April 2020

Memory foam off-gassing and mattress toxins

Memory foam, and indeed all foam, is made up of a number of chemical components. Similar chemicals are found in sofas, car seats, plastics and other house hold items. With any chemical compound, they are subject to off-gassing. Is off-gassing as serious as it sounds? Well, that depends. Here we explain what off-gassing is and how you can minimise the risks associated with it.

Whether it be pocket sprung mattresses, memory foam or Hybrid mattresses they will all contain either chemical adhesives, chemically treated fabrics, petrochemicals and chemical flame retardants. It’s almost impossible to avoid due to the manufacture techniques and compliance regulations in the UK.  This is not an isolated issue to mattresses though other common household items such as MDF, Kitchen laminate worktops, synthetic chair cushions, man-made rugs and adhesives all contain VOC (volatile organic compounds).

Sky small john ryan
Offgassing occurs in all mattresses. Some more than others such as memory foam and synthetic beds.

What is a volatile organic compound?

Wikipedia defines VOC’s as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are organic chemicals that have a high vapour pressure at ordinary, room-temperature conditions. Their high vapour pressure results from a low boiling point, which causes large numbers of molecules to evaporate or sublimate from the liquid or solid form of the compound and enter the surrounding air.

Put simply; they are chemicals that can permeate the air at room temperature meaning they can be omitted from the material from which they are present. Paint is a perfect example that contains VOC’s that off-gas almost immediately and will hang around for a limited amount of time.

What is off-gassing?

Technically it’s the release of chemicals (VOCs) from various substances under normal conditions of temperate and pressure. Put simply when the mattress is made and then delivered and unwrapped there may be a number of off gasses that will release, usually within the first few hours. The arrival of a new sofa and the smell that appears when it’s delivered is a classic case of off-gassing that you may have encountered. Some of the VOC’s will have no smell at all and others will off-gassing is the release of these.

Is off-gassing safe?

This is the million dollar question and there are numerous sites that will give you arguments for and against the safety of foams. Given the low concentration of the chemicals, it is generally accepted that there is minimal risk. One example is when you have painted a room and you need to leave it for the smell and gases to leave through ventilation. Similarly, to this, the new car smell is also a form of off-gassing. Once it has off-gassed for two or so hours the smell and off-gassing should have subsided.

What chemicals are in a mattress?

There are a number of chemicals present in a memory foam mattress which can be found in the post on what is memory foam. The only way to reduce the risk that off-gassing is kept to a minimum is to buy a natural mattress such as 100% natural latex or a pocket sprung natural mattress. There is no ‘100% completely natural’ mattress in the UK market because of safety regulations which require them to be fire retardant, even 100% natural latex requires chemical fire retardants to be present.  Further to this, any adhesives used in even natural mattress manufacture will contain VOC’s to some degree. All you can do is weigh up the evidence and decide what mattress is best for you in terms of budget, potential health concerns and manufacture techniques.

How do I minimise the initial off-gassing effects?

One way to reduce any concerns would be to open your new mattress in a garage or ventilated conservatory and leave it for a couple of days if you want to ensure that the off-gassing does not happen in the bedroom. The downside is any machine rolled mattresses will now have expanded to their original side. Memory foam mattresses are quite heavy and awkward to move once unwrapped.

Does a natural memory foam bed exist?

Another question we often get asked is about ‘Natural memory foam’ and some dubious bed retailers claiming to use it. To be clear memory foam is an entirely synthetic man-made chemical-based foam. There is no natural memory foam.

The only true natural foam is 100% Natural Latex. Latex mattresses have a similar sinking feeling to memory foam but are don’t contain the mass of chemicals that memory foam does. Latex mattresses are also far more breathable, cooler to sleep on and faster to respond when you need to turn during the night. They are also 2 sided meaning you can use both sides of your mattress and therefore get twice as much use out of it!

Fusion 3 mattress with Grey throw
Latex is the best Natural Foam. There is no natural memory foam. Click here to shop natural fibre mattresses.

Unwrap the mattress in a well-ventilated area when you get it. We would advise you unwrap it in the room it is going to be housed in to avoid awkward unnecessary movement of the mattress. If you’re concerned about chemicals and off-gassing in a mattress please remember there will be a number of foams, plastics and synthetic materials currently in your house that has off-gassed at some time to give some perspective to the issue. The decision, however, rests entirely with you. The only way to reduce this off-gassing this is to purchase a completely natural mattress but these will in some form contain some VOC’s.

Please get in touch on 0161 437 4419 for more assistance with this subject.

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