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Mattress in a Box Health Issues: Should You Be Concerned?

mattress on a bedframe
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Parachute Team
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Disposing of your existing mattress and getting a new one in its place — not just onto your doorstep but into your bedroom — can be a complicated, overwhelming process. The main reason simply being, beds are large and heavy. This makes them difficult to lift and transport, especially if you don't have a large enough car.

A bed-in-a-box offers a convenient solution to the cumbersome problem by compressing the mattress into compact packaging to make it easier to ship and set up. But depending on the materials and design, there are some mattress-in-a-box health issues to consider.

Should you be concerned? In some cases, yes, but it depends on the brand. While there are safe, eco-friendly options out there, you're wise to read up on potential bed-in-a-box health dangers before purchasing one.

Here's everything you need to know.

What Is a Bed in a Box?

A bed-in-a-box is a rolled or partially folded mattress that's compressed to shrink its size, then placed in a box for shipping directly to the buyer's home. The modern concept makes buying and setting up new mattresses easier and more convenient, all while reducing transit costs for the seller.

Unlike buying a non-compressed mattress online or at a brick-and-mortar store, a bed-in-a-box doesn't require a large truck for delivery.

Mattress in a Box Materials

This type of mattress is typically made of foam, either memory foam or a different polyurethane foam, as the material is easiest to compress. But you'll also find multi-layered hybrid options made of multiple materials, such as metal coils, gel, latex, wool and cotton.

Some mattress materials are considered healthier and more eco-friendly than others. So, is polyurethane foam safe to sleep on? It's hard to say definitively, but there are some mattress-in-a-box health issues you should be aware of before you buy one.

Not all boxed mattresses pose a risk. If you want to sidestep any potential health hazards, consider getting a sustainably sourced, non-toxic mattress from Parachute.

See our Decision-Making Guide for Buying the Right Mattress for more insight.

Why You Might Want to Avoid Some Bed in a Box Options

All-foam mattresses (such as memory foam) are popular among consumers because they're generally the most affordable option. So, what's the problem with a bed-in-a-box?

Not all bed-in-a-box models present a safety concern. Like many others, you might be wondering, Do I need an organic mattress? Not necessarily. But there may be better options than a cheap mattress made of foam.

Wear and Tear in Transit

When a foam mattress is rolled up, compressed and stuffed into a box, it can create stress on the material, making it more susceptible to cracking. Polyurethane foam doesn't have a very long lifespan as is, and it might need to be replaced more often when it comes in compressed packaging.


Is memory foam toxic? When you take your mattress out of the box, you might notice a strong chemical odor for a few days while it airs out (or potentially longer). This is the off-gassing of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Though the smell may dissipate after a while, it doesn't necessarily mean you're no longer breathing in toxic substances.

Heat and Lack of Support

All-foam mattresses also don't provide the same support as those with innerspring coils and may begin to sag quickly. Beyond that, memory foam is generally not very breathable. This means it can trap heat while you doze and may result in night sweats — especially if you already sleep hot.


Polyurethane foam is very flammable, which poses a safety risk for sleepers. Because of this, foam mattresses are usually treated with flame-retardant chemicals — but this barrier could be compromised in the process of compressing the material into a box.

The Eco Mattress from Parachute comes in a large box, but it doesn't contain any foam and is carefully packaged to prevent damage in transit.

What Are the Health Concerns of Using a Mattress in a Box?

Potential bed-in-a-box health dangers include allergic reactions, skin irritation, exposure to toxic chemicals and mold and mildew growth. Here's what to know.

Allergic Reactions and Skin Irritation

According to the EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency), exposure to the volatile organic compounds emitted by foam mattresses and pillows can cause an allergic reaction. This could result in difficulty breathing, nose and throat discomfort, nausea, dizziness or fatigue.

Other potential mattress-in-a-box health issues include skin irritation due to flame-retardant chemicals called diisocyanates and isocyanates (the highly reactive VOCs used to make memory foam). This could show up as inflammation or an allergic reaction.

Exposure to Carcinogens and Other Toxic Chemicals

Is polyurethane foam toxic? Possibly. Whether it's a memory foam mattress, a foam pillow, a rug pad or sofa cushions, the EPA states that the volatile organic compound emissions from polyurethane can be toxic.

Some VOCs (including isocyanates and diisocyanates) are carcinogens, meaning they could cause cancer. The unhealthy chemicals found in these compounds include formaldehyde, acetone, methylene chloride and ethylene oxide.

However, the EPA notes that the potential toxicity of polyurethane depends on various factors, including your level of exposure, and that the ability of organic chemicals to cause health issues varies greatly. The agency also says that currently, "not much is known about what health effects occur from the levels of organics usually found in homes."

But at the very least, the VOCs found in foam and other household products (like some interior paints and cleaning supplies) can negatively affect your indoor air quality.

In addition to forgoing a memory foam mattress, consider placing a few of the Top 16 Indoor Plants for Clean Air in Your Home.

Mold and Mildew

Memory foam is porous (as in, it has literal pores where moisture can accumulate) but it’s not very breathable. This makes it highly susceptible to mold and mildew growth, which can pose foam mattress health risks. Mold exposure can make a person susceptible to nasal congestion, sore throats, coughing, wheezing, eye irritation, skin rashes, infections or asthma attacks.

On the other hand, wool and latex are naturally antimicrobial. This means the materials resist mold and mildew growth while helping to keep odor-causing bacteria at bay.

The Importance of Choosing a High Quality, Supportive, Eco Friendly Mattress

Now that you're up to speed on the possible bed-in-a-box health dangers let's touch on the importance of choosing a high-quality, supportive, eco-friendly mattress.

And for the record, this doesn't necessarily mean the mattress won't come in a box!

Innersprings for Long-Lasting Support

Some boxed mattresses feature one or multiple layers of innersprings. This might include larger, softer springs or mini-pocketed coils individually wrapped in fabric.

Unlike traditional spring mattresses, hybrid models combine coils with other materials, such as wool, cotton or latex. The idea is to provide long-lasting support without compromising comfort.

Multiple Support Zones

The best mattresses are designed with multiple support zones. As with the Eco Comfort Mattress, this may include:

  • Soft coils at the top for pressure-point relief on the neck, shoulders and upper back

  • Firm coils in the center to reinforce support throughout the hips and back, where a majority of your body weight lies

  • Soft coils at the bottom to keep the spine and legs aligned

In some cases, folding and compressing an innerspring mattress into its packaging compromises the built-in lumbar support. As a result, you may only reap some of the benefits of comfort and alignment.

Be sure to purchase your mattress from a company that takes special care with packaging and delivery, and always follow the instructions when unboxing it.

Sustainably Sourced Materials

Aside from avoiding mattress-in-a-box health issues, the best boxed beds are made of sustainable, environmentally friendly materials. For instance, the foam-free Eco Comfort Mattress is crafted from tempered steel, 100% pure and ethically sourced New Zealand wool and organic cotton certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTSⓇ).

Wool is considered a renewable material because the hides of sheep regrow incredibly quickly after they are sheered. While synthetic latex isn't biodegradable, natural latex is. It's also a renewable resource, as it's sourced from tree sap, a process that doesn't damage or deplete the tree.

What Is GOTS? Read our blog to find out why you should care about this organic textile certification.

Longer Lifespan and Warranty

Some boxed mattresses may not last as long as others. Ideally, you should only need to replace yours every 10 years or so, but when the quality is compromised, you might need to switch it out sooner than later.

Look for a durable, long-lasting mattress that's not only made of high-quality materials but also carefully packaged and delivered to your home intact. The most reputable brands back their mattresses with a warranty (usually about 10 years) to give you peace of mind about your investment. Though this varies among manufacturers, a warranty will generally protect your purchase against defects that cause it to tear, crack, split or become unusable over its lifespan.

Mattress in a Box Health Issues FAQ

Find answers to frequently asked questions about potential bed-in-a-box health dangers below.

What are the downsides to bed in a box?

Not all boxed beds are bad. However, there are some potential foam mattress dangers to consider. Memory foam is made of polyurethane, which can off-gas volatile organic compounds. Are mattresses toxic if they're made of polyurethane? Possibly, as these chemicals can pose health risks, depending on how much is ingested through the air.

Beyond that, a bed-in-a-box could become damaged through the packaging process, which may compromise the support, comfort or lifespan.

How do I know if my mattress is toxic?

The most toxic mattresses are usually all-foam models, such as memory foam. Memory foam and other high-density mattress foams are made of polyurethane, which may emit volatile organic compounds into the air you breathe. Flame-retardant chemicals used to treat foam mattresses can also cause health effects, like skin irritation, inflammation or an allergic reaction.

Is my new mattress making me sick?

If your new mattress is made of polyurethane-derived foam, it could be exposing you to volatile organic compounds. When you unbox it, you might notice a strong odor due to the off-gassing of the foam and flame-retardant chemicals used to treat the material. When inhaled in large amounts, these substances could cause eye irritation, nose and throat congestion, headaches or nausea.

These symptoms might go away after a few days once the mattress airs out, but if you continue to feel sick, consult with a healthcare professional.

Why is my mattress making me sick?

A new foam mattress could be making you feel sick due to the off-gassing of volatile organic compounds and flame-retardant chemicals. You might also experience mattress health issues with an older mattress due to a build-up of dust particles, mold or mildew.

Is a bed in a box okay?

Memory foam mattress chemicals could be emitted into your indoor air upon unpackaging your new bed. This might cause an unpleasant odor at best or lead to uncomfortable symptoms, like skin irritation, throat congestion, nausea or headaches.

Besides these bed-in-a-box health dangers, compressing a mattress can sometimes damage the materials, compromise the support or reduce its lifespan.

The Safe, Supportive, Long-Lasting Eco Mattress

If you're looking for a high-quality, non-toxic mattress with long-lasting support, consider the Eco Mattress from Parachute. It's made of safe, sustainably sourced materials, including multiple layers of tempered steel coils, pure New Zealand wool and certified-organic cotton.

This mattress is delivered via carbon-neutral shipping, and while it'll arrive in a large box, you can bet the durable, warranty-backed components will be intact. If you opt for white-glove delivery, your mattress will be placed in the room of your choice and carefully unboxed. The delivery team will also remove the packaging from your home and take away your old mattress if you want to get rid of it.

What's more, the Eco Mattress is backed by a 10-year warranty and a 100-night trial. If you don't love it, we will remove it from your home at no additional cost.

Read Next:

How to Donate, Recycle and Dispose of Old Mattresses

New Home Checklist: Essential Things to Buy or Upgrade When Moving In

What Is Oeko-Tex? Learn About This Textile Certification Standard

35 Eco-Friendly Home Products: Necessities for a Sustainable Household

Mattress Size and Dimensions Guide

Bed Frame Ideas: How to Choose the Best Bed Frame for Your Room

External Sources:

Oz K, et al. Volatile Organic Compound Emissions from Polyurethane Mattresses under Variable Environmental Conditions. Environmental Science & Technology. 2019, 53 (15), 9171-9180 DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.9b01557

Wrześniewska-Tosik K, et al. Viscoelastic Polyurethane Foam with Keratin and Flame-Retardant Additives. Polymers vol. 13,9 1380. 23 Apr. 2021, doi:10.3390/polym13091380

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Volatile Organic Compounds' Impact on Indoor Air Quality. 2022. Web.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Isocyanates. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). 2014. Web.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Mold. 2022. Web.

Wang J, et al. Quantitative and sensory evaluation of odor retention on polyester/wool blends. Textile Research Journal. 2019;89(13):2729-2738. doi:10.1177/0040517518801183

Shobowale OO, et al. Phytochemical and Antimicrobial Evaluation of Aqueous and Organic Extracts of Calotropis procera Ait Leaf and Latex. Nigerian Food Journal. Vol 31, Issue 1. 2013.

Wiedemann S, et al. Environmental impacts associated with the production, use, and end-of-life of a woollen garment. Int J Life Cycle Assess 25, 1486–1499 (2020).