How is Memory Foam Different from Other Mattresses?
Readers shopping for a new bed may wonder how memory foam mattresses are different from other types of beds, and this a useful and important question to understand when trying to select the best bed. Learning differences between available alternatives can help to understand which may be best suited to personal needs and preferences. In this article, we will contrast memory foam with innerspring, water, and latex beds and then compare different types of memory foam as well.
Mattress Type Comparisons
Each type of mattress uses different technology and construction to achieve different results that may be favorable or not, depending on your personal needs. Comparisons between different types of beds should involve the overall support system, materials used, purported pros and cons, pricing, longevity as well as owner satisfaction rates. Below you will find a comparison table summarizing the information, followed by more detailed explanations.
|Lifespan||6-10 years||4-8 years||7-10 years||8-12 years|
|Avg Price Range, Queen||$200-7500||$350-10000||$100-1800||$500-4000|
*Percentages based on SleepLikeTheDead.com survey data.
Innerspring Mattresses vs Memory Foam
- Pros: affordable, widely available, wide variety of types and combinations, fairly low complaints for heat and odor (models without memory foam and latex)
- Cons: least durable type, most likely to sag and cause pain, motion transfer, lowest average satisfaction rate
Innerspring are the most common and widely available mattresses in America, consisting of different varieties of springs and coils covered with padding. There are four primary types of coil support systems: Bonnell coils, continuous coils, offset coils, and pocketed coils. Pocketed coils tend to be the best bet overall, providing better support, motion isolation, and durability than the other types, but also prove more expensive. Metal coils have low conform-ability (meaning they do not easily contour to the sleeper), and also tend to transfer motion between partners more than other types of beds.
In addition to the springs, the other primary component of a spring mattress is the comfort layer which insulates the sleeper from the metal coils. Materials such as low-density polyurethane, polypropylene, and fiber batting tend to be cheapest and lack durability. Some spring beds can be combined with memory foam and latex as well which can improve pain relief, but may raise the price considerably and introduce higher odor and heat complaints. Very few innerspring beds are available with natural materials.
Innerspring mattresses are typically comfortable initially, but about 20-30% of owners experience a loss of support and sagging within a couple couple of years. This is due to both the nature of metal coils and fiber/padding material compression, and can lead to increased back pain and pressure points. Overall, the average lifespan range of innerspring bed is 4-8 years, with most lasting about 6 years.
Directly compared to memory foam, spring beds are less durable, less supportive, more likely to cause pain, and less likely to earn satisfactory ratings. But, they also tend to be cheaper and have lower complaint rate of odor and heat.
Waterbed Mattresses vs Memory Foam
- Pros: good conformability and pain relief, affordable, durable, not likely to retain heat
- Cons: motion transfer, can be unsupportive, hard to find, maintenance and leaks
Waterbed mattresses can come in two forms, hardside and softside. Hardside waterbeds are the standard vinyl bladder types that go with wood frames. Softside waterbeds are designed with a water chamber inside an enclosure and can be used on standard frames.
Both types of beds can come with free-flow and waveless designs. Free flow types offer very little support and increase back pain due to a ‘hammocking’ effect. Waveless models offer more firmness and support. Overall, water conforms to sleepers well, but is the worst type for motion transfer.
Waterbeds tend to be fairly durable barring leaks, and can be rather cheap for hardside models. Though they are increasingly hard to find in local shops, they are popular with owners as 79% are satisfied.
One of the most significant differences between memory foam and waterbeds is supportiveness, where memory foam excels. Waterbeds also tend to be bad for motion isolation, but have virtually no heat complaints. Durability is similar for both types, and while water can be cheaper, there are also maintenance concerns that may be a significant barrier for some. Overall memory foam scores slightly higher among owners.
Latex Mattresses vs Memory Foam
- Pros: relieves pain and pressure points, provides good support, proves very durable, isolates motion, low odor complaints
- Cons: difficult to research and limited availability, expensive, somewhat high heat complaints
Latex mattresses can come in several iterations, but for this comparison we will focus on those made only of latex material. With this type of bed, latex of varying firmnesses comprises the entire support system including the core and comfort layers. The latex can be natural, synthetic, or blended, with natural latex being most expensive. Natural latex offers the advantage of being devoid of harsh chemicals and VOCs that some shoppers prefer to avoid.
Latex foam offers a resilient feel with good support and conformability, and excellent pain relief. The natural variety has very low complaints for odor, but can be somewhat high on heat retention. All-latex beds, and especially all-natural versions, can be very difficult to find in local stores.
All latex beds are among the most durable mattress types, with average lifespans of 8 to 12 years or more. This type of mattress also rates among the highest with owners, but also tends to be the most expensive type to purchase.
Due to their foam composition, these latex and memory foam mattresses offer many similarities, however they also differ. Latex provides a resilient support that is considered “firmer” or “bouncier” than memory foam. It does not provide quite the same level of body contouring as memory foam, although both are considered to be effective at relieving pressure points and back pain. They are also hypoallergenic, resistant to dust mites and a good choice for allergy sufferers. In general, memory foam mattresses tend to be less expensive and easier to research and shop for, but for those who prefer natural products organic latex can be advantageous.
Comparison of Memory Foam Mattress Types
As mentioned in the above comparisons, memory foam excels at contouring to the body without losing its ability to provide support. This is because as the cell structure is compressed within the mattress, weight is transferred across the surface rather than exerting upward pressure. For couples, memory foam is highly effective at isolating motion to prevent disturbances, and the material typically proves durable as well. Across various types of memory foam, there are several similarities (as long as you are comparing equal densities/qualities), such as good support, conformability, motion isolation, pain relief, and durability. But, to better understand memory foam, it is helpful to take a look at the different types available as there are some significant differences as well. We compared memory foam brands in a previous article, but here is a recap.
|Lifespan||8-10 years||8-10 years||6-10 years|
|Avg Price Range, Queen||$1099-7499||$849-$1899||$1074-2774|
*Percentages based on consumer product review data.
Traditional Memory Foam
Standard visco-elastic memory foam is a petroleum polyurethane-based product with temperature sensitive properties. Tempurpedic was the pioneering brand of memory foam, and remains one of the most popular. With temperature-sensitive foams, when a person lays down, the material reacts to their body heat, softens, and contours. While excelling at comfort and pain relief, traditional memory foam also tends to have the highest rate of complaint for odor and heat retention, but is most widely available. Price and quality can range quite a bit with this type of bed depending on density and brand name.
Plant-Based Memory Foam
Plant-based memory foam is a newer concept, replacing part of the petroleum with plant-based materials. Amerisleep is one brand plant-based memory foam quickly gaining popularity. In addition to being more eco-friendly, this type of memory foam also tends to be more stable or temperature-neutral. The foam contours immediately when pressed rather than relying on heat, and often has a larger cell structure that may promote greater breathability. Overall this type of foam is less likely to sleep hot or off-gas and tends rate higher than traditional memory foam in reviews.
Gel Memory Foam
The newest introduction, gel memory foam, features traditional memory foam infused with gel, either in the mix, with beads, or with gel layers. Serta’s iComfort line is one of the most popular and features gel beads meant to provide a “cool touch”. Overall, gel foams do have less mentions of heat and odor in reviews, but tend to be slightly higher still then plant-based options. One possible issue with gel memory foam is durability however, as they are newer product and some lines have shown higher than average complaints of sagging or compression.
Overall, memory foam excels in support as well as pressure point and pain relief, but some types may sleep warm or pose chemical concerns for some people, and some brands can be expensive. While no single bed is best for everyone, learning how the materials differ in support and checking reviews is an excellent way to see if memory foam or another mattress type might be best for you.