Memory Foam Mattress Guide 2023: Definitive Walkthrough

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memory foam mattress guide 2019Memory Foam Mattress Guide 2022 – Memory foam mattresses are an increasingly popular mattress type for people to buy online. On of the most common “mattress in a box” types, there are a plethora of companies offering you a massive range of memory foam mattresses to buy. It can seem overwhelming knowing where to start with choosing a memory foam mattress.

I’ve put together this Memory Foam Mattress Guide to help you understand the most important things about memory foam mattresses to help you make your decision. You can click straight to any of the sections below if you have a question you want answered straight away without scrolling through.

What are memory foam mattresses made of?

Memory foam mattresses are made of polyurethane based, viscoelastic foam. This foam changes shape in reaction to pressure and heat. This means the foam fits the shape of the sleepers body,  which gives their signature feeling of “hug” and support that makes them so popular.

You can read more about the exact manufacturing process for memory foam mattresses here.

  • Memory foam mattresses have two key components: the comfort layer and the support layer
  • The comfort layer will be one or several layers of memory foam
  • The layers in the comfort memory foam may have properties such as gels or infusions
  • The support layer will usually be made from a high density foam

Comfort layer

The comfort layer is the part of the mattress that provides the “hug” and conforming feel of the foam moulding in response to your body as you sleep.

  • Each  mattress is different. There may be one comfort layer of memory foam, there may be 3 or even 4.
    • How thick these layers are will also vary from mattress to mattress.
  • The foam is designed to mould to your body in order to exactly target your pressure points as you sleep, which creates an individualized comfort experience when lying on the mattress.
  • The foam should be responsive, so that it molds to your body to provide support and relieve pressure as required, but not leave you feeling like you have sunk into quicksand and cannot get out.
  • Different materials may be used in the comfort layer including:
    • Gel memory foam: this is designed to hep regulate the temperature of the mattress for cooler sleep
    • Infused memory foam: there are several mattresses on the market which contain layers of memory foam infused with substances such as coal (for odor control), aloe vera (for relaxing sleep), or green tea
    • Such innovations within memory foam mattresses are usually marketed heavily by the companies which manufacture the mattresses, so if you are looking at a mattress that contains any of these innovations you will know about it really quickly!

Support layer

The support layer of a memory foam mattress is usually made of a high density foam which is there to support the memory foam layers and allow them to do their job.

How do they feel to lie on?

As I explained above, memory foam reacts to the pressure and heat of your body, so regardless of your sleeping position or body weight, it will keep your spine aligned by sinking deeper at pressure points like your hips and shoulders and less so in other places like your stomach.

Memory foam mattresses can achieve this at a variety of firmness levels. You can buy memory foam mattresses that feel very soft, and memory foam mattresses that feel very firm. The most popular mattresses are usually a medium feel, as this is what feels most comfortable to the most people.

  • Firmness can be measured by the ILD (indentation load deflection) rating of the comfort layers of the mattress, if it is available.
  • The ILD scale goes from 1-50, with one being the softest and 50 being the firmest.
    • A softer feeling memory foam mattress will have a rating of about 19-26
    • A medium feeling memory foam mattress will have a rating of about 26-32
    • A firm feeling mattress will have a rating over 30
    • For comparison, much firmer things made of foam that you know the feel of, such as car seats, usually have a rating of over 40
  • I think that rather than getting too caught up in the ILD, it is important to find how the mattress feels from real people already using it
    • That is why I make sure to include lots of comments from real users (the good and the bad comments) in my reviews

A memory foam mattress does not feel bouncy at all, which is very different to traditional mattresses, so keep this in mind when considering purchasing one.

all latex mattressWho are memory foam mattresses best suited to?

Memory foam mattresses are actually suited to most people. Due to their ability to provide great pressure support, they particularly work well with side sleepers and back sleepers (which is most of us). However, they may not be best option for stomach sleepers because of the way pressure is distributed on the mattress when you sleep on your stomach.

  • Approximately 7% of people are stomach sleepers, so it is the least common sleeping position
  • If you are a stomach sleeper you can still have a good supported sleep on a memory foam mattress, you will need to make sure you choose one that is firmer to support your hips and lumbar spine

Memory foam mattresses can be really good for people with back pain due to the pressure relieving qualities of the foam. However, you will notice that our spine has a natural curve to it: the curve is at the bottom of our spine towards our tailbone. This area of spine is called the lumbar spine. If you lie on your back, you will notice that this part of your back probably does not make contact with the surface you are lying on. This means that memory foam cannot mold to and support the lumbar spine, so if this is a problem area for you, you might need to consider something else, like a hybrid mattress.

They are a great choice for couples as they  provide great motion isolation.

If you are very concerned about sleeping “hot”, you may want to consider another mattress type.

What other mattress options are available?

One of the other common mattress types available is a hybrid mattress. The qualities of a hybrid mattress include:

  • Support layer of springs
  • Comfort layer of foam and or latex
  • Provides the best of both worlds: traditional springs and modern technology for supportive comfort
  • Better breathability as spring base allows airflow
  • Bounce from the springs

Another less common but up and coming mattress type is an all latex mattress. The qualities of a latex mattress include:

  • Bounce
  • Does not retain heat
  • Hypoallergenic
  • Considered the most durable of mattress materials

How durable are memory foam mattresses?

A quality memory foam mattress should last around 8 years minimum.

The density of the mattress (which is different to the ILD above, and is not a measure of how it feels) can help determine the durability of a mattress. As the foam trade and industry body the Poylurethane Foam Association puts it, “as densities of conventional, unfilled foams decrease, the tendency to fatigue soften increase”.

The Sleep Judge has broken down the density ratings into a simple way to understand them. In a nutshell:

  • Density of 3.5 lbs./ft³ or under is considered lower quality
  • Density of 4 lbs./ft³ indicates a quality, durable product
  • Density of 6 lbs./ft³ is the very highest quality, with a price tag to match

You can help to extend the life of your memory foam mattress by keeping it clean  and rotating it regularly for even wear on the foam.

How much will a memory foam mattress cost?

There is a wide range of prices and choices available for memory foam mattresses,from under a hundred dollars to thousands of dollars.

The price should be determined by the quality and durability of the materials, not fancy marketing powered by a rich company, so make sure you do your research before you purchase.

What other things do I need to know about memory foam mattresses?

There are five other questions I like to answer when I write memory foam mattress reviews. They are:

  1. What is the warranty?
    • The industry standard is 10 years. I’d be suspicious of anything less
  2. Is there a sleep trial available?
    • Many companies will offer a sleep trial of 30-100 nights. The longer the better, as it can actually take about a month to truly know if a mattress is suitable for you and your requirements.
  3. What is the fire barrier made of?
    • Under federal law, all mattresses are required to contain a fire retardant barrier. This has been controversial, as some harmful chemicals have been used in the past. You may find the fire barrier is made of fiberglass (which is fine, but do NOT remove the mattress cover if this is the case), or natural materials such as cotton or wool (although it is rare to find wool on a memory foam mattress)
  4. Is the foam CertiPur-US certified?
    • This provides the reassurance that the mattress  is has low emissions and contains no:
      • Ozone depleters
      • Harmful flame retardant chemicals
      • mercury, lead, or other heavy metals
      • formaldehyde
      • phthalates regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission
  5. What is the customer service like from the company I am considering buying from?
    • I believe buying from a company that is responsive to and goes out of their way to address customer concerns is critical when buying a mattress online. It really puts your mind at ease knowing that if something is not right with your purchase you will not have a difficult time dealing with the company.

Pros and cons


  • Suitable for most sleepers
  • Provide excellent support and pressure relief
  • Contain innovations such as cooling gel
  • Available in a variety of firmness options


  • May sleep “hotter” than other mattress types
  • May not be the best choice for stomach sleepers
  • No bounce


Emily Johnstone

Emily is the creator and owner of Emily's scientific background gives her an analytical, critical, and discerning eye to bring unbiased, thorough, and helpful content to the site. Your good sleep is her top priority. Find out more about Emily and here.