You spend a quarter of your life in bed, or maybe more if you use it for more than just sleeping. With that in mind, it’s necessary to have a comfortable mattress. However, it’s equally essential to your health to air out your new mattress for the right amount of time. That new mattress smell is more than just a nuisance smell; it’s a health concern.
We’ll explain why you want to air out your new mattress, what “off-gassing” is (and why you need to worry about it), how long it takes to air out a new mattress, how to air out your new mattress, and some long term upkeep tips.
Why Air Out Your New Mattress?
There are two reasons to air out a new mattress:
- To eliminate mattress off-gassing odors left over from manufacturing
- To fully inflate a vacuum-sealed mattress
What is Mattress Off-Gassing?
Mattress off-gassing is the continual release of gasses from materials your manufacturer has put into making your new bed. The chemical smell you experience from a new mattress comes from volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The term “volatile” means that the compounds are not stable and break down over time into other forms. In the case of the VOCs in your mattress, they break down into gases in a process called “off-gassing.”
Is VOC Off-Gassing Harmful to Your Health
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), VOCs can cause various health issues, including:
- Respiratory problems such as throat irritation
- Coordination problems
- Organ damage such as kidney and liver problems
- Central nervous system damage
- Cancer-causing carcinogens in animals and humans
Symptoms from exposure to VOC emissions include:
- Eye irritation
- Nose and throat irritation
- Skin allergy symptoms
- Difficulty breathing
- Nausea or vomiting
- Hemorrhaging blood from the nose
Which Materials and Ingredients Emit VOC Gas?
VOC gases are a type of indoor pollution. Mattresses are not the only products that emit VOC gas. If you ever smelled a new car, new office machines, or new carpet, you will recognize the smell of VOC off-gassing. Many household products, like cleaning products, air fresheners, building materials, and paints, emit VOC gases.
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), some of the materials and ingredients that contain VOCs in mattresses include solvent-based glues and foams. Even most plant-based foams (except 100% latex) produce off-gassing fumes. You will find that brands that use more foam or gel in their mattresses will have more odor.
Some chemicals that emit VOC gases include:
- Added scents
- Nanoparticles used for waterproofing or as antimicrobials
- Chemical flame retardants
- Commercial waterproofers
- Cotton and hemp pesticides
- Synthetic latex
- PVC – made from vinyl chloride (a carcinogen) and may contain phthalates (reproductive toxicants)
- Vinyl – contains phthalates (reproductive toxicants)
- Formaldehyde (a carcinogen)
- Acetaldehyde (a carcinogen)
- Benzene (a carcinogen)
- Decamethyl Cyclopentasiloxane
- 2-ethyl hexanoic acid
Which Mattresses Have the Least Amount of VOCs?
Mattresses that contain at least 95% certified-organic materials, such as wool, cotton, and 100% natural latex, have the least amount of off-gassing. When manufacturers make mattresses from natural fibers and use non-toxic adhesives, they still may have an odor. However, the odors won’t be as strong and aren’t a health concern.
While many manufacturers like to keep information about the materials that they use to create their mattresses a secret, you can learn a lot about the mattress by looking at the manufacturer’s claims about the mattress and the types of certifications it has.
There are no laws to regulate how much VOC off-gassing is permissible for a mattress. Luckily, some certifications that come with your mattress can help you to determine if you have a high-off-gassing mattress or not. These certifications will indicate that your mattress will off-gas less:
- Low-VOC certification like Greenguard Gold
- Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certification
- Global Organic Latex Standard
- Certipur-us certification
How Much Should I Worry About Off-Gassing From My New Mattress?
Studies show that most of the VOC gases will release during the first two months that you use your mattress and reach acceptable levels after about six months. VOCs break down over time and release gases slowly. Unfortunately, they tend to release the most VOC gasses when your bed is warm (like while you’re lying in bed).
Maintaining good ventilation with windows and fans and regularly airing your mattress can decrease VOC gas emission risks.
You’re not going to find a list of chemicals that your mattress might emit on the label. However, if the manufacturer makes their mattress from natural materials such as cotton, wool, and natural latex, your mattress will experience far less off-gassing.
Unfortunately, most mattresses don’t come with a return warranty, so if you already have a new mattress that isn’t a low-VOC mattress, you’re probably stuck with it.
How Long Does it Take to Air Out a New Mattress?
Airing out a new mattress can take as few as 24 hours or as long as several weeks, depending on the brand and whether the manufacturer off-gases before packaging. However, we suggest that you air some baby cot mattresses brands for several months to be on the safe side.
You will know that most of the off-gassing has finished when you can no longer smell a chemical smell from your new mattress. However, it is a myth to believe that all the off-gassing is complete after you can no longer smell the chemicals.
Studies show that some mattresses that have aired out for as long as six months can still release VOC gases. Many foam mattresses, gel mattresses, and memory foam mattresses with man-made materials can off-gas for as long as a year.
Regular Mattresses and Beds in a Box
A mattress from a local retailer will take at least 24 hours to air out enough for you to use for the first time.
If you purchased a vacuum-sealed mattress in a box such as online mattress brands that Amazon carries, it needs up to 48 hours to reintroduce enough air back into to expand to the proper firmness level. Forty-eight hours is also necessary to re-expand memory foam mattress pads.
Some leading brands require more off-gassing times than others:
- Casper: Off-gassing odor usually disappears in 24 hours. All Casper mattresses have CertiPUR-US certifications.
- Leesa: Off-gassing odors usually last a few days. Leesa mattresses have a CertiPUR-US certification.
- Purple: Off-gassing should complete within 24 hours. However, some consumers report no off-gassing smell at all. Purple mattresses have Certi-PUR-US certifications.
- Tempur-Pedic: You can expect it to take at least two weeks before the off-gassing odor disappears, but the amount of time varies between models.
- Tuft & Needle: Off-gassing should only take a few days. Their Original and Mint polyfoam mattresses have CertiPUR-US, STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX, and GreenGuard Gold certifications.
Baby and Child Mattresses
There are few regulations in Australia and worldwide concerning the materials manufacturers use in baby and child mattresses. Unfortunately, there are many concerns about the chemicals that manufacturers use in mattresses for baby cots.
Studies show that chemicals linked to cancer such as acetaldehyde, formaldehyde, and benzene still often approach or exceed acceptable risk levels in baby mattresses after six months. These chemicals affect children more because of their size and age.
The following companies make baby cot mattresses without chemicals of concern:
- Land and Sky
- Natural Mat
- Organic Mattress, Inc.
- Pure Rest
- Savvy Rest
- Shepherd’s Dream
- Soaring Heart Natural Bed Company
- Suite Sleep
- White Lotus
For peace of mind, if your baby’s mattress is not from one of the above companies, consider airing it out for several months before the baby arrives instead of putting cute sheets on it right away.
Over time, the more often you can air your baby’s or child’s bed, the better. When you’re changing the sheets (which tends to happen often those first few years), consider airing out the mattress rather than immediately replacing the sheets with fresh ones.
A natural-fiber mattress cover can also help provide an extra layer of protection between your baby and the mattress.
How to Air Out a New Mattress
Here are a few tips for airing out a new mattress to eliminate as many off-gassing chemicals as possible:
- Place a newly unwrapped mattress in a garage or well-ventilated room before sleeping on it. Remember that you want to place the mattress in a place nobody spends time to limit your and your family’s exposure to off-gassing. Do not bring it into your sleeping space until it loses its chemical smell.
- You can speed up the process if the airing space has a cross breeze, especially if you’re able to open your windows or doors.
- Use an air purifier in the room that you’re using to air out your new mattress.
- Air the mattress out in the sun. Put the mattress out in a clean, sunny spot where it can air out naturally. If the mattress came with plastic or cardboard packaging, consider putting it underneath to keep the mattress clean.
- Sprinkle a layer of baking soda on the mattress to help soak up the smells from your new mattress.
Your nose will tell you when most of the off-gassing has finished. If you’re still smelling chemical smells from your mattress after a few weeks and your mattress came with a warranty and, consider returning it for a safer mattress.
Long Term Airing and VOC Emission Safety
Research shows that even mattresses that researchers aired out for six months still registered significant levels of VOC emissions. However, the VOC levels were below California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment’s strict “No Significant Risk Levels” (NSRL) level.
There aren’t any studies that indicate an expiration date on low-level VOC gas emissions from mattresses. Considering that VOCs are still off-gassing even after the smell dissipates, it’s a good idea to air your mattress out often, especially during the first few months that you own it.
Some long term ideas to help continue to dissipate VOC gases from your mattress include:
- Air your mattress air out weekly during the time it takes to wash and dry your sheets.
- Air out your bedroom. Open up your windows from time to time, especially when you’re airing out your mattress.
- Keep plants in your bedroom. According to NASA research, plants can help remove indoor pollution such as VOC emissions from an indoor space.
- Keep a natural-fiber mattress pad or dust cover on top of your mattress to put more distance between yourself and any residual VOC gas emissions. A mattress pad can block at least some of the off-gassing toxins from reaching your body. You may still be able to detect the smell in the mattress pad, but at least you can wash it often.
Airing out your mattress is as critical to your health as choosing the right mattress for your back. If your mattress includes more natural materials and low-VOC certifications, you can expect to be able to use your new mattress in as little as 24-48 hours. However, some mattresses may need days or weeks to off-gas sufficiently. You’ll know your new mattress is ready to put on your bed when it no longer has that new-bed smell.
If your mattress still has a chemical smell after several months, you’re justified in buying a new mattress with a low VOC certification. It might take more time and more money, but your health is worth it. Otherwise, keep airing out your mattress regularly for the best results.