Are Memory Foam Mattresses Toxic?

Written by: Andjela Kastratovic
Updated: 07/25/2023

Memory foam mattresses are incredibly popular because they are one of the comfiest mattress options out there. Memory foam mattresses are also popular because they’re built to help alleviate the pain in pressure points for most types of sleepers.

Though, these mattresses can contain potentially harmful substances that raise concerns for possible health problems such as allergic reactions, respiratory problems, and similar.

For example, the most affordable memory foam mattresses are made from polyurethane foam. This material was deemed not safe for human health in the U.S. but it’s still widely used in producing more expensive foam beds.

So, how do you find a memory foam mattress that is comfortable and safe for your health? Read on and let’s dive into it.

How is Memory Foam Produced?

Memory foam is made from polyurethane which comes from petroleum products. During the refinement process, these are extracted as a byproduct. As with all foams, it compresses under pressure to increase its viscosity and elasticity.

Activated by heat, memory foam easily shapes itself around curves providing relief from chronic pain while also preventing motion transfer between couples.

Many toxic chemicals go into making memory beds including PVC (polyvinyl chloride), formaldehyde etc., which could have lasting effects on your health.

Memory Foam Compounds

Every mattress brand that makes memory foam mattresses uses slightly different variants of singular products that go into these beds.

Flexible polyurethane foam is one of the main components that’s made from some potentially harmful chemical substances that raise health concerns: polyols, diisocyanates, and carbon-based blowing agents.

Mixed together, they create the types of chemical reactions which form a liquid that firms when it’s cooled down. This is how you get memory foam.

  • Polyols – these are molecules containing more than one alcohol group. Polyols are compounds that can be found in many items you use or ingest in a day. Polyols provide the basic building blocks for memory mattresses.
  • Diisocyanates – Memory foam is created by mixing two different types of diisocyanates. Some companies utilize MDIs while others opt out of TDIs. They are the types of chemicals that react with polymers to make polyethylene foam.
  • Carbon-based blowing agents – these ingredients produce volatile organic compounds or VOCs. These substances can be irritating for those with allergies and respiratory problems as they emit a chemical smell that may cause off-gassing after use of this type of material has ended – but it is unlikely to cause any long-term health issues unless you have allergies or other respiratory health problems.

There are many other chemicals used in the production of memory foam mattresses. Depending on the production process and chemicals used, their toxicity may vary.

Is Memory Foam Toxic?

Memory foam mattresses provide incredible pressure relief for side sleepers and those with neck and shoulder pain, which is something they owe their popularity to. Though, many people still opt for other options which aren’t prone to off-gassing odors.

VOCs have serious consequences for human health. They get dispersed into the air of your bedroom and can build up, which causes harm when inhaled, as well as many allergic reactions including headaches or nausea, among other things.

The chemical breaking down these volatile organic compounds also emits toxic fumes that are dangerous if inhaled by people who have a weakened immune system.

So, is memory foam toxic?

The short answer is that yes, memory foam mattresses can be toxic if toxic materials were used in their production. But how does the mattress industry make sure to reduce the risk of health problems that might occur?

Are Memory Foam Mattresses Safe?

To answer the question that’s on everyone’s mind: is memory foam safe to use, we’ll break down some of the components that present toxic compounds, fire retardants, and other chemicals that every mattress company uses in production and how they make sure that the mattress you buy is still safe for your health.

Chemicals Used in Memory Foam Manufacturing Process

If you’re looking into buying a memory foam bed, you should mind that there are some potentially harmful chemicals used in its production:


Formaldehyde can be found in many products you’re probably using on a daily basis. It’s known to be a human carcinogen and it can irritate your eyes, nose and mouth. Luckily, it’s not commonly used in mattress production anymore.


Clear liquid toluene is found naturally in crude oil and has been linked with human health problems such as asthma. Inhaling large quantities can be dangerous for someone’s respiratory system. Also, it’s considered a carcinogen.

Methylene Chloride (DCM)

The former use of this substance as a blowing agent has been linked to cancer. DCM can cause skin irritation and proposes a serious health risk when mucous membranes are exposed to it.


This is a type of gas used as an ingredient in some products, but their use is now limited because it can deplete ozone levels. Instead, production can use pressurized foaming systems.

Flame Retardants and Their Risks

By law, all beds must have some kind of fire barrier and thus many new foam mattresses also contain a chemical that can be used as an ingredient for protection against overheating or burning during emergencies such as fires.  

Some memory foam mattress companies use chemical flame retardants.

Such fire retardant falls into the group of halogenated flame retardants in mattresses, which are no longer legal

Polyurethane foams are typically flammable, so all products made from this material must be treated with some type of chemical or a fire-resistant. Mattress companies have to be transparent about this because some of the chemicals used can have harmful side effects and even be toxic in large doses, like many other toxic halogens used in mattress manufacturing.

Flame retardants such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) were one such commonly-used substance until they came under scrutiny due to health risks associated with them including infertility problems cancer obesity etc., and some may even contribute towards developmental brain disorders.

Common Flame Retardants that are Possibly Toxic

Cotton Treated With Boric Acid

This flame retardant could be toxic to your organs and may cause problems with your neurological or reproductive health.

Modacrylic Fiber

This is fire retardant is made with toxic substances. One of these harmful chemicals is called antimony oxide which can contribute to the development of cancerous cells.

Decabromodiphenyl Oxide

These toxic substances in memory foam mattresses can cause hair loss, neurological effects, and are considered to be possible carcinogens.

Common Flame Retardants that are Safe


To be safe and to make sure you reduce your risk for any health problems that could develop from toxic materials you’d be breathing in, look into memory foam mattresses with fire barriers made from pure wool.

But most mattress companies don’t use wool in the manufacturing process for memory foam mattresses, so they might be hard to find.


Kevlar is a non-natural substance that contains a lot of fibers. It can be found in memory foam mattresses, but it has no toxic chemicals that could affect your health negatively.

Rayon Treated with Silica

This is a non-toxic fire retardant derived from silica. If you want to find it, check the

Each substance represents a common flame retardant. Depending on the level of concentration and exposure to them, your memory foam bed can cause a lot of problems.

Let’s see how you can recognize memory foam allergy or other reactions so that you’ll be able to react on time.

How Do I Know My Memory Foam Mattress is Toxic?

It’s crucial to remember that a comfortable mattress doesn’t have to come at the price of health. Petroleum-based substances used in the manufacturing process of your foam bed can be toxic to your health.

For example, mattress brands use blowing agents in the production process to create a chemical reaction that builds memory foam. Most of these blowing agents can be toxic. One of them is methylene chloride which was formerly used as a blowing agent that turned out to be a carcinogen.

So, a good night’s sleep may not be the only thing that comes at a price.

Symptoms of Memory Foam Toxicity

You bought your new mattress, unpacked it, put pretty sheets over it excited to get some good zzzzs. In the course of the next couple of days, you start to feel nauseous and get a runny nose.

These can be indicators of memory foam mattress toxicity. Some other symptoms that imply an allergic reaction can include:

  • Dermatitis
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty breathing

If you experience any of these symptoms, call your doctor ASAP and find a new bed to sleep on until you can replace your mattress.

Solving the riddle that goes “Are memory foam mattresses safe to sleep on” has a little more to it, so keep reading.

Which Memory Foam Products Aren’t Safe?

Memory foam products that contain harmful chemicals can take a real toll on your health if you are immunocompromised and suffer from allergies. Your partner, kids, and pets can also be affected if the concentration of these substances is too high.

Memory foam mattresses that aren’t safe usually come at a cheaper price and a deal that’s a steal. Most of these mattress manufacturers stack up good prices, but at the cost of your health. In the USA and North European countries, regulations for toxic substances are more strict which gives you a reason to look for their brands when you’re considering buying memory foams.

If you want to avoid any health risks and exposure to toxic chemicals, look for third-party certifications as well and read consumer product safety commission records. Online mattress reviews can help you find the type of mattress you need for a good night’s sleep, and help guide you toward memory foams that were made with legal and ethical considerations for public health and consumer products.

Memory Foam “Off-Gassing” Risks

Smells never lie. To recognize the level of toxicity of your memory foam mattress, you just need to get an uncomfortable tingle in your nose when off-gassing happens.

Off-gassing is a chemical-like odor that gets released once you unpack your mattress and load it into your bedroom. What you’re actually smelling is volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which are an inevitable thing that comes with polyurethane foam beds, especially the cheaper options.

VOCs coming from your new mattress can cause problems in your entire respiratory system and cause an eye itch similar to the one you get with spring allergies.

The smell can last only a few days though if you properly ventilate the room you’ve put the mattress in. If it still bothers you and the crispy clean sheets don’t help, take it out of your bedroom and place it in an open space where it can off-gas properly.

Is there a Safe Memory Foam Mattress?

Yes, there are safe memory foam beds you can find on the market, but polyurethane can’t be avoided in manufacturing memory foam mattresses.

To make sure the foam bed you have or are looking into buying is safe, look for online mattress brands. Their websites will lead you to websites that will prove the validity of their certifications listed there.

The Environmental protection agency (EPA) doesn’t have the power to limit or ban the use of VOCs in household products. To avoid your new foam mattress causing throat irritation or other issues, look into these online memory foam bed options:

If the mattress has a CertiPUR-US, OEKO-TEX, or GREENGUARD Gold certification, that means the memory foam used in its construction is safe.

Memory Foam Mattress Alternatives

If you want to avoid polyurethane foam at any cost, check out beds with any natural mattress material made from latex foam or organic cotton.

For instance, it’s always safer to choose a children’s mattress with these natural materials to avoid any allergies or toxins that could affect the health of your little ones. It’s not uncommon for parents to look for these alternatives, though they can be slightly more expensive than your average memory foam bed due to their natural-based build.

Organic Mattresses

Most organic mattresses will contain Talalay latex, wool, organic cotton, and bamboo.

Not only are they eco-friendly, but they are also free from harmful chemicals such as formaldehyde, dust mites, and flame retardants that can cause allergy attacks and off-gassing.

They are a family favorite for their hypoallergenic properties, bouncy and supportive.

If this strikes your fancy, check out our list of the best organic mattresses.

Latex Foam Mattresses

Latex mattresses are an organic and bouncy alternative to memory foam. They contain support foam with a latex layer on top. They are made from natural latex or synthetic latex, but there are options that blend both.

Natural latex is made from plant-based materials that come from the raw sap from rubber trees. They don’t produce off-gassing and are free from harmful, harsh chemicals that could cause health issues.

Synthetic latex on the other hand can contain harsh chemicals, so if you want to be safe, look into 100% naturally-derived latex foams.

Check out our top picks for best latex mattresses & find yourself the best, comfy alternative to memory foam.

Reviews written by:

Andjela Kastratovic - Co-editor

Anđela is a content writer by the day and an Illustrator by night. She loves anything creative, but sleep takes the cake – that’s why she enjoys writing for Anatomy of Sleep so much!

While in high school, she got accepted for her dream job – a ‘professional sleeper’. Her job was to test new mattresses from a local mattress brand and write reports on the quality of sleep. Ever since then, she’s been in love with reviewing mattresses and putting her compelling research into ultimate buyer’s guides. While not exploring the latest brands, she likes to illustrate and spend time with her dog and friends.