Why Does My New Mattress Smell Funny?

You too may lose some sleep when you find out what’s in your mattress!

Most of us are aware of dust mites, lurking deep in the recesses of our mattresses, causing miserable respiratory symptoms for asthma and allergy sufferers.

Yet, less known, are the volatile organic compounds expelled from new materials, sealants and fire retardants used in the manufacture of your mattress, even more so if you’ve just purchased a new one.

So why does your new mattress smell funny?

One of our inquiries, a young couple, purchased a new mattress, and naturally ventilated the room to get rid of the new mattress smell. A week later, the young gentleman was in good health. The young lady though, experienced continual headaches, nausea, burning eyes, restlessness and simply feeling very unwell, to the point, she was unable to concentrate on her daily living and had trouble getting to work. She just felt so tired and exhausted.

The new mattress smell was pungent off-gassing, more than the couple had ever experienced before.

It’s so exciting to be coming home with a brand new item; the smell seems to be associated with happiness of achievement. Maybe you can remember the first time when your parents bought a new bed, and you played in it for hours. Maybe you got your first job and it was the first time you were able to afford a new mattress.

Yet, back then, prior to the mid 60’s, mattresses were made of untreated, natural materials. Now the majority of mattresses come to the stores covered in an assortment of petrochemicals, flame retardants and other additives followed by the smelly off-gassing chemical surge, literally, you would have to hold your nose and breath for when going to bed! This is where the “new mattress smell” comes from.

Mattresses today are made of polyurethane foam, a petroleum based material, as well as boric acid (used to kill cockroaches), formaldehyde, antimony trioxide (a metal that may be more toxic than mercury), decabromodiphenyl oxide, vinylidiene chloride, zinc borate, phosphorous, and melamine according to US Consumer Products Safety Commission (2005).

Not healthy for anyone, but particularly unhealthy for children and babies.

According to USA EPA (2012) adverse health effects include eye, nose, and throat irritation; wheezing and coughing; fatigue; skin rash; severe allergic reactions.

Flame-retardant chemicals have been used since late 1960s to reduce fire related injury and property damage. Not only found in mattresses but also pillows, carpet underlay, upholstered furnishings, plastic products, electronics and clothing, particularly night wear.

And then there are cotton pesticides, which can cause cancer and nervous-system disorders. But pesticide residues may not be limited to your mattress. Sheets and doonas, made from various man-made and natural components, can also be laden with unknown chemicals.

They all emit toxic off gassing, exposing your family to dangerous levels of chemicals, not only over the lifetime of the mattress, but also the life time of pillows while you sleep.

Most people believe the authorities and regulators would be keeping an eye out for their safety and health concerns. Not so, manufacturers are not obliged to inform consumers of the type or number of chemical contents, considered to be trade secrets.

Think about it, chemicals in your mattresses don’t just stay in your beds – they float around in the air of your home. You and your children breathe it in. It affects everyone, even family pets.

Another myth about the new mattress smell is that people assume that once the smell goes away, the gases have stopped emitting.

Every mattress is different, depends on where and the amount of chemicals used in its manufacture. In conjunction with each home environment being different and each person’s tolerance or sensitivity being different, the length and intensity of the off-gassing can vary between experiences and therefore, real time long term effects can be uncertain.

It’s up to you how much you’d like to be exposed.

Your best bet would be purchase a mattress that doesn’t contain these, to prevent yourself from exposure to these flame retardants and chemicals

Fortunately, there is at least one good method to reduce mattress combustibility without adding harmful chemicals according to Dr Mercola’s website (July 2010). Manufacturers can add a layer of wool to either side of an untreated cotton mattress, serving as an effective fire barrier, no chemicals needed. Yet wool provides an ideal breeding ground for dust mites.

Consider a 100% natural latex foam mattress, but avoid the synthetic latex, talalay, which contains petrochemical additives, says Nicole Bijlsma (2010). You can tell the difference by the cost and their smell.

We found, through customer feedback, those who had a latex mattress, they felt very warm when they slept, even too hot to some extent. They also felt it relieved their allergies. Every one and every home environment is different so best to do your research.

Fewer pesticides are used to grow hemp over cotton and other bedding materials, so a hemp mattress and bedding tends to pose fewer problems for chemical sensitive allergy sufferers.

Or you could go organic. Check their products are guaranteed to be made of chemical-free, organically grown materials.

Some manufacturers now offer toxin-free mattresses, such as those made of 100% wool, which is naturally fire resistant. Dr Mercola discusses there are also mattresses that use a Kevlar, bullet-proof type of material in lieu of chemicals for fire-proofing.

Choosing a mattress made of natural latex, hemp, organic cotton, or organic wool may give you a better night’s sleep and at the same time reduces the demand for conventional petrochemical-derived materials. It also decreases the use of pesticides and other chemicals associated with non-organically produced cotton or wool.

Prior to purchasing, do your research. Find out which type of mattress may be right for you, ask all your questions up front. The majority of mattress stores have a no return/refund policy.

While many environmental factors can contribute to adverse health problems when you sleep, not only the mattress and pillow contents, there are also chemical based fragrances from detergents and fabric softeners, new bedding or linen to consider.

The first step to determine if the bed or sheets are the cause of any of the symptoms mentioned earlier, simply sleep somewhere else, maybe on the lounge or away from the home.

Simply by trial and error, repeated over a few days, you will clearly notice if it is the bed itself, the detergents used or the bedroom area is the problem.

It can be an expensive exercise, but if you can not tolerate the mattress, remove it from your home and start afresh. You can always wash bedding and put out in the sun to minimise fragrances, yet the mattress can be more difficult scenario.

How to avoid the new mattress smell and reduce volatile organic compounds in your sleeping environment:

  1. Allow new mattresses or bedding to off-gas before bringing them into your sleeping space.
  2. Wash new bedding if possible to remove dyes and bleaches and off gassing.
  3. Open windows and ventilate, ventilate, ventilate and let the sunshine in.
  4. Take the mattress and bedding outside regularly and air out in full sun. By placing the mattress in a plastic bag and putting out in the hot sun draws out the off gassing to some extent.
  5. By placing indoor house plants in the room, such as Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata), VOCs and Formaldehyde, these contaminants are removed or reduced, improving indoor air quality as discovered in the 1980’s by NASA and Dr B.C. Wolverton.
  6. By encasing your mattress in a dust mite mattress cover or pillow cover down to 6.1 microns, will block the toxins as they off-gas to a certain extent. However, we found the original newness off gassing was detectable but at least you can remove and wash the covers regularly.
  7. Silk doonas are a beneficial addition to your allergy free bedding range and dust mites do not like silk! You will find our Dream Silk fabric range unprocessed, untreated, unbleached and undyed.

Even though the average person will spend up to a third of their life sleeping, there are not enough studies on the health risks they face each time the go to bed. You have a choice for you and your family.


US Consumer Products Safety Commission Memorandum December 12 2005, http://www.cpsc.gov/PageFiles/88231/matttabh.pdf [23 May 2013]

June 21st 2012, United States Environment Protection Agency http://www.epa.gov/iaq/formaldehyde.html#Health_Effects An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) – Formaldehyde [23 May, 2013]

Bijlsma, N. 2010, Healthy Home Healthy Family, Joshua Books, Buddina, Australia.

Dr Mercola 6 July, 2010 “Flame Retardant Causes Altered Thyroid Hormone Levels” http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/07/06/flame-retardant-causes-altered-thyroid-hormone-levels.asp [25 May 2013]

Wolverton, Dr B.C. 1996, How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 Houseplants that Purify Your Home or Office, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London.

Towards healthier living Carol Parr ♥

As a result of working with me, women and their families thrive, work places and their personnel prosper, mouldy and chemical / electrical sensitive occupants heal. They’re healthier, they’re alert, they’re happier, more relaxed, more productive, and enjoying life.

Together we bring about healthy indoor environments and create rooms that provide calmness, healthy sleep, relaxation and restored energy for you and your family, create workplaces that provide ideal personnel attendance and elevated productivity.

By returning indoor spaces to more natural conditions, we strengthen you and your family and your personnel’s mind, body and spirit. It’s nice that it also sustains our planet’s ecology, you’d agree.

You can find my latest enterprises by clicking here: http://www.linkedin.com/in/carolparr


  • Carol Parr

    We’re glad you’re here. We’re Carol and Tony, founders of one of the longest running Healthy Home Blogs in the world, Mitey Fresh Australia. We’ve been on this journey for the last 25 years and are passionate about helping families sift through health hazards and triggers like allergens, mould, water damage, chemicals and EMFs, to get clarity about what’s toxic and what’s not so they can create a healthy and happy home for their family they love. Each month, people visit this blog seeking focus on the health and wellbeing of their loved ones, sustainable and effective practice tips and guides, to help create and manage healthier indoor spaces, improve the built environment that is pleasing to the senses and support healthy living and nature, every day. Starting this blog was to help change people’s lives, one family at a time, and we can’t wait to share how its allowed us to stand next to you and show you how interpreting these synergies between buildings and the environment they are built in will impact upon the health and well-being of those who occupy them. Find out more about Healthy Homes and what this blog can do for you!

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