A mattress isn’t something you buy every day—thankfully. Researching the hundreds of options out there can be a long and confusing process. Experts say the average life span of a mattress is around 10 years, so this experience is inevitable. But once you find one that’s right for you and set it up in your bedroom, what do you do with the old one?
Well, think twice before abandoning it on the curb. It turns out, there are right and wrong ways to dispose of an old mattress.
“About 20 million mattresses end up in landfills every year,” says Erin Rossi, editor at SimplyRest.com. “Since the materials used in most beds are not biodegradable, they can take decades to break down. As they do so, mattresses release toxic chemicals that pollute our soil, water, and air.”
Some states like Connecticut, California, and Rhode Island require mattress manufacturers to provide consumers with a convenient way to dispose of old mattresses. And the Mattress Recycling Council operates a number of recycling programs throughout the country. But these options aren’t easily available in every city. Therefore, it’s important to know the proper ways to dispose of your mattress, no matter where you live.
Here are some of the biggest don’ts when it comes to getting rid of your mattress.
1. Putting it on the curb with a ‘Free’ sign
While it may sound like a good idea to invite people to take advantage of a free mattress, there’s no guarantee anyone will pick it up. And leaving your old mattress next to a commercial dumpster is no better.
“Many people think if they just place a mattress out on the curb, someone or the city will take it,” says Lori Barnes, the council’s manager of industry communications . “Check with your local government about how bulky waste is collected in your area. You may need to schedule an appointment.”
If your mattress is not stained or infested with bed bugs, you can also look into recycling it at one of the mattress recycling facilities across the country. Barnes says around 75% of a mattress, primarily parts such as metal springs, wood, and fibers, can be repurposed to manufacture new items.
Bye Bye Mattress, a program offered by the council, provides a nationwide list of known mattress recyclers.
You can also list your mattress for sale or offer it for free on sites like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Freecycle, Nextdoor, or OfferUp. That way you can make sure your mattress actually gets picked up.
Just make sure you know the rules of selling a used mattress in your state. Many states have stipulations about clearly labeling the condition of the mattress and whether it needs to be sanitized. And in Kansas, it’s actually illegal to sell a used mattress.
Watch: Step by Step: How to Clean a Mattress
2. Burning the mattress
Burning an old mattress is not only unsafe (as the fire can get out of control), but it can also harm the environment and may be illegal in some areas.
“Flame-retardant chemicals are in almost all mattresses sold in the United States. Setting your used mattress on fire would release those chemicals into the air,” says Barnes. “Once in the air, the chemicals do not go away and could be harmful to you, the environment, and those around you.”
“A bonfire is always a good time, but not when it starts with a mattress,” warns Jason Brown, chief marketing officer for LoadUp, a nationwide full-service junk removal and hauling company.
He suggests asking the company where you purchased the new mattress if it can haul away the old one.
3. Illegally dumping it
“Tossing your old bed out on the street may seem like the most convenient option, but it will only cause you more problems in the long run,” says Rossi.
You may be charged with an “illegal dumping” misdemeanor, punishable by community service and some type of restitution.
“If ticketed, fees can cost up to one thousand dollars,” she says.
Rossi says most local trash services will take large items only on a designated bulk-item pickup day.
She adds that if the mattress sits outside for a long time, it can become a breeding ground for pests and rodents, making it an environmental and health hazard.
4. Donating a bad mattress
Charitable donations are always a good option, but you never want to donate a mattress that has stains or strong odors. The same goes for an uncomfortable mattress.
“If a mattress isn’t giving you a supportive and healthy night’s sleep, it’s probably not good enough for someone else either,” says Barnes.
The best way to dispose of a tarnished mattress—whether the damage is due to bed bugs, liquid, or anything else that renders the mattress unusable—is to wrap it in plastic wrap or shrink-wrap it in the bedroom.
The objective is to seal the mattress so you don’t spread anything as you drag it out of your home. Since a mattress is considered a bulky item, you’ll need to schedule pickup with your local department of sanitation or a private junk removal company.
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