The "Natural" Memory Foam Scam

There are various chemicals that can be found in memory foam; however, the ingredients used in any specific brand’s memory foam are considered trade secret information and are not required to be disclosed. Often, pinpointing the components is impossible.

The good thing is that US laws and voluntary restrictions have phased out most of the more concerning chemicals that could be present in memory foam, though these would not necessarily apply to imports.

Here are chemicals that can be or have been found in memory foam. Note that each manufacturer uses its own “recipe,” so these do not apply to all lines.

  • Methylene dianiline/MDA – suspected carcinogen, eye and skin irritant, liver and thyroid damage with ingestion. Household products produce very low levels, greatest risk is during manufacturing.

  • Polyvinyl chloride – eye and respiratory irritation, possible carcinogen, organ damage. Primary hazard is during manufacturing.

  • Methyl benzene  – inhalation can affect nervous system.

  • Dimethylformamide – organ damage possible, and possible carcinogen, though primary risk is during manufacturing.

  • Acetone – toxic when inhaled in large amounts, but limited effects with low exposure.

  • Methylene chloride – a solvent, mucous membrane irritant and potential carcinogen. Use has declined in recent years due to EU restrictions and pollution regulations.

  • Formaldehyde – typically not added to foams, but may result as a byproduct of chemical reactions or adhesives.

Rarely Used or Banned:

  • 1,1,1,2 Tetrachoroethane – a possible carcinogen and cause of organ damage with long-term exposure, but rarely used in the US.

  • Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) – used as a blowing agent to make the material foam. Pollution regulations (the Montreal Protocol) have largely restricted this and other toxic halogens in the US since the 1990s. Manufacturers can use other gases or pressurized foaming systems instead.

Flame-Proofing Methods

All mattresses sold in the United States must be able to withstand an open flame for a 70-second period of time per federal guidelines. This measure is designed to reduce mattress fires and improve consumer safety. But not all fire retardant materials are safe for humans to be around.

Because polyurethane foams are typically flammable, they must be treated with a chemical or fire-resistant fabric. However, manufacturers are not required to disclose how they achieve fire resistance, so it may be not be easy to get this information from less transparent companies. Some of the chemicals used can be toxic.

  • Brominated fire retardants/Polybrominated diphenyl ethers/PBDEs – refers to a group of substances that can be used to resist flames. The variations confirmed to be carcinogenic have been phased out in the US since 2005.

  • Cotton treated with boric acid – possible organ toxicity.

  • Chlorinated tris (TDCPP) – Possible neurotoxin, endocrine disruptor and carcinogen. Common flame retardant, but was recently the basis of a large crib mattress lawsuit in California.

  • Wool – natural wool is a possible fire retardant, though usually not found on memory foam beds.

  • Modacrylic fiber – contains antimony oxide, a carcinogen.

  • Melamine resin – contains formaldehyde.

  • Decabromodiphenyl Oxide – hair loss, neurological effects, possible carcinogen.

  • Kevlar – strong fibers, not natural but non-toxic.

  • Alessandra fabric – wrapped fiberglass fibers, can be safe but may contain modacrylic fiber.

  • Rayon treated with silica – non toxic, rayon is derived from bamboo pulp and silica from glass/sand.

Why Natural is Bad!

Natural by definition is existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by humankind.

In 2014, NPR food and agriculture correspondent Dan Charles wrote about the uproar consumers have been having with the term “100% Natural.” Since then (and before), there have been many lawsuits against companies claiming their products to be natural when in fact they contain pesticides, GMO’s, and VOC’s.

The term “Natural” in fact is not even defined by the Food and Drug Administration, and it took the FDA many years to define standards for what is considered organic. Because of this oversight, many companies are allowed to define it themselves and proclaim something to be "natural" because it came from the ground or from an animal.

Madeleine Somerville, in a Guardian article, jokingly writes “In fact, here are some natural things which are also actually quite terrible: death, disease, beets, cute little zebra babies being eaten by lions, poisonous plants, mosquitoes, hurricanes.”

With so many companies wanting to help everyone be healthier or feel healthier, they slap the "natural" label on their products to get people to buy them when in fact they are hindering consumer health.

The memory foam companies are no exception. Looking at comments under memory foam posts on sleep blogs, one can gather that more than half of the memory foam customers have brought back their mattresses because of some illness, fatigue, headache, or something related.