When you’re in the market for a brand new mattress, expect to get more than comfort from your new purchase-expect your new nighttime “red carpet” to come with a slight or even intense chemical odor. It’s almost inevitable, this odor, as it is something that accompanies most new products, from cars to clothing. The question is: Are these odors, which are produced by what is called off-gassing, harmful?
The odors you smell come from volatile organic compounds (VOCs). They are used in the manufacturing process of window panes, furniture, car upholstery, paint, and, yes, mattresses. As these compounds breakdown, they are released into the air and can be inhaled. The process is even more pronounced for consumers who receive their mattresses in a tightly sealed bag within a box, as the VOCs remain trapped until the box is opened.
The types of VOCs that have been registered in mattresses include compounds known to be harmful to animal life, including benzene, methylene dianiline and formaldehyde. Many of them are found in the flame-retardant chemicals used per the law to protect mattresses. Long-term exposure to these VOCs can result in liver and kidney damage as well as the development of various cancers.
Even if VOCs don’t cause serious health problems for you, they may still cause a variety of irritating to debilitating reactions. Nausea, dizziness and throat and mouth irritation are common adverse reactions people have from exposure to VOCs.
Upon purchasing a new standard mattress, expect to experience off-gassing to occur for a considerable amount of time. The first few days and weeks will produce the most odors, as a large percentage of the off-gassing takes place during this initial period of mattress use. Overtime, the odors will subside as the VOCs continue to off-gas, for how long depends on the mattress.
Some mattress manufacturers are swapping out the toxic materials and replacing them with greener alternatives. And instead of using toxic chemicals as flame retardants, they use naturally flame retardant materials, such as organic wool. These options that help consumers avoid VOCs are more expensive than mainstream mattresses. However, their popularity is increasing, which may lead to more consumer-friendly pricing and an economical way for sleepers to enjoy a toxin-free nighttime environment.