Why Does My New Mattress Smell and What Is Off-Gassing?

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Purchasing a new mattress is easier than ever now with online bed-in-a-box mattresses. These mattresses come conveniently compressed and rolled in a box that comes right to your front door. All you have to do it unpackage it and watch it fully expand before your eyes.

If you’ve ever opened a bed-in-a-box mattress, you may have noticed an usual, chemical-like smell while you unboxed the new mattress, especially if it was a memory foam mattress.

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

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 first unbox your new mattress.

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

What Is Mattress 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 even mattresses. 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 in manufacturing to ensure those safety requirements are met as well.

Is Mattress Off-Gassing Harmful?

It can be 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 called CertiPUR-US.

If you choose to research this topic online further, you will see that the discussion about health risks and the use of VOCs 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 VOCs 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.

1. Open your mattress and let it air out.

The best thing you can do if you are experiencing off-gassing is to give your mattress time to breathe and air out after you unbox it. 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. Typically that new mattress smell will go away somewhere within a few hours to a few days.

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.

2. Consider buying a mattress that has been independently tested by 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)

*One quick note: When a mattress is labeled as CertiPUR-US certified, it means that just the foam in the mattress meets the requirements listed above. There are other components that make up a mattress and if you have concerns about what else the mattress is made with or have chemical sensitivities it’s worth reaching to the company and/or manufacturer for more details on how their product is made.

How to Speed up Mattress Off-Gassing

To speed up the off-gassing process, you may want to open the windows in your bedroom. A well-ventilated area with a cross breeze is a preferable environment for your new mattress. Typically the smell goes away anywhere between a few hours and a few days, depending on your mattress.

Final Thoughts

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.

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Katie Golde

Katie manages the day to day operations of the Mattress Clarity news site and reviews sleep products in addition to writing and editing sleep news. She hails from Austin, where she lives with her growing family. She is a Certified Sleep Science Coach and has a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University and has a background in health and science content. Her work can be found in print and online publications like Discover Magazine, USA Today and The Huffington Post.