Over the past few decades, memory foam has become the most popular choice for use in mattresses, and is increasingly used in mattress toppers, pillows and even couches and chairs. However, there are an increasing number of articles out there, some penned by experts, that suggest that memory foam may not be as great to sleep on as once thought, as it is an artificial, manufactured substance created using a number of chemicals and other substances some consider toxins. So, the big question is, is memory foam safe?
The basic answer to the question is memory foam safe is not a cut and dried one. Modern memory foam is actually quite different from the original material, which was first developed by NASA way back in the 1970s.
Many of the potentially harmful elements were removed from the equation years ago, and technically, if the memory foam in question is used in bedding and is approved by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), it is safe to sleep on. But things may be a little more complicate than that – thus that slew of articles – and these issues are what we are going to examine in greater detail here.
Are Memory Foam Mattresses Safe for Sleeping?
As we just mentioned, provided that a memory foam mattress/mattress topper/ pillow or other bedding item has been approved by the CPSC – you can determine that from the label – it is considered safe to sleep on, as it meets their basic guidelines. But what is safe is somewhat subjective.
Although the chemical makeup of memory foam has changed over the years there are still some chemicals used in the creation of some forms of memory foam that are a cause for concern for some people.
The fact that memory foams are not created equal clouds matters even further, meaning that some people feel that some memory foam is safe to sleep on while other offerings may not be so great for your health, especially in the long term.
What is Memory Foam Made Of?
The primary component of all memory foam is polyurethane. Classified as a polymer – a man-made substance that has large molecules that are made up of lots of smaller molecules – polyurethane has been in common use in all kinds of products – everything from paint to car parts.
Memory foam is termed a “viscoelastic” polyurethane foam, which means it takes a long time to change under pressure. That is the ‘visco’ part of the term. The elastic part refers to the fact that the material can ‘snap back’ into shape once the pressure that is changing its shape is removed. As in the person lying on the mattress, or the head on the pillow.
This is where things get fuzzy. This viscoelastic property is added to standard polyurethane by using a number of different chemicals, and different manufacturers make use of different chemicals and processes to give their bedding more spring, or to increase its elasticity.
The concern over sleeping on memory foam – and memory foam in general – comes because some chemical components used by some memory foam manufacturers may be a cause for concern when it comes to human health and the long-term effects of sleeping on a mattress that contains them. Some of the most cited potential ‘toxins’ include:
Acetone: Acetone (yes, the stuff used in some nail polish removers) which may have a limited impact on health over a prolonged period of time.
Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde may be present in a memory foam mattress as a byproduct of the adhesives used to create it.
Methyl benzene: A limited number of studies have suggested that inhaling methyl benzene over an extended period of time may lead to respiratory illness.
Dimethylformamide and Methylene aniline: Substances produced during the memory foam manufacturing process that may be carcinogens.
The good news here is that most memory foam manufacturers, because of these concerns, have indeed taken most of these chemicals out of the ‘recipe’ they use to create their bedding. If you are still making use of an older memory foam mattress, they may still be present, however.
The Pros and Cons of Sleeping on Memory Foam
While memory foam has become the most common mattress choice, it is not the only option available to choose from. So, are there pros and cons attached to choosing a memory foam mattress to sleep on every night for years? As is the case for almost everything, there are indeed. Here is a look at some of the most important.
Memory Foam Pros
- Very supportive which helps keep the spine aligned properly during sleep
- Can help relieve aches and pains and prevent waking back and neck pain
- Exceptionally low motion transfer: if your partner moves, you should not be disturbed.
- Durable and easy to care for
- Often one of the more affordable mattress choices
Memory Foam Cons
- May need to be off gassed for 24-48 hours when new to remove smell
- Memory foam is heavy, so it will be harder to move the mattress alone.
- Some people are concerned about the chemicals that may have been added to the polyurethane to create the memory foam’s viscoelasticity.
- Some memory foam mattresses sleep hot, or at least hotter than some of the alternatives.
Best Non-Toxic Mattress Materials
If the potential toxins in memory foam are your biggest concern, what alternatives can you consider? Here is a look at some of the most popular non-toxic mattress materials you can consider:
Plant Based Memory Foam: This is a newer form of memory foam that makes use of a plant-based substance – usually soy – in place of some of the petroleum-based chemicals used in standard memory foams.
Natural Latex: Latex is a substance that has natural elastic properties and is sourced for use in mattresses in a way that is usually more sustainable and eco-friendlier than the manufacturing process that creates standard memory foams.
Organic Cotton: Mattresses are not made from cotton, but they can – and are – used as the cover for mattresses, offering the cool comfort – and silky feel – that high quality cotton imparts. If the cotton is organic it is very environmentally friendly too.
Organic Wool: Some mattresses now include organic wool, both for softness and for heat regulation, as wool is a natural thermoregulatory substance, as sheep who live in warmer climates can attest!
Innerspring Coils: Innerspring coil mattresses are still out there, often combined with other mattress technology and constructed in a rather different way than they used to be, so there is less embarrassing squeaking and no danger of being poked by sharp metal!
What is the Safest Memory Foam Mattress to Sleep On?
While there is no definitive answer to this question, a supportive, eco-friendly non-toxic mattress is now usually considered the best choice when it comes to memory foam mattresses. Here are two choices we love.
Plant-Based Memory Foam Mattress: Amerisleep AS3
The AS3 mattress is a notable example of plant-based Bio-Pur® memory foam technology in action. Designed to sleep cooler than standard memory foam – and with plenty of customer reviews to attest to the fact that it does, the use of soy in place of many of the common chemical elements used in memory foams means that you can sleep easier knowing that you are being exposed to fewer toxins. It’s made in the USA and comes with a risk-free, 100-night trial and a generous 20-year warranty.
Natural Latex Foam Mattress: Latex for Less
Natural latex is a great mattress choice, but it lacks the motion transfer prevention that memory foam offers. That problem is solved in this reversible with 2-firmnesses-in-1 latex mattress as it makes use of both a pure natural wool and an organic cotton layer that surround the 100% natural latex to add stability and body heat regulation. If you are allergic to latex this mattress is not for you of course, but if that is not a problem then this is a great, safe choice to sleep on. It’s also certified by GOTS, Oeko-Tex Standard 100 and Eco-Institut. It too is made in the USA, comes with a 20-year warranty, free shipping and a 120-night home trial.
What is the Safest Memory Foam Pillow to Sleep On?
Memory foam pillows offer several benefits over standard pillows. They help keep your neck and spine properly aligned as you sleep, they do not flatten out and lose their shape and many sleep cooler than a standard pillow. However, some people are concerned about memory foam pillows as they do not want to breathe in potentially harmful toxins at night.
Bio-Foam & Plant Based: Keetsa Good Nite Pillow
One safer alternative to traditional memory foam pillows is the Keetsa Memory Foam Pillow. It is crafted using a toxin free plant-based memory foam called Biofoam and features a ‘double sided’ cover, offering cool organic cotton on one side and temperature regulating wool on the other, making it a great sleeping choice for all seasons. It’s also adjustable allowing you to easily remove or add fiber filling.
How Do You Keep Memory Foam Well Maintained?
When taken care of, a high-quality memory foam mattress should last for 8-15 years, and a good memory foam pillow for around two to three years. Fortunately, taking care of memory foam bedding is not hard.
To keep memory foam bedding well maintained and extend its useful life you should vacuum it regularly it to remove dust, hair and other debris and make sure you clean up any accidental stains (pet stains, wine, if a tipple in bed is your thing) as quickly as possible using a mild cleaning solution – water and baking soda works well – and rotate your memory foam mattress at least once every six months.
How to Safely Dispose of a Memory Foam Mattress and Pillows?
All good things must come to an end and that includes your relationship with your memory foam mattress and pillows. But how should you dispose of old memory foam to ensure you do so in the most eco-friendly way possible?
Memory foam is recyclable, so you should make an effort to try to do so. Some mattress manufacturers will remove your old memory foam mattress when you buy a new one and do that for you. If you are buying a ‘mattress by mail’, which is an extremely popular option, local recycling centers should be willing to accept your old stuff.
When it comes to memory foam pillows if you have furry members of your family you could donate your old pillow to them, as they are unlikely to care if it is older! Some people even get super crafty with old memory foam, as is the case in this YouTube video, in which an old memory foam mattress becomes a cool chair!