Are Noxious Odors Interrupting Your Sleep?

Memory Foam QuestionableI’ve moved quite a few times—for school, career, and even to find the perfect neighborhood once I decided to call Atlanta home. Regardless, I always had a familiar place to lay my head since I’ve had the same mattress since high school. Unfortunately, my trusty mattress no longer provides a comfortable night’s rest. After several sleepless nights, I have decided to say, “Goodbye,” and look for a replacement.

After trying out several types of mattresses, including innerspring and memory foam models, I decided that a memory foam mattress was best for me. The mattress seemed to contour perfectly to my body and provided just the right amount of support. Search over, right?

Not quite. I only slept on a memory foam mattress a few times, so I decided to do a little more research to find out about people’s long-term experiences with these beds. As I read review after review, one concern kept re-appearing: “Why does my mattress smell?” I was a little shocked to find out that the smell is the result of off-gassing. When a new mattress is removed from the packaging, it sometimes emits a strange odor as the result of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) being released. Some of the most common VOCs include formaldehyde, benzene, toluene, ethanol, and acetone.

Mattress Off-Gassing Chart provided by Sleep Like the Dead, a sleep product research firm.

The presence of VOCs is particularly evident with non-organic memory foam mattresses because of the amount of synthetic materials and chemicals used to manufacture the mattress. Although manufacturers suggest that the smells are not harmful and should subside within a few days, exposure to VOCs can be particularly troublesome for those with chemical sensitivities. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) exposure to VOCs can cause headaches, nausea, upper respiratory irritation, itchy eyes, dizziness, allergic skin reactions, and liver and kidney damage as well as compromise the central nervous system.

With experts torn over the degree of danger that VOC exposure from mattresses poses to humans and no solid regulation with regard to VOCs governing the manufacture of mattresses, it’s best to play it safe considering the possible side effects and outcomes. Below are some tips for reducing exposure to VOCs from mattresses and maintaining the health of your bedroom’s indoor air:

  • Allow a newly opened mattress to “air out” for a few days before sleeping on it. During this period, place the mattress in a room other than the bedroom, possibly a garage or screened porch.
  • Research eco-friendly memory foam mattress options. However, be aware that there are no government regulations or mandates for certifying a mattress as “eco-friendly.” Examine the materials used to create the mattress and look for materials like soy, 100 percent natural rubber, and organic cotton.
  • Consider the mechanics of your bedroom. If it is not well-ventilated and you are sensitive to chemical odors, a memory foam mattress might not be the best option for you.
  • Use an air purifier designed to filter VOCs out of your indoor environment. Many air purifiers models include carbon filters to remove chemicals and other noxious odors from your environment to improve the comfort of your bedroom.
  • Look for mattresses that have been tested for VOC emissions as well as safety and organic materials by third-party research firms.
  • Test your indoor environment for VOCs. Before tossing your new mattress, take advantage of the convenience of a DIY organic vapor test kit to if dangerous levels of VOCs are present in your bedroom.

I wish that I could report that I found the perfect memory foam mattress that meets all of my qualifications and is in my price range, but I am still actively searching. With that in mind, what are your experiences with memory foam mattresses? Have you noticed the odors? How have you dealt with them?

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