Toxic substances commonly lurking in mattresses

Have you ever stopped to consider what you might be lying on when you roll into bed at night? When you go mattress shopping, most retailers do not tell you exactly what is in the mattresses you are looking at. And that is because the truth may disturb you.

Our Latex Mattresses are natural, however, most mattresses contain potentially harmful chemicals.


Well, the materials used to build mattresses may not be natural in the first place. On top of this, other substances are added to increase their ‘safety’. When we talk about potentially harmful chemicals, we are usually talking about volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a group of carbon-based chemicals that easily evaporate at room temperature.

It is thought that breathing low levels of VOCs for long periods of time may increase the risk of health problems for some people. There are also several studies that suggest ongoing exposure to VOCs can make asthmatics symptoms worsen as well as; anyone who is particularly sensitive to chemicals. This is because VOCs are associated with “off-gassing” which occurs when these potentially harmful substances are released into their air. When you first get a mattress home and you notice it has quite a strong chemical smell – this is off-gassing. Whilst it is strongest at the beginning of a mattresses life, it will continue to happen throughout its entire life cycle to a lesser degree.

Let’s explore the most common toxic substances you will likely find in the average mattress.

Chemical Flame Retardants

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In order to meet safety standards, all mattresses need to pass a fire test to show that, should they catch on fire, they will burn slowly enough to allow anyone laying on them to get to safety. Often, mattress companies will use chemical flame retardants as this is the cheaper than using natural materials (such as natural latex, wool or rayon) to reduce the flammability of their product. Some of the most common chemical flame retardants used include:

  • polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs)
  • boric acid
  • antimony trioxide
  • decabromodiphenyl oxide
  • melamin
  • vinylidene chloride

Most of these chemicals are water soluble, meaning that substances such as sweat or saliva can draw them to the surface of your mattress and open you up to absorbing them through your skin. Long term exposure to many of these substances can lead to significant health challenges from impaired fertility to cardiovascular issues and even kidney failure.


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Typically released during off-gassing, this chemical is often found in polyurethane foams that are used to produce many types of popular mattresses including innerspring mattresses, memory foam and some hybrids. Research suggests that ongoing high exposure can lead to cells not working as they are supposed to. Short term high exposure will likely result in headaches or short-term dizziness.

Propylene Oxide and Toluene Diisocyanate (TDI)

These chemicals are used to create memory foam and polyurethane foam—both popular materials in the mattress industry. You may even find them in some innerspring mattresses. Both propylene oxide and TDI have been linked to increased tumour risk in mice and rats and it has been suggested that humans reduce their exposure to them.


Polyurethane foam, which we’ve already established is a common component in most conventional mattresses, contains a family of chemicals known as polyols. Those who are sensitive to them are likely to experience headaches, dizziness, nausea and trouble concentrating.

It’s worth noting that VOCs are used in many household products and, without an extensive amount of research and careful choices, you are unlikely to remove them from your home altogether. However, opting for a Natural Latex Mattress is one way you can reduce your exposure to them and curb their cumulative effects.

Why a natural latex mattress?

Natural latex is known for its comfort and durability. Assuming it is not mixed in with any other substances (it’s always wise to ask if the latex in a mattress is made via the Dunlop or Talalay method), it is made from the sap of rubber trees. This natural substance inherently has a low fire risk so requires zero flame retardants and doesn’t use any other chemical compounds in the manufacturing process.

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The natural latex we use here at Latex Mattress Australia comes from sustainably farmed rubber trees and is manufactured using the entirely natural Dunlop method. When made using this method, a natural latex mattress will retain the intrinsic strength of the latex while offering exceptional buoyancy for the ultimate in comfort and support. We have done our research so that you do not have to.

If you are interested in making the switch to a more natural night’s sleep, get in touch with our friendly team today.

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