The "New Mattress" Smell - What Is Mattress Off-Gassing?

The “New Mattress” Smell – What Is Mattress Off-Gassing?

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The arrival of a new mattress is an exciting time. There are plenty of brands that will ship your mattress straight to your door, vacuum sealed, and ready to be opened like a present on Christmas day.

Unboxing and taking your mattress out of its plastic seal should be pretty easy. Most mattresses, especially those with foam layers, may need some time to expand and let foam expand but will be ready to go before long.

Some people may experience chemical-like smell that often accompanies the unboxing of a new mattress, especially foam mattresses. This odor is often referred to as a “new mattress smell” because it resembles the same type of scent people remember from a new car or opening a can of paint.

The new mattress smell is actually s a large group of chemicals, which are found in many products, that are released as gas or “off-gassed” into the air.

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When your mattress has been sealed shut and rolled up for a period of time, the chemicals have a chance to build up, making it especially potent when you unbox your new mattress.

So what is off-gassing and should we be concerned for our health? We’ve put together everything you need to know about that new mattress smell, off-gassing and how to remove it from your mattress.

Related: Best Mattress Picks Of The Year

What Is Off-Gassing?

Off-gassing occurs as a result of the breakdown of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are emitted gases or vapors from certain solids or liquids.

VOCs can be found in thousands of manufactured household products, from cleaners and air fresheners to paints and dry-cleaned clothes.

Typically, the VOCs from foams and adhesives are the most common ones to off-gas in memory foam mattresses. Some of these include chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), formaldehyde, benzene, methylene chloride, toluene, trichloroethane, naphthalene, perfluorocarbons.

Mattresses are also required to be flame retardant, and VOCs are used to ensure that as well.

Is Off-Gassing Harmful?

Yes, it is unnerving to think about sleeping on a mattress that is made with chemical carcinogens like formaldehyde and benzene. However, experts say that the low emission levels of these compounds make it OK for us to breathe in each day. What’s more – most major mattress brands that use foam work with an organization that keeps an eye on VOC emission levels (more on that later).

If you choose to research this topic online further, you will see that the discussion about health risks and the use of VOC in manufacturing mattresses is hotly debated. At this time, there are no proven health risks associated with the chemicals used in mattresses. However, the emissions of VOCs are a major concern for air pollution and indoor air quality.

 

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According to the Minnesota Department of Health, breathing low levels of VOCs for long periods of time may increase some people’s risk of health problems. They say that several studies suggest that exposure to VOC’s may make symptoms worse for people with asthma or who are particularly sensitive to chemicals.

How Do I Get Rid Of The New Mattress Smell?

If you have a foam mattress with a strong off-gassing odor, there are a few proactive steps you can take to get rid of the new mattress smell.

Open your mattress and let it air out. The best thing you can do if you are experiencing off-gassing is to let your mattress breathe outside of the house. The majority of VOCs will be emitted in the first hour after opening the mattress but they can continue to be released for an unknown amount of time.

The best way to avoid inhaling off-gas is to open your mattress outside and let it breathe for at least two days. Some suggest letting it air out for a week or two if possible. A well-ventilated area with a cross breeze is a preferable environment for your new mattress.

Consider buying a mattress that has been independently tested CertiPUR-US. CertiPUR-US is a non-profit that makes sure the flexible polyurethane foam on memory foam meets certain environmental and health standards. While they’re not completely chemical or VOC-free, CertiPUR-US certified foams are:

  • Made without ozone depleters
  • Made without PBDEs, TDCPP or TCEP (”Tris”) flame retardants
  • Made without mercury, lead, and other heavy metals
  • Made without formaldehyde
  • Made without phthalates regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission Low VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) emissions for indoor air quality (less than 0.5 parts per million)

The Bottom Line

Off-gassing is what happens when the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in manufactured products like memory foam mattresses break down. It causes a smell that can be unpleasant and disconcerting to others.

Although no health risks have been linked to VOCs and off-gassing, it may be wise to do your research to see what chemicals are in your mattress materials, especially if you have asthma or chemical sensitivities.

If you experience off-gassing with your own mattress, make sure you air it out as long as possible in the most well-ventilated area.

This post was last updated on September 15th, 2017 at 10:34 am

Leave a Comment:

Zuzana says December 6, 2017

I’m wondering if you have any reviews on Sealy mattresses, particularly those made in Canada (where I am). I hear the health standards and manufacturing restrictions are stricter here.

ZV

Reply
Mag says December 23, 2017

“Leave it outdoors”. Oh yeah, great advice for the trillions who live in cities without so much as a balcony. Thanks.

Reply
    Katie Golde says December 27, 2017

    Hi Mag, if it’s not possible to put the mattress outside, a well-ventilated area with a cross breeze will work, too. If you can open a bedroom window and a door or turn on a fan to increase airflow that should help with mattress off-gassing.

    Reply
Erik Rosen says December 24, 2017

You make a disturbing assertion in this article.

“However, experts say that the low emission levels of these compounds make it OK for us to breathe in each day.”

First, different chemicals have different toxicity levels, but testing only looks at them in isolation, as opposed to the actual toxic soup released by most mattresses. In addition, it is dangerous to downplay the dangers of low-level exposure to some of these chemicals. For instance, according to the World Health Organization, formaldehyde limits are 2 parts per million (ppm) over a 15 minute period, or .75 ppm over an 8-hour period. However, there are many studies that show health effects at several parts per billion. People also have different levels of sensitivity, and even if you don’t have symptoms, health damage can still occur. Another issue is that our homes are already often toxic soups of poor indoor air quality. In fact, according to the EPA, indoor air is 2-5 times worse than outdoor air (thanks in part to off-gassing from mattresses, carpets, dust and other air particulates, etc.). Other estimates are even higher.

You definitely have some good advice, and CertiPUR-US is a good place to start. We should be off-gassing all sorts of household items in a room with open windows for several days, at least. The danger with mattresses is the amount of time we spend with our faces buried in them. Depending on thickness and materials, it can continue to off-gas for weeks after purchase, even if you can no longer smell it.

It’s better to do serious research before buying a new mattress, and choosing one that is produced with the maximum of organic natural materials.

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Alun Allen says January 16, 2018

How many people have somewhere outside where a Mattress can be stood for a “couple of days” and what do they sleep on when the old mattress has been taken away by the delivery people?

Bottom line is someone should be looking at ways of ensuring our safety by finding a way to prepare a VOC Free mattress!

Reply
Agata Waliczek says February 2, 2018

I totally agree and hear of many people having awful experiences with their new mattresses for at least a few weeks, to the point where some can’t even sleep on their new bed for weeks due to the off-gassing. Others frequently complain about headaches as well.
We were able to avoid all these nasty chemicals when we went with a bed from Swiss Dream Beds. They use natural Talalay latex from the Netherlands. There was never any off-gassing but quite the opposite: When we opened the bag that the mattress came in, we were received by a very pleasant smell of natural latex. Amazing and I can only recommend them, given also that I think we got it for a very good price.

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