Oh dear, if you’ve found yourself in the frustrating situation where you’ve removed the cover from your memory foam mattress, got fiberglass all over your house/apartment, and are trying to figure out how to safely clean it up—you are NOT alone. It happened to me.
I will go into detail about my fiberglass mattress nightmare story, but the summary is this:
- Yes, some cheap memory foam mattresses contain fiberglass as a fire retardant.
- No, you should never remove the cover EVEN if it has a zipper (dumb design, I agree).
- Yes, there are some safe options for cleaning it up.
It Happened to Me! My Fiberglass Mattress Nightmare Story
In March 2021, I had just moved to a new town and thought I’d found the PERFECT apartment. It was in a neighborhood I loved, had a great landlord, AND (I thought this was a bonus), it could come furnished!
When I toured the apartment, I saw that it came with a couch, dining table, lamps, nightstand, and a bed frame and memory foam mattress.
I filled out an application, got approved, and signed a lease within three days of touring the place. When the landlord asked me if I’d prefer the place furnished or unfurnished, I asked him to keep the furniture inside. Big mistake.
Right before I moved in, I thought about that memory foam mattress. I thought about asking him to remove it so that I could bring in my own mattress (because the thought of sleeping on other people’s mattresses freaks me out).
But then I thought, “You know what? You could save SO much money by just leaving the mattress there so you can use it. You don’t have to buy a new one!” Again, big mistake.
Fast forward two weeks later when I moved in, and I took a closer look at the memory foam mattress. Unfortunately, it had a big gash in the side of it, AND it had a big, gross stain in the middle of it. Yuck!
I told the landlord that the mattress looked a little “worse for wear” and asked if I could remove it so I could put a new one in. He said sure, I could just put it in the storage shed in the backyard.
Well, before doing that, I decided to see if I could CLEAN the mattress. It had a zipper around it, indicating that the fabric cover could be removed.
“Hm,” I thought. “I could probably just take the mattress cover off and wash it.”
Thankfully, I decided to check the mattress label first to check for washing instructions.
Well, perplexingly, the mattress care label was on the INSIDE of the mattress cover. So I had to unzip the cover and look for the label sewn on the inside of the cover.
What I found shocked me: The label did NOT contain any information about washing the cover, and it did NOT say not to remove the cover. But it DID say that the “inner cover” of the mattress contained “62% fiberglass.”
I thought it was a mistake. “Surely,” I thought, “they wouldn’t make a mattress out of fiberglass!”
Because the care label didn’t mention washing instructions, I zipped the outer cover back up and went about my day cleaning up so I could move into the apartment.
Later, the fact that the label said the mattress contained fiberglass really got me curious.
So I Googled, “Do memory foam mattresses contain fiberglass?”
And the results terrified me. I found horror story after horror story of families who had to move out of their houses because they washed their memory foam mattress cover and contaminated their whole house—floors, clothes, furniture, washing machines, even the air ducts in the HVAC system.
I was shaking at this point and decided to take the Internet’s advice and grab a flashlight and shine it on surfaces in my apartment to see if I had fiberglass contamination.
And sure enough, there it was: Long, straight, shiny strands of fiberglass on the floor of my bedroom, on the mattress itself, and all over my clothes.
I. Freaked. Out.
Thankfully, I had a respirator with me because I have asthma and use it when I’m cleaning with bleach. I threw that sucker on and put on goggles and gloves too.
I turned off my AC, which is a ductless mini-split, because it was recirculating the air in my apartment, which was then blowing the fiberglass everywhere too.
I went out and bought a Shop Vac with a HEPA filter and started vacuuming all over my apartment.
Eventually, I was just so exhausted and incredibly hot without the AC (it was springtime in Florida) that I left the place without finishing cleaning the fiberglass.
I managed to get an Airbnb for a week while I figured out what to do. The fiberglass had gotten in my eyes and in my hands. Thankfully, I was able to get it out of my eyes with emergency eye wash. But the splinter feeling in my hands lasted a few weeks.
What freaked me out is that fiberglass can be as small as 1 micron, so I didn’t feel comfortable being in the apartment because I was afraid there might still be fiberglass circulating in the air even though I couldn’t see it.
Eventually, I returned to the apartment to attempt to clean it—but this time I came prepared. Here’s what I armed myself with.
How to Clean Up Fiberglass Contamination from a Memory Foam Mattress: The Equipment I Used
Before you clean up the fiberglass in your home, you NEED to turn off any air conditioning/heating systems, whether that’s a window unit, a mini split, or central AC. That’s because these recirculate air and will blow the fiberglass everywhere.
Because the AC will be off, and you’ll be wearing a Tyvek suit for protection, you WILL get hot. You MUST be careful to take breaks and do the cleanup in multiple stages. Otherwise, you might suffer a heat stroke. PLEASE be careful.
I recommend renting an Airbnb or staying with friends/family for a week while you complete the cleanup.
Fiberglass particles can be as small as 1 micron; the only air purifier that will get those particles out of the air (and keep them out of your lungs!) is the HEPA air filter. Buy an air purifier with a HEPA filter and keep it running in your home to clean the air of fiberglass.
This is my favorite of the three I own (yep, I own three HEPA air purifiers lol). Make SURE you get enough air purifiers to filter the size of your house. Depending on the size, they are built for a certain amount of square footage.
Vinyl zippered mattress encasement
Stop the fiberglass at the source by covering up the mattress FIRST with this encasement. Then get that mattress outta there! For future reference, I have a post on the best memory foam mattresses WITHOUT fiberglass.
You DO have the (somewhat cheaper) option of getting goggles + a half-face respirator, but if you REALLY want to keep fiberglass out of your eyes and lungs AND hate when goggles fog up— you need a full face mask respirator. This is what guys who work in attics use. (See video below)
It is essential that you get P100 particulate filters. They are rated for use with fiberglass!
Getting this Tyvek suit is crucial. It’ll protect your skin and clothes from any fiberglass. It’s what the professionals use.
I HIGHLY recommend you get the type that has attached booties. Otherwise, your shoes will get contaminated and it can be difficult to clean.
This is the EXACT suit that I wore.
The duct tape is for sealing the arm holes where your wrist meets the suit. You don’t want fiberglass leaking into it.
You need TWO layers of gloves. This is your base layer. It’s so you can safely remove the Tyvek suit (along with the second layer of gloves) safely while still being able to remove your goggles and face mask safely without getting fiberglass from those onto your hands.
Thick Dish Gloves
These thick dish gloves are your outer layer.
Shop Vac with HEPA filter
You need a heavy duty shop vac because it’ll have strong suction that can shake those fibers lose and suck them in. You also NEED a HEPA filter inside the shop vac; otherwise, the vacuum will just blow out the tiny fiberglass particles into the air.
This is the EXACT model I bought:
WARNING: The filter that comes with the shop vac above is NOT a HEPA Filter. PLEASE make sure you get this HEPA filter; otherwise, fiberglass WILL blow out of the vacuum. HEPA filters can catch the fiberglass.
Floor lint roller
For any leftover fiberglass particles, this floor lint roller will do the trick. You might need to roll it a few times to catch everything.
How to Clean Up Fiberglass Contamination DIY: The Exact Steps I Took
Step 1: Put on your Tyvek suit, face mask, goggles, and gloves. Duct tape any openings to seal them shut.
Step 2: Cover the mattress with the vinyl encasement and GET IT OUT OF YOUR HOUSE
Step 3: Throw out any clothes that got fiberglass on them.
Step 4: Set up your HEPA air purifiers and get them running.
Step 5: Vacuum everything with the Shop Vac and HEPA filter (DO NOT USE A REGULAR VACUUM)
Step 6: Lint roll what’s left.
Step 7: Clean out your AC ducts and HVAC system.
Step 8: Clean your washing machine and dryer.
How to Take Off the Tyvek Suit While Minimizing Exposure to the Fiberglass
Step 1: Step outside.
Step 2: Shake off as much as possible.
Step 3: Unzip the top and slowly peel down the Tyvek suit while rolling it backward.
Step 4: Roll up the used Tyvek suit and place in a garbage bag.
Step 5: Your outer dish gloves should have come off with the suit. The nitrile gloves underneath should be CLEAN. So now, you can take off your mask and goggles.
Step 6: Place the goggles and mask in a box and remember to rinse it off later, in case there are fiberglass particles on those.
Just How Dangerous Is Fiberglass?
Of course, the natural next question is: Just how dangerous is fiberglass? It really depends on how you define “dangerous.” Here are some facts I found about fiberglass:
- Fiberglass is best known as insulation. Before fiberglass was widely used as insulation, people used to use asbestos—a far worse material that is now known to cause diseases, including cancer. Compared to asbestos, fiberglass is definitely safer.
- According to the Illinois Department of Public Health:
“There is no evidence that fiberglass causes cancer in people. Animal studies have shown an increased risk of cancer when fiberglass fibers were implanted in the lung tissue of rats, but these studies are controversial because of how the fibers were implanted. Based on these animal studies, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified some fibers used in fiberglass as possible human carcinogens (cancer causing agents).”
- Exposure to fiberglass can irritate your eyes, nose, throat, skin, and lungs. You may cough, sneeze, and feel itchy. In my experience, getting fiberglass in your skin feels like you have a splinter, but you can’t see it. When I got fiberglass in my hands the first time I encountered the fiberglass mattress, it took about 3 weeks for that splinter-y feeling to go away from one part of my hand. It wasn’t excruciatingly painful or anything, but it was annoying.
But I Didn’t Open Up or Wash My Memory Foam Mattress Cover…So I’m Safe, Right?
Look, I hate to be the bearer of bad news. But there are countless stories of people who NEVER opened their memory foam mattress cover…and the mattress STILL leaked fiberglass out. If you have a memory foam mattress, here’s how to test if fiberglass is leaking out:
Get a flashlight. Turn off all the lights in your bedroom, and shine the flashlight back and forth slowly across the mattress surface. Do you see straight, sparkly strands glittering in the light? It almost looks like glitter. That’s fiberglass.
Should I Move Out Because of the Fiberglass Contamination?
If you’re renting, moving out is an easier option than if you own the house. Regardless, I recommend letting the landlord know about the fiberglass issue because it may pose a hazard or at least a nuisance to future tenants.
In my case, it was interesting because the mattress was placed there by the landlord, not me. Plus, it had already had a cut from which fiberglass was leaking, so my landlord was more responsible than if I had bought the mattress and brought it in. Some friends recommended I tell the landlord to hire professionals to clean it for me, rather than do it myself. But, I didn’t feel right doing that, and honestly, I felt more confident in my ability to clean it up than I did in professionals who didn’t have a vested stake in the place.
I HAVE read stories of people who had fiberglass contamination from a memory foam mattress, cleaned it up themselves, and continued to live quite happily in their home. So it is possible.
For me, even though I cleaned the place meticulously and didn’t see any fiberglass anymore, I couldn’t get over the fear that invisible fibers might be lurking somewhere.
It’s really up to you.
Should I Buy a Memory Foam Mattress?
Now, after reading this, you may be traumatized and never want to go near a memory foam mattress ever again. I feel you. But just realize that not every memory foam mattress contains fiberglass. It’s usually only the lower-end ones purchased at Walmart, Wayfair, or on Amazon.
If you plan to buy a memory foam mattress, be sure to get one of these memory foam mattresses that do NOT contain fiberglass.