Latex Foam vs. Poly Foam vs. Memory Foam Mattresses

Which are the best types of mattresses?

By Nicole Gleichmann

Nearly every mattress contains some type of foam within. When asked to envision foam, most people are going to see a soft, comfortable material. Few realize that comfort is only one of the benefits of foam. Depending on the type of foam found within a bed, foam can function as the support core of a mattress, the upper comfort layer, or both.

Foam’s unique properties can yield a mattress that is durable, responsive, or cradling. The difference all comes down to what type of foam is used. There are three types of foam found in mattresses: latex foam, memory foam, and polyurethane foam. Understanding the unique properties of each can help you when shopping for a mattress.

Polyurethane Foam: The Original Mattress Foam

Polyurethane foam has long been used in mattress construction. Created in the 1950s, poly foam is found in nearly all traditional spring mattresses and plenty of hybrid mattresses. What makes polyurethane foam popular is its low cost and versatility.

Poly foam is available in a wide range of densities. Low density poly foam is soft and responsive. It is often used in the top layer of inexpensive mattresses thanks to the comfort that it provides. When you lie down on this type of foam, it will give more at your heavier points, providing pressure point relief. The downside is that low density foam is not very durable, breaking down in as little as two years.

High density poly foam is able to provide durable support, ideal for the base of a mattress. You will find high density poly foam as the base of plenty of high-end mattresses, particularly memory foam mattresses. This is because high density polyurethane foam is resilient and sturdy, making it ideal for providing the support that you miss out on with memory foam.

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Potentially durable
  • Versatile thanks to varying degrees of firmness
  • Soft and responsive
  • Quiet

Cons

  • Poor-to-moderate durability
  • Compresses under weight

Memory Foam: The Leader in Comfort

Memory foam is a type of polyurethane foam developed by NASA in the 1960s. Their goal was to create a material that was exceptional at absorbing pressure. Shortly after its release to the public domain in the 1980s, its potential as a mattress material was realized.

Memory foam is also known as viscoelastic foam. When you break this work apart, it comes from viscous + elastic. Viscosity is a property where something is almost gummy, with a consistency not quite solid or liquid. Elastic refers to its ability to return to its original shape. If you have ever sunk your hand into a memory foam mattress, you can relate to the almost gummy, enveloping sensation that you experience.

These properties give memory foam an unparalleled ability to conform to an individual’s body shape. Memory foam responds to body heat and pressure, sinking in at the body’s heaviest points. The result is a cradling sensation that reduces pressure and pain at one’s pressure points and encourages proper spine alignment. These pros are particularly beneficial for side sleepers, whose shoulders, hips, and heels could use some extra give.

Just as with any other material, memory foam does have its drawbacks. Because it cradles the body and responds to temperature, it can trap temperature and sleep hot. There are technologies that allow memory foam to sleep cooler. Cool-sleeping memory foam mattresses may contain gel foam, copper foam, or more open cellular structures that allow the foam to breath more. However, memory foam is the hottest mattress material.

What’s more, memory foam itself is not very supportive. For this reason, memory foam beds are usually a combination of memory foam with a sturdier poly foam base. Still, some people will find it hard to get on or off of a memory foam mattress. It can feel a bit like being trapped for people with heavier body types, particularly if the foam is not high density memory foam.

Pros

  • Exceptional pressure point relief
  • Great for side sleepers
  • High-quality foam is durable
  • Very little motion transfer
  • Quiet
  • Moderately priced

Cons

  • Sleeps hot
  • Off-gases when first opened
  • Tough to move around on
  • Not very bouncy
  • More expensive than poly foam

Latex Foam

Latex mattresses can be made from either synthetic or natural latex. Natural latex foam mattresses are the only all-natural foam mattress option, and as such, they are highly sought after by the environmentally conscious.

Both synthetic and natural latex mattresses offer properties quite unlike those of polyfoam or memory foam mattresses. Latex foam sleeps cooler, is the bounciest and most responsive type of foam, and provides firm support. Just like the other types of foam, motion transfer and noise are not typical problems for those who have latex mattresses. And if you are looking for a mattress that could last you 20 years, a high-quality, natural latex mattress is a solid option.

Latex is one of the few mattress toppers that can boost the firmness of a mattress. However, many people will find latex too firm. It doesn’t respond to temperature or pressure the way that memory foam does, which can be troublesome for side sleepers. And an all-natural latex mattress comes in at quite a steep price point.

To achieve the greatest comfort with a latex mattress, you must consider how the latex was made. Latex made from the Talalay process is softer and more durable than that made from the Dunlop process. Unfortunately, Talalay latex is typically more expensive.

Pros

  • Durable, lasting up to 20 years
  • Responsive, the bounciest of foam mattresses
  • Highly supportive with moderate give
  • Little motion transfer
  • Sleeps cool
  • Quiet

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Natural and synthetic latex will off-gas when new
  • Less contouring than memory foam

Which Type of Foam is Best?

There are pros and cons to each type of foam. The ideal type of foam is incredibly individual-specific, and many people will benefit the most from a hybrid mattress that contains two or even all three categories of foam.

Polyurethane foam mattresses are best for people on a budget who do not plan to use their mattress often or for many years in a row. This type of foam is better suited as a part of a mattress rather than as the only component.

Memory foam mattresses are ideal for people who want a mattress that conforms to their body shape. This ability to conform is good for people who sleep on their sides or who experience aches and pains when they wake up. Memory foam is not good for anyone who sleeps hot, particularly if you live in a hot climate without air conditioning.

Latex foam mattresses are best for people who are looking for a bit more support and responsiveness than they would find with polyurethane foam and memory foam, but would like to enjoy better pressure relief and movement isolation than you get with a traditional innerspring mattress.


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