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5 reasons why mattress foam and VOCs are harmful to children


Foam mattresses, popularized for the dense, comfortable support they offer, have become utilized throughout much of the world in the past 30 years. But foam is not necessarily the best choice for your mattress – there are a litany of health concerns when it comes to chemicals often used in foam, particularly in regards to children’s health. Here are the top 5 reasons why foam mattresses, and the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) often found within them, are harmful to children.


Several chemicals commonly found in foam mattresses may pose serious health risks. The following chemicals – Benzene, Chlorine, Formaldehyde, Methylene Chlorine, Solvents – are all found in foam mattresses, and they have all been linked to multiple kinds of cancer development. Several of them are listed on the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs). Now, in foam, these chemicals are found in minuscule proportions, but owning a foam mattress can expose your home, your children, and yourself to these airborne pollutants.


Polyurethane foam itself is extremely flammable. This foam is the most commonly found type of foam mattress, not because it’s the highest quality available, but because it’s the least expensive type of mattress to produce. U.S. laws enacted in the mid-2000s mandate bedding and mattresses must be resistant to open flames from candles or lighters, but polyurethane foam mattresses are still at a higher risk than safer alternatives. Flame-retardant chemicals used to limit the risk of fire may also be dangerous for human health.


Foam mattresses may give off an acidic odor when first purchased. Some people complain that when they first unbox their new memory foam mattress, it gives off an acidic stench. This is known as “off-gassing” and is caused by a buildup of the low-level gasses and chemicals found within polyurethane foam while it sits inside its box. Most foam mattresses come with instructions to air the mattress out for a certain amount of time before use. The strength of the smell depends highly on the exact mixture of chemicals in each specific mattress, but either way, it releases potentially dangerous gasses upon unboxing.


Foam mattresses are popular for their density and propensity to form-fit the body which provides users with a comfortable sleep. But, foam mattresses can be too dense for children. Infants and small children can also be at risk of sinking too deep into the mattress over time; if they aren’t strong enough to turn themselves over, they could even suffocate.


Memory foam mattresses hold in heat really, really well. Memory foam uses the heat that emanates from your own body to mold itself to fit your body. During that process, it can trap the heat, leaving the user feeling hot and sweaty. Higher density mattresses will increase the amount of heat that is retained. While memory foam itself feels comfortable to the touch, nobody wants to feel too warm and sweaty while they’re trying to sleep – least of all your children.

What is a better alternative? There are many options to choose from on the market but not all are made quite the same. A mattress like Bundle of Dreams, with their unique Bundle Fiber foam alternative derived from recycled plastic water bottles is made without any of the dangerous chemicals often found in foam mattresses and utilizes the same memory technology. With no off-gassing required of a Bundle of Dreams mattress, because it is free of toxic chemicals in the first place, this is a safer and smarter alternative for your family.

For more information on keeping your children safe while sleeping, check out Five Safety Tips for Sleeping Babies.


Source: Environmental Protection Agency’s list of Hazardous Air Pollutants

Picture Credit: Unsplash

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I am a father of three and my wife is a registered nurse specialized in children.

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