Materials used for air mattress production – (TPU vs. vinyl) how to eliminate the risk completely 2

What are air mattresses made of?

Air mattresses are traditionally made of PVC (vinyl), which is a kind of plastic and usually include come with flocked top with a velvet-like quality to it.




Potential hazards of the PVC used in air mattresses
and what you can do be absolutely safe


PVC used in air mattresses has to abide by certain material safety standards set by the government and international agencies like the ASTM, but there is a problem here not many people are talking about.


The standards set so far for air mattress production
cover the chemicals that WE KNOW are toxic, like phthalates.

Some of the chemicals that used to be used in the production of vinyl airbeds are since proven to be toxic and especially harmful for children.

These chemicals were not covered by the production standards in the past and WE DON’T KNOW if at some point the chemicals currently uses in the production are also toxic.


Here’s what you can you do if you need an air mattress
but want to eliminate all the risk.





Simple – get a PVC-free air mattress

It seem like you have no choices and you are the health-conscious buyer (like you should be, especially if you have kids around) you are stuck.

You are not and there are choices out there, choices we keep track of and constantly update this page. Their advantages are not limited to safety.




These are the PVC-airbeds we can stand behind and recommend


(out of 10)
(out of 10)
Amazon ratings & Price Comparison link

See the
Lightspeed TPU 2
on Amazon here >>


See the
Kelty Sleep Eazy
on Amazon here >>


See the
Aerobed Pakmat
on Amazon here >>


See the
Elevated EcoLite Elevated
on Amazon here >>


See the
ALPS Velocity
on Amazon here >>



We currently keep tabs on just over 200 air mattress models,
and update out guides on bimonthly basis –
which means that you can trust the information on
PVC-free air mattress
above to be fresh and relevant.


Advantages of a PVC-free air mattress:

  • All the risk of breathing in vinyl off-gassing eliminated, both for you and (especially important)
  • PVC-free air mattresses are more durable than regular airbeds, since fabric does not stretch as much
  • Do not have that bouncy “airbed-feel” to them which comes from the stretchy vinyl. If you ever owned a PVC airbed you know what we’re talking about.




Reference info and a few words about me



TPU vs. vinyl air mattress or sleeping pad


tpu vs vinyl air mattress


What are airbeds made of – PVC vs. PVC-free air mattresses and pads, vinyl vs. rubber (rubberized cotton) air mattresses

The non-PVC of PVC-free air mattresses we listed above are often refereed to rubber air mattresses or rubberized cotton airbeds, because that’s what the material feels like.

The terms are not really precise, these mattresses are not made from rubber (or rubberized cotton) but from a material called TPU.

What is TPU airbed if not regular rubber or cotton?

TPU stands for Thermoplastic Polyurethane and it’s a mixture of hard plastic and soft silicone, which makes it extremely durable. If I tell that this is the materials cell-helmet cases for your phone are made of that should explain just how durable and resistant to stress TPU is.

That’s what makes the PVC-free air mattresses more durable, more puncture resistant and safer than regular airbeds.


Who made me the expert on air mattress materials and PVC-free air mattresses

OK, bragging time…I hold a degree in Materials Technology Engineering from the University of Michigan In Ann Arbor and I’ve been a life-long zealot for the outdoors.

Now, in my bear-belly years, what used to be just a passion for gear turned into full-time work, researching, testing and reviewing the best air mattress.

I’ve learned a lot over the years, and I use these article forms to share my precious experience with the potential users of anything inflatable. I try to share you all the good sides of a certain product or industry in general, but also all the bad sides ad thing the manufacturers will try to hide from you. And, since I know exactly what I’m talking about, I would say you’ve come to the right place with all your questions concerning air mattress materials.

If you’re on board with the way I do things and with my way of thinking just read on. I promise a great deal of useful information in exchange for your time.

Its majesty – PVC

pvcPVC or polyvinyl chloride is a type of material you’ll generally encounter a lot during your excursions in the air mattress land.

It is used to this extent for a couple of reasons:

  • It provides a waterproof surface. Yes, this is one of its benefits of course. Air mattresses pride themselves in being waterproof, which certainly gives them an advantage over your regular, everyday mattress. It protects your mattress from any kinds of spilling accidents, and it is an especially useful feature in medical air mattress, made for your home care patients.
  • It’s a material that’s very low-maintenance. There’s no washing it, drying it and all that hassle. Once you want to undergo the process of cleaning the PVC air mattress, you can simply arm yourself with a washcloth and some water, and you’re good to go. It’s one more advantage the air mattress has over the regular one.
  • It’s fire-retardant. There is a certain chemical compound that’s applied to the surface of the mattress in order to make it fireproof. Air mattresses are always made out of some form of plastic or rubber material, so this one is actually a must-have when you think of it a bit. We’ll talk about these chemicals later.
  • It’s relatively cheap to make. PVC makes the air manufacturing process costs pretty low, so it’s no wonder the manufacturers are using it so heavily.

SimplySleeper SS-54Q Premium Queen Air Bed with Built-in Fully Automatic Electric PumpNow that we’ve seen some of the reasons PVC is so popular we can see some of the hazards you need to be mindful of:

  • This material is deemed to be somewhat toxic and under the category of environmentally unfriendly plastics. An intermediate component on the road of PVC production that’s called vinyl chloride is combining chloride and petroleum, posing a threat due to its potential carcinogenic features.
  • PVC is plastic that much we know. What we don’t know is how hard it is in its basic state. The answer is, too hard to comfortably sleep on. That calls for addition of some chemical plasticizers that will increase its softness and flexibility. The plasticizers that are most commonly used are called phthalates.
  • They take up a large percentage of the mattress’s overall weight. They don’t get bound to the vinyl itself, so they can escape the mattress, whether in liquid or a gas form. The sleeper can then absorb them through the skin or by breathing them in. They can cause cancer, asthma and all other sorts of maladies.

Those are the known hazards that we should keep in mind once we decide to go shopping. I must add that I, personally don’t have any confirmation of anyone actually suffering a certain disease due to its mattress, but I like to point out that the possibility is there none the less.

Other choices – TPU (aka. rubber air mattress aka. rubberized cotton)

Other than PVC you can go for an air mattress made of rubber or textile-reinforced urethane, which we presented above. As we mentioned, they are the better options for everyday use.

The one material I’d like to point out here is called TPU (thermoplastic urethane). It’s much lighter than PVC and contains no phthalates. Phthalates are also responsible for that characteristic odor you smell once you unpack your new air mattress. It’s very elastic, strong and abrasion and puncture-resistant. It’s certainly a better way to go than your classic PVC mattress. But, on the other hand, it’s also less budget-friendly.

There is a general consensus that food grade polyethylene is by far the safest form of plastic. It doesn’t contain phthalates or any other additives that might prove to be unsafe.


I hope we learned a few things today when it comes to safety of the compounds used in the product of an air mattress, and I’m sure you’ll have a whole different way of looking at the inflatable products from now on. The point of this article was not to scare you, far from it. It was all about getting you to buy products that are top of the line quality-wise, yet still very affordable.

Inflatable mattresses are not all safe but also not all potentially dangerous. You just need to know the difference. I believe it’s fair to say that now you do.

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James Menta

Camping Gear Reviewer at
Three things you need to know about James - he holds a degree in Materials Technology from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, he is a zealot for the great outdoors and he can never find his glasses.       In brief intermissions between looking for his glasses, he is the Editor-in-chief of

2 thoughts on “Materials used for air mattress production – (TPU vs. vinyl) how to eliminate the risk completely

  1. Reply Dorthea May 2,2015 5:19 pm

    Try this again. I had an inspection and the manager said I need to put my air mattress on a frame to keep it off the floor because it’s a fire hazard. I can understand-possibly-if the bed had a motor but it doesn’t. Do you know why she’d say that? It’s a raised mattress and sturdy.


    • Reply James Menta Jun 22,2015 1:22 pm

      Hey Dorthea,

      I don’t have a good answer for that apart from the inspector being overly cautious and not knowing about air mattresses. The PVC used for most air mattresses is fireproof, not too get too technical here, but certain chemical compounds are applied to the surface of the PVC to make it so. It’s not gonna be the only thing standing after a fire but it’s not gonna set itself on fire and when exposed to heat vast majority of other materials found around homes or offices are more likely to ignite a fire. In fact, if I was caught in a fire and had a good air mattress I would damp it in water, cover myself with it (deflated of course) and try to escape.

      But, if they said that it’s not likely that you’ll talk your way out of that, so take a look at some of these

      That would be a solution to please everyone, I think.


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