Are you looking for a new mattress but feeling overwhelmed by the different types of foam available? Do you want to know the pros and cons of polyfoam, memory foam, and latex foam beds? If so, you’ve come to the right place. Here below, we will explain the differences between these three types of foam and how they affect your sleep quality, health, and comfort. We will also compare and contrast their features, such as density, support, durability, temperature regulation, eco-friendliness, motion isolation, and more. By the end of this page, you’ll have a better understanding of which type of foam mattress suits your preferences and needs. So, let’s get started!
Polyurethane foam (also known as polyfoam), memory foam (also known as viscoelastic polyurethane foam or Tempur-Pedic foam), and latex foam are the three most common types of foam used in mattresses in the U.S.
Polyfoam is the lowest quality and least expensive foam used in mattress toppers and mattresses. Polyfoam is essentially made up of compounds derived from petrochemicals.
Often, mattress manufacturers use polyfoam as the top layer of spring coils mattresses. This is done chiefly because polyfoam is inexpensive, not because it’s high quality. More recently, many online mattress retailers have begun using polyfoam as a base layer in their mattresses instead of using spring coils. Polyfoam can be easily compressed due to its low density. This allows many online mattress retailers (bed-in-a-box) to save on shipping costs but also causes many of these mattresses to have relatively shorter lifespans.
There are several different densities and varieties of polyfoam. Generally, higher-density polyfoam is a bit more durable while low-density polyfoam can degrade very quickly (sometimes within one year). Even high-density polyurethane foam is less dense than memory foam or latex foam. All polyfoams, no matter what their density, will degrade faster than any latex foam of reasonable quality.
Polyfoam can add some support and softness, but it won’t provide the same support associated with latex foam or memory foam. Polyfoam tends to collapse much quicker when pressure is applied to it. Therefore, it doesn’t provide the same contoured support that latex foam is well-known for.
Polyfoam rarely carries any emission certifications other than the Certipur-US certification. While this certification is an important step in the right direction for the polyfoam industry, it lacks the credibility of third-party certifications such as Oeko-tex or eco-Institut. While the Certipur-US certification does ban the use of certain types of fire-retardant chemicals, it’s quite common for polyfoam to contain fire-retardant additives. Furthermore, this standard is administered by the polyfoam industry itself.
Memory foam is a type of polyurethane foam that contains added compounds that change the way it feels and gives it the slow-moving properties that it’s known for. For instance, it’ll hold your handprint for a few seconds when pressed. As with polyurethane foam, memory foam is also made up of compounds derived from petrochemicals.
Memory foam is usually more expensive and denser than regular polyfoam. Memory foam provides a more pinpointed feel than polyfoam, but it isn’t as supportive as latex foam. Unlike latex foam, which provides constant support and responds instantly, memory foam sinks further and responds slowly, the longer such pressure is applied to it. The sinking of memory foam contributes to moving during sleep more necessary, but the slow response of this type of foam makes it difficult to move without sleep being disturbed.
Memory foam is also heat reactive, meaning that it absorbs heat and softens as it gets warmer. This adds to the sinking issues mentioned above. As the memory foam heats up from your body, it gets softer and sinks more. As your body sinks further into the foam, you’ll get hotter. This carries on until you wake up to find yourself hot and probably stuck in one spot on your mattress.
More recent versions of memory foam exist, which are designed to reduce such heat (often called gel-infused foam). While these new foams contain chemicals that make the surface of the foam feel cooler, many experiences the same heat issues with it.
The densities of memory foam may vary greatly. In general, higher-density memory foam is of better quality and more durable. There are lots of low-density, inexpensive memory foam toppers being sold online. Many mattresses also contain this low-density, cheaper memory foam. Low-density memory foam will degrade very quickly (sometimes within less than one year after purchase).
As with polyfoam, Certipur-US is often the only certification that is applied to memory foam. Memory foam is also commonly made with fire-retardant chemicals.
Latex foam is a foam produced by vulcanizing liquid latex into a solid foam. Such a vulcanization process links latex particles with sulfur through the application of heat and accelerators such as zinc oxide. Latex foam can be produced with synthetic latex, which is produced from petrochemicals, or natural latex, which is harvested directly from rubber trees.
Latex foam reacts instantly to every move of yours and provides exact pinpointed support. Latex foam does not sink in and bottom out as the sleep progresses. It doesn’t get softer when warmer and maintains constant support. This characteristic makes it extremely easy to move in bed throughout the night without any sleep disturbance. The contoured support allows certain areas of the body to sink further into the mattress while others are supported. This is especially helpful for side sleepers, as they require more support in their midsection, but more give in their shoulders and hips.
Latex foam is the most durable type of foam available. Latex mattress toppers and mattresses long outlast those made with polyfoam and memory foam. Latex foam scores highly on all foam durability tests which simulate long periods of use (20+ years).
It is very common for natural latex foam to have emissions certifications, e.g. eco-Institut and Oeko-tex class 1 certified. While synthetic latex foam can also have certifications, it isn’t as common.
Latex foam is probably the best type of foam to use in mattress toppers and mattresses. Latex foam offers several significant advantages over memory foam and polyfoam.
In short, polyfoam, memory foam, and latex foam have their own advantages and disadvantages, and the best choice for you depends on your personal preferences, budget, and sleeping style. To recap, here are some of the main points we covered above:
- Polyfoam is the cheapest and least durable type of foam, but it can still provide some support and comfort for light sleepers or occasional use.
- Memory foam is the most popular and widely available type of foam, and it offers excellent motion isolation and pressure relief, but it can also have a strong odor and trap heat.
- Latex foam is the most durable and eco-friendly type of foam, and it offers natural breathability and bounce, but it can also be heavy and expensive.