woman sick from old mattress
Sleep Health

The Health Effects Of Old Mattresses

    Last Updated
    September 15, 2022
    min read

    Mattresses are a key to our comfort and a good night’s sleep. That said, most of us don’t give our mattresses much thought, as long as they look clean and in relatively good shape. But if you’re sleeping on an old mattress, you may be unknowingly putting not just the quality of your sleep but also your health at risk.

    Can an old mattress make you sick? What’s lurking inside your mattress, and what are the consequences if you don’t replace yours? Keep reading to learn how your old mattress may be affecting your health!

    Can An Old Mattress Make You Sick?

    Yes, an old mattress can make you sick. According to the ISPA Sleep Council, old mattresses may be harboring a whole host of organisms that cause dangerous diseases. Dust mites, bacteria like staphylococcus, and the hospital superbug MRSA are just some of the nasty things that can be found in an old mattress.

    Regular cleaning and maintenance are essential to prolonging the life of your mattress and keeping you safe. However, many owners only find out about crucial preventive measures for their mattresses when it’s already too late. 

    If your mattress is a decade old or older, think about your sleep quality and how often you’ve cleaned it. If you’ve been sleeping erratically, waking up with pain, or haven’t cleaned it in years, it may be better and more cost-efficient in the long run to replace it instead – making sure to keep proper maintenance in mind with the new mattress.

    Your Old Mattress Can Cause Back Pain

    Your old mattress may be made with springs or layered foam material. These are designed to provide crucial support to your body as you sleep, and some even adapt to your body’s shape for the perfect night’s rest. That said, these materials lose their shape, start to sag, or go flat over time.

    Without proper support from foam or springs, you may end up with an aching back, tired joints, and a weary neck. The pain won’t go away until you provide enough support for your body again. 

    Apart from causing chronic pain, this can also lead to a disrupted sleep cycle. Disrupted sleep leaves you with less energy throughout the day and can have a severe impact on your mental health.

    Some mattress owners remedy this by rotating their mattresses. This is because the foam around your feet experiences less wear and tear than the foam around your head. Note that this may not be enough if your mattress is already at least a decade old – you may have to buy a new mattress or a foam topper to get the extra support that your old mattress lacks.

    Old Mattresses May Affect Your Sleep Quality

    Over time, mattresses lose the original springiness, firmness, or softness that made them such cozy surfaces for sleeping. This can make it hard to get a full, restful night of sleep. 

    We go through four stages of sleep. Ideally, we mostly stay in the third and fourth stages, known as deep and REM sleep – this gives at least seven to nine restorative hours of sleep.

    A clear sign that you’ve missed out on these stages at night is when you feel fuzzy or groggy despite sleeping the whole seven to nine hours. Your sleep may have been disturbed throughout the night, and your mattress is the most likely culprit.

    Apart from failing to give you the support your body needs, your old mattress may even be cutting off blood circulation to some parts of your skin. If you find yourself tossing and turning on your mattress at night, this is likely what’s undermining your sleep quality.

    While it’s clear that a lack of sleep can leave us feeling drained in the morning, it can also lead to more serious health problems. A lack of sleep has been linked to increased rates of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. 

    What’s Lurking In Your Mattress?

    Your mattress may be harboring harmful organisms and substances. The older your mattress, the higher the chances that there are alarming levels of these things hiding inside!


    The average person sweats 26 gallons of sweat every year. Because we spend so much time resting on our beds, our mattresses can become damp environments for fungi to grow. When combined with our body heat and bed fabric, our mattress is the perfect place for fungi to thrive.

    Your old mattress can hold well over a dozen types of fungi, so you may be breathing in mold spores without your knowledge. These spores are released by fungi and can cause breathing problems, asthma attacks, and other allergic reactions like skin rashes.

    The greater the fungi build-up, the worse the reaction can be – and the older your mattress is, the more likely it is to have a ton of fungi.


    Also known as bedbugs, dust mites are small insects that eat the old skin we shed. Because we shed so much skin on our beds, mattresses are a prime breeding ground for mites. As they feast on our skin cells, they also excrete tiny waste pellets that we end up breathing in.

    The typical mattress may hold anywhere from 100,000 to 2 million of these creatures. Older mattresses can have even more dust mites, which could double their weight.

    To keep dust mites from burrowing deeper into your mattress, you should vacuum it at least once a week and use a mattress protector. A mattress protector will provide an impermeable barrier to keep more of these invaders out.

    Bacteria And Other Allergens

    Over the years, your mattress may have trapped plenty of dust. While dust is mostly made up of harmless things like dead skin cells, there may also be allergy-causing substances such as bacteria and pollen. Once these have made their way into your mattress, it can be difficult to get them out even with deep cleaning.

    Airborne particles also tend to settle on a mattress’ large surface area. As we shift and roll on a mattress during nightly sleep, we release the trapped dust and breathe it in. The more restless a sleeper you are, the worse this recontamination can be.

    It doesn’t end there, either. While we sleep, our bodies rub against the mattress material, creating friction that pushes dust even deeper into the mattress. This eventually traps the dust until our sleep movements release them back into the air for us to breathe in.


    Many of us sleep blissfully on our mattresses, thinking that we’re simply resting on traditional fibers like cotton. However, many mattresses are made with flame-retardant compounds or synthetic fibers. While these materials improve mattress longevity, many of these can have serious, negative long-term effects on your health.

    For example, polyurethane foam is a common mattress material because it’s budget-friendly. However, it can cause allergic reactions like sneezing and itching in sensitive sleepers or those with compromised immune systems. Boric acid is also typically added as a flame retardant, but it has been linked to health risks like infertility and anemia.

    Check your mattress label – if it has these substances, you may need to ditch your old mattress. Replace it with a mattress that adheres to Standard 100 by Oeko-Tex, which limits the levels of these harmful substances. You can also opt for organic mattresses that comply with the Global Organic Textile Standard.

    Find The Best Mattress For You

    Replacing your old mattress can be tough because of the sheer number of options on the market. Here are the basic considerations that you should keep in mind as you shop around.

    Purple offers a variety of mattresses for all sleeping positions and body types. Purples Gelflex Grid is firm enough to support you. While providing the comfort you need. 

    Mattress Firmness

    Mattresses can be described as soft, medium, medium-firm, and firm. Most people sleep best on medium to medium-firm mattresses because they address a wide range of sleeping problems.

    When choosing the right mattress, consider your sleeping position and body type. Firm mattresses are best for people who sleep on their stomachs. Side sleepers, on the other hand, are more likely to sleep well on soft to medium mattresses that help with spine alignment. 

    Inquire at your preferred mattress store and try out different fitness levels to see which firmness is best for you.

    Sleeper Temperature

    Some sleepers tend to feel sweaty and hot as they sleep, while others get cold at night and need extra warmth. If you’re a hot sleeper, get a hybrid or innerspring mattress with breathable construction to improve airflow. It’s also highly recommended that you switch your bedding to more breathable materials like organic cotton.

    Chilly sleepers may prefer foam mattresses, which tend to run warmer. A mattress that’s made of 100% memory foam traps heat more effectively, keeping you nice and toasty at night.

    Back Problems

    While most back problems are caused by underlying health issues, a good mattress can go a long way in relieving the pain. If you have back problems, a mattress with foam can alleviate extra pressure. Medium-firm mattresses will give your back sufficient support and help with spine alignment.

    Is An Old Mattress Unhealthy? The Bottom Line

    Yes, an old mattress is unhealthy, especially in the long run. Old mattresses could be causing your back problems and breathing issues, so they need to be regularly cleaned or even replaced when the time comes.

    Sleep has an incredible impact on your overall mental and physical wellbeing, so consider replacing your mattress if:

    • It hasn’t been cleaned in a while.
    • Your quality of sleep has declined.
    • You often wake up with back pain or breathing issues.

    About the authors

    Cecilia Gillen

    Cecilia brings over five years of writing experience primarily centered around lifestyle and health topics. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Media and Journalism from the University of South Dakota. She’s both an advocate for sleep and a night owl at heart.