Why Can’t I Remove That Tag?

You can remove that tag on the mattress—it’s okay. Really.

Mattress Tag

Lots of products have tags on them—clothes, sheets, towels, for example. Most people have no problem tearing them off if they feel like it. But then there’s the matter of that tag on the mattress. That little strip of waxy paper could so easily be torn or ripped off, but many of us don’t dare…and just tucked it underneath the mattress itself or under the sheets. But rules are rules, and it’s written right there on the tag, “Do not remove under penalty of law.” Who wants to go to prison for removing a tag off of a mattress?

That’s because it’s not illegal for you, the owner of the mattress to take the tags off. After all, it’s your mattress that you paid for. The warning against removing the tag is actually directed at  companies that sell mattresses. It’s illegal for them to remove the tag, and if they do, they could face a fine…should they get caught, that is.

This strange law was actually a good one when it was first went into effect about 100 years ago. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, there was very little regulation of industry—that’s why Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, an expose of the disgusting day-to-day activities of the meat-packing industry was a call to action. In the mattress industry, manufacturers tried to cut costs by stuffing new mattress with material salvaged from old, discard, and used mattresses—even ones thrown out by hospitals. They were loaded with vermin, bugs, and all kinds of potentially harmful germs and bacteria…which was all then efficiently transferred into new mattresses. When it was discovered that mattress makers were doing this—which was enabling the spread of tuberculosis and smallpox—both state and federal governments stepped in to regulate.

The tags were designed for use on mattresses made with recycled materials. The tag was a warning label—if there was no tag, it was a new mattress. To ensure that neither the manufacturer nor the seller removed the tag off a recycled mattress and thus claim it as new, it was made illegal—and mentioned in clear language—that it remove the tag was illegal. In some states, ripping off a mattress tag carries a fine of up to $1,000.

But look closely at that tag the next time you see it—probably to tear it off now that you know you can. About 20 years ago, the language was changed to “Do not remove under penalty of law except by the consumer.”