Memory Foam Health Risks

Updated February 21, 2017

Memory foam mattresses offer many benefits over traditional spring mattresses, such as exceptional spinal support in varying degrees of firmness. However, studies conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency as well as independent research groups have shown that memory foam may pose substantial health risks for consumers, and that the chemicals in memory foam may contribute to several potential illnesses or ailments as a result of inhaling the chemicals in the foam.

Overheating and Night Sweats

The same properties that make memory foam a desirable bedding option also contribute to one of the main consumer complaints. The temperature sensitive nature of memory foam also works to trap heat and prevent proper air circulation. Particularly dense foam mattresses are more likely to lead to increased body temperatures that could disrupt sleep or lead to night sweats, a condition of profuse sweating during sleep. Night sweats can also contribute to quicker deterioration of the mattress.


Most memory foam mattresses and toppers are resistant to allergens like dust, mites and dander; the density of the mattress material does not support dust mites as a food source or housing option. However, the density of the foam also makes cleaning the mattress or removing allergens particularly difficult. A 2002 study published in the European Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology reported the presence of dust mites in foam mattress at four times as likely than the presence of mites in spring mattresses. If a memory foam mattress does house allergens, it can be next to impossible to remove the small mites or other tiny bacteria or allergens from the mattress. People with allergies could experience respiratory distress, rashes, itchiness or headaches.

Chemical Sensitivities

Memory foam products are made of a mixture of both toxic and non-toxic chemicals. Memory foam technology is polyurethane-based, but many memory foam products also contain toxic chemicals like methylene diphenyl isocyanate (MDI). A 1998 report by the Environmental Protection Agency asserts that short term exposure to MDI can cause eye and nose irritation as well as decreased functioning of the audio and visual body systems. Memory foam products must also be treated with chemicals that make them fire resistant. Chemicals like boron are used to treat memory foam products and mattress to reduce the risk of fire, but researchers believe that long term exposure to such chemical could lead to toxicity including respiratory illness.

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About the Author

Hannah Wahlig began writing and editing professionally in 2001. Her experience includes copy for newspapers, journals and magazines, as well as book editing. She is also a certified lactation counselor. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Mount Holyoke College, and Master's degrees in education and community psychology from the University of Massachusetts.