Are Memory Foam Mattresses Toxic? 

Purchasing a new mattress can be an overwhelming task. There are a lot of factors to consider from material to structure and chances are, you have heard of memory foam as a top choice. Well, if you are wondering more about this popular material, we are here to help. What is memory foam? What is memory foam made of? And is it safe or toxic? These are common questions among consumers who have never purchased or used this type of mattress and ones we will address today.

While there are many types of mattresses to choose from, organic memory foam mattresses have become increasingly popular due to the way it gradually conforms to the body. This structure offers excellent support for all sleepers, and side sleepers especially. So let’s take a deeper look at what memory foam is and how it works.

What is Memory Foam?

The primary materials found in memory foam were developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the 1960’s as part of flight seating. NASA wanted to ensure that the astronauts that were sent into space were comfortable, especially given the extremity of the environment they would be facing. And so, scientists worked to create a material that could quickly mold around the body and relieve stress. The cradling nature of the material also helped to alleviate pressure from the G-forces endured by astronauts during launches. The final product known as viscoelastic was the outcome of extensive research and was successfully created in 1966.

Once developed, viscoelastic remained the property of NASA until the 1980s when its use was expanded to include the development of athletic equipment as well as use in hospitals. Finally, in 1992 the first memory foam mattress was revealed to consumers, and the popularity of these mattresses has steadily increased in the decades since.

Modern memory foams are created using an open-cell structure which reacts to body heat and weight, allowing it to form around the body as you sleep which helps relieve pressure points. And while most memory foam has the same basic chemical composition, the density and layer thickness of the foam gives each mattress its unique feel. A high-density mattress will last longer than lower-density one which will have a slightly shorter life due to the compression that takes place after repeated use. On average, medium to high-density foams can last eight to ten years while low-density foams will last around four to six years. This is comparable to other mattress materials which last, on average, eight to ten years. Though that timeframe decreases as the person using the mattress ages, Consumer Reports states that anyone over the age of 40 years-old should not sleep on the same mattress longer than seven years.

Many consumers choose memory foam mattresses due to the many benefits these mattresses can provide. As already discussed, one of the most notable benefits is the ability to relieve pressure points. In addition, memory foam mattress can provide better alignment of the spine, and eliminate motion. Finally, memory foam is accommodating to all types of sleepers, side, back, and stomach, which has contributed to its popularity among consumers.

Even with all these benefits, many consumers may still find themselves questioning is memory foam toxic? It’s a fair question given the way memory foam is made.

Is Memory Foam Toxic?

The safety of a memory foam mattress can vary depending on where you purchase it from. Traditionally, memory foam is produced using a number of chemicals and processes. If you have been around a lower quality memory foam before, you may have noticed a distinct smell which is known as off-gassing. This chemical odor is a result of the chemicals used to produce the mattress. New foams and many other manufactured products experience off-gassing as it is the result of “volatile organic compounds” (VOCs) breaking down. As opposed to being stable, these “volatile” (or unstable) compounds break apart, commonly forming gases hence the term.

In mattresses, the most common place to find VOCs is in the foam and adhesives. They can include chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), formaldehyde, benzene, methylene chloride, toluene, trichloroethane, naphthalene, perfluorocarbons, and polyols. Many consumers worry about the presence of these chemicals due to the fact that they can cause health problems after prolonged exposure. For example, the most commonly known polyol, polyurethane, is the primary ingredient of most memory foams and is a petroleum-based material that emits volatile organic compounds which can cause respiratory problems and skin irritation. Formaldehyde, on the other hand, is not typically added to foams but may result as a byproduct of chemical reactions or adhesives. While CFCs can be used as a blowing agent to make foam materials, pollution regulations, known as the Montreal Protocol, have largely restricted its use and other toxic halogens in the United States since the 1990s. Instead, manufacturers can use other gases or pressurized foaming systems.

As you can see, there are a number of elements that could make a memory foam mattress toxic which is why it is important for consumers to be well informed. However, not all memory foam mattresses are created equal. In fact, Essentia natural memory foam mattresses have been tested to promote a clean air environment by not introducing these stimulants to your bedroom and body.

Is Memory Foam Safe?

In reality, all foams, natural or synthetic, will have chemical contents. That's just the reality of making foam. However, a natural foam is obviously much cleaner. So if you are wondering is memory foam safe? The answer is yes, and no, it just depends on the mattress you decide to purchase. Though a completely chemical free memory foam does not exist, you can keep an eye out for the following labels to help identify a natural mattress. The presence of such labels will ensure the safety of the memory foam when making a decision on a mattress.

Only two mattress labels precisely meet the most stringent qualifications: the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and, for mattresses that contain latex, the Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS). GOTS requires that at least 95 percent of the materials in the mattress be certified organic, and it clearly prohibits the use of specific substances even within the remaining 5 percent of materials used. These restrictions include chemical flame retardants and polyurethane. GOLS ensures that a latex mattress is made of 95 percent organic latex and again places restrictions on the other 5 percent of the materials. Essentia’s Natural latex mattresses are all made in Essentia’s GOLS and GOTS certified organic factory. When searching for natural mattresses, these are the best labels to look out for.

Another notable label is Oeko-Tex Standard 100. While this standard does not guarantee the mattress fibers are produced organically, it does set limits for the emission of harmful chemicals such as formaldehyde and other VOCs. Many VOCs are linked to ozone, smog, respiratory illnesses, and memory impairment in large exposures. Oeko-Tex Standard 100 also bans the use of certain chemical flame retardants, colorants, and allergenic dyes making this a decent label to find on mattresses, though not quite the best.

There are a few other labels which can be meaningful in certain circumstances but do not by themselves ensure you are purchasing a clean and natural mattress.

  • CertiPUR-US   This label applies only to the polyurethane foam in a mattress. While other standards like GOLS, bar this type of foam altogether, CertiPUR-US limits exposure to certain substances that are in many foams (such as polybrominated diphenyl ether, or PDBE, flame retardants) and requires testing for formaldehyde and other chemicals.

  • Greenguard  In order to achieve this label, a finished mattress must be tested for specific emission limits of formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds. The related Greenguard Gold label has even more stringent emission limits on the same VOCs. This certification focuses on the traceability of certain chemical off-gassing.

  • USDA Certified Organic   The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) allows the term “organic” on mattresses if only a portion of the components are certified organic. For example, if the stitching is “made with organic cotton.” Other components may be inorganic or can even be processed using potentially harmful chemicals.

  • Organic Content Standard 100  This final label refers only to the percentage of certified-organic materials. Meaning the presence of flame retardants, VOCs, colorants, or dyes is not assessed when providing the certification.


Clearly, there is a lot to consider when it comes to determining the toxicity of a memory foam mattress. But looking for the right labels and certifications can help you find a natural mattress that best suits your needs while providing a safe and comfortable alternative to traditional memory foam mattresses. If you’re still wondering how to choose a memory foam mattress, contact us today and we’ll be happy to help!

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