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)

*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.

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.

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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 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.

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

  1. I bought one of those mattress in a box, was fine, it’s been like a year later and it’s smells !!! Like it’s off gassing again but it’s bad. Will a plastic mattress cover work in containing the smell ?

  2. Bought a new mattress several weeks ago. The smell was so bad that the shop took it back and I ordered a different. Same problem. Slept in it one night but not happy. I think it will go in time. I even jumped on it as suggested to release gas. Bit risky as I am in my eighties.

  3. I actually love the smell of my new mattress (Englander Boston) but since sleeping on it I have experienced dizziness, headaches and a muzzy feeling in my head, along with a slightly “drunk” feeling, and I never touch alcohol. Should I be worried?

      • JO That’s useless information to be giving out. Mattresses are notoriously full of dangerous chemicals – we ended up in hospital twice from new mattresses, so called organic, bamboo, silver- lined cloth. All humans should not be breathing pthalates, heavy metals, formaldeyhyde – they are dangerous toxins period. Sleeping on them for 8 hours a night every night is criminal, the effect is cumulative. I recommend The Toxin Solution Dr Jo Pizzorno and Dr Tom O Bryan’s book The Autoimmune Fix. These doctors know what they are talking about.

    • i bought new bed the smell of te mattress was like damp told shop they got me brand new one got the same smell smells like dampness memory foam i air it everyday still smells feel as if ave been conned

    • Yes, you are having a reaction to the chemicals. Mattresses that are not organic all need to out gas. Some take up to two years. Certipur mattresses take two weeks and longer (depending on the company) to off gas.

    • I personally would be worried if these symptoms have shown up since getting this mattress. I’d return it and find one that is greener, Tuft and Needle is a great company that sells reasonable priced greener mattresses. This is the brand we’ve gone with for our kids beds and will be switching ours out for one as well.

      • Tuft & Needle doesn’t really sell greener mattresses. Same chemicals as every other bed-in-a-box company for the most part.

  4. I bought a sealy mattress and the smell lingered for almost 6 months (so I kept it in a downstairs bedroom until then). It is fine now. For those that have bad off-gassing with their mattress and have not choice but to keep it, hang in there- it will go away eventually!

  5. Nectar mattress; Had it for 8 days; impossible to sleep in it because of strong odors.
    Aired it for a week straight without sleeping in it. I am severely allergic to mold and i am suffering the odor just like i was in presence of mold. Checked the mattress thoroughly with no evidence of mold.
    Anyone else experienced the same thing ?

    • yes my Giltedge backcare mattress smells strongly of mold even after 10 days,cant sleep on it and no idea how long it takes for “gassing off”

  6. My son purchased my Sealy mattress two months ago. By Jove, the mattress reeks, my house smells so awful. I complained to the company but to no avail.
    I didnt know about this “off-gassing” you write about. Thank you all. I will air it out and pack into a plastic mattress cover. I hope for the best.

  7. Dear Leigh,

    I’m really surprised to read this.

    Certipur.us only certifies the foam in the mattress. As you must know, the foam is only one component in a mattress. Mattresses generally have a cover of varying chemistry, glues, threads, possible insecticides, shipping in containers if manufactured abroad. Many of the mattresses come from China where, toxic products are routinely manufactured and sent here.

    Certipur.us does not certify the whole mattress.

    What if the consumer has Multiple Chemical Sensitivities? Immune system difficulties, cancer survivors, what if the off gassing causes one to feel dizzy or fatigued? That person would be me.

    I wrote Michael Crowell of Certipur.us recently to find out if I understood what Certipur.us is. He wrote me back and said I did. That Certipur.us only covers the foam, that I would have to find out from the manufacturer what the other components are and if I had objectionable odor I should be able to negotiate for new product if they are reputable. Yes this is what I had figured out for myself and he confirmed it.

    The mattress industry is not very transparent. It certainly does not need defending.

    It’s great that Certipur.us exists and I applaud Michael Crowell. The name Certipur.us is tossed around as a proof for mattress companies who say “we are not toxic, we are certified by Certipur.us” and it’s misleading.

    Kronkite

  8. 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.

  9. 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!

  10. 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.

    • 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.

      • That is absurd advice, Cat. Hang in there, it will go away? Yeah, and in the meantime, expect to lose your health in every way imaginable. And leaving it outside for 2 weeks?! Am I the only sane person on this reel? In what corner of hell do the people stoop so low that such insanity is considered normal? Yeah. This corner. Also known as America where EVERYTHING – the food, the water, the air, the fabrics, EVERYTHING is poisonous to the point of being life threatening.

  11. 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

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