The many plastics, foams, and other artificial materials that we can make are wonders of modern technology. They're used in place of natural materials because they have various properties that we want, including the ability to respond to the heat of our bodies to become more supportive, fire resistance, and ease of care. They also have a dark side, however. The chemicals that are used to create them do not necessarily remain confined within the material itself. Before you go shopping for a new bed, you should think about the potential for off gassing from a mattress and how this could potentially have an impact on your health.
What is off gassing?
This is basically a blanket term that's used to describe any situation where a gas was originally frozen, dissolved, or otherwise trapped inside some kind of material and then is later released. If you've ever bought a memory foam mattress pad or otherwise gotten new plastic items, opened the packaging, and felt like you were being hit in the face by a powerful chemical smell, this is the source. Almost anything new that you can buy out of man-made materials is going to end up doing this to some degree. In fact, that's exactly the reason that experts warn that most homes have air that's more toxic than the air outside. We've filled our households with things that release chemicals into the air, and then shut them up so that none of it can escape.
Why does it matter so much for a mattress?
The problem is particularly troublesome when it comes to where you're going to spend your time sleeping. This can seem strange, but it's partly a simple matter of how much time you spend in a given place. Allergy sufferers are often advised to keep pets out of the bedroom because this can give them a place to spend a solid eight hours each night breathing relatively clean air so that their body gets a break from the allergens. In the same way, though, a mattress that releases a lot of VOC is going to fill the air in your bedroom with things that are bad for you. To make matters even worse, you're sleeping directly on top of the mattress and are in a perfect position to breathe in a large quantity of it.
Mattress Protectors Aren't Enough
Some people assume that they can address the problem with any organic mattress protector that they can pick up on the market. You can certainly get some very good mattress protectors made of organic cotton that aren't going to add to the problem, but these are made of fabric. This means that air, and the gases being released by the mattress, can pass right through them. Your mattress cover will keep dust mites in and help to keep your bed clean if you pick a good one, but you need to have a very specialized cover to be able to avoid this particular issue. It's currently only possible to buy really good covers that are designed to contain chemicals and to be safe themselves for beds that are sized for infants. That's a good thing for babies, but it doesn't do a lot for their parents and other family members.
Understand Your Mattress
It's important to realize that different types of beds are going to present a different level of hazard. While many people love some properties of Memory Foam, they generally don't realize that it gains these partly by having gases deliberately trapped within its structure. This is a problem because it makes it one of the worst offenders in the area of keeping the air safe to breathe.
Even if you buy another type of mattress, there will probably be some chemicals involved. Many brands that aren't actually memory foam will now include a pillow top that includes some foam as a top layer to try to make the entire thing more responsive and comfortable. There are also many brands that include a wide variety of chemicals for the purpose of adding flame resistance to materials that would otherwise burn very readily. This helps to keep you safe if you think you might be able to sleep through having your bed on fire, but it doesn't make sure that you have clean air to breathe as you are sleeping.
What You Should Do
You should look around for an organic cotton mattress that minimizes the number of chemicals involved. It's also a good idea to give your bed as much time as possible to air out before you begin sleeping on it. In fact, even after you begin sleeping on it you should take the sheets off during the day for a while and leave the windows open so that the chemicals have as much opportunity as possible to clear. You can't completely avoid the hazards of modern life, but you can limit the amount of damage that they can do to you.