Mattress Guides

Latex vs. Memory Foam

Learn how latex and memory foam mattresses compare to each other.

By Natalie Yerger

In stores and on the web, mattresses are labeled with plenty of selling points. From touting that a mattress is “aloe vera-infused” to promising your “best sleep ever,” there’s a lot to sort through. We believe that one of the most effective ways to cut through the clutter as you search is to educate yourself about the types of mattresses available and their materials. 

To that end, we’re reviewing latex and memory foam, two of the most commonly used mattress materials. Read on to learn what they are and how they compare in feel, support, cost, and more. At the bottom, we’ll share whether we’d recommend a latex bed or memory foam bed for you.

Woman examines the mattress she wants to buy. She squats and looks at the mattress.

What is Latex? 

Latex is a natural material extracted from the sap of rubber trees. Though expensive in its 100 percent natural form, manufacturers will often blend it with a synthetic version. While this reduces cost, it also makes the resulting material less durable.

Consumers seem to be flocking to mattresses made with latex in troves. This is likely because of the increasing eco-consciousness of society at large. Since latex is made from a natural material, it’s hypoallergenic and friendly to the environment. 

There are two types of latex, and they’re named after their formulation processes: Dunlop and Talalay. Dunlop is the older of the two methods and involves filling a mattress mold completely with the latex. The result is a firmer, more dense mattress. In the Talalay process, the mattress mold is filled only partially with the latex while the rest is filled with air. The result is a lighter, fluffier material that works well as a comfort layer in mattresses.

What is Memory Foam?

Memory foam was originally developed by NASA and has been around since the 1960s. A polyurethane foam material otherwise known as viscoelastic, memory foam is considered synthetic and is sensitive to pressure and temperature. This makes it especially effective in conforming to an individual’s body. In its construction, the cells, or foam bubbles, are open, creating a matrix that encourages airflow. This material is well known for fitting snugly around the body.

The method of creating memory foam varies by company, as each uses a different formula to enhance various qualities of the foam. Generally speaking, it’s made by reacting different substances with additional agents that create the viscous, denser properties inherent in its construction. The foamy mixture that results may be infused with blowing agents or vacuum-sealed to create the open matrix structure.

Overall Feel

Mattresses with latex generally feel luxuriously comfortable. The material will compress underneath your hips while providing firmer support for your waist and legs. It springs back more quickly than memory foam, which creates a very comfortable sleeping surface. Most mattresses made from latex come in varying levels of firmness, from soft to firm, medium-firm, and extra firm.

Memory foam, on the other hand, provides a dense, yet comfortable surfaceit’s a unique feel that most shoppers remember. The material cradles your body and remembers its shape. With slow moving properties, it will remain in the shape for a few seconds before springing back up once you’ve laid on it. This material has come a long way since it was originally invented, with manufacturers now providing traditional, gel, and even plant-based memory foam, all of which have a different feel. 

Cooling Properties

Mattresses made with latex are naturally cool and don’t tend to retain heat. This is one of the most attractive selling points for buyers. Talalay in particular proves to remain cooler throughout the night due to its construction, which holds more air.

Perhaps one of the greatest pitfalls of memory foam is its tendency to trap body heat. It’s strength and contouring creates this downside, as the sinking effect results in less airflow and increases the amount of material coming into contact with the body. However, mattress designers have begun to release products that mitigate this issue. For example, gel layers can create a matrix that allows for more airflow.

Motion Transfer

If you sleep with a partner and are sensitive to motion throughout the night, memory foam won’t allow for motion transfer whatsoever. Your partner could roll over in bed and you wouldn’t feel a thing. Latex, on the other hand, doesn’t isolate motion nearly as well. This is due to the increased bounce of the material and its resilience.

Support

The supportiveness of a mattress is determined by its ability to provide an even surface without indentations or excessive sinking. This is especially key for healthy spinal alignment throughout the night. While mattresses made with either material can provide pressure relief for the spine, neck, and other joints depending on how they’re constructed, natural latex mattresses are generally more durable than memory foam. 

The responsiveness of latex prevents it from too much sinking, whereas memory foam can’t withstand lengthy indentations, as it tends to sink more deeply. While sleepers will feel more body contouring with memory foam, it’s a less supportive surface overall.

So, which is right for you?

Latex beds are known for being extremely comfortable and supportive, since the material tends to push and elevate the body while contouring in all the right places. Not to mention, latex is eco-friendly and devoid of harsh chemicals and allergens. We recommend latex for those who want a firm surface with bounce, enjoy a faster response time, want to sleep cool, and value natural materials and eco-friendliness. However, keep in mind that beds made with latex tend to be pricier than other options.

Memory foam is an excellent option if you want deep compression support, a slower response time, and enjoy mattresses made with a variety of materials. Back and side sleepers tend to enjoy the give and contouring properties of the material. However, if you’re a person who’s known to trap heat when you sleep, this probably won’t be the best option for you.


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