Toxic Mattress Chemicals Can Make You Sick

Author: The Futon Shop
Published: 2012/01/16 - Updated: 2022/09/02
Contents: Summary - Main - Related Publications

Synopsis: A Guide to some of the chemicals that your mattress may be composed of including their health risks. Most mattresses contain considerable amounts of synthetic and chemical-based foams (polyurethane), plastics and artificial fibers, and most box springs are made with chemically treated wood and chemical adhesives. United States Department of Labor, claims that the health effects of an Isocyanate exposure include irritation to skin, mucous membranes, chest tightness, and difficulty breathing.

Volatile Organic Compounds

Volatile organic compounds have high vapor pressure and low water solubility. Many VOCs are human-made chemicals used and produced in manufacturing paints, pharmaceuticals, and refrigerants. VOCs typically are industrial solvents, such as trichloroethylene; fuel oxygenates, such as methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE); or by-products produced by chlorination in water treatment, such as chloroform. VOCs often include petroleum fuels, hydraulic fluids, paint thinners, and dry cleaning agents. VOCs are common ground-water contaminants. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects. Concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than outdoors. VOCs are emitted by a wide array of products numbering in the thousands.

Main Digest

Conventional mattresses are very likely to contain chemicals, some potentially toxic to humans and harmful to the environment. Most of these chemical compounds have a cloud surrounding the information on the possible harm they can cause. The way to go green is to choose a mattress with fewer chemicals or no chemicals. The ideal mattress would have low VOCs, no CFCs, PBDEs, heavy metals, formaldehyde, and phthalates. But what are these chemicals, and how do they affect the environment and you

Understanding Low Emissions (low VOCs)

(VOCs) Volatile organic compounds are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short and long-term adverse health effects.

EPA's Office of Research and Development found levels of about a dozen common organic pollutants to be 2 to 5 times higher inside homes than outside, regardless of whether the homes were located in rural or highly industrial areas.

Most mattresses contain considerable amounts of synthetic and chemical-based foams (polyurethane), plastics, and artificial fibers, and most box springs are made with chemically treated wood and chemical adhesives. Almost every mattress type contains at least some polyurethane foam components. A good choice to be free of VOCs is a chemically free 100% pure Dunlop Latex mattress.

Ozone Depleters

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), along with other chlorine and bromine-containing compounds, have been implicated in the accelerated depletion of ozone in the Earth's stratosphere.

CFCs are a byproduct of polyurethane production and are released when the material is burned. Thus all mattress production contributes to the depletion of ozone.


Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are members of a broader class of brominated chemicals used as flame retardants; these are called brominated flame retardants, or BFRs. These chemicals are major components of commercial formulations often used as flame retardants in furniture foam (pentaBDE) and back coatings for draperies and upholstery (decaBDE).

Although flame retardants save lives and property, unintended consequences exist. There is growing evidence that PBDEs persist in the environment and accumulate in living organisms. Toxicological testing indicates these chemicals may cause liver toxicity, thyroid toxicity, and neurodevelopmental toxicity.

Environmental monitoring programs in Europe, Asia, North America, and the Arctic have found traces of several PBDEs in human breast milk, fish, aquatic birds, and elsewhere in the environment.

The mechanisms or pathways through which PBDEs get into the environment and humans are not known yet but could include releases from manufacturing or processing of the chemicals into products like plastics or textiles, aging, and wear of the end consumer products, and direct exposure during use (e.g., from furniture).

Even though PBDEs are in the process of being banned from use, you can be sure that any older mattress is sure to contain them. If you sleep on an old mattress, upgrade with a USDA-certified Organic cotton mattress.

Mercury, Lead and Heavy Metals

Heavy metal poisoning has become an increasingly major health problem, especially since the industrial revolution. Heavy metals are in the water we drink, the foods we eat, the air we breathe, our daily household cleaners, our cookware, and our other daily tools.

A heavy metal has a density of at least five times that of water and cannot be metabolized by the body, therefore accumulating in the body. Heavy metal toxicity can cause our mental functions, energy, nervous system, kidneys, lungs, and other organ functions to decline.

Learning where these metals can be found and decreasing one's exposure is vital to staying healthy. Heavy metals are used in fire retardants and plastic vinyl coatings (PVC) associated with mattress manufacturing.


Formaldehyde has been labeled a cause of poor indoor air quality.

Formaldehyde, a colorless, pungent-smelling gas, can cause watery eyes, burning sensations in the eyes and throat, nausea, and difficulty breathing in some humans exposed at elevated levels (above 0.1 parts per million). High concentrations may trigger attacks in people with asthma.

There is evidence that some people can develop sensitivity to formaldehyde. It has also been shown to cause cancer in animals and may cause cancer in humans. Health effects include eye, nose, and throat irritation; wheezing and coughing; fatigue; skin rash; severe allergic reactions.

Formaldehyde is typically used to make adhesives that hold mattresses together.


Phthalates are animal carcinogens and can cause fetal death, malformations, and reproductive toxicity in laboratory animals.

Children may be at higher risk of adverse effects of phthalates because of anticipated higher exposures during a time of developmental and physiologic immaturity. Phthalates are not covalently bound to the plastic matrix and leach out of PVC.

A typical baby mattress's Vinyl/PVC surface consists of 30% phthalates that can leach into your child's crib. Why risk your child's life on anything but an organic cotton baby crib mattress?

What is Off-gassing?

Polyurethane foam is the number one ingredient in traditional mattresses today.

Understanding the dangers of off-gassing is why so many Americans are now purchasing organic mattresses. Off-gassing from polyurethane foam releases many harmful petroleum chemicals. The Petroleum based chemicals used in making foams are polymers and urethane, which contain an Isocyanate compound. The Isocyanate compound is one of the main culprits that cause illness, asthma, and other diseases.

These chemicals in mattresses release hydrocarbons that evaporate into the air we breathe throughout a mattress' lifetime. These hydrocarbons are powerful carcinogenic chemicals, attacking and severely damaging the immune and nervous systems of adults and children.

United States Department of Labor claims that the health effects of Isocyanate exposure include irritation to the skin, mucous membranes, chest tightness, and difficulty breathing.

Resources That Provide Relevant Information


This quality-reviewed publication pertaining to our Blogs - Writings - Stories section was selected for circulation by the editors of Disabled World due to its likely interest to our disability community readers. Though the content may have been edited for style, clarity, or length, the article "Toxic Mattress Chemicals Can Make You Sick" was originally written by The Futon Shop, and submitted for publishing on 2012/01/16 (Edit Update: 2022/09/02). Should you require further information or clarification, The Futon Shop can be contacted at the website. Disabled World makes no warranties or representations in connection therewith.

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