Do Latex Mattresses Smell? (Prevent and Fix Odors)

If you know what latex rubber smells like then you might be worried that buying a latex mattress is going to result in you inhaling horrible chemical odors night-after-night.

But do latex mattresses actually smell?

Latex mattresses made from natural latex rather than synthetic latex are unlikely to smell strongly and instead typically emit a faint and somewhat sweet smell of vanilla – rather than the harsh chemical smell associated with many poly-foam and memory foam mattresses.

This is great news if you’ve yet to buy your mattress because you can simply opt for a mattress that’s made mainly from natural latex.

But what if you’ve gone ahead and already bought a latex mattress that has a higher percentage of synthetic latex and is stinking out your room?

Then you should read this article in full.

Because I’m first going to walk you through the process of buying a latex mattress in a way that’s likely going to minimise the chance of you ending up with a foul smelling mattress.

And then you can apply the tips in the post-purchase section that explains how to minimise existing latex mattress odors.

There’s 10 tips to guide you in total.

Related: what is a vegan mattress?

How to Prevent and Fix Latex Mattress Odors

All mattresses are liable to smell when new – even latex mattresses.

This is due to a phenomenon called ‘off-gassing’ where as your new mattress is unwrapped, small airborne particles and chemicals called VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are released into the atmosphere and create an odor of varying strength [1].

Some of the worst smelling mattresses are cheap, bed-in-a-box memory foam mattresses made overseas in places like China that arrive at your doorstep in a compressed box.

This is due to several combining factors.

Most notably, memory foam is made from synthetic chemicals that typically off-gas profusely – a risk that increases when the memory foam is made in countries where regulations aren’t as strict and VOC counts may be above what is considered acceptable by certifying bodies like CertiPUR-US® (and may even contain toxic chemicals like formaldehyde).

And when such mattresses are compressed into a smaller box to make transportation easier, the VOCs become trapped inside the packaging and are released suddenly upon unboxing.

The video below illustrates how mattresses are compressed and sealed in plastic in a way that can contribute to VOCs being trapped.

How To Compress, Fold And Roll Up A Memory Foam Mattress – Bed In a Box Secrets! (Mattress Clarity)

New memory foam mattress owners often report that the off-gassing smell is overpowering when they cut away the plastic packaging.

This is due to the VOCs and other particles being released.

And you’ll often find that as your memory foam mattress expands, the smell remains because more particles are released as the mattress decompresses to its full size.

This smell usually dissipates in a few hours but some users have reported that the smell can last for weeks and even months.

This may be because upon lying on your memory foam mattress, your body heat may contribute to the further release of VOCs as the foam changes shape in response to your warmth.

This is particularly concerning because the Environmental Protection Agency has confirmed that VOCs like formaldehyde released during off gassing can be harmful to your health [2], whilst other sources have stated that benzene and acetaldehyde are VOCs that can be released from certain mattresses and have been associated with an increased cancer risk [3].

But not all memory foam mattresses are bad.

In reality, poly-foam and poly-foam derived memory foam mattresses are safe – if they have the CertiPUR-US® and/or OEKO-TEX® Standard 100 labels.

Because these certifications ensure that VOCs are kept to acceptable standards whilst toxic chemicals like formaldehyde and PBDEs are completely absent.

However, you can minimise the risk of buying a smelly and toxic mattress even more by opting for a natural latex mattress.

Because by replacing synthetic poly-foam with natural latex you’re side-stepping many of the chemicals that contribute to VOCs and off gassing.

Therefore, if finding a mattress that doesn’t smell is your main priority, then you’ll want to go for an ‘all-latex’ mattress rather than a spring or hybrid bed because these mattresses contain other materials that will have their own odors (such as poly-foams) and often include an abundance of stench-inducing adhesives and glues.

But finding a truly natural latex mattress that’s going to have a minimal odor isn’t exactly straightforward due to the vague and ambiguous labelling typically used in the mattress industry.

So the best course of action is to follow the 5 pre-purchase steps below and then apply the 5 post-purchase steps once you have the mattress.

You can also use the 5 post-purchase steps to lessen the odor coming from your current synthetic latex mattress if it smells bad.

Before Purchase

The best way to stop a latex mattress from smelling is to apply these 5 steps before you buy the mattress:

1: Choose a GOLS Certified All-Latex Mattress

Choosing a mattress that’s made from a high percentage of natural latex that’s been certified as organic over synthetic latex is the most effective action that you can take to stop your latex mattress from smelling.

This is because synthetic latex is made from Styrene-Butadiene Rubber (SBR) which – like memory foam – is petroleum-based and can lead to off-gassing which can make your mattress and sleeping space smell.

Whereas natural latex is made from plant-derived isoprene found in the Hevea brasiliensis ‘natural rubber tree’ [4].

The outcome is that natural latex tends to have very little odor – or emits a light vanilla smell that’s fairly inoffensive to most people.

However, as the video below explains, many manufacturers make their latex mattresses from a blend of natural and synthetic latex to keep costs down.

What is the difference between Natural and Synthetic Latex Foam? (The Spinery)

In fact, it’s actually impossible to find a mattress made with 100% natural latex because in order to transform the latex from a runny substance to a solid foam, curing agents must be added in the vulcanization process.

This means that the maximum amount of natural latex that you can find in a mattress is around 95-97% (with the fillers having a negligible impact on the odor potential of the mattress).

But don’t expect mattress manufacturers to be forthcoming in such details.

On the contrary, they will typically do their best to make it as hard as possible for you to find out how much natural latex and synthetic latex is in their mattresses – with the more unscrupulous companies doing everything they can to give the impression that their mattress contains latex that’s 100% natural.

So how do you find a latex mattress that’s made from a high percentage of natural latex and is therefore less likely to smell?

The best action that you can take is to first look for an all-latex mattress that is GOLS (Global Organic Latex Standard) certified.

Because this certification means that the mattress contains at least 95% organic material.

Now, it’s important to note that this doesn’t mean that the mattress contains 95% organic latex; since when you look at the certificate of a GOLS certified mattress, you’ll see that the organic latex content varies – with the remaining difference often being made up of organic wool and cotton fillers (example).

However, the organic certification implies the absence of synthetic latex and therefore a mattress that’s less likely to smell when compared to synthetic latex and poly-foam derived mattresses.

2: Go For an Organic Cotton Cover

To keep odors to a minimum, go for a 100% cotton cover with no synthetic materials.

Look for the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certification to ensure that the textile product is made from a minimum of 70% organic cotton fibers [5].

3: Avoid Chemical Adhesives

You’ll want to look for a mattress that’s also free from chemical adhesives and glues (they can be surprisingly stinky, even in small quantities).

In many cases, if a mattress doesn’t use any chemical fillers or adhesives, this will be made clear on the sales page as this is seen as a USP (unique selling point) by manufacturers.

For example, the Real Bed mattress uses nylon threads and wool tufting to hold the layers of their mattress together.

4: Sample the Latex

If you’re buying your latex mattress in-store then it may be possible to obtain a sample of the latex being used in the mattress that you’re thinking of buying.

And assuming that this is a freshly manufactured piece of latex, you can see how much it smells and if it bothers you or not.

5: Look for Certified Mattresses

In order to avoid a mattress that’s packed with toxic chemicals, flame retardants, and chemicals that could contribute to off-gassing, look for mattresses that have been manufactured in the USA and are certified as safe by OEKO-TEX® and/or CertiPUR-US®.

Additional certifications to look for that ensure that odor producing VOCs are kept to acceptable standards include the GREENGUARD and GREENGUARD Gold and the Eco-Institut labels.

After Purchase

You can use the 5 steps below on your new latex mattress to minimise odors.

And they might also be effective if you’re trying to get rid of the smell coming from your existing latex mattress – although odors coming from heavily synthetic latex and poly-foam/memory foam containing mattresses are likely to be more stubborn.

1: Air the Mattress

When you first unbox/unwrap your new latex mattress, the first thing that you should do is let it breathe.

This means that you should avoid putting any sheets or pillows on the bed and make sure that you open the windows to let the VOCs and particles in the room clear as much has possible.

The longer that you can do this for the better.

2: Walk or Roll on the Mattress

Walking or rolling on your mattress can help to force the release of the VOCs more rapidly – just be careful that you don’t put too much weight on the mattress which might damage it or the bed frame.

3: Clear the Air

In addition to opening your windows, you can place bowls of either baking soda, activated charcoal, or white vinegar in the room to neutralise the VOCs and remove the off-gassing smell (although the white vinegar might smell even worse, but at least it’s not toxic).

You may also find that lowering the humidity in the room by removing damp clothes from the radiator and using a dehumidifier may help too.

4: Treat the Mattress

Lightly sprinkling baking soda over your mattress may also help to remove any smells – see my mattress cleaning guide for the full instructions.

5: Apply a Waterproof Mattress Protector

If you cannot stand the smell of VOCs being emitted from your latex mattress, then you can try applying a waterproof mattress protector to trap the particles that are causing the smell inside the mattress.

Alternatively, you could try wrapping the entire mattress in impermeable polyethylene plastic (look for non-toxic food grade versions) but this is more of a short term solution and likely isn’t appropriate over the long term.

Related Questions

Here are the answers to some questions related to latex mattresses and odors.

Is the Smell of Latex Harmful?

The smell of latex from mattresses with a high natural latex content is unlikely to be harmful to adults. However, the smell produced by mattresses with a high synthetic latex content is likely to be more harmful since the odor-producing VOCs are derived from synthetic petrochemicals rather than natural materials but the risk is still likely to be relatively low.

Does the Smell of Latex Ever Go Away?

The odor produced by a natural latex mattress should go away within a few hours or days; whilst mattresses containing a high amount of synthetic latex may smell for weeks or even months after unboxing.

Go For GOLS Certified Natural Latex

Because natural latex doesn’t smell as much as synthetic latex or poly-foams, then the most effective action that you can take to ensure that you’re not sleeping on a stinky mattress is to choose an all-latex mattress with a high percentage of natural latex.

This can be quite difficult to do, but going for a GOLS certified latex mattress ensures that the mattress contains at least 95% organic materials and therefore minimises the presence of synthetic materials that can cause bad smells.

Let me know in the comments section if the tips in this post have helped you or not.

Related: are organic mattresses worth the money?

Sources and References

[1] Custom Made – How Scared Should You Be of Off-Gassing? Accessed 2/7/20.

[2] EPA – Volatile Organic Compounds’ Impact on Indoor Air Quality. Accessed 2/7/20.

[3] WebMD – Is Your Mattress Releasing Toxins While You Sleep? Accessed 2/7/20.

[4] Wikipedia – Natural Rubber. Accessed 2/7/20.

[5] Global Standard – Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). Accessed 2/7/20.

Image Attribution and Licencing

Main image: ‘Fresh Bedroom Design’ by tulcarion (Getty Images) – used with permission under the terms of Canva’s One Design Use License Agreement.