I grew up camping. You would find me sleeping on an air mattress in a tent, or sleeping on a mattress in a pop-up camper each summer on vacation. My parents loved camping so much that they even bought a 5th wheel in their retirement. However, I wouldn’t necessarily call it camping since a 5th wheel has a bathroom, shower, kitchen, bedroom…
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One summer, we all went on a family camping trip. My husband and I stayed in a tent with an air mattress while my parents stayed in ‘luxury’ at the campsite across the road. My brother and his family also tented nearby.
The Air Mattress in Our Tent Was the Culprit
Since I have Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), traveling can be difficult. However, staying in a tent can sometimes be less difficult than staying in a hotel room due to all of the cleaning chemicals and laundry chemicals used.
From my previous experiences with air mattresses, I knew that I wouldn’t be sleeping on one. I slept on a lounger that my dad had remade with thick yarn. My husband (who doesn’t enjoy camping) slept on an air mattress next to me in the tent.
Throughout the night, I woke up multiple times with a bad headache, my lips and tongue tingling, and my heart racing (typical MCS symptoms). I couldn’t figure out what was causing the problem since I was sleeping on a recycled lounger.
The next morning, I left our tent and went to my parents’ 5th wheel to have breakfast in ‘luxury’. After breakfast I went back to our tent, unzipped the door and noticed the strong fumes that I noticed through the night. It finally dawned on me. It had to be the air mattress in our tent!
I asked my husband to remove the air mattress from our tent. After airing the tent out for the day, I was able to enter it again without experiencing symptoms. I felt bad that my husband was going to lose the comfort of the air mattress, but he took one for the team. The next night he slept on a lounger. (He was actually better off in the long run. He wasn’t sleeping on a toxic air mattress!)
Are You Sleeping on an Air Mattress With PVC and Phthalates?
Many air mattresses are made with PVC vinyl plastic. The volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) from the plastic can give off toxic fumes long after the new mattress smell wears off.
The plastics used to make air mattresses can also contain phthalates. Phthalates are colorless, odorless liquids that are a class of plasticizing chemicals used to make products more flexible. Phthalates are easily released from products and are readily absorbed into the body where they can accumulate. They can disrupt normal hormone function by mimicking estrogen.
Phthalates are one of the problem chemicals highlighted by the U.S. President’s Cancer Panel in the report, titled “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now”.
Is a Non Toxic Air Mattress Possible?
Unfortunately, many air mattresses come with toxic chemicals such as PVC, flame retardants and phthalates. Before purchasing an air mattress, I recommend reading the box or looking at the manufacturer’s website to see if you can find out what the mattress is made of.
Fortunately, there are a few options for a non toxic air mattress you can choose from. I list them below. Please note, I personally haven’t tried these air mattresses, but I have searched their website or have spoken to a company representative on the phone and have asked them questions. I’m taking the manufacturers at their word for the information they provide.
Some of the air mattresses listed below use Thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) instead of PVC. Depending on one’s sensitivities, some may not be able to tolerate TPU. TPU can vary in toxicity.
Non Toxic Air Mattress Options
- Alps Mountaineering Vertex Air Bed – their website states that “it is composed of a durable, lightweight and completely PVC-free fabric.” Under their features, it lists that it is made of “durable PVC-free fabric”.
- Kelty Kush Queen Air Bed– PVC free; however, it is made with durable TPU laminated fabrics
- KingCamp Airbed – Made of 150D oxford with TPU coating.
- Lightspeed PVC-Free Air Bed – their air mattresses are made of PVC-free materials such as TPU.
- Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite Women’s Ultralight Backpacking Air Mattress – This PVC free air mattress is made of nylon.
Living Natural Today Wants to Know:
- Do you have suggestions for non-toxic camping when sleeping on an air mattress?
- Have you slept on any of these non-toxic air mattresses? What did you think?
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Read Next: TPU vs PVC Plastic: Which is Better for Air Mattresses?
BTW the Polar Fleece I use wrapped around the mattress & under me as a bottom sheet was washed regularly & used as a blanket since 1999 before I got MCS. I takes at least 7 years to offgass. 2 1/2 yards is a good length for a blanket. 5 yds is good to wrap around the mattess before putting it in the pE cover.
I bought a polyethylene mattress cover from yourguidetogreen. It only comes in King size. I wrap the air mattress in Polar Fleece to avoid condensation & then put it in the PE mattress cover. That goes into a cotton dust mite mattress cover. I use Polar Fleece as a sheet under to avoid condensation. I have MCS & didn’t even tolerate a friends all natural non-toxic mattress. I’m now using my uncomfortable coil-construction Kelty Sleep Easy (no longer made) because the Intex loses air so fast. Im very comfortable with beam construction air mattresses. I just bought the Cloud Camp Bed by Stoic – 30D stretch fabric, TPU, [bottom] 190T polyester, TPU 80 x 51.5 x 4in. Don’t know if I toerate it but should be OK all wrapped up. My water got so sulphury I am exhausted, lungs hurt & brain fog. Hot water is much worse so not using it. So, not taking all that bedding off to try the Stoic until I can wash the sheets, No shower since spring trying to get help to repair the waqter situation.
Sorry to hear that you’re dealing with MCS so badly. Glad you were able to figure out a way to get the mattress covered so you can tolerate it.
This is an old thread, but I will chip in. I have bad asthma which makes me sensitive to PVC smell during exacerbations, and I am also allergic to dust mite in regular mattresses (in hotels etc). Thermarest’s Neo air mattresses work great for me. Theey do have a very mild smell when new, but the smells dissipates in a few hrs. When inflated, they are very easy to clean (wipe), and hold the pressure all night, I need to pump up every 2 days or so. The top layer fabric has a slight texture, so one does not feel “stuck” to it. The only issue is that they only are available for backpacking (i.e. 60 cm by 200 cm by 7 cm or so thick). I love backpacking when I feel good, but at home me and my spouse would rather have something more spacious, thicker and less noisy.
Thanks for the Thermarest Neo air mattress review!
Ruthie S says
FYI: The Lightspeed airmattress link is not the right link for the air mattress…this link brings you to Amazon for the pump bag. I bought 2 thinking it was an air mattress, but it was the pump bags I bought. Here is a link to the air mattresses that are available https://lightspeedoutdoors.com/collections/sleep
I think some of their mattresses are out of stock, but they do have some available.
Great article, thank you so much for sharing your experiences. I am so thankful for your references and can’t wait to go camping with a good mattress that won’t make my head hurt or make me feel dizzy.
Sorry about that. I’ve updated the links. Hope you have a good camping experience!
Hello. On Amazon, the Alps Mountaineering Velocity Air Mattress has a Prop 65 warning. When 2 customers (I wasn’t one of them) asked the company for clarification about the warning, the company said they were only required to state that they suspected that this product may contain a chemical prohibited under Prop 65. They made it clear they had the legal right to not state specifically which Prop 65 chemicals they suspected were in that particular mattress. So this mattress has at least one toxic chemical in it. Have you researched the Prop 65 status of all of the mattresses in this list? Thank you for raising people’s awareness about environmental health.
Thanks for making us aware of that.
Teresa & Rebecca, Did you ever find out more on the Prop 65 warning with Alps mountaineering air bed? I noticed on their sleeping bags too. I don’t see it on other brands. They have good reviews so would love to know why they have prop 65 warning is it flame retardants? Basically company said Prop 65 has so many chemicals they just list it on there ? Not good enough answer.
Hi Diane, It’s difficult to research this so I haven’t researched it further.
A Hay says
I recently bought an air mattress from Amazon. After a week or so of sleeping on it I developed severe neuropathy in my hands and feet and pain under my left shoulder. Also every morning I’d wake up with pain and gout like symptoms.
I had heard air mattresses can be toxic so I started sleeping on a regular twin bed instead and all the pain and neuropathy symptoms completely disappeared!!!
Sorry to hear about your symptoms. Glad you were able to figure out it was the air mattress.
Are older PVC airbeds ok? Once they have ‘gassed off’ are they then safe to use? Is the problem only with newly bought airbeds?
From my personal experience, I have had greater issues with new PVC airbeds. If I’m able to find a used air mattress that’s already off-gased, it’s better.
Valerie Cooper says
Thank you. I am happy that I found your article. I’ve been sleeping on a inflatable mattress for 5 months (due to relocating& lack of finances) and I have a pain near my left scapula, maybe a rhomboid muscle or skin issue, not sure. The pain is sporadic and feels like inflammation, also neck stiffness and soreness occasionally. I’m aware of the toxic substances mentioned in your article. I’m using the Bestway (Intertek) inflatable mattress. I will do more research on this brand.
Sorry to hear that you’re experiencing pains from your air mattress. I’m not familiar with Bestway, but from what I see on their website, their Tough Guard airbeds are made with PVC.
OMG, I purchased a Bestway mattress from Walmart, it is the worst. The smell was so horrible, I had breathing issues that almost sent me to the ER. I contacted the company for a refund and complaint. The box has no warning on it like other companies
Sorry to hear that you also had a bad experience with Bestway. Thanks for letting us know. Sounds like it’s a brand to definitely stay away from.
Qasim Muhammad says
I would like to know that if I were to a bedsheet on a PVC Air mattress would I still have the effects.
Yes, a regular bedsheet over a PVC air mattress will not stop the off-gasing.
Qasim Muhammad says
Is there a solution to a pvc mattress if that’s the only thing on hand.
You might be able to find a mattress cover that fully encloses it by zippering all around it.
Stefan Zimmer says
Hi, what does it mean when it says “non-toxic PVC” is used?
I am always not sure what difference it makes when products are labeled like that.
I think air mattresses can be great for camping and such.
But at the same time, I am also concerned about the health impact of them.
There seem to be a couple of other issues that might need consideration. I have read that air mattresses are used to mitigate back pain and are even used in many hospitals against bed sores (https://airbed.org/health)
But at the end, i really don’t want to sleep on anything toxic!
Thanks for stopping by. I haven’t heard of non-toxic PVC. It could be a marketing term. I would stay away from anything with PVC.
I SUFFERED OF 2 PANIC ATTACKS AND HALLUCINATIONS AFTER USING A PVC AIRBED!!
I have never, never suffered of this in my life…..
After investigating a little bit, and carefully reflecting about it, i absolutely started to think that the cause of this was the toxicity of any material that i was using during the previous days, especially because i was having for the first time in my life serious hallucinations.
Due to this, i immediately recognize the problem…it was the PVC airbed i had just bought the previous week!!!! The main clue has been the terrible rubber smell which really made me suspicious about it…..
After recognizing this, i immediately removed the airbed from my room, and started to sleep in the sofa the same night i had the second panic attack.
Well, after less than 5 minutes since i moved from the airbed to my sofa, everything disappeared (both hallucinations and panic attack). I slept very well until the morning without any further panic attacks.
However, the toxicity symptoms of the PVC, (especially some very little principles of hallucinations, which i managed without too much problems), still remained for the next 2 days in a smaller form, until they gradually disappeared from my body, which completely recovered from the intoxication after 3/4 days. (anyway, starting from the morning after the last panic attack, i was already feeling better thanks to the sofa where i slept for the rest of the night).
Thanks to this terrible experience, now i have also learned how to buy a good mattress for my home, and the importance of some certifications such as Certipur or Oeko Tex, which can help in having a better guarantee of safety.
joseph john says
irecently bought an intex airmatress from walmart, but i did not use it yet.
because i heared that airmatress and pump cause lung cancwer and other health
issue if air leak out. is it true about all of these news that i heard. plz let me know.
thank you vdery much….joseph
I’m not familiar with that brand, but most all brands have toxic chemicals in them. You should call the manufacturer to see what it’s made of. I would also air it outside for a while as it will off gas.
Sue Hobart says
Thanks for starting a conversation on this topic.
Hi Sue – Thanks for sharing. So sorry to read that someone had an awful reaction to TPU. It’s good to be aware of. Actually, it looks like things might have changed on the Kelty website since I first wrote this article. I’ll have to do some digging to see what they’re using now.
Do you have a suggestion for a tent that would be a good option for someone with severe chemical sensitivity? We don’t have time to off gas one unfortunately. Forced to camp due to mold issues and severe chemical sensitivity.
Hi Sarah – Sorry to hear that you’re dealing with mold issues and MCS. I totally understand. Unfortunately, I haven’t come across great tent options that wouldn’t have flame retardants and other toxic chemicals and fabrics. Here are a few brands I’ve heard of that claim to be more “eco-friendly”, but I don’t have any experience with them. You would have to call them to see what fabrics they use and if they have flame retardants: Nemo, Big Agnes, and Colorado Yurt Comp. You might want to check used tents since they would have already off-gassed. Also, I’m a part of a MCS group on Facebook. I’ll throw the question out to them to see if anyone else has any suggestions.
Hi Sarah – Someone in the MCS Facebook group suggested using a lightweight one made of rip-top nylon? They’ve found some versions of that material to be non-smelly and non-offgassing.
Mike (Florida) says
I have comments along the lines of your article. This messages addresses the idea of toxic materials and outgassing by plastics. The worst bed I had for a short time took four months before we could go into our bedroom to sleep. We aired the room for a long time to get rid of the smell. It was a Tempurpedic.
We have purchased a couple of air mattresses for home use. The first experiences were not good.
What I wanted to point out is a product made by the Durable Products Company under the brand name of ecoSleep. They have assured that there are no outgassing materials. I have a sensitive nose, and both my wife and I were able to sleep on the mattress the first night. It is a six-chamber adjustable air bed with separate adjustment for the lumbar region of the sleeper’s back. Highly recommended.
The guy with a bad back in Florida
Hi Mike – Thanks for the information! I haven’t heard of the mattress you mentioned, but from what you say, I look forward to checking it out. Sounds great, if you didn’t experience off gasing from it.
Thanks again for stopping by and commenting!
Christy Garrett @ Uplifting Families says
Wow, I had no clue that an air mattress could be so toxic. I miss going camping. I haven’t slept in a tent in a long time because my parents invested in a pop up tent during the last few years that I went camping with my family.
Thanks for stopping by! We used to have a pop up as a kid too! I never used to realize how toxic air mattresses were until I developed MCS. Definitely something to keep in mind when camping!
Also, for those out there forced to live in an old apartment with sick building syndrome, use Zinsser BIN primer with shellac to block out 3rd hand smoke. $198 for 5 gallon bucket. Has to be shellac because 3rd hand smoke bleeds through regular paint. Expensive because the beatles that produce are supposedly becoming extinct. Also, make sure air isn’t blowing from the vents with a.c. off. Caulk the entire perimeter under the baseboards if there is a gap. Take off the light switch covers or plug face plate and make sure air isn’t blowing through the walls. If so then seal that up too.God bless 🙂
Thanks for the information!
My suggestion for camping if your forced to use an air mattress would be to swing by a local hardware store on the way out and pick up some 4 mil plastic and wrap that mug up with some quality clear boxing tape. The cheap kind does’t stick well and duct tape has a strong odor. Or, do the same with a thick foam mat if your sensitive to foam, or cover a twin bed. Slap a sheet over the plastic and your good to go. You have to improvise these days because organic products are a rip unless you’ve got it made.
Hey Tessa, thanks for writing this. I recently tried sleeping on a new intex air mattress that smelled horrible … I left it out on the porch all day but it was still off gassing a week later! Have you heard of anyone developing eczema from inhaling PVC/phthalates/dioxin?
Sorry to hear that. I haven’t heard of people getting eczema directly from an air mattress, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Chemicals can irritate skin and do many other things to our bodies.
Growing Up Madison says
I’ve personally never gone camping having grown up in NYC but I’ve always kept an air mattress for guests stopping by. I actually still have an aerobed for when we have extra visitors. Never thought about how bad it could be for us. Thanks for sharing. 🙂 Following you on Bloglovin as well.