatigue and headaches (without any other changes to your lifestyle), the mattress may be to blame.

How to Avoid Toxic Chemicals in Memory Foam Mattresses

While we can't "fix" a foam mattress that's off-gassing toxic fumes, the below are practical steps you can take to reduce your exposures to toxic chemicals.

1. Go organic

If you are looking for a nontoxic mattress, swap out memory foam for 100% pure natural latex. And choose a mattress casing that’s composed of certified organic cotton and certified organic wool.

2. Check certifications

Just because a mattress company says their product is “organic” doesn’t mean it is. When shopping for a nontoxic mattress, look for these certifications:

  1. Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
  2. Greenguard GOLD, or
  3. Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS) certifications 

3. Air it out

If you have already bought a mattress and notice a strong chemical smell upon unpacking it, air it out as quickly as possible. If you can’t bring your new mattress outside, open windows and doors in your home (when outdoor air quality is not going to jeopardize your indoor air quality), and turn on a fan to get the air circulating.

Let your bedroom breathe whenever outdoor air quality is good as fumes will accumulate over time.

Also, consider using an effective air purifier. You can learn more about our recommended air purifier by clicking here.

Final Thoughts

If you are worried about exposure to harmful chemicals, a memory foam mattress may not be the best choice for your home.

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About Ruan Living

Ruan Living simplifies a nontoxic lifestyle through its Practical Nontoxic Living podcast, free detox workshops, online D-Tox Academy, and transformative 40-Day Home Detox. It aims to help you avoid toxic chemicals, heavy metals, and electromagnetic fields (EMFs) from what you buy, own, and do— without compromising your joy and convenience. Ruan was founded by Sophia Ruan Gushée, author of the bestselling critically acclaimed book A to Z of D-Toxing: The Ultimate Guide to Reducing Your Toxic Exposures and several detox workbooks. A graduate of Brown University and Columbia Business School, Sophia has served on the Brown University School of Public Health Advisory Council and Well+Good Council. A popular nontoxic living speaker, consultant, and teacher, Sophia lives in New York City with her husband and three daughters. Her passion for empowering others to enjoy nontoxic living began with the birth of her first daughter in 2007. Everything she creates is a love letter to her children and for the healthiest, brightest future possible. You can learn more here: Sophia’s Impact.


This article is for informational purposes only. This information is provided “as is” without warranty.

It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. We do not offer medical advice, course of treatment, diagnosis, or any other opinion on your conditions or treatment options. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of Ruan Living.

In no event will Sophia Ruan Gushee or Ruan Living be liable for any damages or loss of any kind resulting from the use of this website. Anyone relying upon or making use of the information on this website does so at his or her own risk.

Some of the services and products recommended on this website provide compensation to Sophia Ruan Gushee or Ruan Living. All recommendations are based foremost upon an honest belief that the product, service, or site will benefit our site visitors in some way.  

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