Differences Between All-Foam and Memory Foam Mattresses

As you are shopping for your next mattress online you may see construction breakdowns that list a handful of different foam types: memory, polyfoam, viscoelastic, gel, and temper, as well as an assortment of proprietary substances that make understanding that much more difficult.

The purpose of this article is to compare all-foam and memory foam and break down the key differences between these mattresses, but first, it may be important to understand the differences between polyfoams and memory materials.


Without knowing exactly what it was called, it is possible you have referred to this in the past as just plain old regular “foam”. But Polyurethane may be the most used bedding material out there and it is likely you may have experienced it at least once. Typically, poly materials are more responsive than memory materials and can greatly vary in density and quality.

There are many different types of this out there and as you are shopping it may be important to look for one labeled as high resilience, as these should likely last you the longest. These typically have a greater density and weight per cubic foot.

white polyfoam on the white background

Memory Foam

Often referred to as temper or viscoelastic polyfoam, this material is actually a type of polyurethane. Visco coming from the word viscous, meaning thick and sticky, and the word elastic, meaning it has the capability to recover its size and shape after deformation. The material was first made and tested by NASA as both a seat cushioning and a crash protection resource on aircraft, now millions of people sleep on it to “cushion” and  “protect” nagging pressure areas.

Learn more about what memory foam is here.

Just by looking at it, it would be hard to tell the difference between a temper material and its closely related polyfoam relatives. The key difference between viscoelastic and polyfoams is that viscoelastic uses certain chemicals in its production that give it that “deep hug” feeling that melts away pressure points. It conforms to every curve of your body, and if you move, the imprint of your shape will stay behind in the bed for a few seconds.

It is designed to distribute weight evenly over a surface and many bedding manufacturers use this product exclusively in their mattress production. It is also being used in many hybrid production lines to complement the attributes of spring, latex, and polyfoam mattresses.

If a memory bed is your number one choice, be sure to check out our top rated memory mattresses.

memory foam close-up image

Open-cell Versus Closed Cell

These are some more terms that might pop up during your mattress search and it could help to understand their meanings.

The structural difference of these substances is really in the name. Open-celled products have cell walls that have been broken. These materials allow for air to fill the cells which is a great feature for cooling sleepers on mattresses at night.

These are typically less dense materials, so this is something to keep in mind as you are shopping as this can affect firmness and its durability over time.

Closed cell foams should be denser, as the walls are closed and have more substance in their construction. This typically makes them more durable and function as an insulator, and it’s for this reason that traditional versions of these materials often sleep hot.

Modern incarnations of closed-cell products often include gels and other materials that help to disperse heat more evenly through the foam.

Memory Versus All-foam Mattresses

layers of polyfoam

A memory bed refers to a product that uses exclusively viscoelastic products to create a mattress while the term “all-foam” can refer to a combination of temper and poly elements to create a bed or the sole use of either one of the substances.

Memory mattresses should feel quite a bit different than standard poly. It is often associated with top-notch pressure relief (for side sleepers especially) and it can be more durable. Some traditional memory beds are harder to move around in and can give sleepers that stuck feeling because they have difficulty navigating out of the temporary impression their body leaves in the bed.

memory foam layers - simplified example

As manufacturers recognize the benefits of various choices, as well as gel additives and cooling technologies, more brands may use a combination of substances (known as a hybrid bed) to create their sleep products. A mix of materials could be ideal because it reflects the best of both worlds by giving sleepers maneuverability, temperature control, and comfort.


When it comes to bedding, shoppers have many types to choose from. Using this article as a guide can help you on your search for your perfect sleep product but what may be more important is to reach out to the brands you are interested in and inquire about the construction of their brands.

There are construction sections in our product reviews that may help you understand what exactly is going on under the mattress covers. Be sure to reach out through the comments at the bottom if you have any questions!

More Reading:

Our team covers as many areas of expertise as we do time zones, but none of us started here as a so-called expert on sleep. What we do share is a willingness to ask questions (lots of them), seek experts, and dig deep into conventional wisdom to see if maybe there might be a better path towards healthy living. We apply what we learn not only to our company culture, but also how we deliver information to our over 12.7M readers.

Sleep research is changing all the time, and we are 100% dedicated to keeping up with breakthroughs and innovations. You live better if you sleep better. Whatever has brought you here, we wish you luck on your journey towards better rest.

Sleep Advisor