Last Updated On November 20th, 2018

Getting a new mattress can be an exciting time, after all, you spend about a quarter of your life in bed, and therefore it’s not only an important investment, but it can drastically improve your quality of life. But things aren’t all rosy; there are some health issues that you need to consider when you receive your new purchase, especially when one of those is an off-gassing mattress.

Although there is a serious debate in the healthcare community about the health impacts of off-gassing, what’s not debated is the effect it can have on the environment and your air quality. Mattresses aren’t produced using only natural ingredients, and therefore the manufacturing process uses machinery, chemicals, and human-made products.

What Is Mattress Off-Gassing?

Mattress off-gassing is the continual release of gases from your mattress, not only at night but also throughout the day. Off-gassing occurs as a result of the breakdown in the volatile organic compounds, known as VOCs, which are emitted as gases or vapors from some of the compounds in the product.

VOCs aren’t rare, in fact, they are found in thousands of the products which we use in homes every day including cleaning products, paints, and air fresheners. Typically, the VOCs which are released from your mattress will come from the adhesives and foams used in the product.

These VOCs Include:

  • Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)
  • Benzene
  • Formaldehyde
  • Methylene Chloride
  • Toluene
  • Trichloroethane
  • Naphthalene
  • Perfluorocarbons

These volatile organic compounds break down over time, slowly releasing these gases into our homes. However, studies have shown that a huge percentage of all the gas that will be released is done so in the first two months of the product being used.

This statistic is important because while VOCs could be harmful. In small quantities, it’s unlikely to have any drastic impact while at higher concentrations it could be dangerous. In this first two months, the concentration of VOC emissions is likely to be far higher and therefore during this period you must make an effort to reduce the risk to yourself and your family.

Memory Foam Off-Gassing

Memory foam is so called because it adapts to the shape of your body. Once you stand up, you’ll see an imprint of your body before it quickly returns to the standard shape. Memory foam is viscoelastic foam which is what many popular brands use, including some of the Tempur-Pedic mattresses below.

Many believe that memory foam off-gassing is far more prevalent than other materials, because memory foam mattresses have a more pungent smell which tends to last for weeks instead of days.

For this reason, it’s even more important that you allow the product to air out before you start using it. If you can, leaving it upright near a window for two to three days can drastically reduce the smell and allows much of the VOCs to break down and the gases to be released. As usual, removing the sheets and allowing for regular off-gassing can reduce the smell quicker.

Mattress Off-Gassing How Long?

It’s unrealistic for us to allow it to air out for weeks on end. You need the space in your home, and you want to be able to use the new product that you just paid for. As a result, most experts recommend that you air it out for 24 hours, a number which is backed by the Sleep Products Safety Council.

Once this time has passed, you can smell the surface up close and compare it to how visceral the scent was when it first arrived. As long as the smell doesn’t bother you any longer, it’s okay for you to start sleeping on it. If the scent is too strong, you can continue to air it out for longer and rotate it periodically to ensure that the entire bed can air out.

How To Air Out A New Mattress

Plastic cover of a rolled up Leesa mattress

When you first unbox one, you’ll notice a potent chemical smell which can be overpowering and nauseating. While the jury is still out on whether it’s dangerous for your health in small amounts and for short periods, the smell is unpleasant, and it can make you reluctant to sleep. To prevent this, you need to do whatever you can to air it out. Here are some tips:

Remove Plastic Cover Immediately

All mattresses will come covered with a thin plastic layer which prevents staining and damage during transportation. However, not only does this plastic have a noticeably unpleasant smell, but it also keeps in the VOCs from the foam and adhesives, preventing them from escaping and causing them to seep back into the bed.

Typically to conform to local safety laws, they are doused with chemical flame retardants that help to reduce the spread of fire. However, some believe that these chemicals can cause a variety of severe health problems including developmental brain disorders and cancer. To reduce this risk, you must remove the plastic and let the gas escape, typically for about 24 hours at least.

Choosing Where To Air It Out

Some bloggers have suggested that airing out your mattress outdoors can speed up the process and allow for greater gas release. However, there seems to be little evidence of this, and it will drastically increase the risk of damage from critters and animals.

Outside it’s likely that bugs will end up on the surface, even if you’re airing it out on a balcony or outside of your condo. Instead, it’s wise to keep it inside at all times to prevent it from becoming tarnished.

The smartest way to air out your mattress is to lean it up against a wall near a range of windows so that only the smallest amount of the surface is touching the floor and wall. This position allows for greater ventilation and ensures that more of the gas is released. If you leave it lying down the gases from the bottom will be unable to escape.

Reducing The Chemical Smell

To reduce the smell which is going to spread through the home, you ideally want to locate the mattress on a wall near to a few windows. By opening these windows, you can create air circulation which will drag out the VOCs and the associated smell, while bringing in fresh air which will allow you to continue to enjoy your home.

It’s also possible to use air freshener to mask the smell but because these release VOCs too it’s not the wisest decision. Instead, lighting a few candles around the home can get rid of much of the scent without putting more dangerous gases into your house.

With an open window and a few candles around the home, not near the mattress, you should notice that the smell dissipates significantly in the first few hours. After 24 hours, almost all of the scent should disappear, allowing you to start using your new bed.

Further Off-Gassing

In the first 24 hours, a lot of the VOCs are released, but they will continue to be emitted for the lifetime of the bed. Noticeably, in the first two months much of the lifetime VOCs will be released, and therefore you would expect the continuation of off-gassing for the first two months.

At least once a week it’s wise to peel back the sheets from the mattress and stand it up straight or lean it against a wall while you’re out at work. This period will allow further off-gassing which is nearly impossible with your sheets on the bed. Doing this once a week for the first eight weeks, with the windows open, will get rid of practically all of the smell and can drastically reduce the VOCs emissions in your home.

Mattress Off-Gassing Symptoms

Memory foam care

Although the science is debatable, and experts are still figuring out the truth, many believe that the chemicals and products used in mattresses can cause health problems. Some suggest that they could lead to:

  • Sleep disturbance
  • Neurodevelopment disorders
  • Behavioral issues
  • Fertility problems
  • Skin, eye and lung irritation
  • Cancer from chronic toxic exposure

In particular, the pesticides which are found in textiles can influence the nervous system, contribute to cancer and cause skin and eye irritation.

Similarly, the flame-retardant chemicals, phthalates, and benzene have been linked to other issues including cancer, chromosome damage, fertility problems, and behavioral issues.

Using A Mattress Cover To Prevent Off-Gassing

One method that some homeowners and parents swear by is the use of a mattress cover to prevent off-gassing. A mattress wrap made using a polyethylene sheeting, or similar material can prevent gases from permeating through it, forcing off-gassing through the bottom of the mattress which is less likely to be inhaled.

The main problem is that we sleep directly on our mattresses with only thin cotton sheets, allowing the VOCs to be inhaled easily. A non-permeable cover can prevent this while still allowing the surface to breathe through the bottom. These wraps or covers also act as spill protectors, dust mite barriers and will trap bedbugs too.

Tuft and Needle Off-Gassing

Tuft and Needle unboxing

Tuft and Needle mattresses are made using polyurethane foam which is incredibly comfortable to sleep on but more importantly, can be manipulated to fit into a box to ship directly to your home. Polyurethane foam is a common emitter of VOCs and is therefore tightly regulated by CertiPUR-US which measures the amount of gas emitted over a 72 hour period.

The mattresses from Tuft and Needle easily passed their safety test which means it gives off no more than 0.16ppm of benzene over 72 hours and 0.13ppm for toluene. The Tuft and Needle is shipped directly from the factory to your home in a box, and therefore it needs to be allowed to air out.

As with other brands, you’re required to remove it from the box and take off any plastic packaging before you let it expand. Once it is fully extended, you can lean it up against a wall with open windows to ensure circulation and leave it there for 24 hours to reduce the unpleasant smell and to allow the VOCs to be emitted. (Read the full Tuft and Needle Review).

Leesa Off-Gassing

A bed-in-a-box solution from Leesa

According to some experts, Leesa is one of the most superior online mattress companies which also delivers in a box. With layers of supportive foam, it can help to give you a better night sleep and prevent aches and pains.

As with the Tuft and Needle mattresses, polyurethane foam is used because it’s incredibly effective, cheap and durable. However, it produces lots of VOCs and therefore airing out the bed to allow for off-gassing in the first few weeks is essential. While many would argue that the health impacts are negligible, the smell can be unpleasant and the effort required is minimal. (Read the full Leesa Mattress Review).

Tempurpedic Off-Gassing

Tempurpedic mattress

Tempur-Pedic is the manufacturer of possibly the most famous mattress of all time, which uses viscoelastic foam that allows for pressure reduction and adaptive temperature contouring. Traditional polyurethane foam which is used by Leesa and Tuft and Needle is excellent, but it compresses under your weight rather than contouring and adjusting.

These Tempur-Pedic mattresses can give you greater support where you need it with little to no counter pressure. However, many would argue that this type of viscoelastic foam, otherwise known as memory foam, has high levels of off-gassing.

To prevent against any increased risk, it’s wise to let your Tempur-Pedic air out for at least 24 hours. Also, ensure that you remove the sheets and stand it up to air out at least once per week for the first two months. After four weeks you will notice that practically all of the scent has disappeared.

Purple Mattress Off-Gassing

Purple mattress

Purple is one of the fastest-growing companies of all time, originally started through a crowdfunding campaign. They use a variety of different materials in their mattresses, but for those worried about VOCs and off-gassing, it’s important to note that it uses polyurethane foam just like the Leesa.

Polyurethane foam off gasses quite heavily and because the Purple is transported in a box and plastic wrap, it might need slightly longer to off-gas than a mattress shipped whole in a container without any compressed wrapping. For this reason, make sure to remove the plastic wrapping quickly, let it expand and then lean it up against a wall to off-gas for 24 hours before use. (Read the full Purple Mattress Review).