Many people love new mattresses, especially memory foam ones. These consistently rate high for everything from comfort to durability. One of the few complaints about them is that, when brand new, they can give off a “new mattress” smell for several weeks. In fact, any new mattress can have that problem.
This smell comes from some of the materials that make up the mattress, and it will go away by itself over time. Fortunately, some manufacturers have taken these complaints to heart and have constructed their mattresses to they are less likely to smell at all.
Why Do Mattresses Smell?
Mattresses smell because of a process called off-gassing. Certain chemicals contain components called volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. These are not stable and so they tend to break down rapidly under certain conditions. When they do this, they form gases that must then escape. These gases are what you smell when something smells new.
Many things go through an off-gassing process. That new car smell comes from off-gassing. So does the smell of a freshly painted room, the scent of your dryer sheets, and the odor of nail polish remover. This is a common process.
When it comes to your mattress, most of these chemicals are in the foam that makes up your bed or in the adhesives used to hold the different layers of your bed together. Some are also in the fire retardant treatment that the government makes all mattresses go through. Common mattress chemicals that off-gas include benzene, methylene chloride, formaldehyde, and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).
Is Off-Gassing Dangerous?
The majority of people won’t experience any side effects from off-gassing. A few people will get headaches, and some may experience nausea, eye and throat irritation, or find that their asthma is triggered. These symptoms go away when the person goes away from the mattress, and they generally dissipate completely within a few weeks.
Some people feel nervous because some of the chemicals that off-gas are labeled as carcinogens. However, there’s no research showing that memory foam causes cancer or is toxic in any way. While it’s definitely a topic that needs more study, there are ways to avoid or get rid of the smell, and the chemicals, if you are worried about them.
Can You Avoid the Smell?
If you want to limit your chemical exposure or you just don’t want to deal with getting rid of the smell, start by looking for a mattress with a Certi-PUR certification. This organization tests mattresses and their seal means that a mattress uses very little or no VOCs. Their test also includes CFCs, phthalates, heavy metals, formaldehyde, and PBDEs, so your mattress will be free from those, as well.
Some people don’t believe that Certi-PUR goes far enough to make sure mattresses are safe. In that case, you can look for the Green Guard or Made Safe certifications. You can also look for Global Organic standard ratings on the materials making up your mattress, to ensure that chemicals were not added during the manufacturing process.
If you want to avoid the issue altogether, there are a few mattresses out there made of wool and/or cotton. These naturally avoid the whole off-gassing problem.
Can You Get Rid of the Smell?
Yes! If you are concerned about the effects of off-gassing on your health or you just don’t want to deal with the smell, there are many ways to get rid of it.
- Air out your mattress. Let your new mattress sit in your garage or in a well-ventilated room for several days before you put any bedding on it or attempt to sleep on it. This will let the VOCs escape without any negative effects for you. Use a fan or a dehumidifier to hurry this process along.
- Jump on your new mattress. I know, I know, your mom always told you NOT to jump on your bed. Well, here’s the exception. When you jump on your new bed, it will release VOCs faster than if you simply air it out. Make it into a game for your kids, if you like. And if you have too much dignity to jump, try pressing on it systematically instead.
- Place several bowls of white vinegar around the room. These will absorb and neutralize the odor that off-gassing leaves behind. Of course, then you have to smell the vinegar. If that’s as bad or worse for you than the gases, put the vinegar out during the day, close the door, and open the windows. When you get home, dump out the vinegar. Hopefully, it will have absorbed enough gas that you won’t be bothered by the smell.
- Spray the mattress with an enzyme spray. While these sprays were originally designed to remove nastier odors, like that of urine and vomit, from a mattress, they can help with off-gassing odors, too. Simply spray the mattress according to the directions on the bottle and wait a bit. The bad smell should get better quickly.
- Set out several bowls of baking soda around the room. Just as baking soda absorbs bad odors in your refrigerator, it will do the same in your bedroom. This process will take a while, though, as your room is much larger than your fridge. Thus, this method is best when the mattress is in a room that doesn’t get used much, when you have several days to let the soda work, or when it is used in combination with some other methods.
- Use activated charcoal to absorb the smell. You can buy this in bulk and place it in bowls, like the baking soda, or you can even use charcoal briquettes in a pinch. You can even place your bowls of charcoal under the bed, so you don’t risk spilling your charcoal everywhere.
- Spray your bed with vodka, or a vodka-water combination. Vodka is a champ when it comes to odor removal. Simply choose an unflavored version, put it in a spray bottle, and spray your bed. If you’re not comfortable using pure vodka, dilute it with water first. As the alcohol evaporates, it will take the odors with it.
- Wrap your mattress. Several companies claim to make mattress wraps or covers that will keep the gases in so that you don’t have to breathe them in or even smell them. Most of these are not certified and have not officially been tested, so you buy them at your own risk. If you’re concerned about mattress odor, though, they can offer you peace of mind.
- Think before you buy. Memory foam is associated with more off-gassing and odor complaints than any other kind of bed. If you’re concerned, look at latex, innerspring, or hybrid beds instead.
Off-gassing is a natural process that occurs because of the materials used to make a mattress. It is probably not dangerous, but if you are concerned about the chemicals or having a bed that smells, look for a mattress with certifications or take the steps necessary to break VOCs down before you sleep on your bed.