There are four basic types of materials used in mattresses: steel springs, foam (memory, poly, latex, and soy), cover materials (cotton, polyester. and bamboo) and plastic/canvas in air and water beds. Foam is the common ingredient used in every mattress type. Softer foams are used in the cover and in the top layers of the mattress for cushioning. Firmer foams are used on the sides and either beneath the spring unit or in place or the spring unit.
Materials & Health Concerns
The biggest health concern conventional mattresses and their synthetic materials is off-gassing. Every mattress contains foam, and most foam is petrochemical-based meaning that it is made from oil. As a result it can release noxious fumes as it wears. But what is that smell in memory foam? It’s the off-gassing of toxic chemicals and is noticeably strong for weeks to months. If you sleep on memory foam you are inhaling these toxins. This has been known to cause headaches and other severe health reactions.
The best mattress materials are not synthetic. The best materials are organic and non-toxic.
Conventional mattresses are filled with synthetic materials, like polyurethane foam. This foam constantly breaks down and releases chemicals. Polyurethane foam is made from chemicals that are known carcinogens.
Another issue with mattresses is fire barriers. Mattresses are required to be flame-resistant by law, so the fire retardant used in mattresses can also be slightly toxic and accounts for some of the “new mattress odor”. PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) or boric acid is the main ingredient used in mattresses as a flame retardant. PBDEs have been shown to have health effects animals and are so toxic that Europe is phasing out the use of them completely.
Mattress materials are not regulated or rated for safety, but doctors say the ideal mattress should use natural, non-toxic materials as we spend about one-third of our life in bed. Many sleepers report a sensitivity to the materials commonly used in mattresses. Their complaints range from headaches and rashes to more serious issues.
For Your Health,
Dr. Mark Wolff