Polyurethane Foam Mattress Safety


Polyurethane is a material used for many home and industrial applications. One of the most common uses is polyurethane foam in bed mattresses. The material is plush and durable, but soft enough to cradle your body and cushion your spine. While this is a common material, it does pose several safety concerns, especially for babies and toddlers.

Mattress Exposure

  • A lot of time is spent in bed. Infants and toddlers may spend up to 14 hours a day sleeping and playing in a crib. Adults may spend eight hours a day sleeping. You may not be aware of the chemical exposure given by the mattress. Not only is the time spent in bed a contributing factor but also the fact that your face may be on or very near the mattress. There are no government regulations controlling the chemicals used in creating the mattress, and a polyurethane mattress may contain more than just polyurethane.


  • Polyurethane foam is a highly flammable material. Polyurethane burns very quickly once ignited. As such, it generates high heat and consumes a lot of oxygen in a short period of time. In small spaces, this may pose the risk of suffocation to room occupants who may be trapped in the room. Flame retardants must be used on polyurethane mattresses. This adds more chemicals to the mattress, contributing to further possible toxic exposure.


  • Dust mites can live in your polyurethane mattress, multiplying into a colony of tens of thousands of unwanted guests, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. While dust mites do not carry any disease, they live off of dead skin and hair cells left in the bed. These mites are a leading cause of allergic reactions in the home, including asthmatic attacks in children and elderly individuals. The mites' droppings are the culprits, causing allergies to flare up because of a protein in the feces that many humans are allergic to.

Government Regulations

  • There are few regulations when it comes to the creation of polyurethane mattresses. The Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a ruling in 2006 regarding flammability standards. Under the Flammable Fabrics Act, all mattresses must comply with performance requirements: Namely, the fabric must reduce and slow the growth rate of a fire. The Act does not regulate the chemicals used to achieve this.


  • Solutions exist for dealing with the safety issues regarding polyurethane mattresses, but some seem only to create other issues. For example, placing a vinyl cover or a flame-retardant on the mattress only increases unregulated chemical exposure.

    The holistic community offers a different solution. Organic mattresses have been developed that do not contain polyurethane. These eliminate the exposure to unknown and unwanted chemicals. These mattresses may be given a layer of non-toxic fire protections as well as waterproofing for children's nighttime accidents.

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  • Photo Credit modern bedroom image by Galina Barskaya from Fotolia.com
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