Can Bed Frames Be Toxic?

We don’t think about beds enough. They’re a constant fixture in most bedrooms, and if you take care of them (no jumping on beds!) you might find it lasts you two decades or more.

But are bed frames releasing harmful chemicals into our room?

Unfortunately, beds can be toxic, and many new beds can off-gas chemicals like formaldehyde. Potentially hazardous and even carcinogenic chemicals can be found in beds made from plywood, MDF, and particle board. Thankfully, over the years fewer chemicals are released.

Next time you’re shopping for a new bed frame, remember to avoid composite wood and manufactured board at the very least, and opt for unfinished wood.

Are bed frames toxic?

Many conventional bed frames are made using resins, varnishes, wood stains, adhesives, paints, and more. The cheapest brands for any of these materials often contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which release into the air. This is known as off-gassing.

VOCs can be released from the bed frame itself or the finish used on it. Wood finishes usually contain a solvent that dries but still releases chemicals into the air.

Unfinished bed frames don’t off-gas VOCs from the solvent, but the material of the it can still release VOCs.

VOCs can also be found in paints, paint strippers, wood preservatives, cleansers and disinfectants, moth repellents and air fresheners, pesticides, glues and adhesives, and building materials and furnishings.

New bed frames contain the most VOCs, so buying them from secondhand can decrease your exposure.

Not all VOCs are harmful to humans. However, some can be carcinogenic in high concentrations.

The VOCs to look out for and avoid include:

  • Benzene
  • Formaldehyde
  • Methylene chloride
  • Pentachlorophenol
  • Toluene
  • Xylene

One of the most well-known VOCs is formaldehyde, which is commonly found in glues, especially the adhesive used for composite wood and plywood.

Why do bed frames have formaldehyde?

Formaldehyde is used in many wood glues and adhesives, which can be used to join parts of a bed frame or in the making of the wood.

According to a 2011 report, the indoor air level exposure limit of formaldehyde should not exceed 0.1 ppm (parts per million) or 100 ppb (parts per billion). In 2010, the WHO guidelines for indoor air quality gave a short-term (30-minute) guideline of 0.1 mg/m3.

The Environmental Protection Agency suggests that most homes will have levels of formaldehyde far below 0.1 ppm, but “significant amounts of new pressed wood products” could raise this to higher levels than 0.3 ppm.

Pressed wood products are those made from wood veneers, shavings, particles, sawdust, or fibers bonded with adhesives. This includes plywood, particle board, and fiberboard (including MDF).

New homeowners therefore are most at risk, along with renovated homes. Exposure to both new pressed wood products and painting could be very hazardous to your health, as well as any pets.

Proper ventilation can reduce the amount of formaldehyde inside but can’t eliminate it.

Formaldehyde and other VOCs can be off-gassed from bed frames for years. The older the wood, the fewer VOCs are off-gassed, unless it has been treated again.

Do all bed frames have formaldehyde?

The majority of bed frames contain formaldehyde either because of the finish or varnish or because of the type of wood. Metal bed frames do not contain formaldehyde.

The most non-toxic bed frames are made with:

  • Natural, untreated wood
  • Natural oils like raw linseed
  • Unpainted bed frames

Some of the best bed frame brands include:

Do IKEA beds have formaldehyde?

According to IKEA’s formaldehyde FAQ from 2017, some products, especially wood-based products, contain formaldehyde. The company declares that its levels of formaldehyde are “significantly below EU requirements”.

IKEA beds are typically made from chipboard, fiberboard, or solid wood. Some are also made from metal or upholstered.

Some IKEA beds are made from solid wood but the slats are made from “layer-glued wood veneer” with adhesive resin coating.

Are headboards toxic?

Many bed headboards are made from composite wood or other forms of pressed wood. Because of this, they can off-gas VOCs, especially formaldehyde.

They can also be upholstered with decorative fabric or have a slipcover. Many upholstered headboards use polyester or other synthetic fibers, which could contain other chemicals due to the fabric dye. It can also cause microfibers to fall onto your pillow.

Are plywood slats toxic?

Plywood is a type of pressed wood or composite wood. Formed from many thin sheets of wood veneers, plywood is made using glue under pressure at high temperatures.

Veneered plywood in an airtight environment off-gas more VOCs than unfinished plywood. More than half of VOCs associated with plywood are aromatic hydrocarbons like benzene and toluene.

Depending on your bed frame and mattress, you should be cautious when purchasing a new bed with plywood slats to ensure you allow enough ventilation for VOCs to disperse outside.

Do metal bed frames have toxins?

Metal bed frames require fewer adhesives and finishes which makes them less toxic than conventional wooden bed frames. It doesn’t make them completely non-toxic.

There are concerns that metal bed frames could increase exposure to electromagnetic radiation by conducting electromagnetic fields. More research needs to be done to look at how harmful this could be, especially in homes that rely on a lot of wireless connections (from Bluetooth devices and WiFi to energy smart meters and computers).

However, it’s worth remembering that we are constantly exposed to electromagnetic radiation of different types, and metal is also present throughout our daily routines.

While there isn’t any scientific backing behind these concerns, it’s worth bearing in mind and researching for yourself in case new studies provide evidence.

Is having no bed frame bad?

Bed frames are already expensive, and being cautious about what your bed frame is made out of can raise the price even more. You might wonder if it’s even worth getting a bed frame at all. Surely you could just put the mattress on the floor?

Many people do sleep on a mattress on the ground. Some even believe that it can help your spine, back pain, and health. Since heat rises, it can also help keep you cool at night.

But you should be aware of the drawbacks too.

Be careful of what’s under your mattress. Natural fiber carpets and rugs can retain moisture and encourage mold growth.

Having no air circulation under your mattress can also increase the likelihood of mold growing under or in your mattress. Propping the mattress up regularly – at least once a week – on its side can help the mattress breathe, remind you to clean it and your sheets, and reduce the likelihood of mold.

If you have dust allergies, sleeping without a bed frame could worsen your allergies because dust accumulates the most on the floor. The only way around it is to clean frequently – much more than you would usually do.

Sleeping on a mattress without a bed frame could even be a temporary solution while you save up or search for the perfect bed frame, especially if you’re relying on buying a used bed.

If you find that a bed frame is right for you, try:

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