Health & Fitness

Toxins in your mattress

Article overview:

A new study shows we are potentially exposed to dangerous chemicals emitted from our mattresses. These chemicals in our mattresses, called VOCs, have been linked to health problems like headaches, central nervous system damage, and cancer. Protect yourself from toxins given off by your mattress by increasing air circulation and lowering the room temperature.

Research on mattress toxins

So many things in our daily life are bad for us. We need to carefully consider what we eat and what not to eat in order to optimize our health. Drinks are another consideration, besides drinking alcohol, sun exposure, avoiding the germs lurking everywhere from shopping malls to swimming pools, the risk of spending the day at work, and much more. It sometimes seems like the only safe place is tucked in your bed and curled up in the fetal position. Sorry, we hate spreading the bad news, but new research suggests that even our very comfortable mattresses could harm us over time.

The study, conducted at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, found that the heat generated by our bodies can cause our mattresses to release potentially dangerous chemicals. These results are based on a study in which typical sleeping conditions were simulated with eight types of standard polyurethane mattresses (think memory foam). This meant adjusting the temperature of a sleeping body, the generated humidity and the achieved carbon dioxide values.

Even after the mattresses were deflated for six months – which in reality would not, since most people start sleeping on a new mattress within a day or two of their arrival – all of the mattresses in the study were found to be Emit remarkable amounts of gases known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The main source of VOCs in a mattress is the polyurethane foam used for the entire mattress in Tempur-Pedic clones or as the top layer for added comfort in standard innerspring mattresses. But flame-retardant chemicals and plastic components in the mattresses also contribute to the increased VOC values.

Health problems related to VOCs

While the amount of VOCs released was within what is considered safe for adults, it was high enough to be considered a potential hazard to very young children. And remember, this happened after the mattresses had been aired for months. Most likely they released significant amounts of VOC in the first few days and weeks after they were unpacked in your home and installed on your bed. In addition, the tests have shown that body heat is responsible for increased VOC emissions from mattresses.

All of this is pretty worrying given that VOCs have been linked to a number of health problems, including:

Eye, nose and throat irritation headache loss of coordination nausea damage to the central nervous system, liver and kidneys cancer

Protect yourself from toxic mattress compounds

So what can you do to reduce your VOC risk without swapping your mattress for a sleeping bag? There are definitely certain strategies you can use to minimize your exposure. First, improve the ventilation of your bedroom. Open the windows to bring more fresh air into the room and use fans to keep air circulating. Since higher body heat has been found to increase the release of VOCs, keep your bedroom at a cooler temperature year round and avoid using heavy comforters that retain heat.

If you’d rather get rid of your old mattress and buy a new, less dangerous one, there are numerous options available to you. Do your research and cross off your list of all mattresses that contain polyurethane foam. If a company doesn’t clearly state that they don’t use polyurethane, switch to another manufacturer. Instead, look for mattresses that are primarily made of cotton and wool, and some contain natural latex. Truly non-toxic mattresses are certified by an independent testing organization such as Greenguard and Oeko-Tex, which subjects the products to a higher standard of environmental safety.

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