Is Gel Memory Foam Toxic? - A Detailed Guide

Choosing a mattress often boils down to which type feels the most comfortable to sleep on. But do you stop and think about the safety of the type of mattress you choose? Learning about the safety or toxicity of the mattress material is important since you will most likely be using the mattress for a long time – and your health can be directly affected.

Is Gel Memory Foam Toxic? - A Detailed Guide

Gel memory foam mattresses have increasingly gained popularity over the years. This is because of the benefits that this type of mattress brings, especially when it comes to how comfortable one’s sleep can be when using this material. A gel memory foam mattress has a surface that conforms to the shape of your body for a hugging sensation, encouraging you to sleep peacefully for long hours. The gel infusion makes the memory foam cooler to sleep on as it prevents heat from building up and draws it away from the surface, preventing extreme warmth from interrupting what should be a restful sleep. However, there have been concerns about the safety of using gel memory foam in mattresses, given the chemicals and other substances that are used in this material. Getting to know the material composition of gel memory foam can help you understand the material more, allowing you to weigh the benefits versus the risks of choosing gel memory foam mattresses, especially for long-term use.

Is Gel Memory Foam Toxic? - A Detailed Guide

What is Memory Foam?

Memory foam is a pressure-relieving, conforming material that is manufactured using polyurethane, which is a byproduct of petroleum. It was first created by NASA during the 1960s when they wanted to come up with a material that could quickly adapt to the body’s shape even as it relieved the pressure coming from the G-forces. Their goal was to keep astronauts comfortable during launches and when they were sent into space and endured extreme conditions. Memory foam was used solely by NASA until the 1980s when it started being used in hospital settings as well as for developing athletic equipment. During the 1990s, mattresses began including memory foam in their compositions; since that time, the material has steadily gained popularity as a comfortable and high-quality mattress choice.

Is Gel Memory Foam Toxic? - A Detailed Guide

What is Gel Memory Foam?

Gel memory foam is a conventional memory foam that has been enhanced with a gel infusion or gel beads. The infusion is used to improve the temperature regulating properties of the memory foam, which tends to trap heat and can cause sleep disruptions. This discomfort can be a significant issue for people who tend to sleep warm and for any person during the warmer times of the year. The gel infusion works to keep the surface of the mattress cool by drawing heat buildup away from the body so that the mattress maintains a comfortably cool feel even with long hours of use. Gel memory foam mattresses can often come with a higher price compared to ordinary memory foam mattresses, with the price difference corresponding to the comfortability and cooling enhancement that the infusion brings.

Is Gel Memory Foam Toxic? - A Detailed Guide

Is Gel Memory Foam Toxic?

Conventional memory foam used to be produced with various chemicals and substances that may be considered toxic. The main ingredient in memory foam, polyurethane, is a petroleum-based substance that may cause skin irritation and respiratory issues. Mattresses made of memory foam also used to have adhesives or chemical byproducts that may contain formaldehyde, another toxic substance that may post health risks. Chemical flame retardants may also be added to the memory foam mattress to make it less vulnerable to fire hazards, but these chemicals may also be toxic, or at the very least irritating, to the people using the mattress.

With all the strong chemicals and other substances that are commonly present in memory foam, is it correct to assume that gel memory foam is toxic? The answer is yes – but there are ways to limit your exposure to these chemicals for your increased safety. One of the ways is to look for a mattress that is certified organic since this provides you with the assurance that the mattress was manufactured without chemical additives. High-quality and more eco-friendly gel memory foam mattresses are now available, and these are the options that have passed the strict safety guidelines and qualifications of certain official regulators.

Is Gel Memory Foam Toxic? - A Detailed Guide

Certifications of Safer Gel Memory Foam Mattresses

To reduce the risk of your exposure to harmful chemicals as you enjoy the benefits of a gel memory foam mattress, look for high-quality mattress brands that come with these labels and/or certifications:

GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard)

A GOTS certification guarantees that the mattress has at least 95% certified organic materials, with the remaining 5% of materials allowed also coming with stringent restrictions to ensure the overall safety of the mattress. Chemical flame retardants are some of the substances that are restricted from being included in the 5% non-organic materials in a GOT-certified mattress, which significantly limits your exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.

CertiPUR-US

The CertiPUR-US certification applies to the polyurethane foam composition of the mattress. This certification states that the foam portion of the mattress does not contain substances that may cause health problems, including formaldehyde, ozone depleters, chemical flame retardants, and heavy metals such as mercury and lead.

Greenguard

Gel memory foam mattresses that come with the Greenguard certification have passed third-party chemical emission standards to ensure that the levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are low enough to not cause health and safety issues while improving and/or preserving the good quality of the indoor air. This addresses the issue of off-gassing, which occurs when the VOCs are broken down and start to spread through the air in the surrounding area. The more stringent Greenguard Gold certification has an even lower emission level limit, with products having this certification deemed as non-toxic and acceptable for use in health care facilities and schools.

USDA Certified Organic

This certification from the US Department of Agriculture guarantees that certain elements of the gel memory foam mattress are organic and do not contain chemicals or synthetic substances. This reduces your risk of being exposed to hazardous chemicals that may be found in non-organic mattress options.

Key Takeaways

  • Memory foam is a material that was initially created by NASA to provide ample cushioning for astronauts and is derived from the petroleum-based substance polyurethane.
  • Gel memory foam is created by adding gel beads or a gel infusion to conventional memory foam, giving the material the ability to draw away heat from the surface to make the mattress cooler to the touch.
  • Gel memory foam is manufactured with substances that may be considered toxic and can be harmful to health, especially with long-term exposure.
  • To limit exposure to toxic chemicals, it is a good idea to choose gel memory foam mattresses that have certifications from strict, official regulators.
  • In general, a greater number of safety certifications can be found in gel memory foam mattresses with higher qualities compared to the cheaper alternatives that may not address toxicity and off-gassing issues.

FAQs

Q: Where does memory foam come from?

A: Memory foam is produced from polyurethane, which is a by-product of petroleum. The material was initially used by NASA to provide protective cushioning for astronauts while in space.

Q: What is the difference between memory foam and gel memory foam?

A: Gel memory foam is simply regular memory foam that is enhanced with a gel infusion or gel beads. The gel works to make the mattress cooler by pulling heat away from the surface, so it remains cool even with long hours of use.

Q: Is gel memory foam toxic?

A: Gel memory foam is produced using potentially harmful chemicals, so mattresses that have not been tested for safety or passed toxicity restrictions may pose serious health risks.

Q: Is there a safer way to choose gel memory foam mattresses?

A: You can limit your exposure to toxic substances by choosing gel memory foam mattresses that come with certifications from certain official regulators. These certifications guarantee that the mattresses have passed strict testing and are following the safety limits set for off-gassing, toxicity, and level of harmful substances.

Conclusion

Gel memory foam mattresses are popular choices because they offer enhanced comfort that can make sleep more enjoyable, especially for those who have a problem with overheating. However, there are concerns about the safety of using gel memory foam because of the possible health risks from the chemicals and substances used in the manufacturing process. Certifications from strict regulators can limit your exposure to potentially harmful substances that are part of the gel memory foam composition. But if you want to eliminate the risk of being exposed to these toxic substances, it may be best to go for a non-toxic mattress option such as an organic latex mattress that doesn’t use strong chemicals.

Sources

PLOS One – https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0241276

Federal Labs – https://federallabs.org/successes/success-stories/how-nasa-brought-memory-foam-from-space-to-your-home

Science Advances – https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/5/e1601555

Research Gate – https://www.researchgate.net/publication/51820816_Exposure_to_Formaldehyde_and_Its_Potential_Human_Health_Hazards

US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5052662/

US Department of Energy Office of Scientific and Technical Information – https://www.osti.gov/biblio/5717772-ozone-depletion-use-cfcs

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