Latex vs Memory Foam Mattresses
What type of foam mattress is best for you?
Apr 18th, 2023 •
What do a cake mixer, spaceships, and bed sores have in common? Believe it or not, all were instrumental in the creation of two types of mattresses that are taking the mattress industry by storm. Sales of memory foam and latex mattresses are on the rise as sleepy consumers search for the best vehicle to transport them to La La Land.
Both types of foam mattresses get high marks for support, alleviating pressure points, and pain relief. And these important similarities might lead you to use price as the differentiator when shopping for a new mattress. In most cases, that selection principle would lead you to purchase a memory foam mattress since they tend to be less expensive than latex mattresses. But the ways in which the two mattress types differ go beyond price.
Before we get to the similarities and differences between memory foam and latex, let’s get back to those cake mixers, spaceships, and bed sores for a little history lesson on how these two types of foam mattresses came to be.
How NASA Helped Launch a New Sleep Surface
The tremendous number of innovations that are spawned by NASA and man’s quest to explore the universe are often overlooked. One of those fringe benefits of the space program is memory foam. Memory foam was developed as part of a NASA project to design a seating cushion that relieved the effects of the tremendous g-forces on astronauts during take-off. By conforming precisely to the astronauts’ bodies as pressure increased, the memory foam cushions relieved pressure on high-impact points and then resumed its original shape when pressure was released.
Two of the first non-space program applications for the new material were in hospital bed toppers and wheelchair seats. These helped to reduce pressure sores in bed-ridden and wheelchair-bound people. The highly responsive foam has been used since then in many other protective applications where comfort and cushioning are crucial.
Different Types of Memory Foam
Traditional memory foam, or viscoelastic polyurethane foam, consists of petroleum-based polymer. It provides excellent pressure relief and can absorb motion well. This tends to be the most affordable type of memory foam.
Plant-based memory foam incorporates plant-based oils rather than petroleum. This is appealing to eco-friendly shoppers since it’s free of common chemicals, like formaldehyde and PBDEs, used in traditional memory foam.
Gel-infused memory foam uses added gel microbeads to provide a more breathable surface. It pulls heat away from the body and keeps sleepers cool at night. Those who sleep hot will especially appreciate this since it helps counteract memory foam’s tendency to trap heat.
The Origin of Latex
The recipe for latex foam was developed back in the 1920s. E.A. Murphy of the Dunlop rubber manufacturer found a way to incorporate air into rubber tree milk to create the bubbles needed to make latex foam. The secret? His wife’s cake mixer. By whipping the latex rubber into a frothy concoction, Murphy created a mixture that when cooked included air bubbles that give latex foam its distinctive push-back cushioning.
Different Types of Latex
Dunlop latex is made from a rubber tree substance, which is molded into a solid form. It has a firm feel to it and is generally less breathable than Talalay latex.
Talalay latex is a more modern version of latex that has been around since WWII. Its process is slightly more intensive and involves evenly dispersing the liquid latex into a mold. It also includes a flash-frozen process that helps make it airy and soft.
Latex vs. Memory Foam Mattresses
What does this all mean for the foam mattresses? For some people, everything. Let’s look at how these mattress types are similar.
Latex and memory foam are similar in their support and motion isolation qualities.
You will be able to find great support from either type of foam mattress. Both conform to your body shape enough to support natural spinal alignment that helps prevent and relieve lower back pain. See our best mattress for back pain list.
Because both mattress types absorb vibration and movement, they provide excellent motion isolation. That means you and your partner can sleep in peace no matter what else is happening on the other side of the bed. That’s great news for couples with different sleep times, different bathroom needs, and different levels of movement while sleeping.
There are far more differences than similarities between these two mattress materials. We’ll go into each of these differences in detail.
The main differences in feel between memory foam and latex mattresses have to do with the way they respond to body pressure and heat. While both foams offer a significant reduction in pressure point relief (think cushioning under heels, hips, and shoulders), memory foam slightly outperforms latex because of its ability to closely conform to your body. That means no one body part feels more pressure than any other as the mattress yields more as the weight increases. Memory foam also becomes more pliable as it heats up so the pressure points literally melt away.
People who have trouble regulating their body temperature may find memory foam sleeps hot. Memory foam tends to absorb body heat rather than deflect it, and its contouring reduces airflow around your body. Some memory foam mattresses include cooling features such as gel layers or channels to improve airflow to compensate for this feature.
Latex mattresses don’t typically retain heat, and are naturally cooler due to their breathable construction.
Memory foam has a memory, as the name suggests, but it’s slower to remember its original shape than latex. That means once it conforms to your body shape, rather than push back, it tends to hold that shape longer than latex. As a result, some people typically find it more difficult to move around on a memory foam mattress.
Latex mattresses yield in a more generalized, less contoured way as they relieve pressure points. That results in a floating feeling, a bit more bounce, and less hug than memory foam. The faster response time of a latex mattress makes it easier for sleepers to move around and get out of bed. Randy sleepers will also enjoy the improved performance during those times when sleep is not the primary bedroom activity.
The ingredients and manufacturing process of natural latex make it better for you and the environment than memory foam. The main ingredient of memory foam is polyurethane, a byproduct of petroleum. Because it is highly flammable, fire retardants, which can contain toxic chemicals, must be applied.
Some of the ingredients in memory foam can cause off-gassing or an odor when they are first unwrapped. The odor usually dissipates after a day or so, but for people who are extra sensitive, it can trigger headaches or just be annoying initially.
Lifespan is another reason to love foam mattresses of either type. You can expect to get about ten years out of a high-density memory foam bed. Natural latex mattresses outlive memory foam by about ten years, lasting as long as twenty years. Furthermore, they are naturally mold, mildew, and dust mite resistant, making them cleaner and healthier for everyone who is not allergic to latex.
Both memory foam and latex mattresses are more expensive than innerspring mattresses, but most latex mattresses will cost more than memory foam mattresses.
Shopping for foam mattresses can be overwhelming, but if you know what to look for, the process can be streamlined.
If you think either one might be right for you, take a look at our favorite latex foam mattresses and foam mattresses below.
And if you have any questions about the difference between memory foam and latex, be sure to drop us a line in the comments below. We love a good debate.
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