Is Memory Foam Toxic? What You Should Know

Is Memory Foam Toxic? What You Should Know

Did you dream of becoming an astronaut when you were a child? Even if you never made it to space, if you purchased a memory foam mattress you have a piece of NASA-certified technology in your home. Originally created to keep astronauts safe, memory foam has become popular among the earth-bound masses. Touted for its comfort and support, memory foam can be found in many homes today. Because memory foam is so different from other mattresses, you may wonder, “Is memory foam toxic or safe?” To find out, you’ve come to the right place! The short answer is, it depends where you get your memory foam from and what it's made of. Reputable memory foam mattress companies, such as Bed, use CertiPUR-US foams which are certified to be safe. On the other hand, there are some companies that use questionable materials and chemicals in their construction process.

What is Memory Foam Made of?

What is memory foam made of, anyway? Typically, it’s composed of three primary elements:
  • Polyol or bio-polyol
  • Isocyanate
  • Water
What is a memory foam mattress made of? We’ve broken down a three layer memory foam mattress below:

What are the Chemicals in Memory Foam?

Kind of like a secret family recipe, the exact ingredients used in most memory foam mattresses are kept under wraps. However, there are a couple of chemicals that are found in nearly every form of memory foam mattress.
  • Polyurethane: As mentioned above, the most prominent chemical in memory foam is polyurethane. It’s a combination of polyols and diisocyanates. If you’re not looking for a chemistry lesson, just know that polyurethane is an organic plastic that’s highly flexible, which makes it great for mattresses.
  • Blowing agents: Simply stated, these are the chemicals used to transform polyurethane into the familiar foam we know and love. The type of blowing agent used varies with the manufacturer.

Fire-Safe Materials in Memory Foam Mattresses

When it comes to fire-safety and memory foam, we have good news! Manufacturing standards require that your mattress is fire-retardant (so it won't be a fire hazard). Even better, there are fire-retardant options like rayon with silica and kevlar that are more natural and safe. Bed uses a fire-retardant sock comprised of rayon, a fiber. This is free of carcinogenic chemicals (and chemical-free in general). However, that doesn't mean all fire-retardant materials are save. Options like polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) are known to cause health issues. Thankfully, the U.S. has recognized their health hazards and two common PBDEs, penta- and octaBDE, are no longer manufactured in America. Since the U.S. has stricter regulations on PBDEs and other chemicals, mattresses manufactured here are safer options. Regardless, make sure to check the flame-retardant materials used and avoid chemical-based ones. Use this table below to determine which flame-retardants are okay and which you should avoid: [memory_foam_table] If you’re concerned about the type of flame retardant in your mattress, just be sure to choose one that’s certified free of PBDE’S, TDCPP or TCEP flame retardants. Ideally, you should choose one with kevlar or rayon and silica.

What are the Ingredients of Concern in Memory Foam Mattresses?

Though there are many mattresses made with safe materials, not all companies follow strict guidelines. You'll want to look for a mattress company that uses CertiPUR-US certified foams. This certification ensures that dangerous chemicals like lead and mercury are not added to your memory foam. Speaking of dangerous chemicals, lead and mercury are not the only two you want to avoid. Be weary of cheap mattresses, particularly imported ones, that do not provide full details on their construction and steer clear of mattresses that contain any of the items below.
  • Methyl benzene: Breathing in too much of this chemical can be bad for your nervous system.
  • Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde isn’t deliberately added to memory foam mattresses, but it can be an unfortunate result of the mattress’ chemicals interacting.
  • Methylene chloride: This chemical is a potential carcinogen.
  • Mercury:  Exposure to mercury can lead to both brain damage and liver damage.
  • Lead: Exposure to lead can lead to both brain damage and nervous system damage.
  • Phthalates: This family of chemicals can harm your liver, kidneys or reproductive system.

What is Off Gassing?

Off gassing, a concern among those wary of memory foam, occurs when volatile organic compounds (or VOC’s) break down and diffuse through the air you breathe. Typically, the only result of off-gassing is an unpleasant smell. In rare cases, VOC’s lead to more concerning results like dizziness or respiratory problems. To be safe, most mattress companies recommend allowing your mattress to air out for several days to mitigate the smell. For best results, you should choose a mattress that is low on VOC’s.

So, Are Memory Foam Mattresses Safe?

After all of this information, you may simply want to know: are memory foam mattresses safe? The short answer is, look for the CertiPUR-US® (in the U.S.) or equivalent seal.  Products from all reputable brands that adhere to strict quality and safety guidelines (99%+ of the market) should carry the CertiPUR-US® seal ensuring the mattresses are made without:
  • Ozone depleters
  • PBDE's, TDCPP, or TCEP flame retardants
  • Heavy metals like mercury and lead
  • Formaldehyde
  • Phthalates regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commision

It will also be low on volatile organic compound emissions. If you’re looking for a memory foam mattress that satisfies all of the above-listed standards and more, take a look at our memory foam mattress. It’s made here in the United States, and the foam we use for our mattress also replaces part of the petroleum based chemicals with a natural soy based polymer. Learn more about the mattress here!

Updated: 09/13/2019