Haz-Mat: Tempur-Pedic Memory Foam Mattress Outgassing?

A Reader writes:

Dear Ed,

Probably a dumb ? to ask you because you're all about quality air (I'm pretty certain as to your answer but I'll try to justify the buy, er, I mean get your opinion and do the right thing :)

But do you give the Tempur-Pedic mattress a thumbs down due 2 its supposed off-gassing/chemical nature?

I am crossing both sets of fingers btw.

I've been thinking about getting one again (I'm recently divorced and she got the bed, I loved that bed more than her, wait no, I mean, uh well, the bed was lovely) but since then I've come across some negative stuff about it which annoys me greatly.

What's that saying, oh yay, ignorance is bliss, and was looking for your opinion since you seem to be pretty darn informed about these things.

Thanks for your time.


Recently Divorced

Ed's Reply

Yo Dude;

This is a case where ignorance is definitely not bliss.

I advocate the "bedroom sanctuary," making the sleep zone the least toxic space in our lives.

Sleep is so critical to healing that any chemical inhalant, even the consciously imperceptible, will disrupt the liver's detoxification efforts during the Chinese medicine "liver hours" - centered on 1 AM.

The most health critical objects in your home are your mattress and bedding.

In general, there is a trend toward toxicity, off-gassing, and fumes, in all fabric products - clothing and bedding especially. big boy ad

The issue of toxic mattresses is not confined to Tempurpedics, the vast majority of new bedding products are questionable.

One-third of our lives are spent with faces jammed into pillows and skin laying in contact with fabric.

Chronic low level toxicity absolutely will cause health to deteriorate - some people will become ill immediately, others take months or years.

Further, a toxic bed places the individual in extremely close proximity to the chemical source so an air purifier really can't help.

Two areas of mattress toxicity are of concern;
1.) fire-proofing laws which mandate extreme burn resistance,
2.) materials and production processes.

Mattress Flame Retardants

One of my most exciting memories, from 1961 when I was 12, was a big fire in an old downtown hotel, caused by a cigarette smoker who fell asleep on a cotton mattress.

Yeah, the time a freight train derailed right at the intersection of Fourth Street and Main and smashed into the First National Bank was better, but the hotel burned to the ground.

For five hours, firefighters and volunteers from the crowd struggled to control the towering flames as century-old brick walls collapsed into the street.

I was right up at the barricades trying to volunteer myself when my dad showed up and dragged me half a block away. What a bummer that man was.

Causing an average of 440 deaths annually, mattress fires were a legitimate public safety issue, and a tort liability headache for the bedding industry, so naturally the Federal government stepped in.

The friendly-Federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), in the Federal Open-flame Mattress Flammability Standard (16 CFR Part 1633, 2007), forced us to buy controversial flame retardants in every new mattress in order to save an estimated 270 lives a year.

The CPSC standard is extreme: mattresses sold in the United States must withstand 30 minutes of direct exposure to flame. This high standard means heavy doses of flame-retardants are used.

I feel soooooo much safer now that Americans can buy petrochemical-free mattresses only with a Doctor's prescription.

CPSC's regulation is self-declaring, so third-party verification, such as is provided by Underwriter's Laboratories (UL), is not required of manufacturers,

Tempurpedic had already complied with the 2005 California version of the law when the CPSC action was announced.

So each bedding manufacturer used a different proprietary blend of chemicals to meet the government fire mandate.

Mattress barrier fabric components are closely guarded trade secrets, but often include borate/boric acid and formaldehyde.

Antimony, lesser known cousin to notorious poison Arsenic, is a common flame retardant ingredient.

Bromine based combustion inhibitors (PBDEs), so obviously toxic (halogen substitution) were phased out amid controversy prior to the CPSC regulation.

Workers who used the new materials at mattress factories complained of new symptoms, blaming the flame retardants.

Unfortunately, the principal non-toxic CPSC-compliant alternative to memory-foam, wool-encased organic latex mattresses, are built of one of the fastest growing categories of allergen.

Toxicity of Memory Foam Mattress Materials

Visco-elastic high-density polyurethane foam (memory foam), developed in the 1970s at NASA, is a recent bedding marketing fad.

In general, memory-foam mattresses have the worst health record of any form of bedding.

Tempur-Pedic International, Inc., of Lexington, Kentucky, manufactures mattresses made of layers of high-density polyurethane foam.

"The formula and manufacturing process for TEMPURĀ® material is a proprietary trade secret known only to a handful of individuals at Tempur-Pedic."


So, although Tempurpedic and their fellow memory-foam manufacturers do not disclose the contents, an educated guess says memory foam, made from petroleum, contains numerous components with potential for off gassing VOCs.

Foam obtains memory by varying levels of chemicals which change it's density in successive layers.

Polyurethane foam can contain;
and formaldehyde.

A likely component of urethane foam is the known carcinogen toluene di-isocyanate.

I worked in a print factory in the 1970s where we used toluene as a clean-up solvent.

One guy became addicted to the solvent, he would hold the toluene soaked rag over his face.

One very common complaint with Tempur's mattresses is a strong odor when new.

This is said to result from manufacturing gasses trapped in small air pockets in the material, which collapse as the bed is used.

My oldest son bought a Tempur-Pedic, maybe 10 years ago now.

He said the initial smell was strong, but has no symptoms and loves the comfort for his martial-arts damaged back.

Reports of outgassing fumes and polyurethane allergies are legion, with a long list of symptoms that subside when not using the Tempur-Pedics.

Some individuals using ozone emitting air cleaners to eliminate the initial odor, as recommended by www.memoryfoammattress.org, reported new toxic byproducts as the oxidant reacted with mattress fumes.

A couple years after this page posted, I bought a memory foam mattress, not a Tempurpedic.

It was a showroom demonstrator and had out-gassed completely.

I must agree with memory foam fans, this is the most comfortable mattress I have ever slept on.

After 5 years, it is still the best mattress I can remember.

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In my opinion, many bedtime pain sufferers ("fibromylagia"....) have high acetaldehyde levels, which are worsened by fumes outgassing from mattress materials.

This would explain the divergent user experiences - some love the Tempurpedic, while others, the more chemically sensitive, have pain and allergy symptoms worsen with the new bed.

Mattress builders say there is "no scientifically proven health risk," but that is little solace, when we consider the enormous list of today's toxic torts for which that was the initial justification.

I personally will not sleep on any new bed, and carry cotton blankets to cover any bed when I travel.

She Got the Goldmine, I got the Shaft

Today is a good day to examine and discard toxic emotions which influence your decision making.

So you could forgive your ex-wife and buy yourself a less-toxic alternative to the Tempurpedic.

But emotional reconciliation won't be easy, so you can still buy a less-toxic mattress and sleep comfortably, knowing that your ex and her scumbag new boyfriend have their noses buried in the VOC-emitting Tempurpedic time bomb.

And hey, newly-single guy, the Tempur-Pedic's price tag is enough for the down-payment on a 'Vette or Motorcycle.

Memory Foam Mattresses at Amazon.com.

Best wishes for a better life,


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