In this article we will examine some of the unpleasant side effects of mass-produced foam and hybrid mattresses – and the implications for you and your family’s health.
Chemistry (but not the good kind)
Any business funded by venture capital has a clear mandate to maximise profit for the shareholders. This means that in a large-scale mattress production line, every penny that can be shaved off the costs of each unit, will be. Hence the use of solvent-based glue for mass produced mattresses. Solvent-based glues are used to keep the various foam layers together – precisely because they are cheaper.
Additionally (and sensibly) it is the law in the UK that all soft furnishings have to be treated with a chemical fire retardant, unless they have naturally fire-retardant materials. But more on that later. The first point is that many mass-produced foam mattresses use solvent adhesives.
Solvent glues contain chemicals known as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) for example Formaldehyde and Benzene. So as you unpack your new mattress and watch it rise in size, something else – something that you could not have expected – starts to happen…
That smell is the VOCs, and the process is called ‘off-gassing’. And it’s happening right in the restful haven of your bedroom. Here’s a sample of some of the comments posted to the reviews sections of the better-known UK bed-in-a-box brands:
“The smell is as strong as oil-based paint drying.”
“It’s like sleeping in a toxic dump.”
“Whole mattress smells like it is soaked in nail varnish.”
“I thought the smell will disappear, but it is still there.”
“It smells like new paint and after waiting for more than a week, it did not go away one bit.”
“The smell took over the whole house. Had to return it without even sleeping on it one night.”
“Smell is so bad, and never gone.”
“Very strong chemical smell, which overwhelmed the bedroom.”
“My main complaint is with the chemical smell which has persisted for 6 months, it’s very unpleasant.”
“I don’t know what the “off-gassing” is and that bothers me. I can’t face going through another 6 months of fumes.”
“Mattress stinks to high heaven.”
When the mattress is unpacked these gasses – directly released into your bedroom – are responsible for severe headaches, nausea and can cause those sensitive to smells, for example, pregnant women, to actually vomit… BEFORE you have even slept on it!
If you suffer from asthma, hay fever or just want to breathe clean air while asleep, avoid this type of mattress. Because VOC ‘off-gassing’ can be toxic for many people.
Many synthetic foam mattress manufacturers cite ‘experts’ who say that the VOC gases are present in such low quantities that they are harmless. But the truth is we are not really sure of the effects of breathing in these volatile compounds long term. Short term they have been associated with respiratory irritation, throat irritation, forgetfulness and feeling dizzy. Repeated exposure can lead to sensitisation to chemicals and trigger allergic reactions. This topic is explored more fully in the article Why chemical sensitivities and allergies can develop with age.
Some mattress manufacturers, such as Eve, warn their customers that this smell WILL happen and promise that it will go away after a few days. But clearly for some people, it doesn’t. There may be a simple explanation for this.
Stewing in their own juice
As you can read here, many ‘bed-in-a-box’ mattresses are mass-produced and stored in warehouses anticipating demand. During construction chemicals such as solvent glues and fire retardants are applied to the mattresses. Then they are compressed, folded and wrapped tightly in polythene. Undoubtedly, some of these mattresses may be delivered within a few weeks of being made. When they are unpacked, VOCs are released and may take a few days to dissipate, just as manufacturers claim. But many more mattresses will be stored for many months. Others, manufactured in India or China will take six weeks to arrive in the UK via container ships. The chemical solvents cannot escape to the air, so they further permeate and saturate the mattress. Hence, many months later, it really stinks. Your problem? You can’t tell which one you’ll get.
A breath of fresh air
There are clean sleeping options on the market though. A new bed that just smells like – a new bed! For example, the Sleepbear mattress has a unique mattress cover and optional mattress protector. These are made from Polartex® – naturally fire retardant due to the complexity of the materials and the weave processes. Eczema and asthma allergy sufferers can rest assured it will not exacerbate or trigger their symptoms, but rather eliminate many causes of allergies naturally due to special probiotic features. Additionally, any glues used in manufacturing Sleepbear mattresses are water-based, non-toxic and environmentally friendly.