Forbes Nutrional Services

New Mattresses and Off-gassing

42-16958624My husband and I bought a new Serta mattress earlier this week, a replacement under warranty for our former Serta mattress that behaved more like a papasan chair.  While researching which mattress would be the best replacement, I came across all kinds of info on new mattresses and off-gassing of harmful chemicals from the foam (especially memory foam, apparently) and fire retardants.  There are all kinds of opinions and scary stories out there ranging from everything from multiple chemical sensitivities to SIDS.

I try to not be an alarmist, but I must admit that reading this info made me wary of our new and exciting purchase – especially with the recent law mandating that all  new mattresses be doused in fire retardants during manufacturing, unless you can get your doctor to write a prescription for a fire retardant-free mattress.  I started wondering if I should just forget about the Serta and opt for an all-natural, foam-free mattress.  However, I could feel my Filipino ancestors shaming me from beyond the grave for even thinking of questioning the benefit of a FREE brand new mattress.  (Mind you, I am not making ethnic generalizations – my Filipino grandma once haggled so intensely over a 25 cent item at a flea market that the vendor ended up just giving it to her for free.  Getting free stuff runs in my genes and I am sure she is not the first one to inherit it.)

I decided to proceed with the Serta replacement and took the following precautions to make our slumber as non-toxic as possible:

  1. First and foremost, I took the plastic wrapping off the mattress as soon as we got home and opened the window in our bedroom.  I’m in Iowa and it is still relatively freezing so I closed the door to the bedroom while the window was open.  We also live on a farm so I wasn’t about to leave the mattress outside as temptation for neighborhood mice and raccoons.  We brought the mattress home in the early afternoon and I left the window open until about an hour before bedtime.  Some websites said to do this for 24 hours, since the first 24 hours is the time of the most off-gassing, but we were too impatient.
  2. I invited a friend over and we both put on clean socks and walked all over the mattress (with the window still open).  I read about this online – apparently walking on the bed squeezes the air out of the foam and draws new air in, which accelerates the rate of off-gassing and gets the chemicals out of the mattress and into the air.
  3. I put all the plants in the house in the bedroom for 24 hours.  NASA has done studies on using house plants to purify the air in space shuttles so I figure they’re good enough for me and my mattress.  Fast growing plants such as spider plants are especially good at purifying VOC’s (Volatile Organic Chemicals) out of the air.  My husband thought our bedroom looked like Jurassic Park but that’s what he gets for marrying a crazy nutritionist.

I must admit that I have no chemical sensitivities or serious health concerns, so if you are someone who does, the above three precautions may not be enough for you and  you may need to look into chemical free bedding.  However, my husband and I love our new mattress and I feel good knowing that the surge in off-gassing that occurs with brand new mattresses happened in a controlled manner instead of into us while we’re dreaming!

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16 comments

1 wholemom { 03.20.09 at 1:26 pm }

I love it! You are such an engaging and entertaining writer… not to mention I always learn something! We opted to splurge on an organic, all natural mattress for Abigail’s crib… I read that since they are so small and their systems are so immature, all the “stuff” in traditional crib mattresses are even harder on a babies system. Not to mention they spend more than 50% of their time on the mattress! Love you Jess! You ROCK! xo

2 phitzone { 03.27.09 at 5:28 pm }

What a great idea. Wish we would have done this when we bought our new mattress.

3 jessicaforbes { 03.27.09 at 7:58 pm }

Thanks for reading!

4 jessicaforbes { 03.27.09 at 7:59 pm }

Yes, and now there is a push that all sleepwear for children be fire retardant! I have not looked into the subject thoroughly but would not feel good about putting a little one to bed in an outfit that contained fire retardant chemicals.

5 Jack L { 02.05.10 at 2:11 am }

A fantastic post, I genuinely liked reading your opinions. Thank you, I can say ‘ll come back here 😉

6 joan { 10.10.10 at 7:05 pm }

my new mattress has a terrible odor. Is it coming from the fabric or the inside of the mattress? I have a headache – dont know if its from this mattress.

7 Jessica Forbes { 10.11.10 at 5:05 pm }

It’s hard to say. I would suggest contacting the manufacturer of the mattress and letting them know that there is a strong odor that is giving you a headache. They should replace it with another mattress, especially if it is a factory defect and there is something wrong with the fabric or filling. Addition of fireproofing chemicals is now mandatory for most types of mattresses, so if this is what is causing the smell and you are sensitive to it you may be able to return the mattress to the store and get a naturally fireproof mattress such as one made from latex, cotton, or wool.

8 britt { 04.03.11 at 5:03 am }

thanks for the tips! Our new mattress is going to be delivered tomorrow, and I was concerned about the off-gassing :/

9 Mike K. { 10.13.11 at 9:28 am }

We had just brought a new ( $1,000.00 ) Simmons pillow top mattress which was delivered on Tuesday. By Wednesday our whole bedroom had a strong smell. Today my son came into the house and called me to say that the whole house has a strong odor.

I have called the Sleepy’s store customer service number to complain, and they have agreed to replace the mattress, but not until Sunday. I had called them back to see if they would be able to pick up the smelly mattress before delivery of the replacement. They had told me that the exchange must be done at the same time, and the replacement mattress is not available until Sunday.

I have great concerns about future health issues because of this odor. Is there any information that you may be able to help us with ?

10-13-11
Mike K.

10 Jessica Stamm { 10.14.11 at 12:47 pm }

Hi Mike,
Sorry to hear about your stinky mattress! Since they can’t pick it up for a few days I would definitely recommend avoiding exposure to the fumes by spending time away from home, and depending on where you live you can leave windows open in the house to help air out the smell. If you still have the plastic casing the mattress came in you may want to wrap it up and put it outside until they can pick it up. Nutritionally, you can help prevent health effects from the gas by doing all the things that help to support detox: staying hydrated with lemon or lime water to help your body flush out toxins, eating fiber-rich foods (fiber will pull the toxins out of the gut), and eating foods that encourage detox such as artichokes, garlic, onions, and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kale, etc.) which specifically target harmful estrogen-like compounds.

11 Pam { 10.13.14 at 11:19 pm }

I was very concerned about the smell of our NEW mattress. I phoned the company where I purchased it from and told them to come and pick it up, I don’t want it because it stinks – (“I want a new mattress”) Sure enough, I got my new mattress and it stunk too!!
Thank you so much for your post, it was very informative and I will begin the aerobics class on my mattress today! Wish me luck on getting the sink out! :)

12 Jessica Stamm { 10.15.14 at 12:44 pm }

Good luck Pam! Thanks for reading!

13 William { 10.27.14 at 2:08 pm }

It is really sad we are almost powerless when selecting a new mattress (unless you have a lot of money for an organic mattress) to these chemically soaked mattresses. When we spend a third of our lives in bed on a mattress breathing in these chemicals, It’s no wonder so many people get cancer.

14 Jason { 10.30.14 at 10:38 am }

Thanks for the tips Jessica. I’ll have to give this a try. I’ve been suffering from hives and sinus issues with my first new mattress….a name brand foam mattress. After having it in the house for a month and half, we finally figured out why I was having the symptoms. We then got another mattress. This one was a traditional box-spring but I’m still breaking out and having sinus issues, fortunately not as severe as the foam one. I’ll try your airing out technique and start walking on it tonight. I’m hoping these gases will eventually dissipate so I don’t have to pop an antihistamine to get through the night. Thanks for the helpful hints!

15 Jessica Stamm { 01.29.15 at 1:50 pm }

Aloha Jason! I hope it helps also. Sometimes when there is an extreme exposure to something such as the chemicals in the first foam mattress then when you are exposed to it again in a smaller amount (like your second mattress) the chemical sensitivity is still there and so the reaction persists. A liver detox program may help with that along with plenty of water. And FYI, quercitin is a wonderful natural antihistamine that I use here in Hawaii when I have sinus issues from the volcanic smog.

16 Jessica Stamm { 01.29.15 at 1:51 pm }

Really true William – I never thought of it that way!

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