Chemical Emissions from Mattresses

Jun 4, 2015

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.