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Have you been hearing a bunch of information about the latest in mattress innovations, but have been unable to determine what’s true and what’s false? So many manufacturers and salespeople are throwing around terms like memory foam and latex to describe their products and their respective benefits, and it’s time to put the myths and misconceptions to rest!
We’ve put together a summary that dives into these terms to get to the heart of their likenesses and differences so that you can finally understand the difference between memory foam and latex mattresses. We’ll also discuss how you could benefit from having a mattress made from either material or both materials if you so choose!
Watch our Memory Foam vs Latex Video
What is Memory Foam?
Memory foam was first utilized in the 1960s by NASA, who employed it for protecting their pilots during crashes. This material is a polyurethane foam that has been designed with many different chemicals. These chemicals allow the foam to become denser and energy-absorbing.
We go in-depth about how memory foam works, but for this discussion, it’s most important to know this type of foam adjusts to the exact shape of your body.
With memory foam, there is a noticeably slow recovery time. Meaning, that when you press your body into the material and then lift it, you will not see the foam resume its original form very quickly. This fact lends to its comfortability and support when it's added to upper mattress layers. Manufacturers recognized the fantastic benefits this material can bring to people experiencing back or joint pain, and most top mattress brands use some type of memory foam in their beds.
Read More: What is Memory Foam?
There are different types of memory foam, including traditional, gel, and open-cell.
Traditional Memory Foam
Traditional memory foam is the most standard and initial type created. This style of foam doesn’t come with extra innovations related to cooling, so it’s likely to sleep hot, which is a downside for those prone to overheating at night.
Gel Memory Foam
Memory foam infused with gel microbeads is known as gel memory foam. The gel microbeads help make cool the foam. As a result, this memory foam type helps with temperature regulation and is more suitable for hot sleepers.
Open Cell Memory Foam
Open-cell memory foam features the same ingredients as traditional. The difference is in the structure because open-cell foam has internal pockets. This delivers more ventilation, helping disperse heat and cool the material.
Get More Info: Best Memory Foam Mattress
What is Latex?
Latex is in contrast to memory foam, in that it has a fast recovery time and more bounce. If you press your hand into a latex bed and then lift your hand, the mattress will resume its original shape quickly.
Several types of latex are used for mattresses. The first is natural latex, which comes from rubber trees and is the purest form of its kind. Natural latex can be economically made and is the ideal choice for someone who wants an all-natural option.
Another option is synthetic latex, a man-made version of latex constructed with various materials, including petrochemicals. The most notable difference between synthetic and pure latex mattresses is that the synthetic version tends to have less bounce and feel more akin to a memory foam option.
Additionally, there are two other subcategories of latex mattresses. We will briefly discuss these two types and their associated benefits.
Read Our Full Guide: Best Rated Latex Beds
Talalay Latex and Dunlop Latex Options
The main difference between the two is that Talalay is known to be a lighter version and consists of more air in the material. Conversely, Dunlop is known for being the denser of the two and therefore, much heavier. Choosing between Talalay and Dunlop comes down to your needs.
Some people may prefer Talalay for a couple of reasons. First, Talalay is more lightweight, making it easier to transport. Second, the fact that it can hold more air means that it will remain cooler throughout the night.
The main reason to employ the Dunlop option instead is that, over time, it tends to keep its shape and last longer. Because of its density, beds made with Dunlop usually avoid early sagging and are more durable.
For More Information: How Does Latex Density Affect the Mattress?
What are the Major Differences?
The major differences between memory foam and latex will impact everything from the price to how it performs. Both materials offer a unique set of benefits, but you’ll need to consider these key differences to better understand which material suits you best.
The price tag is one of the first things most people look at when shopping for a new mattress. In general, latex mattresses are more expensive than memory foam ones. This is because latex is often seen as higher quality material. Latex is also more durable than memory foam, so it may be worth the investment if you’re looking for a mattress that will last for years to come.
The feel of a mattress is important for many people. Latex mattresses often feel springy or firm. If you’re looking for a mattress that will give you a little bit of pushback, then a latex mattress may be a good option. On the other hand, memory foam mattresses often feel soft or sinking. This is because memory foam conforms to the shape of your body when you lay down. If you’re looking for a bed that will give you a feeling of being hugged, then a memory foam mattress may be the right choice.
Both latex and memory foam mattresses can provide good support. Latex mattresses are often better at supporting the body because they’re firmer. This added firmness gives latex mattresses a bit more structure, which can benefit people who need extra support for their back. Memory foam mattresses are also good at supporting the body, but they may not be as beneficial for people who need extra support. This is because memory foam mattresses can sometimes be too soft, which can cause the body to sink in too much, throwing off spine alignment.
Pressure relief is an important factor to consider when choosing a mattress, especially if you have achy joints. While latex mattresses can help alleviate pressure, memory foam is going to be the better option for those seeking advanced pressure relief. Memory foam contours the sleeper’s body more closely, providing a cradle that makes this material superior in this category. Latex mattresses are bouncier and therefore, offer less sinkage than memory materials.
Lifespan & Durability
Latex mattresses are typically more durable than their memory foam counterparts. Some latex beds may last up to 20 years with proper care, while memory foam lasts around ten years. Latex is a more resilient material, meaning it bounces back into shape faster and is less likely to sag over time. On the other hand, memory foam is more susceptible to wear and tear. It can break down over time, especially if it's not properly supported. This means that memory foam mattresses may need to be replaced more often than latex mattresses.
Read More: How Long Do Mattresses Last?
Back sleepers should enjoy latex and memory foam, though memory foam will provide more pressure relief to the shoulders in this position. If you sleep on your side, you need a bed that relieves pressure in your hips and shoulders. Memory foam mattresses mitigate pressure well, while latex mattresses are more supportive and may not provide the same level of pressure relief. Stomach sleepers need a mattress that will keep their spine in alignment. Both latex and memory foam mattresses can provide the necessary support, but memory foam may be more likely to cause sinkage in the midsection and lead to pain. Combination sleepers will likely prefer latex, as the bouncier materials should foster easier repositioning.
One of the benefits of latex over memory foam is temperature regulation. Latex is a temperature-neutral material compared to memory foam, which means it could be better for people who sleep hot. Memory foam tends to absorb body heat and can sometimes cause sleepers to feel uncomfortably warm during the night. However, some memory foam mattresses have gel and copper infusions that help the material cool down.
For More Information: Best Cooling Mattresses
Another advantage that latex mattresses have is that they are more hypoallergenic than memory foam mattresses. Latex is a natural material that repels dust mites, mold, and other allergens. Memory foam mattresses are made of synthetic materials that can attract and harbor dust mites and other allergens, meaning they need more frequent cleaning. For this reason, a latex mattress may be a better option for you if you struggle with allergies.
The major difference between memory foam and latex mattresses is how they conform to your body. Memory foam options will conform to the exact shape of each individual. The latex option, however, will compress and bounce, and will only conform to the general impressions that your body makes. Whichever of these options you prefer depends on your personal preference and your sleep needs.
Another stark contrast between memory foam and latex is their ability to isolate motion. Memory foam does not allow for motion transfer. This means if your partner is sleeping on the other side of the bed and frequently moves around during the night, you will hardly feel it, if at all. This is why it's preferred by couples.
Latex, on the other hand, does not isolate motion as well. In the same situation, you will likely feel your partner tossing and turning because latex has a quick response time and is very bouncy.
How Are They The Same?
The main likeness shared between these choices is that they both provide posture support. Being that they both conform in some way to the shape of your body, pressure relief is supplied to the spine, neck, and joints.
How to Pick The Mattress That’s Right For You
When you’re trying to decide between a memory foam and a latex mattress, it all depends on what benefits you’re hoping to receive. Both types of beds serve a purpose and are a good fit for certain kinds of sleepers.
Why Pick Memory Foam?
Memory foam is a great option for many sleepers for several reasons. We’ve outlined just a few to provide you with a firm understanding of the many benefits associated with this mattress option.
Back Sleepers Love Them
Many back sleepers love memory foam because it cradles the shoulders well while delivering good spinal alignment. Foam contours to the unique shape of your body, allowing your neck and spine to reach a comfortable and healthy level of alignment.
Side Sleepers Enjoy Them
Many side sleepers enjoy memory foam’s ability to wash away pressure buildup in the shoulders and hips. Pressure can easily accumulate while lying on your side, so having a material that is well-equipped to provide relief is a top priority for these sleepers.
They Provide Pressure Point Relief
Memory foam is considered a top material for pressure point relief, thanks to its ability to contour sleepers so well. The contouring creates a cradle-like feel that essentially gets rid of pressure accumulation. Furthermore, memory foam could be helpful for people at risk of pressure ulcers, which are also known as bed sores. Hospital patients often experience this when they can’t get out of bed for long periods.
Great for Couples
Many couples love memory foam because it isolates motion better than other materials. If you share a bed with someone, then there’s a chance their movements will affect your quality of sleep. Memory foam can help reduce this risk by curbing motion transfer, which could mean better sleep for both partners.
Why Say “No” to Memory Foam?
One reason why you wouldn’t want to choose a memory foam bed is that this option is known to retain heat. If you are a person that requires a cooling mattress to sleep on, then this may not be the best choice for you. While manufacturers have implemented cooling features to mitigate this issue, it may not be enough if you sleep extra hot.
Another drawback to memory foam is that it’s not a natural material. Interest in natural and organic beds continues grow, and though memory foam offers many benefits, it’s a synthetic, non-natural materials. Therefore, people looking for a more eco-friendly bed may prefer latex models.
Lastly, memory foam mattresses are known for having a strange smell when you first open them from the delivery box. Off-gassing is a normal process that happens with synthetic materials. The smell usually goes away after several days but may be harmful for kids and those who are sensitive to smells. Shoppers should let their bed air out for a few days before sleeping on it or go for a more naturally-made option to avoid off-gassing.
Interested in exploring further? Read more about possible allergic reactions to memory foam.
Why Pick Latex?
There are many reasons why it might be best for you to choose latex as your bed material. As we did with memory foam, we will get into a few reasons why latex is worth your consideration.
Good for the Environment
One of the main reasons that individuals decide to go with latex beds is because they are more natural and better for the environment. As we previously learned, natural latex beds come straight from rubber trees, rather than blending in chemicals.
However, not all of these mattresses are natural or are made from pure rubber trees. The synthetic options have chemicals in them that serve to change the overall feel of the bed. If you are interested in being environmentally friendly, make sure you know the origin and components of your bed.
They are Hypoallergenic
Latex mattresses are one of the most hypoallergenic options available. While memory foam beds have hypoallergenic properties, latex typically performs better for those with allergies. Natural latex is especially resistant to allergens like dust mites, mold, and mildew. Allergy symptoms can impair your ability to get a good night’s sleep and wake up refreshed, so if you want to improve your rest, these beds could prove highly useful.
They are Highly Responsive
Latex mattresses offer extra bounce that makes them more responsive than memory foam. This means that the material snaps back to its original shape right after experiencing pressure on it. The responsive nature of latex is particularly great for individuals with limited mobility and combination sleepers because this allows them to move about the bed easier.
Why Say “No” to Latex?
There are just a few reasons why a latex bed might not be suitable for your needs.
The first reason is that they can be relatively expensive. However, due to their durability and longevity, you may get more value out of them because you won’t have to buy a new mattress as soon.
The second reason why you may opt for another type of mattress is that the bounciness of latex could be a drawback for couples. Sexually-active couples may prefer beds that are bouncier, but this also means the mattress is more susceptible to motion transfer.
The third reason is that some people are allergic to latex beds. If there is a possibility that you or your partner are allergic, then it may be best to find another suitable option.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which lasts longer latex or memory foam?
Latex mattresses are expected to last longer than memory foam. Both materials are durable, but latex is ranked better in this category. Latex can last for up to 20 years with proper care, whereas memory foam can last for up to 10 years.
Is latex or memory foam better for back pain?
Both materials can help with back pain, but it depends on the individual sleeper and the overall firmness of the mattress. Some people find that latex provides better support for back pain, while others find memory foam more comfortable and supportive.
Want to Learn More? Check out our guide on Best Mattresses for Back Pain
Are latex beds good for side sleepers?
Latex beds can be good for some side sleepers, such as those carrying more weight. Latex provides some contouring for pressure relief in this position, but memory foam will generally be the better of the two. The reason for this is that memory foam excels at contouring and alleviating pressure, a major priority for this sleep style.
Overall, both of these material types can be enjoyable for many different types of sleepers. Deciding what’s right for you is dependent on several factors.
- Do you prefer to sleep on a pressure-relieving and motion-absorbing bed? Do you regularly sleep on your back or your side and are concerned with spinal alignment and avoiding joint stiffness? Then, it’s likely that you would receive many benefits from choosing memory foam.
- Are you someone who is concerned about the environment and wants to pick a natural bed? Are you someone who’s trying to find the delicate balance between a cool night's sleep, comfort, and support? If you’ve answered yes to these questions, then you might just find a latex bed to be exactly what you’ve been looking for.
There are many resources out there that are aimed at helping you get it right the first time and choosing a mattress that best fits your unique sleep needs. Making that decision ultimately depends on which benefits you hope to see the most.
Jill Zwarensteyn is the editor for Sleep Advisor and a certified sleep science coach. She is enthusiastic about providing helpful and engaging information on all things sleep and wellness.
Based in Los Angeles, she is an experienced writer and journalist who enjoys spending her free time at the beach, hiking, reading, or exploring new places around town.
She’s also an avid traveler who has a personal goal of being able to successfully sleep on an airplane someday.