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Chemical Emissions from Mattresses

emissions from mattresses; mattress

Mattress salespeople have a reputation somewhat equivalent to the iconic used car salesman. To avoid the high-pressure sales environment altogether, many people are opting to buy their mattresses online… me included.

I recently bought two foam mattresses online and had them shipped to my Chicago home: a queen-size from Casper and a twin-size from Tuft & Needle. Both companies recommend opening up the packaging inside the room where the mattress will be used. I’m sure 99% of people follow along, but as an indoor air quality consultant, I was concerned about all the chemicals that would be released into my bedroom.

Both companies boast of using foam that is certified by CertiPUR. According to CertiPUR guidelines, the emissions of total volatile organic compounds (TVOCs) must be below 500 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3).

I got out my fancy equipment to practically see if the emissions from these mattresses were, in fact, less than 500 µg/m3.  Check out these two videos to see what levels I found in the Casper and Tuft & Needle Mattresses, respectively:

Whoah! These levels were WAY higher than 500 µg/m3. Bottom line: DO NOT open these mattresses inside your house!

I have a few pieces of advice:

1. Unbox and open the mattress outside
2. Let it air out (I kept my mattresses outside for 2 days)
3. After moving it to the bedroom, keep windows open
(I kept mine open almost continuously for a week)

These mattresses are great… comfortable, affordable and no PBDE flame-retardants.  Just watch out for the VOCs when unboxing!

Technical Details:

I took measurements using a photoionization detector (PID) with parts per billion (ppb) sensitivity.  The unit is a ppbRAE 3000 made by RAE Systems.  PIDs approximate total volatile organic compound (TVOC) levels and are calibrated to a specific gas (mine is calibrated to isobutylene).  I did not perform laboratory-based testing to identify individual VOCs.  Nor did I test these mattresses following the same method as CertiPUR (they use ISO 16000).  Nevertheless, this method is reliable enough to show the extremely high VOC emissions from these mattresses.

Ian Cull

Ian Cull is a nationally recognized expert in the field of indoor air quality. He is the Chief Science Officer of Indoor Science, a company he started in 2004. He speaks around the world on air quality topics and is a training provider of the Indoor Air Quality Association. Mr. Cull is a Licensed Professional Engineer (PE) and Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH). His degree is in Environmental Engineering from the University of Illinois - Urbana Champaign. Mr. Cull has developed 50 air quality related courses for the IAQA University and is the author of the book, “Fundamentals of Mold Remediation”. In his words… “Besides being passionate about indoor air quality, I enjoy cycling, music, the Chicago Bulls, and having fun with my three kids.”

7 thoughts on “Chemical Emissions from Mattresses

    Hi, Very helpful information. Wondering when you say you kept yours out for two days, did you bring it in at night?

    I can keep it in my backyard during the day but what about the night… Any advice appreciated.

    I have a fenced in backyard and patio so it was easy for me to keep it outside for 24 continuous hours. If you can’t leave anything outside overnight, I would recommend not opening it on the day you receive it. First thing the next morning, open it up outside and keep it out there until you go to bed. 12+ hours would be pretty good, especially if it was sunny and warm out.

    I would like to know if you performed any tests after a week to see if the levels were bellow 500mg/m3 as stated by the companies.
    Your findings are very interesting and I would open my mattress outside but at the end, what matters most is whether the VOC emission limit was complied with.

    I would suspect (although I never tested this) that if you air out a mattress for a week outside, the resulting levels inside would be less than 500 micrograms per cubic meter, if you were starting with very low levels inside to begin with (say 200 micrograms/cubic meter).

    I understand it would be difficult in many circumastances. I suggest not opening it up if it is raining that day, or forecasted to rain later that day.

    You may need to get creative, but it’s always doable.