Mattress Buyers’ Guide to Off-Gassing
By now we’ve all heard about ‘off-gassing,’ but what is it really, and how do you know if your mattress is off-gassing?
We’re here to alleviate your OGA, or Off-Gassing Anxiety. The struggle is real. Off-gassing is a legitimate concern and you deserve to know what’s happening so you can choose what to do about it. Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself, your family, and your household.
One trip to your local Big Name mattress dealer and it’s easy to get overwhelmed by options: so many different makers and models, all of them with different features and benefits promised. Take a spin around the store and you’re likely to see latex mattresses, Memory Foam mattresses, air mattresses (i.e. Select Comfort calling itself the Sleep Number bed), innerspring coil mattresses (what you probably slept on as a kid), and futon mattresses. Your mind might be whirling after just 30 minutes.
These days, there are numerous types of foam and batting materials being used in mattresses. And many of those materials have mystery or chemical components.
So which types of mattress materials are safest and least likely to be chemical-laden and prone to off-gassing? Where should a shopper start researching?
First of all, let’s get clear on the basics.
What is Off-Gassing?
Synthetic mattress foams are made with chemicals — mostly petroleum-based chemicals, but also some fire-retarding agents. YES, these chemicals emit fumes and can cause potentially adverse reactions in people with chemical sensitivities. Some chemicals used in mattresses have NOT been tested on young children or in the amount people are exposed to when sleeping on a mattress for 8 hours a day (which is, uh, kind of the point of having a mattress).
If you have concerns about off-gassing, do your research and know exactly what chemicals are used in your mattress and how they’re likely to affect a person’s system over time.
What Types of Mattresses Off-Gas?
How would you know if your mattress is off-gassing? Start by identifying which type of mattress you have.
1. Memory Foam Mattress
A memory foam mattress is likely made of 5-6″ of standard polyurethane foam topped with a visco-elastic layer (an open-celled poly foam that recovers slowly from compression, hence the effect that it ‘conforms to your body’). Both the polyurethane foam and the cisco-elastic layer will off-gas.
Smelling an odor from your memory foam mattress? This odor is from chemicals used in the manufacturing process. These mattress chemicals are potentially harmful to small children and people sensitive to chemical emissions.
2. Coil/Innerspring Mattress
Your coil mattress may be made with pocketed coil, a continuous coil system, or another type of coil. There will be an insulator pad between the coils and the comfort layers above. The insulator pad may be made from a high-density polyurethane foam or from recycled fabric layers (similar to a carpet pad). Comfort layers are attached on top of the insulator to add plushness. These comfort layers are mostly what differentiates one coil mattress’s feel from another.
Some manufacturers, in an effort to be more ‘green,’ are using some soy or non-soy vegetable-based mattress foams. While this is certainly a step in the right direction, because soy foams use only 20% soy oil and the rest is petroleum-based, the use of soy does not eliminate the off-gassing.
Finally, the mattress is wrapped with a quilting layer to give it a ‘finished’ look. The puff in the quilt is usually made from polyurethane foam — even in mattresses labeled as ‘natural.’ An innerspring mattress can be made ‘natural’ and non-off-gassing with the use of a natural insulator such as latex or wool, and/or with cotton comfort layers, and/or a quilt layer containing one of the same fillers.
Note that some mainstream manufacturers will label their mattresses ‘natural’ or ‘eco’ even with only ONE natural fiber component to it, never mind the chemical compounds in the other layers. Does this sound natural to you?
3. Latex Mattress
A latex mattress should start with a solid latex core, like our signature Botanicore™. Some other manufacturers will mix layers of latex with other, less expensive layers. A solid latex core like Botanicore™ ensures a consistent feel to your sleep surface and maximum durability over time. It’s also available in different densities for a feel that matches your comfort preferences.
There are different processes for creating latex (Dunlop, Talalay, and Continuous Pour). By definition, latex is sap from the rubber tree, however, synthetic latex can be created in a lab using building blocks. Although synthetic latex may contain polymers, there’s little off-gassing and it’s likely to be a better choice than polyurethane.
Pure, natural rubber latex comes from rubber trees grown within 10 degrees of the equator (tropical and sub-tropical regions). The extraction process is similar to tapping maple trees for syrup. (Anyone else visualizing pancakes right now?)
The latex trees we harvest from for Botanicore™ grow in some of the best-managed forest systems in the world. First, we thoroughly and scrupulously wash out potentially allergenic proteins. Then we mold our latex foam cores with no added chemicals. With NO added chemicals to off-gas, all-botanical latex foam mattresses are the best choice for healthy sleep.
4. Air Bed or Air Mattress
Air beds use vinyl or polyurethane bladders in place of innersprings or foam cores. The air chambers are protected by polyurethane foam and are often topped with it for comfort. It would be possible to make an airbed with comfort layers of wool, latex, or cotton — as that would eliminate much off-gassing potential — but we’re unaware of any company producing such a mattress.
5. Futon Mattress
Most futon mattresses these days contain synthetic foam plus a synthetic fire barrier. But it’s possible to make a non-off-gassing futon. Such a futon would be free of polyurethane foam layers and would have wool as the inherent fire barrier. It’s also possible to layer latex with other batting materials to add durability.
As a rule, futon mattresses tend to ‘mat’ and harden up over time. Cotton, a popular filling for futon mattresses, is a cheap non-toxic batting material, but it’s not ideal for a sleep surface.
Good choices for non-off-gassing mattresses
Yes, there are mattresses that are far less likely to off-gas than others, or won’t off-gas at all. It’s important for you, as a consumer, to know your stuff because you can’t always trust some retailers and salespeople to have or share correct information. A little time spent researching construction materials can pay dividends when searching for the lowest chemical emission mattresses.
The following non-off-gassing mattresses are comparable to other better quality mattresses. Plus, you’ll have peace of mind knowing you and your family aren’t being exposed daily to potentially unhealthy fumes.
- For the most bed dollar-for-dollar, with the least potential for off-gassing, check out the Brasilia mattress and the Palmas mattress, both by Englander.
- Check out our full line of all-botanical latex mattresses, as well as our selection of natural and organic mattresses. Both categories have far less off-gassing potential than other types.
Let’s talk. We’re listening.
Have you experienced off-gassing from a Memory Foam or another type of mattress? Tell us what you noticed and what you decided to do about it.