What are air mattresses made of?

Air mattress materials  – real dangers vs. myths & how to keep safe

We’ve like to brag that we raised air mattress research to the level of SCIENCE here at 3Beds. But beyond the bragging is the fact that we really take all things air mattresses very seriously.

Inflatable furniture has gone a long way from being a floating device for our beach trips and is quickly pushing it’s way from alternative options to mainstream. The numbers are a reflection of that. An air mattress is not only an option for your cabin, crashing at friends house or as a guest bed for our parents in law. Simply put, the most durable air mattresses are made of the thickest PVC.

air mattress everyday use bedroom

Air mattress as a part of a permanent bedroom setting


Today, a lot of people are using inflatables as an every-day, permanent bed, and that adds weight to some of the burning questions surrounding air mattresses and the materials they are made of.

Common questions about airbeds and potential risks:

  • Are air mattress materials dangerous?
  • What kind of PVC is dangerous and how to stay away from it?
  • Rubber air mattress/bed vs. vinyl air mattress vs. plastic mattresses?
  • What’s the best mattress material?
  • How to clean an air mattress?

Let us address these here and eliminate the confusion once and for all.

Air mattresses still haven’t earned full trust of people, even if you get one, there’s a little voice in the back of your mind wondering if airbed is a safe choice. If we’re honest, not even regular mattresses still have . We’re all witnessing the increasing amount of harmful chemicals found in regular or memory foam mattresses, so it’s not all that black and white as you might think.

What are we saying here???

We’ll be pretty blatant about the whole thing and go as far as to claim air mattresses have (surprisingly) lower amount of harmful chemicals than regular mattresses. This is especially true for memory foam mattresses, the off-gassing of the two cannot even be compared. Take a look at the following graph that illustrates how an air mattress compares to other mattress types in that regard:


What’s the reason behind the low chemical evaporation in an airbed?

Because they don’t need as much chemicals in manufacturing. As simple as that.

The only thing a good air mattress needs is a fire retardant coating to make it inflammable. Other than that, it’s pretty much all “this rubber or that rubber”. Of course, the companies need some chemical compounds in the production of the very materials we’re using when making an air mattress, but we’ll talk about those in just a second.

The question “are air mattress materials dangerous?” and “is PVC dangerous?” are pretty much one and the same question. Air bed and inflatable furniture, in general, today are predominantly made of PVC, which stands for Polyvinyl Chloride.

It features many benefits, but also some things we need to be on a lookout for. We’re never twisting the uncomfortable details here at 3Beds, so we’ll just spill it as it is.

Is PVC rubber air beds dangerous?

As you probably imagine, this is not a yes or now question, so giving a proper answer will take a bit of an effort.

PVC is one of the 3 most commonly used plastic POLYMERS, and we can find it pretty much anywhere. It was heavily used in air mattress production before, but manufacturers are slowly starting to explore alternative options. It’s important to note that both cheap and luxurious models featured PVC, so the price tag wasn’t at all the deciding factor.

So, there were some problems with PVC in rubber air mattresses, but we’ll get there soon enough.

Let’s go over a few of the advantages of an air mattress for starters:

  • The surface PVC provides is completely waterproof. This is one of the most convenient advantages of air mattresses in general. You can spill anything you want, and just remove it with a simple kitchen cloth. This gets a whole new dimension of usefulness if you have a patient at home. We wrote plenty about medical air mattresses, so you know why they are superior to regular ones
  • Another great thing about PVC is the fact that it doesn’t require a lot of maintenance. You don’t need to was it regularly, spend a bunch of time drying it and whatever. When you want to clean your air mattress, just employ the cloth from the first point and give it a good rub. It’s one more general advantage “plastic” mattresses hold over old school regular ones
  • The use of PVC in air mattress production keeps the costs very low, so we shouldn’t really wonder at the fact that it’s so heavily used. The manufacturers are always reinventing ways to cut the production costs, and PVC allowed them to do just that. The fact that it’s cheap doesn’t mean it’s bad or low-quality

Other side of the medal – some potential dangers

  • PVC is deemed to be a plastic polymer that’s environmentally unfriendly. PVC is pretty harmless in it of itself, but before we get the final version of polyvinyl chloride, we need to pass the substance mixing petroleum and chloride. The compound is claimed to have carcinogenic effects, although we didn’t find a single case of air mattress-caused cancer
  • The second point is the real “meat” of the problem. Plastic in its primary state isn’t overly flexible or comfortable for sleeping. To make it everything we need it to be, certain chemicals called plasticizers must be added. They are what ensures the familiar softness and flexibility of the materials used for plastic air mattresses. The plasticizers most often used go by the name of phthalates. Now we’ve reached the magic “P-word”. We’ll start the story by pointing out they make the large piece of the overall weight of the air bed. Unfortunately, they don’t bind with the vinyl molecules, so they can freely “escape” at any given time. Further on, there’s a large possibility of sleeper inhaling/absorbing them, which can cause any number of maladies. Most notable are definitely asthma and cancer

So, that’s it? No air mattresses, right???

If things were so gloomy, this website wouldn’t exist in the first place.

So, there ARE things we can do.

In the last decade or so, Eco-friendly PVC hit the market, and air mattresses followed every step of the way, which made it a much safer choice.

tag eco friendly pvc

What does ECO-FRIENDLY stand for?

The most often asked question is whether these mattresses are made of PVC or not since naturally, everybody assumes they’re not. Well, they are.


The difference lies in the compounds used to give natural plastic its elasticity/softness. As we already said, PVC is inherently not toxic once it gets where it needs to be. The problem were plasticizers, namely phthalates.

So, once you hit the stores searching for a new air mattress, or decide to order it online, just look for a tag that says “phthalates-free” or “Eco-friendly”. That’s how you can be sure you’ve made the right choice.
phthalate free air mattress badge


We hope we helped put some things into perspective today.

Just keep on looking for those phthalates-free tags and you can’t go wrong.

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  1. Kathleen

    October 30, 2017 at 11:01 pm

    I am looking for a PVC free and flame retardant-free air mattress or airbed. What can you recommend to me?
    I would probably get two twin size beds. I need to be able to store them easily in a closet.

    I’ve read your coverage about steering clear of PVC but not anything about avoiding flame retardants in air mattress products. There is current research that suggests that flame retardant chemicals are dangerous.

    Thank you.


    • James

      December 13, 2017 at 11:46 am

      Hi Kathleen, apologies for the late reply, we had some problems with the site…did you find what you were looking for.

      If you didn’t, you might want to check out the LightSpeed TPU, TPU is not vinyl and is free of the chemicals involved in vinyl production. Let us know if this helps and if you’re looking for something different, we’ll dig deeper.



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