Memory foam and latex have reputations as the best in the market, but which makes the best mattress? Several factors can elevate one over the other, but the truth is that each offers a set of pros and cons that make them both terrific mattress options. Keep reading to see how memory foam and latex differ, and how to tell which might be the best mattress for you.
What is Memory Foam?
Memory foam is a polyurethane foam made with additional chemicals to make it elastic and temperature-sensitive. Memory foam, or viscoelastic foam, reacts to heat and gives way to bodyweight to contour deeply to the body.
While memory foam is not springy, the material does bounce back to its original shape after pressure is removed from the surface. Memory foam can isolate motion at the point of impact, which allows a sleeper to shift sleep positions without disturbing a sleeping partner. Its support and pressure relief are unmatched by other mattress materials.
Memory foam used in mattresses has an open-cell structure. Open-cell memory foam replaced traditional memory foam (which was used decades ago, in some of the first memory foam mattresses) on the market for its ability to combat heat retention.
Traditional memory foam, while a conforming and pressure-relieving material, was so dense it cut off air circulation in the mattress, which caused heat build-up.
The porous nature of open-cell memory foam decreases the foam’s density.
Plant-Based Memory Foam
Memory foam is made using petrochemicals, as they’re needed to create the foam’s consistency. However, some brands have began using plant-based memory foam in their mattresses as a substitute. To make plant-based memory foam, manufacturers replace a portion of petrochemicals ith plant-based oils, such as castor, soy, and coconut oil. Using plant-based memory foam makes the mattress a little cooler and more eco-friendly.
Gel Memory Foam
It’s common to find memory foam infused with gel microbeads in foam beds, mattress toppers, and foam pillows. The gel pulls heat from the body and distributes it through the foam layer.
Manufacturers can spread gel microbeads consistently through the foam layer (solid gel foam) or swirl them through the layer (swirled gel foam). We recommend looking for solid gel foam as it can wick heat more effectively from the sleeper.
While gel memory foam is the most common, other accessible conductive materials can keep a sleeper cool: copper, graphite, titanium.
Memory Foam Bed Construction
Most memory foam mattresses are built from the base up to offer the sleeper consistent support and comfort.
At the top, there is a memory foam comfort layer, which contours to the sleeper to relieve pressure and pain.
The transitional layer is a firmer foam than the comfort layers, although typically not as firm as the support layer. The transitional layer buffers between the comfort and support layer, preventing the sleeper from sinking into the mattress and feeling “stuck.”
The support layer extends the mattress’s longevity by deterring sagging.
You can also find memory foam layers in some hybrid mattresses, too. If you like the contouring of memory foam but prefer a bouncy bed, a hybrid mattress may be for you.
What is Latex?
Latex is known for offering moderate levels of conformity and a more resilient feeling than memory foam. Though it tends to provide comparable pressure and pain relief, latex does not have the slow-response/sinking feeling of memory foam. Latex mattresses also offer superior allergy resistance.
Latex is one of the most supportive mattress materials on the market. Latex mattresses are typically firm, but some mattress companies construct vertical air passages through the bed to soften the latex.
Latex is also hypoallergenic through its resistance to dust mites, mold, mildew, and bed bugs. As long as you don’t suffer from latex allergies, latex mattresses are a great option.
Latex is naturally springy and conforming, offering cushioning support to most sleeping positions. Latex beds absorb motion, which also makes it one of the best mattresses for couples.
To make an informed decision when choosing a latex mattress, you need to know about the different types of latex.
The Talalay process preserves the rubber tree’s antimicrobial and antibacterial properties. Talalay latex is made from rubber tree sap and chemical additives, which gives the latex foam a viscoelastic feel akin to memory foam. The latex is also a softer, lighter, and more expensive material than its counterpart Dunlop latex.
Dunlop latex is made from rubber tree sap without additional chemicals. This type of latex is denser and firmer than Talalay, but it’s also the only all-natural latex and, therefore, has antimicrobial and antibacterial properties comparable to Talalay latex.
Synthetic latex is man-made from a compound of chemicals to mimic latex properties. Synthetic latex is not antimicrobial or antibacterial, although it is a great option for latex allergy sufferers.
Blended latex is made from a mixture of synthetic and natural latex. It has some antimicrobial properties.
We highly suggest against synthetic or blended latex mattresses because they’re made with a variety of chemicals and aren’t long-lasting, often breaking down after only five or six years.
Latex Bed Construction
Latex mattresses must contain at least one latex layer. There are all latex mattresses; however, they are pricey. You can find latex layers in hybrid mattresses, too.
All-latex mattresses will have a softer latex layer on top with one or two firmer layers beneath.
Latex hybrid mattresses are very different. A latex hybrid mattress’s constructions will change based on the company. Usually, the comfort or transitional layers will contain latex materials, and the hybrid’s supportive core is made of a pocketed coil system.
Latex and Memory Foam Differences
Memory foam’s properties allow it to contour, while latex compresses and bounces and can only conform to the general impression your body makes. As a result, memory foam has greater pain-relieving properties.
Both mattresses are good at isolating motion. Memory foam absorbs motion at the point of impact, which eliminates motion transfer. The bouncy nature of latex produces a slight transfer of motion, making memory foam the better of the two in terms of motion isolation.
Memory foam is available in more storefronts and has more vendors online than natural latex; however, latex popularity is increasing, which may lead to more availability.
Sinking Feeling And Ease of Movement
Memory foam is often associated with a sinking feeling, which comes from the sleeper sinking into the memory foam mattress and finding it hard to move while on the mattress’s surface.
Difficulty changing sleeping positions or feeling “stuck” in the mattress isn’t an issue reported by latex owners. Even though latex mattresses are made in soft, medium, and firm feels, latex is a naturally firmer material that doesn’t allow the sleeper to sink into the materials.
Memory foam mattress owners are more likely to complain about heat retention than natural latex owners.
When memory foam compresses, airflow is cut off in the mattress and causes body heat to build instead of wicking away. There are types of memory foam that improve heat retention by increasing air circulation and pulling heat from the sleeper, such as plant-based and gel memory foam.
Natural latex foam is breathable and doesn’t compress as easily as memory foam, allowing more air circulation when someone sleeps on its surface.
Owners of memory foam are more likely to complain about off-gassing odors than natural latex owners. However, synthetic latex and latex mattresses made with chemicals may also give off smells when the bed is unpackaged.
Due to its natural materials and manufacturing process, latex is more eco-friendly than the majority of memory foams. Even so, plant-based memory foams offer a more natural alternative to regular memory foam.
Both of these beds tend to outlast innerspring by several years, though latex is often reported to be more resistant to impressions and premature wear.
Latex and Memory Foam Similarities
Pressure and Pain Relief
Due to the mattresses’ contouring qualities, both excel at easing pressure points in the hips, lumbar, neck, and joints, which can alleviate back pain.
Both offer excellent support to increase spinal alignment.
Latex and memory foam mattresses are available in a range of thicknesses, firmnesses, and brands. Depending on which mattress type you like more, you can find the best latex or memory foam mattress for you.
Both tend to come with good warranties with 20 or more years of coverage and good return policies, although the company you buy from influences the guarantees you get.
Memory foam and latex mattresses are more expensive than average innerspring mattresses. Some high-quality memory foam mattresses are built with multiple layers and incorporate sleep technologies that increase the price.
Natural latex mattresses are made with renewable responses, needing specialized manufacturing and farming; as a result, natural latex mattresses cost more.
Why Pick Memory Foam
Certain sleepers will prefer memory foam over latex because of their sleeping styles or medical conditions.
For instance, back and side sleepers will benefit greatly from the contouring nature of memory foam. Back sleepers can get a medium to medium-firm mattress to maintain their spinal alignment and relieve pressure to avoid joint and muscle pain. Side sleepers, who need a plushier mattress surface or enjoy sinking into the mattress, need a soft, medium-soft, or medium mattress feel and relieve painful pressure points.
Memory foam is also a good option if you have disrupted sleep caused by a partner or you overheat in your sleep.
Why Pick Natural Latex
Natural latex mattresses are made from renewable resources and, therefore, are biodegradable, making it an excellent option for those seeking an eco-friendly mattress.
Latex mattresses come in soft, medium, and firm feels due to built-in vertical ventilation tunnels; however, the firm material keeps the sleeper on the surface, making it a great option for stomach sleepers who need to maintain spinal alignment.
Latex mattresses offer a resilient bounce similar to innerspring beds. The bounce helps the user adjust from one sleeping position to another.
Natural latex is naturally breathable, which eliminates heat concerns.
Many manufacturers allow you to customize a latex bed to fit your sleep needs.
It comes down to preference as far as mattress feel: conformability, motion isolation, mobility, heat retention. Both beds feature very high owner satisfaction ratings and last a few years longer than innerspring mattresses. As long as you consider your sleep needs, chances are you will wind up with the best mattress for you.