Memory Foam Mattress Buying Guide
If you find yourself waking up with an achy body or a pained back, more often than not, it’s time for a new mattress. You go online searching for a comfortable mattress, but that’s when the headaches begin. You get overwhelmed by the enormously wide range of mattress types, some of them don’t even ring a bell with you.
In this in-depth guide we’re going to examine all types of foam, focusing heavily on memory foam mattresses and why they belong where they are. We will equip you with all the knowledge you need in order to pick out the best memory foam mattress. We will also provide you a thorough review of the memory foam mattresses we think are the best.
1. What is a Memory Foam Mattress?
Here are two very common problems one often faces with conventional innerspring mattresses:
- Overly soft and make you feel like quick sand is underneath you.
- Too rigid and resist your body contours.
We have personally tried out many different types of mattresses and found out the exact solution to these dilemmas – Memory foam mattresses. They feel just right, neither too soft nor rigid while supporting your body perfectly. And the best and most unique thing about them is the ability to react to body warmth, conforming to your body’s curves and creating a cradling effect.
Memory foam mattresses are made of polyurethane foam, but with added compounds, making it a more durable material with improved qualities. They offer the required pressure relief and support.
Even though they have been popular in the market since the 1990s, memory foam has been around since the 1970s. Despite being in a higher price range, memory foam mattresses are still the most popular and commonly used mattress due to their proven quality and durability.
2. What makes the best memory foam mattress?
As the memory foam mattress market is flooded with so many different brands and models, it’s nearly impossible to single out one mattress as the “best”. Depending on sleep preferences – positions, body types, and budgets, a mattress can be ideal for one while totally unpleasant to another.
There are certain criteria that affect reviews and ratings more than others. These are things that people are more concerned with when choosing a new mattress. Being knowledgable about them facilitates your purchase and saves you time and possibly money.
2.1 Types of Memory Foam
The first step to buying a memory foam mattress is to learn about the 3 different types and what they have to offer. So unless you equip yourself with the knowledge, you won’t be able to choose the right one.
2.1.1. Traditional / Standard / Viscoelastic Memory Foam
Just like its name, traditional memory foam was the first type of memory foam to take the lead in the market in the mid-90s. Up until now, traditional memory foam ranks highest when it comes to comfort and satisfaction. It’s also the material used for the majority of memory foam pillows.
Traditional memory foam has changed very little since its birth.
- Pressure point relief – Distributes weight evenly across the mattress surface.
- Individualized contouring – Utilizes petroleum-based polyurethane foam which is especially designed to soften and react when exposed to warmth allowing your body to be cradled during your sleep.
- Motion isolation – Due to the temperature reactive technology.
- Longevity – Due to its high density of 4.0 to 7.0 PCF (pounds per cubic)
- Wide ranges of models and prices
- Retains excessive heat – A result of when the material reacts with warmth and contours to the body shape
- Petroleum based – Causing health concerns
- Slow responsiveness / Feeling trapped – Due to slower reactions to the body temperature
- Smells / Toxic Off-gassing – VOC (volatile organic compounds)’s and chemical fire retardants
2.1.2. Gel-Infused Memory Foam
The most recent edition of the three types, the gel-infused memory foam is created to improve one of the biggest issues of its predecessor – sleeping hot.
Gel-infused memory foam is traditional memory foam infused with tiny gel beads or gel in a liquid state which disperses more thoroughly during early stages of manufacturing. Some mattresses have gel pads or pockets of gel on the surface.
- Pressure point relief + Individualized contouring + Motion isolation – Gel-infused memory foam derives from traditional foam.
- Initially cool – The gel creates a cool sensation initially and dissipates heat at a faster rate compared to the traditional one.
- Widely available – It is also one of the most common types of memory foam.
- Petroleum based
- Still gets warm during the night
- Smells / Toxic Off-gassing – VOC and chemical fire retardants in the first few days
- Feeling trapped / Faster responsiveness compared to the traditional memory foam – Due to heat dissipating faster
2.1.3. Plant-Based Memory Foam
The “green” memory foam is not only friendly to the environment but also the human body. It is manufactured with little to no emissions and contains zero toxic VOCs, depending on the process and manufacturer.
- Pressure point relief + Individualized contouring + Motion isolation
- Sleeps cooler + Quicker response time – Due to plant-based memory foam not relying on body heat to conform
- No VOCs / Toxic Off-gassing
- Improved breathability – Due to the design featuring a much larger cell structure
Plant-based memory foam improves upon the issues one faces with traditional and gel-infused memory foam. However it still has its cons.
- Hard to find locally (you can opt to buy it online, though)
Types of Memory Foam
|Responsiveness||Smells / Off-gassing||
Traditional / Standard
Comparison between three types of memory foam (A being highest)
2.2. Thickness of Layers
It’s important to know that the amount of comfort and support you receive rely heavily on the thickness of a layer and the mattress as a whole. The conventional mattress is made up of 3 layers that come with varying densities and firmness to achieve the desired support dynamic and comfort:
- The top layer is often made of innovative materials to keep you cool and provide a perfectly contoured sleeping experience. Normally, this layer can be around 1 to 4 inches thick.
- The support layer provides you support in a variety of thickness and densities. Thicker and less dense support layers are firmer while thinner and denser ones are softer. This also ranges from 1-4″ thick
- The foam base is the thickest layer, and usually is composed of higher density foam which provides support for the overall mattress. These are 6-8″ thick.
You can also find memory foam mattresses with 2 layers or more than 3 layers as well, depending on the model. Mattress thickness varies from 6 inches up to 14 inches or even thicker.
As a rule of thumb, thicker mattresses or mattresses with more layers are more expensive since they often come with extra layers to offer more comfort and ventilation.
However, don’t be fooled by the thickness of a mattress as a whole, instead, take a close look at the number of layers, the thickness of each, the materials, and foam types. And depending on the type of bed that you have and your personal preference, thicker mattresses aren’t always the most ideal choice.
2.3. Density (pounds per cubic foot)
Basically, density is an indication of how much memory foam actually weighs. Density is one of the key factors when it comes to how soft or hard the mattress feels and how well it holds up. However, there is no ideal density for everyone as each has their own preferences and body type.
When looking for the right density for your memory foam mattress, it’s important to understand the levels of densities and how they benefit you during your sleep.
Keep in mind that the higher the density is, the longer it is likely to hold up. However, memory foam with higher density also gets warmer during sleep.
Since memory foams react to temperature changes (including your body warmth), it may feel firmer when cold and softer when warmed up.
2.3.1 Low density (3lbs and under)
The thing about memory foam mattresses is that they react to body temperature. That means, once you lie down, the foam warms up, gets softer, and conforms to your body shape. Low density memory foam mattresses are the most responsive and less likely to sleep hot.
When lying on a low density memory foam mattress, a very soft feel is what welcomes you. You can still experience a soft feel with mattresses of higher levels of densities, but not as instant.
Therefore, if you prefer a mattress with a softer feel or can’t stand the initial stiffness, then a mattress with a low density is the one for you.
A mattress with this low level of density will break down quicker than higher density mattresses. Low density mattresses also are less expensive.
2.3.2. Medium density (4 -5lbs)
This is probably the most popular and commonly used due to having an affordable price and a good mix of a soft to firm ratio.
Mattresses in this range are ideal for those who don’t like their mattresses to be too soft or too stiff. They don’t have a sinking sensation (with the lower density ones) or the initial feeling of stiffness (with the higher density ones).
Also, this level of density provides enough longevity while at the same time, not retaining too much heat.
2.3.3. High density (6lbs+)
Mattresses with density from 6lbs are in the specialist area, aka orthopaedic mattresses. These high quality mattresses are exclusively designed for those who suffer from a medical condition namely aches and pains.
With density this high, a certain amount of initial stiffness is expected. However the mattress contours to your body quickly while giving you the ultimate support across the pressure points.
These mattresses can cost thousands of dollars but they are definitely worth considering, especially if you’re dealing with those nasty conditions. If you are willing to pay this amount of money, longevity and durability are to be expected.
2.4. Firmness Level
Firmness is an indication of how quickly the memory foam bounces back in response to pressure, aka indentation force reflection (IDF). Basically, IDF is the needed force for the foam to be compressed by 25%. IDFs anywhere under 18 are softer and utilized in memory foam comfort top layers while IDFs that are over 30 are firmer and utilized in support core layers.
It’s important to always keep in mind that density does not reflect the firmness of the mattress. This is because most low density mattresses come with a thin memory foam layer built over the supportive foam base – where the firmness comes from.
Conversely, the layer of memory foam is usually much thicker with higher density mattresses making it less firm. To put it simple, lower density memory foam is generally less buoyant, which makes sleepers feel trapped and sinking down to the more rigid core layer
There is no standard firmness for memory foam mattresses, rather it is subjective. It depends on multiple factors that include IDF, thickness, and density of each layer.
However, memory foams’ IFD typically falls in between 10 to 16, and 20 to 45 with the core foams. That should give you an idea if a memory mattress is soft or firm.
2.5 Responsiveness and Viscosity
Responsiveness is an indication of how quickly the memory foam returns to its original shape in response to pressure.
Traditional memory foams are very sensitive to temperature in which they conform and soften when exposed to body warmth, resulting in slower response rates.
Gel-infused and plant-based memory foams are designed to be less sensitive to temperature, which leads to faster response rates.
Many sleepers consider slow responsiveness a negative trait, due to the sinking sensation and trapped feeling it provides so they opt for mattresses with faster response rates.
More responsive mattresses also require less effort when changing sleep positions as well as getting out of bed. Others, however, enjoy the softness and how perfectly it conforms to their body contours.
2.6. Heat Retention and Motion Isolation
2.6.1. Heat Retention
Despite being the most sought-after type of mattresses by consumers, sleeping cool is where memory foam mattresses usually fall short, followed by odor or off-gassing.
Overheating is caused by the density and thickness of the memory foam mattress. The result is constricted air circulation between your body and the mattress as well as within it. With that being said, the higher the density and thickness, the more heat the memory foam retains.
Heat retention declines from plant-based to gel-infused (initially cool) to traditional memory foam (throughout the night) – Read 2.1 Types of Memory Foam.
2.6.2. Motion Isolation
Motion isolation is great with all memory foam mattresses due to the memory foam being reactive to temperature and causing individualized contouring – Read 2.1 Types of Memory Foam.
2.7. Odor / Off-gassing
Another complaint we often receive about memory foam mattresses is odor / off-gassing, except for plant-based memory foam – Read 2.1 Types of Memory Foam.
The reason is that, Polyurethane, a synthetic resin is used as the base for traditional and gel-infused memory foam mattresses, in which the human nose is sensitive to. Polyfoams contain VOCs, which encompass around 60 gasses and cause lots of health concerns.
In most cases, these smells, off-gassing, will dissipate within 3 days after opening. If you’re health conscious but still prefer memory foam mattresses, opting for a plant-based memory foam mattress is a win-win for you.
A cover completes your mattress so choose one that complements the characteristics of the mattress. Selecting the wrong cover will make the comfort of your memory mattress much less so. While covers come in various sizes, shapes, and materials, there are a few key points when it comes to purchasing one.
- The cover should not tear away at the mattress, feel firm or irritate your skin.
- The fabrics should be breathable and able to keep you cool during sleep, such as cotton and rayon.
- Because the highlight of memory foam mattresses is the ability to soften and conforms to body contours, covers that are too thick will undermine that (1 inch at most).
2.9. Sleep Preferences and Body Type
Everyone is different; people come in all shapes and sizes and have different sleep preferences.
Andrew is a heavier sleeper (230lbs) and he likes the mattress to have a softer feel while I’m half of his weight and I prefer a firmer mattress. Both of us are side sleepers so more pressure will be put on hips and shoulders hence the need of thicker memory foam layers. Couples with different sleep preferences, like us, find it hard to compromise when it comes to shopping for a new mattress.
3. Memory Foam Vs. Other Types of Foam
Let’s take a look at the 3 types of foam used in mattresses: Memory Foam, Polyurethane Foam, and Latex foam. Back in the 1950s, Latex foam was commonly used in mattresses, even before polyurethane foam and we might have seen a resurgence of it recently. However, the most commonly used foams in mattresses are memory and polyurethane foams.
3.1. Polyurethane Foams / Poly Foam / Poly
This is the cheapest, as well as lowest ,quality foam primarily made up of compounds derived from petrochemicals.
- Effectively blocks dust mites and other allergens
- Acts as a barrier to liquids for those unexpected spills
- Helps encourage proper spinal alignment
- Inexpensive – The cheapest type of foam
- Low density
- Lowest quality due to its low density
- Development of body impressions over time
- Lack of support
- Excessive off-gassing – Causing uncomfortable odors and health concerns
3.2. Memory Foam
Known for having a slower response, memory foam is sometimes called Viscoelastic polyurethane foam / tempurpedic foam. It’s usually denser and more expensive than typical polyurethane foam.
- Motion isolation
- Pressure Point relief + Equal weight distribution – Due to the contouring mechanism of the memory foam, molding onto and over your body
- Back and Joint support / Spinal Cord alignment – Second best only after water mattresses or an adjustable bed frame
- Has a positive effect on respiratory problems – Eases breathing during sleep.
- Longevity + Very little maintenance needed – One of the most durable mattresses, if not the most.
- Heat retention – Probably the biggest drawback, due to the dense foam. This isn’t as big of an issue with plant-based memory foam.
- Smells / Off-gassing (except for plant-based memory foam) – Causes health concerns. It will dissipate within 0-3 days.
- Expensive – Memory foam mattresses vary dramatically in prices, higher quality ones can be expensive.
- Heavy weight – Memory foam mattresses can be quite heavy but since mattresses don’t require to be moved around often, this isn’t much of an issue.
3.3. Latex Foam
There are two types of latex: synthetic (from petrochemicals) and natural (from rubber trees). The difference between latex foam and the previous foams is its fast responsiveness.
- Comfort – Pain reduction and pain prevention due to being a resilient material.
- Longevity – Highly durable material.
- No smells / Off-gassing.
- Motion isolation – Due to its energy-absorbing properties, making sleeping a more pleasant experience.
- Customizability – Some retailers offer customization.
- Healthy benefits / Eco-friendliness – Made of safe materials
- Firmness – Especially in the first few weeks, then your body will adapt to it.
- Compression – This is less of an issue with 100% natural latex foam.
- Heat retention – Especially with closed-cell foams. However, latex foams tend to sleep cooler than memory foams in general.
- Expensive – Perhaps this is the biggest barrier to consumers when choosing latex foam mattresses.
- Heavy weight – Especially high quality latex mattresses.
Here Are Our Top Picks for Memory Foam Mattresses:
Loom and Leaf
($1299 for a Queen. Click here for the best price on a Loom & Leaf.)
The Loom and Leaf is one of our top picks for memory foam models for many reasons. It uses a variety of different foam layers in its construction, as well as a unique cooling gel layer on top and a very high-quality, flame-retardant tufted cover.
It is 12″ thick and comes in two firmness options, Loom and Leaf Relaxed Firm and Loom and Leaf Firm, both of which provide exceptional comfort and support in all sleeping positions. Both offer a very balanced feel as they provide a nice degree of body contouring without causing the feeling of being trapped in foam, and both sleep pretty cool due to their medical-grade gel layers that reduce heat retention and eliminate the sticky, sweaty feel typical for most full memory foam mattresses.
The Loom and Leaf mattresses are shipped uncompressed so there is literally no smell/off-gassing, and they come in at $1299 for a Queen which is quite a reasonable price given its luxury design and the quality materials used in its construction.
($699 for a Queen. Click here and save $125 by applying our code: MFT125.)
The Nectar is an 11″ thick mattress made up of 4 layers of foam with a Tencel top cover that keeps your sleeping surface breathable, cool, and bug-resistant. It uses semi-open LUSH foam that gives it extra softness, loft, and breathability and does a great job in heat absorption and redistribution. The bottom layer is designed to be thicker so as to provide deep compression support.
The Nectar is aesthetically pleasing and provides the classic memory foam feel, along with great support and contour. It has the softness of a pillow top and a firm supportive foam layer beneath that is excellent for all sleeping positions. What is great about the Nectar is that it has enough bounce and it makes you feel cradled but not necessarily enveloped by the mattress. This increases the overall comfort and luxury that this mattress offers and helps relieve pressure while supporting your body and allowing proper spinal alignment.
At $725 ($699 with our $125 MFT125 coupon), the level of quality and comfort are extremely hard to top for a mattress of this quality.
($799 after clicking here and applying our $100 off coupon MFT100.)
The Layla is one of our top picks as it is considered to be one of the most comfortable memory foam mattresses available on today’s market. It is an all foam mattress consisting of 4 different layers with a soft, gel-infused cover that helps with cooling and temperature regulation and adds to the luxurious feel of this mattress.
Its top comfort layer is composed of the copper-infused memory foam, that doesn’t only provide a nice contouring to the body and necessary pressure relief, but also aids in cooling. It prevents the build-up of heat typical for most memory foam mattresses and creates a cool and comfortable sleeping environment. Besides this, the Layla is a double sided mattress which means that you can choose either a firm or soft feel depending on your preferences simply by unzipping the cover and flipping the mattress over.
The Layla comes in at $899 for a Queen size, and you can use our code: MFT100 to save $100.
($749 after clicking here and applying our $100 off coupon MFTALK.)
The Nolah is unique in that it delivers the benefits of memory foam without the actual use of memory foam. Nolah created their own proprietary foam, Nolah Air Foam, which sleeps cooler than memory foam and is more durable than latex.
It comes in a universal comfort model which we rate as a 6-7 on the firmness scale (10 being firmest), and it provides good support and great comfort for all sleeping styles as it has the firmness needed for sleeping comfortably on your back as well as the softness if you switch to your side. It offers a luxury feel unique to the special Nolah Air Foam and a cool and comfortable sleeping surface necessary for a sound and quality sleep.
You can get the Nolah mattress at $749 for a Queen after applying our $100 off coupon MFTALK.
($950 for a queen. Click here to save $200. )
The Puffy is a new comfortable mattress brand that recently hit the market. It is a 10″ model using special proprietary Cooling Cloud gel infused memory foam that sleeps cool.
The Puffy feels like around a 5/6 or so on the firmness spectrum (10 being firmest), with the top comfort layer providing comfort and cooling while the underlying foam foundation layer provides overall support.
The Puffy is a newer company and offers the standard 101-night sleep trial and a lifetime warranty, with a queen selling for $950. You can save $200 by using the link above.