Searching for a mattress can seem overwhelming. Maybe you finally decided you want a foam mattress instead of a hybrid or spring, but now you’re faced with another choice:
What type of foam?
Memory foam and latex are two common types of foam, but they’re very different. Here, we explain the pros and cons of each, plus what to think through before you make your purchase.
Memory foam, also known as viscoelastic foam, is a type of polyurethane foam. Polyurethane foam is typically made of petroleum (crude oil), though it can also be made from plant oils, like soy.
Memory foam slowly compresses when pressure is applied, so it will shift to conform to your body when you lie on it. When you get up, it will slowly return to its original shape.
Most memory foam mattresses feature several layers of foam. Depending on the types and densities of the foam layers, the mattress may feel soft, firm, or somewhere in between.
Memory foam is sensitive to heat, so performance can vary depending on temperature and humidity. Since the foam can trap heat, a common complaint of memory foam mattresses is that they sleep hot.
To help prevent overheating, some mattress makers add cooling features to their memory foam mattresses.
Commonly, mattress makers infuse the foam with gel for added cooling. The gel can also make the bed bouncier. Some brands also add perforations to the foam to help allow air to circulate through the mattress.
Memory foam mattresses tend to last about 10 years.
There are two types of latex: natural and synthetic. Natural latex is made of sap from rubber trees. Synthetic latex comes from a mix of materials, most often a type of plastic called styrene-butadiene rubber (SBR).
Latex can be produced with two different methods: Talalay and Dunlop.
In a Talalay latex mattress, the tree sap fills a mold only partially, with the rest of it getting filled with air. Talalay latex is bouncy and pillow-like.
For Dunlop latex, the mold is filled completely with the tree sap, creating a lighter top and dense bottom. Dunlop latex is more durable, denser, and less expensive than Talalay.
Latex mattresses can have a life span of about 20 years.
Pros of memory foam
- Conforms to your body. Memory foam cradles you, helping provide pressure relief.
- Low motion transfer. This comes in handy if you sleep with a partner, as you won’t feel the tossing and turning as much as other types of mattresses.
- Inexpensive. You can find a basic memory foam mattress for under $500.
Cons of memory foam
- Sleeps hot. Without the addition of cooling gel, memory foam traps heat.
- Heavy. Memory foam is dense and can be heavy.
- Not eco-friendly. Memory foam is typically petroleum-based and takes a long time to break down in a landfill.
- Off-gases. A new memory foam mattress will emit chemicals for a few hours or days. These can have a strong odor, which may bother some people.
Pros of latex
- Breathable. Natural latex allows for airflow and doesn’t sleep as hot as memory foam.
- Springy. Latex is quick to spring back to its original shape.
- Eco-friendly. Natural latex is made from rubber, which is harvested from rubber trees through tapping (much like with maple syrup). Since natural latex is a plant-based material, it will break down more quickly than memory foam in a landfill.
Cons of latex
- Expensive. Latex mattresses can be pricey.
- May be synthetic. Some companies sell latex mattresses made of synthetic rather than natural materials. Synthetic latex isn’t eco-friendly. Be sure to do your research before making a purchase.
Generally speaking, if you’re looking for an inexpensive mattress that feels soft and conforms to your body, choose memory foam.
If you don’t mind paying a little extra for something that’s eco-friendly, or if you want something that feels springy, go with latex.
Keep in mind that there’s more to mattresses than their materials, though. You’ll also want to consider:
- Firmness. Many mattresses come in firm, medium-firm, or soft varieties.
- Height. A thicker mattress will last longer than a thinner one.
- Price. Mattresses can be pricey, though some bed-in-a-box brands can be less expensive. Be sure to consider the reasons for a higher price tag before you make a purchase.
- Cooling features. Especially if you choose a memory foam mattress, you may want to keep an eye out for cooling features like gel foam.
- Size. Make sure you choose a size that will fit well in your space.
Need a recommendation?
Check out the best memory foam mattresses and best latex mattresses to start your search.
If you don’t love memory foam or latex mattresses, you have other options.
Hybrid mattresses feature a blend of both springs and foam, giving your bed a bouncier feel. You can also opt for a straight innerspring mattress.
These other types of mattresses range in densities and in price, from affordable to luxury.
When choosing the best mattress for you, it’s important to consider materials, including memory foam and latex. Memory foam conforms to your body, while latex is bouncier and more eco-friendly.
Decide which features are most important for you and your quality sleep, and them make a decision based on the mattress type that meets most of your needs.
Mallory Creveling, a New York City-based freelance writer, has been covering health, fitness, and nutrition for more than a decade. Her work has appeared in publications like Women’s Health, Men’s Journal, Self, Runner’s World, Health, and Shape, where she previously held a staff role. She also worked as an editor at Daily Burn and Family Circle magazine. Mallory, a certified personal trainer, also works with private fitness clients in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Originally from Allentown, PA, she graduated from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.