Have you been thinking about trying a memory foam/latex foam pillow or mattress? There are some variables that you need to consider before a purchase. What kind of foam is suitable for my needs? Is there really a difference in feel between latex foam and memory foam? Will I have to deal with any kind of odor when I buy the mattress/pillow? Are there different types of memory foam? Are there different types of latex foam?
Hopefully, this guide will provide you with the answers that you need to make an informed decision, and lead you to the mattress/pillow of your dreams!
We’ll start with memory foam. With the rise in demand for easily shippable mattresses, memory foam has become an excellent solution. This material can be vacuum-sealed and rolled into a relatively compact box for cheaper and more efficient shipping. Once the seal is released just sit back and watch it expand into a mattress that is designed to hug all of your curves and cradle your body throughout the night. The same concept applies for pillows. Memory foam pillows are designed to mold to your head and neck to relieve pressure points, so you wake up without the usual aches and pains that you can sometimes get from a more traditional pillow or mattress.
There are three common types of memory foam to choose from, each with their own unique qualities.
Image: Malouf Sleep
Traditional/Viscoelastic Memory Foam
Traditional memory foam was initially made in the 1970s for NASA. They used memory foam to cushion the astronauts during their turbulent ascent. In the early 90s, memory foam mattresses were put into production. These mattresses are made out of a petroleum-based, polyurethane foam. Once the mattresses began successfully selling, pillows were made to give the body a full cradling feel. Traditional memory foam is designed to for motion isolation as it conforms to the body.
There are some downsides to traditional memory foam mattresses. The first is that this material tends to retain heat which can make you overheat and sweat. Quite often this problem can be remedied with a gel topper that keeps the surface of your mattress cool. The second most common complaint about this material is an off-gassing odor, but if given time to air out, the smell usually dissipates.
Plant-Based Memory Foam
If you suffer from allergies or have really sensitive skin, plant-based memory foam might be the perfect solution for you. At least a portion of “green” memory foam is manufactured with plant-based oils. With fewer chemicals being used to make this memory foam off-gassing isn’t as much of a concern. This foam is also made with an open-cell design so it is much more breathable than the traditional memory foam, which helps it redirect heat away from the body. The primary downside to plant-based bedding products is their higher price tag. They can often be difficult to find in your local mattress store, but many internet retailers do ship directly to the customer.
Gel-Infused Memory Foam
One of the newest types of memory foam, gel-infused memory foam, was made to combat the retention of heat that its traditional counterpart is known for. Gel-infused memory foam can either be topped with gel pockets or millions of gel beads are directly injected into the foam itself. Both are made to dissipate heat away from the body keeping you cool throughout the night. This gel technology is still being improved to ensure that no matter how much you move around you stay cool and comfortable, but with every new product, manufacturers are getting closer to that goal.
Known for its durability and responsiveness, latex foam is a more eco-friendly option over memory foam. There are three different types of latex foam; natural latex, blended latex, and 100% synthetic. Natural latex is harvested from rubber trees and is perfect for people who suffer from allergies.
Natural latex is harvested from rubber trees and is perfect for people who suffer from allergies. Although they do exist, it can be difficult to find pillows and mattresses that are made with 100% natural latex due to high manufacturing costs. Blended latex pillows and mattresses are much more commonly found in retail stores. Generally, manufacturers will “top” their products with natural latex and make the rest with synthetic latex. A less eco-friendly way of manufacturing pillows and mattresses is to use 100% synthetic latex foam. The most common type of synthetic latex is called SBR, or styrene-butadiene rubber. Synthetic latex foam is also not as durable as natural or blended latex, so the lifespan of your mattress or pillow would likely be much shorter.
Image: Sleep Academy
There are two primary methods of processing latex: the Dunlop process and the Talalay process. The Dunlop process is the original way of making latex foam. It is produced by pouring the latex in its liquid form into a mold and it baked in a vulcanization oven. Then it is washed and dried at a high temperature to help it retain elasticity. This process makes the foam dense and very springy. Dunlop latex doesn’t mold to the body as easily as memory foam.
Image: Sleep Academy
The Talalay process is a little bit more involved. The partially fill the mold with the liquid latex, and then they seal it and vacuum expand it. The mold is then frozen. This makes the foam become a gel. Once it’s reached this stage, it is baked in a vulcanized oven. this process makes for a more bouncy and less dense foam.
Both processes create a similar feel. They are both more bouncy and responsive than memory foam, so they generally create a firmer feel in mattresses and pillows. This can be great for sleepers with back problems that don’t want to sink as much into their mattress. Because latex foam is a little more breathable than memory foam it tends to help you sleep a little cooler.
No one material is better than the other, but each has its own unique qualities that can help you achieve a deeper, more restful sleep.