Reaction to the odor from a foam mattress pad

Updated July 19, 2017

All memory foam mattresses have a "new mattress" smell when they are removed from their plastic wrappings. Most people react to the odour in a benign way. They air out the mattress for a few days until the smell dissipates and then they sleep comfortably ever after. However, some people are sensitive to the odours that emit from memory foam mattresses and may even become very sick from the smell.

Memory Foam Mattresses

Memory foam mattresses, pads and pillows are made from petroleum-based chemicals, foams, adhesives, plastics and flame-retardant materials. According to research from Duke University, chemicals in memory foam mattresses, pads and pillows include up to 61 toxic chemicals. However, Dr. Cara Matterson states that no proven health risks from these chemicals have been found, particularly when the product is properly aired out to get rid of the gaseous smell.

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

Multiple chemical sensitivity is a condition in which people develop allergic reactions to things that don't usually bother other people. Where most people are not bothered by the new mattress smell, people with MCS often react adversely to memory foam odours caused by some of the toxic chemicals. The odour that is emitted by adhesives, flame retardants and chemicals used to manufacture memory foam often trigger adverse effects and make sensitive people sick.


Memory foam pads, mattresses and pillows contain solvents, plastics and chemicals such as benzene; tolnene di-isocyanate, an odorous hydrocarbon; and tertiary amine, which also has a strong odour. Mattresses, pads and pillows usually outgas naturally, and odours last a short period of time and cause no trouble to most people. But sensitive people react adversely to such toxic odours, which triggers allergies and cause them to become ill.

Symptoms/ Reactions

Common symptoms among people who are sensitive to foam mattress odours include asthma attacks, dizziness, nausea and breathing problems. Other people experience flulike symptoms, nosebleeds, rashes and hives as reactions to the odours emitted from foam mattresses, pads and pillows.


Air out mattresses, wash bedding regularly and air out bedrooms to help get rid of mattress odours. Others use vinegar and coffee grounds to help with this problem. Ozone machines are often used in other cases to get rid of the offensive odour. When these precautions don't give a sensitive person relief, it is best to get rid of the memory foam products and choose other kinds of mattresses that do not trigger allergic reactions. Natural materials, such as natural latex bedding, are probably a better choice in such cases.

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About the Author

Belinda Robinson-Jones has a Bachelor of Arts in English and a masters degree in library and information science. Since 1998, she has provided freelance writing, reviewing, research and editorial services and owns her own business, BRJ Research and Information Services.