Your Guide to Off-Gassing: Why Your New Mattress Smells & 4 Brands to Avoid
We've all been there— you've just set up your brand new mattress and get a sudden whiff of something funky. What is that weird smell? That, my friend, is your mattress off-gassing.
Why does my new mattress smell?
As Amerisleep says, “Off-gassing happens when “volatile organic compounds” (VOCs) break down. As opposed to being stable, these “volatile” (or unstable) compounds break apart, most commonly forming gasses — hence the term off-gassing.”
These volatile organic compounds are emitted gases or vapors from certain materials. VOCs are found in all sorts of common household products besides mattresses, like paints, furniture, cleaners, air fresheners etc. When your new mattress is opened, the gases are able to escape, creating that signature new mattress smell.
What kind of mattresses off-gas?
Off-gassing is a primarily a problem for memory foam mattresses and hybrid mattresses (a combination of memory foam and innerspring), due to the ingredients that make up the foam.
The duration of your mattresses's off-gassing period will vary based on the density and type of foam used. That being said, most people report the smell dissipating after a few days or week, depending on the brand. Off-gassing will definitely be at its most potent for the few hours after opening your mattress, so many brands recommend opening it in a well ventilated room with windows.
Why does my non-memory foam mattress have an odor?
For those who don't own memory foam mattresses, it is still possible that there may be a smell, although unrelated to off-gassing. For example, some plant oils and natural fabrics used in other mattresses can result in an odor. An example would be mattresses made with wool, which is known to have a certain smell, albeit non-toxic, that some people's noses are more sensitive to.
Is off-gassing dangerous?
The short answer is not really, unless you're an infant. The new mattress smell isn't proven to hurt you-- it's more of an annoyance. Here are the takes from some of the top mattress and sleep resources:
Amerisleep: "While the odor from mattress off-gassing is unpleasant, for most people it’s not harmful. A small percentage of owners report difficulty breathing, headaches, nausea, eye and throat irritation, and asthma. The symptoms stop when the person is no longer near the mattress though, and go away once it airs out."
Mattress Clarity: "Experts say that the low emission levels of these compounds make it OK for us to breathe in each day... If you choose to research this topic online further, you will see that the discussion about health risks and the use of VOC in manufacturing mattresses is hotly debated. At this time, there are no proven health risks associated with the chemicals used in mattresses."
Wirecutter: "Yes, you breathe in these compounds when you sleep on these mattresses. But no, they’re not going to hurt you. Many of these compounds can be nasty and cause health problems in high volume, but the amounts your mattress exhales are pretty small, and they get even smaller over time"
SleepJunkie: "Low-level VOCs are difficult for researchers to study and assess due to their ubiquity and the time frame that would be required to assess effects (it is also impossible to isolate VOCs and their potential effects from every other item we encounter). Alone, their impact ranges from safe to toxic according to MSDS. Several are no more significant than an odor, and even humans and plants release types of VOCs as a part of biological processes.
Almost always, VOC hazards are higher in the raw materials used to create stable products like foams than in the finished product itself. As with memory foam, once the chemical components are combined into a stabilized product, the VOC release is minimized."
News station 7KTVB.com interviewed College of Western Idaho chemistry professor Brian McClain. "McClain says it isn't dangerous but says you could have a mild reaction."It just depends on biology from person to person, as we know some people have certain allergies to foods while others do not and those can change over time as well," said McClain."
What about infants?
A recent study of the VOC levels from foam crib mattresses reported that the new ones release about four times as many VOCs as old ones, and that body heat can increase emissions. They also found that:
- "VOC levels were significantly higher in a sleeping infant’s breathing zone when compared with bulk room air, exposing infants to about twice the VOC levels as people standing in the same room. "
- "Additionally, because infants inhale significantly higher air volume per body weight than adults and sleep a longer time, they experience about 10 times as much inhalation exposure as adults."
One of the researchers, University of Texas at Austin professor Ying XU recommended either re-using an old crib or airing out a new mattress for an extended period to possibly reduce VOC exposure.
For those with infants, WebMD recommends taking the following steps, " If you're using a synthetic mattress, let it off-gas the plastic fumes in the garage for a few days. "That's what we did with my son's mattress," Lunder says. Then cover it with a wool mattress pad (preferably organic), to provide a barrier between baby and a synthetic mattress."
Long term concerns
While mattress off-gassing isn't likely to cause much harm on its own, general VOC exposure does build up over time. The Minnesota Department of Health reported that breathing in low levels of VOCs over the years can increase some cancer risks, liver damage, kidney damage, and central nervous system damage. While the actual risk depends on the level of exposure and type of chemicals, reducing VOC exposure from the get-go can only lessen the possibility of long term-harm.
In the future, an easy way to avoid any concerns about these chemicals is to buy a mattress that is CertiPUR-US certified, meaning it is made without or with low levels of harmful additives (including VOCs) such as:
- No PBDEs, TDCPP or TCEP (”Tris”) flame retardants
- No mercury, lead, and other heavy metals
- No formaldehyde
- No phthalates regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission
- Low VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) emissions for indoor air quality (less than 0.5 parts per million)
How do I get rid of this smell now?
Unfortunately, the only way to guarantee a new mattress won't stink is to buy either 1) an organic memory foam mattress or 2) a non-memory foam mattress.
Given that you're likely reading this article after buying a bed, this isn't much of a solution. However, there are several steps you can take that can reduce the odor:
- Move quickly: Make sure you open up your mattress as soon as possible, the smell will only build up if it's left wrapped up.
- Take things outside: If it's possible, let your mattress air out, outside, preferably for two days for more. If not, do this in a well ventilated room.
- Get air circulating ASAP: Open windows near your bed and around the room, and open bedroom doors. Try to aim a fan near the door towards a window, so you can get a cross breeze going.
- Give it the white sock treatment: Grab a willing friend or two, put on some socks and jump around on the bed. Seriously. Go over as much of the bed as you can, stomping as you go to push out more air.
Some other anecdotal solutions we found are:
- Baking soda: Putting out bowls of baking soda could help to absorb some of the odor, the same way it helps your fridge. Given your room's larger size, consider doing this method several days before you plan to start using your mattress.
- Activated charcoal: Some people say activated charcoal scattered around can also help absorb gross smells
- White vinegar: Put several bowls of white vinegar around the room to neutralize odors
- Vodka-water spray: Dilute vodka with water, put in a spray bottle, and mist the mattress. Best Mattress Reviews claims that as the alcohol evaporates, so will the smell.
Again, all of these steps are much more impactful if you do them sooner rather than later!
Six best mattress brands for lowest off-gassing
Tuck.com's review gives WinkBeds the highest possible rating of Excellent for their Off-gassing factor, saying, "Our testing and data analysis shows that buyers shouldn't expect any odors to accompany their winkbeds mattress."
The Sleep Judge's review rated them an 8.0/10 for off-gassing, saying, "Some complaints of off-gassing (mine wore off in a little over a day)"
Rating: 5 stars
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Saatva is noted for their extremely strong performance when it comes to off-gassing. Tuck.com's review of Saatva said there was very little smell, and rated their off-gassing factor as Excellent (the highest possible rating) and said, "The Saatva mattress emits some off-gassing (due in part to the polyfoam and memory foam layers), but most owners report that the odors dissipate within three to five days of unpackaging the mattress."
Saatva's website supports these results saying, "We do "no" off gassing where we manufacture our products. There is a small amount of off gassing done at our suppliers facility where the foam is made. All foams must be stable when they are shipped to our manufacturing partners."
Rating: 5 stars
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Avocado Mattress uses latex instead of traditional memory foam, which helps reduce odor. Their website explain this saying, "In particularly humid climates, you may notice a very slight natural odor when your mattress arrives, which will dissipate quickly. This is because your mattress has been sealed after it was made in order to facilitate shipping. This is natural and not a chemical odor."
Tuck.com's review gave Avocado Mattress a rating of Very Good (the second highest rating) for Off-gassing and said, "Natural latex emits minimal off-gassing. Some initial odors may be present, but they tend to dissipate within a few days."
Rating: 4.5 stars
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Purple Mattress performed well when it comes to low odor. Tuck.com's review rated Purple Mattress's Off-gassing factor as Very Good (the second highest rating), saying, "Very few Purple mattress owners report strong, persistent off-gassing odor."
Purple Mattresses's website says their products do not off gas, "Purple achieves its goal of helping people feel better by making safety a priority. Purple’s products have no off-gassing and only use CertiPUR-US® Certified foam with our mattress."
Rating: 4.5 stars
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Dromma Bed mattresses may have a slight smell when first opened, but overall off-gassing is no problem at all. The Sleep Judge's review says, "Upon opening the Dromma Bed, you could detect a very slight odor, but it quickly dissipated. After just a few hours, it had diminished. Therefore, if offgassing is something that really bothers you, you can rest assured it won’t be a problem with this product."
Sleep Delivered's review reports little smell from Dromma Bed's mattresses, saying, "I have yet to find any customers complaining about off-gassing, and we didn’t notice any. Even if there is a little of it, as can be expected from a compressed foam mattress shipped in a box, it is minimal and unlikely to affect you.
Rating: 4.5 stars
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Bear Mattress mattresses give a solid performance when it comes to odor. The Sleep Judge's review was very positive about the low odor, saying, "With some mattresses, you may notice a strong chemical smell when you initially unbox, and this can be bothersome. However, with the Bear Mattress, this was not remotely an issue."
Tuck.com's review says there can be a slight odor, saying, "Some Bear owners report off-gassing smells when their bed is new, but the mattress is not associated with excessive odors." They gave a rating of Good (below Very Good and Excellent)
Rating: 4.0 stars
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Four worst mattress brands for highest off-gassing
Casper has been noted to have some issues with off-gassing. Sleep Like the Dead's review said, "About 8% of Casper owners (1 in 13) report an enduring unpleasant initial odor – a rate somewhat higher than that of most competitors." They rated Casper's various mattresses a C or C-."
Casper's website notes that their mattresses can have an odor, saying, "Any new product can have a mild scent upon unboxing. Should your Casper mattress have a scent, it will dissipate in a few hours in a well-ventilated room. ."
Rating: 2.5 stars
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Tempurpedic mattresses have a well-recorded off-gassing problem. The Best Mattress review stated, "Offgassing is reported by nearly one in five Tempurpedic owners. This proves higher than average for both memory foam and other types of beds."
Tuck.com's review rated Tempurpedic's Off-gassing factor as Fair (below Good, Very Good, and Excellent) and said, "Off-gassing potential is somewhat high for Cloud mattresses, but odors tend to dissipate over time."
Rating: 1 star
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Leesa has received its fair share of criticism for odor issues. The Sleep Help Institute's review says, "Offgassing: The Leesa bed does present an initial off gassing odor due to its foam construction, but it should go away within a few days to a few weeks at most."
Mattress Guide's review also noted a smell with Leesa's mattresses saying, "When you first take your Leesa out of its packaging, there is a distinct “new mattress” smell, and some slight off-gassing. However, it typically disappears in a short span of time. Our research did, however, reveal that 11% of consumers reported issues with an unpleasant odor and off-gassing."
Rating: 1.5 stars
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The new mattress smell has been noted as an issue with Lucid Mattress products. Tuck.com's review of Lucid Mattress mattresses rated their off-gassing factor between Fair and Good (for different mattress types) and said, "Owners of Lucid memory foam mattresses report more smells than those who own latex or hybrid models."
Nest Maven's review noted a smell that lingered in some cases, saying, "All memory foam mattresses have a distinct smell to them when first unwrapped, and Lucid Mattresses are no exception to this rule. Always allow your new mattress a minimum of 3-days to air out in a well ventilated area before sleeping on it. Some owners of Lucid Mattresses did comment that it took longer than they expected for the scent to dissipate — with a few reviewers stating that they could still smell it a month later."
Rating: 2 stars
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New mattress smell: begone
Off-gassing is annoying, but there's good news: it's unlikely to hurt you or last forever, and there are plenty of brands to pick from to banish it in the future. Happy sleeping!