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What’s A Memory Foam Mattress? Everything You Need To Know

Are you thinking about getting a new mattress and finding it confusing to figure out the difference between all the different types? There are innersprings, hybrids, memory foam, latex, and more! It can all get a bit overwhelming! Especially if you've never tried anything apart from a traditional innerspring mattress before. One of the most common mattress in a box mattresses is a memory foam mattress. What's a memory foam mattress?

What’s A Memory Foam Mattresswhat's a memory foam mattress? Your Comprehensive Guide

Are you thinking about getting a new mattress and finding it confusing to figure out the difference between all the different types? There are innersprings, hybrids, memory foam, latex, and more! It can all get a bit overwhelming! Especially if you’ve never tried anything apart from a traditional innerspring mattress before. One of the most common mattress in a box mattresses is a memory foam mattress. What’s a memory foam mattress?

In this article I’ll run you through:

  • What’s a memory foam mattress made of (including some of the interesting technologies companies are using to bring a point of difference to their mattress)?
  • What does a memory foam mattress feel like to lie on?
  • Who are memory foam mattresses best suited to?
  • Pros and cons of memory foam mattresses
  • What you should look for when buying a memory foam mattress
  • My own experience of buying and using a memory foam mattress for the first time
  • My three top memory foam mattress recommendations for you

What’s A Memory Foam Mattress Made Of?

a look inside a snuggle pedic mattressA memory foam mattress will have at least three components:

  1. A cover
  2. A comfort layer of memory foam (this layer is designed to provide pressure relief and contouring for your body as you lie on the mattress)
  3. A support layer of poly foam, which is a much firmer foam. It’s not memory foam. The purpose of this layer is to provide solid support for your body and allow the comfort layer to do its job. This will be the thickest layer of the mattress

Many memory foam mattresses will have more layers than this. They may contain a “transition layer” of poly foam (which is softer than the support layer) between the comfort and support layer, or they may have memory foam quilted into the cover. Some may have two or three layers of different types of memory foam.

So as you can see, memory foam mattresses are not just made from memory foam. In fact, the majority of the mattress body will be poly foam, with memory foam in the comfort layers.

You can also find hybrid mattresses that have a coil support system with a memory foam comfort layer. DreamCloud is a good example of this.

Properties of memory foam

  • Made mainly from polyurethane
  • Other chemicals are added to give the foam elasticity
  • Contours to your body shape in response to your body heat and weight

Memory foam was developed by NASA in the 1960’s. It was then used widely in the medical world before the production of it became simplified enough for it to be used for more widespread use such as in mattresses you can buy online!

Memory foam technological innovations

There are hundreds of memory foam mattresses available on the market at the moment. A lot of companies are trying to stand out from the crowd by creating their own proprietary foams or adding technology to their mattresses that helps it perform better. These include:

  • Infusing the memory foam with gel particles (this helps draw heat away from the body). Example mattress: Classic Brands
  • Infusing the memory foam with charcoal or green tea to help reduce odors. Example mattress: Zinus
  • Creating cooling vents and channels within the foam to promote air flow. Example mattress: Snuggle Pedic
  • Infusing the memory foam with copper (also to draw heat away from the body). Example mattress: Layla

Since memory foam is a dense material and there is no room for airflow through most memory foam mattresses, it makes sense that a lot of the technologies added to them are around drawing heat away from the body or improving ventilation. Memory foam has a reputation for sleeping hot, and even though these technologies certainly improve the feel of a memory foam mattress, it’s been a hard label for memory foam to shake.

The advent of the roll-pack machine has made it easier for companies to produce their mattresses and then compress them to get them into a box. The roll pack machine has really been the driving force behind the explosion of online mattress options, here’s a quick video of exactly how it compresses the mattress (this also shows you why you’d never be able to get the mattress back into the box).

What Does A Memory Foam Mattress Feel Like To Lie On?

There is a range of different memory foam mattresses out there and they have a different feel. Memory foam is traditionally known as a material that contours to your body, hugging your pressure points and giving you a feel of sleeping “in” the mattress rather than “on” it.

Some people really like this feeling, others don’t. Those that don’t like it tend to report they feel trapped by the foam and that it is not easy to move. This is why companies have developed a wide range of foams to accommodate different preferences.

A mattress such as Nectar (which you’ll read more about later) has more of that traditional sink and hug feeling that memory foam is known for. The memory foam used in this mattress is slower to respond to your body weight, which is how this feeling is created.

lie on a memory foam mattressMany memory foam mattresses now use foam that is designed to be fast responding. This means the foams provide the contouring pressure relief that memory foam is famous for but without you feeling stuck in the mattress. Snuggle Pedic and Ecosa are good examples of this (more on those two further through the article too).

Memory foam mattresses come in a variety of firmness levels to suit the tastes of different people. Most companies use a scale of 1-10 to describe how firm their mattress is, with 1 being very very soft (like a feather) and 10 being very very hard (like a plank of wood). Many mattresses fall around the 6-7 mark, which is a firmness level most people can be comfortable with.

In general, a lighter person will need a softer mattress. This is because they are putting less pressure through the mattress when they lie on it so they need something soft for contouring and pressure relief. It therefore follows that a heavier person will need a firmer mattress. This is to ensure their body weight is well supported by the comfort layer without feeling like they’re sinking right through it to the support core (which is not designed to feel nice to lie on).

Note that all foam mattresses WILL soften with time. This is a natural part of having a memory foam mattress, but if you find any indentations greater than 1-1.5 inches the mattress might be defective.

Who Are Memory Foam Mattresses Best Suited To?

Since memory foam mattresses come in a variety of firmness levels and materials, there should be one that is suitable for everyone. They are often recommended by chiropractors as being a good solution for back pain, due to the contouring support they can give your spine.

They can also be an excellent choice for couples because memory foam mattresses are probably the best mattress type for reducing motion transfer. This is great news if you sleep with someone who tosses and turns or gets up several times a night! They are also incredibly quiet as there are no springs.

Memory foam is an inhospitable environment for dust mites, so it can be a good choice for people with allergies.

Two scenarios where memory foam might not be a good choice for you:

  1. You need strong edge support from your mattress. Most memory foam mattresses tend to perform poorly at the edges compared to hybrid or innerspring mattresses. If you like the idea of memory foam but want good edge support a hybrid mattress with a memory foam comfort layer would be the way to go.
  2. You are concerned about sleeping hot. While lots of technologies have been added to memory foam to improve their feel (indeed many don’t sleep hot at all), if you are really concerned about this you’d be better off with a hybrid as air can flow through the coils or a latex mattress as latex is naturally good at dissipating body heat.

Pros And Cons Of Memory Foam Mattresses

Pros

Pros
  • Good contouring support for your body
  • Suitable for a wide range of people
  • Lighter than some other mattress types, which makes memory foam easier to maneuver
  • Great motion isolation
  • No sound

Cons

Cons
  • Tends to have weaker edge support than other mattresses
  • Not great at ventilation, make sure you’re buying one with some cooling technology to help combat this
  • May have slight off gassing odor when you first open your mattress, due to the foams expanding. This is totally harmless.

What You Should Look For When Buying A Memory Foam Mattress

If you’ve decided you would like to buy a memory foam mattress, this super quick buyer’s guide has the pointers to help you choose the right mattress for you.

  • The height of the comfort layer should be at least 3 inches. Anything less than that and you risk sinking right through it. I also think mattresses with a memory foam comfort layer less than 3 inches thick are really skimping you on the memory foam. In general, the thicker the comfort layer, the more plush the mattress will feel.
  • The height of the support core of the mattress should be at least 7 inches. In my opinion, this is what is required to ensure the core has enough grunt in it to allow the comfort layer to do its job and help support your body weight.
  • You want to make sure the company you are purchasing from has great customer service. If you’re buying from Amazon you’re going to be well covered, but if you’re buying from an independent company check out their service track record (this is something I check for my reviews). Buying a memory foam mattress online is a bit of a leap of faith and you want to feel sure you will be well looked after if you have any issues with your purchase.
  • Memory foam mattresses are, obviously, made from foams. These are man made materials, not natural. Make sure the mattress you are purchasing has some certifications behind it such as CertiPUR-US so you can be assured there are no harmful chemicals inside the mattress.

The three mattresses I recommend at the end of this article meet all of these criteria.

My Own Experience Of Buying And Using A Memory Foam Mattress

New Ecosa Memory Foam MattressIn January 2019, my husband and I decided that our innerspring mattress had reached the end of its life and we decided to buy a new one. My husband is very picky about mattresses (he’s like the princess and the pea) and he wasn’t happy with any of the mattresses he tried in our local stores for the big prices they were asking.

We decided to take a leap and go for a change and order a memory foam mattress online. We made this decision based on two factors:

  1. The cost was about half that of buying a mattress in store
  2. The mattress came with a 100 night sleep trial so we knew we’d have a good amount of time to test it out before making our final decision

We bought an Ecosa mattress. The reason for making this choice was purely that we live in New Zealand! It’s pretty much the ONLY online mattress here at the moment! We decided to give it a try.

As well as being cheaper with a good trial, another attractive feature of the Ecosa is that you can swap the three internal comfort layers around to customize the feel. We figured we’d be able to make it work for us with experimenting.

The mattress arrived quickly, expanded within two minutes (stand back when you let your mattress out of its plastic, they woosh out!) and was ready to use. It did have a little bit of a smell so we’d made sure to open it in a well ventilated room and allowed a few hours before we wanted to go to bed.

For the first few weeks I found it quite firm. I like to lie on my side and read books when I go to bed, and it was a bit firm feeling under my shoulder. However, we both sleep on our backs and it felt great for this. We played around with the comfort layers and ended up putting the softest one on top. It did take a good month or so to get used to the feel of the mattress but by the end of the 100 night trial we knew we were happy with it and that we would keep it.

We have now been using our Ecosa mattress for nine months and love it. It has softened just a little and feels just right to me now. I’m glad we decided to try out a memory foam mattress.

I’ve written several posts about my experiences with Ecosa so far, you can find them all here.

Three Great Memory Foam Mattresses To Buy snuggle pedic memory foam mattress

In addition to Ecosa, which is what I use for my own personal bed as you just read above, here are three amazing memory foam mattresses across three different price points.

MY TOP CHOICE: Snuggle Pedic Memory Foam Mattress

This is one of my all time favorite mattresses, across any mattress type and any price point. A Queen retails on Amazon for just under$1000. There are some real standout features about the Snuggle Pedic mattress, and the customer service is second to none.

  • Made in the USA with free customizations available
  • Patented air flow system to stop you sleeping hot
  • Removable cover (this is not that common on memory foam mattresses)
  • Four month sleep trial and 20 year warranty (pretty much unheard of for mattresses available on Amazon)
  • The only memory foam mattress I’ve come across so far that I’m 100% happy to recommend for heavier people

Want to learn more about this mattress? Click here to read my full Snuggle Pedic review.

Nectar Memory Foam Mattress

I had to include Nectar in this section as it is one of best quality mattresses out there that gives you that memory foam “sink” or “hug” feeling I described earlier in the article. A lot of memory foam mattresses now use ultra responsive foams that provide contouring and relief, but are lacking in that classic slow hug feel that made memory foam famous in the first place.

  • One year sleep trial and lifetime warranty
  • Free pillows with your mattress purchase
  • Two layers of gel infused memory foam to help you keep cool
  • You should be able to get a Queen size for $699, so Nectar is good value for money

Want to learn more about this mattress? Click here to read my full Nectar review.

Classic Brands Memory Foam Mattress

This mattress is an Amazon top seller, for good reason. It’s a generous 14 inches high and comes in at a very budget friendly price point: a Queen will cost you around $450.

  • This mattress is updated every year, you can choose which version you’d like: 1.0, 2.0 or 3.0 (read about the differences here)
  • Excellent value for money, it’s unusual to see gel infused memory foam at this price point. You also get free pillows with the 1.0 and 2.0 version!
  • Removable cover that is machine washable
  • 10 year warranty (no sleep trial for this one, which is pretty much the same for all mattresses at this price point. You do have Amazon’s 30 day returns policy to cover you if you don’t like it)

Want to learn more about this mattress? Click here to read my full Classic Brands review.


For detailed reviews of more memory foam mattresses, click here to check out

every memory foam mattress review I’ve ever written.