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Is It Really Illegal to Remove Your Mattress Tag?

Spoiler Alert: It is not. But here's why that warning is on there in the first place.

At some point, most of us have heard that we’re not supposed to remove the tags from our mattresses, under penalty of law. Most of the tags even say something like "It is unlawful to remove this tag!" The tags and the bold act of tearing them off have become a kind of jokey cultural shorthand for oppressive, yet trivial, government regulation and rebellion against it. Jay Leno has joked that his mom is so law-abiding that she checks her tags once a month, and Woody Allen parodied the tags with a story about two drifters who break into a home and slash them off.

You can go ahead and cut the tag off without fear of jackbooted mattress police kicking in your door and hauling you off to the gulag, though. The tag's stern warning is there to protect you, the end user: it's the removal of the tag before the mattress gets to the person that’s going to sleep on it that’s illegal.

Why So Serious?

Take a look at your mattress tag and you’ll see that there’s a lot more on it than just the “don't remove me” warning. The purpose of the tag is to assure consumers that they’re buying a new, never-been-used product and to let them know exactly what’s inside it. The need for this protective label arose in the early 20th century, amid a boom in consumer protection regulations. At the time, mattresses were often constructed with some unsavory stuffing — horse hair, corn husks, food waste, old rags, newspaper, and whatever else a manufacturer could come by were regularly shoved inside. Consumers would never see the stuffing, so no harm, no foul, right? Not really. Some of this stuff harbored bacteria and household pests that gave unwary consumers a not-so-restful slumber.

The government tackled the problem by requiring mattress manufacturers to affix tags to their products that clearly defined their contents. Consumers could then make informed decisions and steer clear of mattresses stuffed with dangerous or gross materials. Listing the “ingredients” right on the mattress put the dirty rag guys at a distinct disadvantage in the marketplace. So to get around the problem, having fulfilled their legal obligation to add the tag, some manufacturers simply tore it off before shipping to retailers. Elsewhere, salesmen ripped them off of slow-moving products to help sales.

The government countered with a new regulation. Tags now had to have the do-not-remove warning, and federal regulations made it unlawful to “remove or mutilate, or cause or participate in the removal or mutilation of, prior to the time any textile fiber product is sold and delivered to the ultimate consumer, any stamp, tag, label, or other identification required” on them. “Any person violating this section,” the regulation continues, “shall be guilty of an unfair method of competition, and an unfair or deceptive act or practice, under the Federal Trade Commission Act.”

The move deterred dishonest mattress dealers, but also confused more than a few consumers, who dutifully left the tags on for fear of prosecution. In recent years, the feds and many state governments have eased the minds of law-abiding citizens by amending the mattress laws so the tags read “this tag shall not be removed except by the consumer.”

So, go ahead, tear that sucker off and sleep easy.

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Big Questions
Are There Number 1 Pencils?
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Almost every syllabus, teacher, and standardized test points to the ubiquitous No. 2 pencil, but are there other choices out there?

Of course! Pencil makers manufacture No. 1, 2, 2.5, 3, and 4 pencils—and sometimes other intermediate numbers. The higher the number, the harder the core and lighter the markings. (No. 1 pencils produce darker markings, which are sometimes preferred by people working in publishing.)

The current style of production is profiled after pencils developed in 1794 by Nicolas-Jacques Conté. Before Conté, pencil hardness varied from location to location and maker to maker. The earliest pencils were made by filling a wood shaft with raw graphite, leading to the need for a trade-wide recognized method of production.

Conté’s method involved mixing powdered graphite with finely ground clay; that mixture was shaped into a long cylinder and then baked in an oven. The proportion of clay versus graphite added to a mixture determines the hardness of the lead. Although the method may be agreed upon, the way various companies categorize and label pencils isn't.

Today, many U.S.  companies use a numbering system for general-purpose, writing pencils that specifies how hard the lead is. For graphic and artist pencils and for companies outside the U.S., systems get a little complicated, using a combination of numbers and letters known as the HB Graphite Scale.

"H" indicates hardness and "B" indicates blackness. Lowest on the scale is 9H, indicating a pencil with extremely hard lead that produces a light mark. On the opposite end of the scale, 9B represents a pencil with extremely soft lead that produces a dark mark. ("F" also indicates a pencil that sharpens to a fine point.) The middle of the scale shows the letters and numbers that correspond to everyday writing utensils: B = No. 1 pencils, HB = No. 2, F = No. 2½, H = No. 3, and 2H = No. 4 (although exact conversions depend on the brand).

So why are testing centers such sticklers about using only No. 2 pencils? They cooperate better with technology because early machines used the electrical conductivity of the lead to read the pencil marks. Early scanning-and-scoring machines couldn't detect marks made by harder pencils, so No. 3 and No. 4 pencils usually resulted in erroneous results. Softer pencils like No. 1s smudge, so they're just impractical to use. So No. 2 pencils became the industry standard.

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Big Questions
What Are Curlers Yelling About?
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WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images

Curling is a sport that prides itself on civility—in fact, one of its key tenets is known as the “Spirit of Curling,” a term that illustrates the respect that the athletes have for both their own teammates and their opponents. But if you’re one of the millions of people who get absorbed by the sport once every four years, you probably noticed one quirk that is decidedly uncivilized: the yelling.

Watch any curling match and you’ll hear skips—or captains—on both sides barking and shouting as the 42-pound stone rumbles down the ice. This isn’t trash talk; it’s strategy. And, of course, curlers have their own jargon, so while their screams won’t make a whole lot of sense to the uninitiated, they could decide whether or not a team will have a spot on the podium once these Olympics are over.

For instance, when you hear a skip shouting “Whoa!” it means he or she needs their teammates to stop sweeping. Shouting “Hard!” means the others need to start sweeping faster. If that’s still not getting the job done, yelling “Hurry hard!” will likely drive the point home: pick up the intensity and sweep with downward pressure. A "Clean!" yell means put a brush on the ice but apply no pressure. This will clear the ice so the stone can glide more easily.

There's no regulation for the shouts, though—curler Erika Brown says she shouts “Right off!” and “Whoa!” to get her teammates to stop sweeping. And when it's time for the team to start sweeping, you might hear "Yes!" or "Sweep!" or "Get on it!" The actual terminology isn't as important as how the phrase is shouted. Curling is a sport predicated on feel, and it’s often the volume and urgency in the skip’s voice (and what shade of red they’re turning) that’s the most important aspect of the shouting.

If you need any more reason to make curling your favorite winter sport, once all that yelling is over and a winner is declared, it's not uncommon for both teams to go out for a round of drinks afterwards (with the winners picking up the tab, obviously). Find out how you can pick up a brush and learn the ins and outs of curling with our beginner's guide.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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