When I bought my last mattress, I was wondering how long it would take to get that “new mattress smell” out. So, I did some research to find out how to speed up this process, which is known as off-gassing.
If you’ve just unboxed your new mattress, you might be asking how to speed up the off-gassing so you can start sleeping on your new mattress without having to inhale the fumes.
The best way to speed up off-gassing is to cross-ventilate the room consistently or to keep the mattress outside on your patio before sleeping on it. You also need to control the off-gassing from permeating into the other surfaces in your bedroom, so you’ll need to clean dust and trap the gases with a strong sorbent like bamboo charcoal or baking soda.
It’s important to remember that the contents of the mattress matter. Some chemicals are odorless and will continue to off-gas for years without you even being able to detect them. This can be a bad thing considering how dangerous some are for your health (some are even carcinogens).
How Long a Mattress Will Take to Off-Gas
As I mentioned, there are many chemicals inside a mattress that will off-gas. These gases, known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), have different properties. But generally speaking, most of those gases will off-gas within your first week of owning a new mattress, usually in 3 to 5 days. The problem is that the residual VOCs will continue to off-gas for years, which can have a cumulative effect on your health over long-term exposure.
Therefore, it’s best to try to get as many of the gases out as soon as you purchase your mattress. Some methods to use are:
- Cross-ventilate – this has to be a methodical process. VOCs are sensitive, so you have to direct them outside. Instead of turning on the ceiling fan that just cycles the air in your room, direct the air to the outside. Open the bedroom windows and place a fan that will push the gases out through the window. Don’t stop cross-ventilating the room after one or two days. Remember, just because the odor is gone doesn’t mean that the VOCs are. Keep cross-ventilating the room every day for a week, and then do it again at least once a week. It’s a good habit to have since the air outside tends to be cleaner than indoor air anyway.
- Trap the VOCs – while you can’t exactly go chasing after VOCs directly, VOCs are heavy and will land on surfaces in your home. VOCs can be found in dust, and can even seep into your walls. If you have a mattress, increase the frequency of dusting and vacuuming. Change out the air filters in your HVAC and air purifiers more often than you would usually. Do this for a few weeks at least.
- Use bamboo charcoal – because of its high surface area, bamboo charcoal is highly effective at trapping VOCs. You can buy inexpensive bamboo charcoal bags like these by MOSO and keep them in your bedroom for about a month. After about a month, take them outside and let their pores clear out the VOCs in natural UV sunlight.
Picking the Best Air Filter to Catch the VOCs
Most homes have an inexpensive fiberglass furnace filter that’s about 1 inch thick. While it’s great to save money, you may wish to upgrade your air filters, at least until the majority of the VOCs in your new mattress off-gas. Regular fiberglass filters constantly cycle the air in your home, trapping only large particles.
The problem is that many VOCs are small gases that will bypass a course filter like that. These filters also aren’t as effective as they need to be at trapping the dust that contains these VOCs. They’re actually rated “low” when it comes to removing dust from the air.
You may wish to upgrade to a few pleated filters. Look for a MERV rating of 11, instead of the usual fiberglass or washable filters that have a MERV rating of 1 to 4. This type of filter is the best rating for residential applications without affecting airflow or needing modifications to your unit. MERV filters are a less expensive alternative to HEPA filters. If you can afford a HEPA filter, then it can definitely help you trap the VOCs of your new mattress. Remember, you can always go back to your original air filters after most of the off-gassing is completed.
It’s also important to change the filter more frequently than you would usually. Most experts recommend an air filter to be changed once every 3 months. But, if you could change out the filter every 1 or 2 months, you’ll get more VOCs out of your home more quickly.
How to Avoid a Mattress Made with a Lot of VOCs
Buy from manufacturers who are transparent about what’s in their mattress. While you may not be able to afford a 100% organic mattress, look for signs that the mattress isn’t overly toxic. Here are just a few examples:
- Look for Proposition 65 warnings – California now requires manufacturers to displose dangerous chemicals in their products once the levels pass a certain threshold level. When shopping online, look for any Proposition 65 warning labels.
- Look for a CertiPUR-US label – this is a voluntary certification program for foam mattresses. While it doesn’t mean that the mattress is completely free of VOCs, it’s a relative measure to help you choose a less toxic mattress.
- Look for natural latex – most people shy away when they hear the word “latex” because we’re so used to the synthetic kind, but natural latex is actually a mixture of rubber and water.
- Avoid fire-retardant materials – if possible, look to avoid fire-retardant materials. Of course, this is a trade-off in case there is a fire in your home.
- Avoid PVC and plastic – PVC and plastic use phthalates, which are dangerous chemicals used to create the consistency of the material. Phthalates should especially be avoided in children’s rooms, as they affect hormonal development in male children.
- Smell the mattress in the store – as strange as it sounds, it’s effective. If the mattress hasn’t off-gassed enough while sitting out as a display inside a store, it won’t do better in your home. Even worse, some mattresses have an added fragrance. This can be even worse sometimes – fragrances can have hundreds of chemicals, of which dozens can be dangerous.
What VOCs are in a mattress?
Your mattress can contain many different chemicals that are off-gassing. Formaldehyde is a carcinogen that likely was used for the resin or adhesive. Sadly, it’s frequently found in other things in your home as well, not just your new mattress. You may recognize it by its unique, pungent odor.
Toluene and benzene are two VOCs you may find in your mattress as well – these VOCs tend to give off a sweet odor that’s similar to the odor in paint and varnishes.
Mattresses also must be fire-retardant, so the fabrics and materials used in order to achieve this may contain a coat made of VOCs. Since these chemicals contain bromine, they’re often called brominated fire retardants. They can sometimes contain chlorine instead of bromine.
Memory foam mattresses are made with polyurethane. While polyurethane is just mildly toxic, the problem is that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are produced as a byproduct during manufacturing, affecting the environment. A foam mattress may contain other VOCs as well, including toluene, xylene, styrene, siloxanes, methylene chloride, dichlorobenzene, phthalates, and many others.
What are the symptoms of mattress off-gassing?
Most people will feel upper airway irritation, so you may feel a burning sensation in your nose and throat, and have difficulty breathing. Your eyes or skin may become itchy. Vomiting, dizziness, and nausea also aren’t uncommon symptoms. Typically, most people don’t develop more severe symptoms when exposed to the VOCs in their new mattress.
Should I buy an organic mattress?
Organic mattresses are much more expensive than a regular mattress is. If you can afford it, then it’s a good idea to buy an organic mattress. If you have asthma or have a baby in your household, then it’s an especially good idea.
However, even if you buy a regular mattress, you shouldn’t be too worried about VOCs. As of right now, there is no evidence that VOCs in mattresses pose a severe danger. Even the milder symptoms listed here should subside within the first week or two for most people. Just make sure to try your best to get the VOCs out during the first week or two.
Won’t my mattress pad solve the problem?
Don’t immediately cover your new mattress with a mattress pad. Most mattress pads and covers will not keep the VOCs from off-gassing. They’re made of fabric and the VOCs will still come through. Even if you buy the special kind that are virtually impenetrable, you’ll still be sleeping on a mattress that hasn’t properly off-gassed.