7 Common Toxic Mattress Symptoms (& How to Support Them)

air baby bedroom cancer chemicals children family healing spaces home detox lungs respiratory health skin sleep Jan 17, 2020

Are you worried that your current mattress might be toxic? 

Not all mattresses are created equal. While some will provide the benefits of a good night’s sleep, others can slowly contribute to health issues. There are a few symptoms you should pay attention to if you think that your mattress may be negatively impacting your health.

In this article, we will discuss 7 common warning signs of toxic mattresses, as well as tips for alleviating your toxic mattress symptoms.

What Makes Some Mattresses Toxic?

Some mattresses, especially memory foam mattresses or mattresses made of other synthetic materials, are full of petrochemicals, including harmful toxicants. Examples of commonly found chemicals in non-organic mattresses are formaldehyde, benzene, and chemical flame retardants. 

Since these chemicals can off-gas, including during your sleep, your mattress can be a significant source of your toxic exposures.

The Risks of Toxic Mattresses

Various chemicals have been detected from our mattresses. Some have been linked to a range of health issues—like cancer, respiratory and skin irritation, infertility, and developmental issues.

For example, exposure to formaldehyde may contribute to health issues and symptoms like those listed below. It has also been linked to cancers of the paranasal sinuses, nasal cavity, and nasopharynx. 

Benzene is another chemical that has been found in conventional mattresses. And there is “no safe level of exposure to benzene,” as it has been linked to increased risks of acute myeloid leukemia and various other diseases, according to the Annual Review of Public Health (2010). 

Chemical flame retardants are often in conventional mattresses. Exposure to common flame retardants may increase thyroid problems among women, especially post-menopausal women.

7 Toxic Mattress Symptoms You Should Know About

Many mattresses contain polyurethane foam, which makes a mattress cheaper, lighter to move, and more comfortable. However, polyurethane foam is made of lots of petrochemicals and chemical flame retardants.

Most people are not aware that studies on polyurethane foam mattresses have been alarming. 

One study of the sleeping microenvironment (SME)—characterized by higher temperature, humidity, and COconcentration—was studied to see how the SME might influence the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released from eight types of polyurethane foam mattresses. Eighteen VOCs were quantified. Under certain sleeping conditions, VOC emissions increased significantly. According to the Kira 2019 article:

Elevated heat seems to be the major contributor to the enhanced emissions, compared to elevated relative humidity and CO2 concentration. Exposure levels estimated for sleeping child/infant indicate that SME can be a significant contributor to VOC exposure, yielding concerning exposure levels for few compounds

If you experience any of the below symptoms, according to the EPA and an article in Environmental Science & Technology (Kira 2019), volatile organic compounds (or fumes from) your mattress might be a contributing factor. 

  1. Headaches muscle pain
  2. Frequent nausea
  3. Lack of concentration
  4. Itchy/sore throat
  5. Skin, nose, and eye irritation
  6. Chest tightness
  7. Difficulty breathing


How to Support Toxic Mattress Symptoms

While various factors can contribute to the symptoms above. Reducing your VOC exposures from your mattress can reduce your risks to a range of symptoms or health issues. The two articles below have helpful tips on improving the indoor air quality of your sleep area.

  1. The air purifier I use for my family
  2. 11 Nontoxic Solutions for Indoor Air Pollution Issues

If you're looking to replace your current mattress, then the tips below can help you identify healthier options.

1. Choose natural materials

When looking for a nontoxic mattress, consider each part of the mattress—including the casing and the inner support layers of the mattress.

  1. Look for a casing that’s comprised of certified organic cotton and certified organic wool.
  2. The core of the mattress should be comprised of natural latex instead of memory foam, polyurethane foam, or any number of blended foams.
  3. Avoid petroleum-based materials, like synthetic latex, vinyl, and polyurethane foam.
  4. Avoid chemical flame retardants.
  5. Inquire about adhesives used and any other chemical treatments.

2. Check certifications

Unfortunately, there are “natural” mattresses out there that are not as natural as you would assume. "Natural" mattresses can be blended with petroleum-based latex, as well as other toxic materials.

  1. Look for a Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) logo when shopping for a non-toxic mattress.
  2. For added protection, you can check if your chosen mattress is Greenguard GOLD certified. Greengard GOLD certification means that the mattress meets very strict standards for low chemical emissions.
  3. Check for a Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS) certification to ensure that the latex inside your mattress is composed of more than 95% organic raw material.
  4. Look for California's Prop 65 label, which can alert you to toxic chemicals that the mattress may contain.

Final Thoughts

Choosing a nontoxic mattress is an important step in removing harmful toxins from your bedroom and detoxing your toxic exposures.

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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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