Is Memory Foam Toxic?
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As you probably know, memory foam is a synthetic compound. Recently, there have been concerns over how chemicals used in its production affect our health. These concerns lead us to the topic at hand: Is memory foam toxic? We’ve conducted thorough research on the subject to come up with an answer. In this article, we will examine the manufacturing process of memory foam. We will also consider the potential ways memory foam might affect your health.
The Production Process
In essence, memory foam is the trade name for polyurethane foam. Polyurethane, an organic polymer, results from a chemical reaction between polyols and isocyanates. However, to turn raw polyurethane into memory foam, you must add some bubbles. That’s where the so-called “blowing agent” comes in—the reaction between polyurethane and the blowing agent results in bubbling. The final result of these procedures is polyurethane foam.
Now, you probably know that polyurethane is a highly flammable material. For this reason, the last production step is making the memory foam flame retardant. One way to do this is by adding flame retardant chemicals to the mix. Alternatively, the manufacturer can wrap the foam in a fire-resistant cover.
Potentially Harmful Chemicals
Many of the health concerns regarding memory foam come from using isocyanates in the production process. While it is true that these compounds are harmful to our health, there’s more to it (1).
As we mentioned before, isocyanates are one of the building blocks of memory foam. However, your mattress as a final product should not contain any of those. If you’re not familiar with how chemistry works, let us simplify things: when two compounds react, the result is a new, completely different compound. So, while isocyanates may be dangerous, the resulting polyurethane foam isn’t: it’s completely inert.
In that sense, the supposed harmfulness of memory foam mattresses is a bit of a case of mistaken identity. While manufacturers make memory foam from potentially harmful ingredients, the final product is chemically different.
There is a catch, though. While, in theory, memory foam shouldn’t contain harmful chemicals, a small amount can sometimes slip through. That’s why you need to choose a company that uses a safe production process.
Some manufacturers use chemicals embedded inside the foam to make your mattress flame retardant. This practice is outdated and potentially harmful, and the reason for this lies in dangerous chemicals such as boric acid and formaldehyde.
The modern, safe way to achieve flame resistance is by wrapping the memory foam mattress in a suitable cover. Lately, wool covers have become very popular. They’re natural, comfortable, and completely harmless.
Memory Foam Off-Gassing
Off-gassing means that sometimes memory foam mattresses can emit gasses containing certain chemicals. These chemicals may include polyols and isocyanates that were not spent in the production process. However, the amount a quality mattress emits is minuscule, so you need not worry. Memory foam mattresses in Canada have to pass strict regulations to ensure they’re safe.
You can tell if your mattress is off-gassing by the odor that it emits. Some mattresses will emit a plasticky odor that’s hard to miss when fresh out of the box. However, with a quality mattress, the smell will go away in a matter of hours. If you’d like to get rid of it quicker, let your mattress air out in a separate room or even outside. Just keep it away from rain and direct sunlight.
Can I safely cut a memory foam mattress?
Cutting a memory foam mattress is as safe as sleeping on one. If you choose a reputable manufacturer, you will have no problems with either.
Is gel memory foam toxic?
Gel memory foam is nothing more than regular memory foam with a gel infusion as part of its structure. The added gel only helps with cooling, which will accommodate hot sleepers. Therefore, everything in this article also applies to gel memory foam toxicity.
How do I choose a safe memory foam mattress?
Look for a certified mattress. Mattresses in Canada undergo rigorous testing to make sure they’re safe in every possible way. CertiPUR-US is among the most necessary certificates: it guarantees low emissions and forbids dangerous chemicals in production.
The question of memory foam toxicity is not a simple one, and the production process plays a huge role. So, is memory foam toxic? High-quality, health-conscious manufacturers offer completely harmless mattresses. Cheaper ones, however, can be bad for you. Companies that cut costs to make larger margins of profit may use harmful chemicals in their products, putting your health at risk.
What do you think? Is memory foam toxic, or is it harmless? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (April 23, 2014). Isocyanates. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/isocyanates/default.html
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