Memory Foam and Types of Mattress Foams
Updated October 13, 2023
There are quite a few different types of foam used as comfort layers in mattresses. Different companies will also call their foams different names so they can brand the materials. This can be very confusing to you, the consumer when you’re trying to compare materials and build-types.
Just know that the primary types of foam used in mattresses are: polyurethane foam, memory foam, latex foam, and gel memory foam.
What is Memory Foam?
Memory foam was invented for NASA so that astronauts could endure take-offs with less stress. It was also to help promote blood circulation while sleeping. Tempurpedic popularized viscoelastic memory foam in the 1990s with their ‘Swedish Sleep System’. Now there are way more options than just innerspring mattresses. You can find memory foam in mattresses, mattress toppers, pillows, and in the latest bedding craze, hybrid mattresses.
Because of how well memory foam reduces motion transfer and its ability to conform to your body’s curves, the popularity of memory foam mattresses has grown explosively over the last 30 years.
There are now many different types of memory foam. Mattress companies have gotten very innovative in order to solve problems like overheating, as well as increase durability. Open-cell memory foam helps with the heat problem because of its breathability. The open cell structure allows more airflow, which reduces heat retention.
One problem with memory foam is the concept of off-gassing. This means that the chemicals create a smell, which usually only lasts for a couple of hours after you unwrap your new mattress. It's very small amounts, and not deemed harmful, but some people choose to avoid it.
Benefits of Memory Foam
In short, this comforting material boasts the following benefits:
- Excellent contouring and pressure relief
- Very durable increases comfort life
- Great at dampening motion between sleeping partners
There are a few disadvantages with this material, though some have been solved over the years. One problem that comes up often is the tendency to overheat. Traditional memory foam is not very breathable and ended up making sleepers too warm throughout the night.
Now, manufacturers will combine it with temperature-regulating materials to provide a cooler experience. Everything from gel to copper is used, and some beds have gotten extremely good at cooling.
Some people dislike the feeling that they're sinking into the bed, often referred to as the 'quicksand feeling'. To get the awesome pressure relief without that, you can buy a gel memory foam bed, which has a denser feel. There are also hybrid mattresses, which have a coil system beneath layers of memory foam. You can even just add a memory foam topper to your mattress.
What is Visco Elastic Memory Foam?
Viscoelastic Foam is resistant to bacteria, mold, mildew, dust mites, and other odor-causing germs. This makes it a great option for those with sensitivities or allergies. Visco Elastic Foam mattresses tend to last longer than a classic innerspring because the material is very durable. They also provide more pressure relief than classic comfort materials like cotton padding.
Visco Foam comes in a range of comfort levels, from very dense to cloud-like soft. Visco Elastic Foam is designed to mold and contour the curves of the body. It disperses your weight over the entire sleep surface, minimizing pressure points for a more comfortable sleep.
How It Works
Visco memory foam has microscopic memory pockets that react to temperature and weight. Heat and pressure cause the foam to become malleable and contour to the curves of your body. When the material cools it returns back to its original shape.
Different Types of Visco Elastic Memory Foam
Since its invention nearly 50 years ago, there have been several advances in Visco Elastic Memory Foam technology. There are quite a few variations on the original foam from NASA.
One example that's been mentioned already is gel memory foam, a combination of memory foam and gel. It delivers enhanced pressure relief and durability to a mattress. The gel can also aid in regulating the temperature.
Many mattress manufacturers have also combined Visco Foam with other temperature-regulating materials. These materials help provide enhanced cooling comfort. Open-cell memory foam was also made for the purpose of reducing heat retention. It's more breathable, so the airflow removes excess heat and moisture.
There are different densities of viscoelastic foam, which affects the durability and firmness. Higher-density foams will be firmer and more durable, while low-density foams are softer and don't last as long.
This is important information when determining how different body weights will work with memory foam. Heavier people will want something on the denser side so they don't sink in too far. Meanwhile, smaller people may want a less dense foam that will allow them to feel more pressure relief.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Visco Elastic Memory Foam toxic?
Many people ask, "is Visco elastic memory foam safe?" This may come up simply because it's a man-made material or because they experience off-gassing. There can be a funny smell with new memory foam mattresses, but it should dissipate quickly and is not unsafe.
Most mattress brands get their foam certified by CertiPUR-US®. They're a non-profit organization with a certification process for foams that pass their environmental and safety standards.
What's the difference between Visco Elastic Memory Foam vs polyurethane foams?
There are different types of memory foam and other types of comfort foam. Memory foam can be defined as a type of polyurethane (PU) foam. It has additional components that give it a different feel.
More traditional PU foam has a springier feel than memory foam. It has a lower density, and it also tends to be cheaper. The lower density means that polyurethane foam does not last as long.
Memory foam reacts to your body heat to form around your curves. It'll hold that shape for a short time after the pressure is released.
Does Visco Elastic Memory Foam vary in quality?
All reputable manufacturers produce foam products that are at least 5lb/ft³ in density. All the memory foam mattresses, mattress pads, and pillows at US-Mattress are of the highest quality.
Beware of the cheaper Visco Elastic Memory Foam beds you may find. Make sure to check the product information. Foams that are below this level of density won't last quite as long or provide the best pressure relief.
Gel Memory Foam
Gel mattresses also act as anti-dust mite and anti-microbial barriers for a healthier sleep environment. They’re a bit more resilient than traditional memory foam and have added benefits. It's also a bit better at staying cool, so your body heat doesn't build up too much throughout the night.
What Is Swedish Foam?
The Original Tempur-Pedic Formula
Tempur-Pedic's unique memory foam is sometimes referred to as "Swedish foam" as it was originally developed in Sweden before being brought to America. Although this foam isn't necessarily still made in Sweden, the original formula and concept of Tempur-Pedic originated there.
Tempur-Pedic was the pioneer of memory foam mattress technology which has revolutionized the sleeping industry. Today there are many companies producing memory foam mattresses, though Tempur-Pedic remains the industry leader. Their Swedish foam formula remains one of the best on the market, which is reflected in Tempur-Pedic's exceptional customer satisfaction ratings.
About Swedish Memory Foam
The Swedish foam formula is designed to respond to each sleeper's unique shape, weight, and temperature, automatically adapting to provide ideal support. No matter your preferred sleeping position, Swedish foam conforms to your body to reduce pressure by evenly distributing your weight along every curve of your body. Swedish foam also excels at dampening motion transfer, a great feature for couples sharing the bed.
Since Swedish foam adapts to the curves of each sleeper's body, there is less of a need to toss and turn during the night, resulting in deeper, undisturbed sleep. Though the original Swedish foam formula has changed and evolved over the years, it has remained one of the most effective comfort materials in the industry.
Experience the Swedish Difference
Though many have tried to duplicate the success of memory foam, Tempur-Pedic was the first and only company to offer this advanced Swedish foam technology. While other memory foams also perform many of the same functions as Swedish foam, none have surpassed the unique comfort of Tempur-Pedic.
Ready to try out a mattress with Swedish Foam?
What Is TEMPUR Material?
Tempur-Pedic is the brand that put memory foam mattresses on the map back in the early '90s. Since then, memory foam mattresses have grown exponentially in popularity among all types of sleepers. With so many memory foam mattresses on the market today, Tempur-Pedic remains the industry leader, and they maintain their success because only Tempur-Pedic mattresses are made from TEMPUR material.
The Tempur-Pedic Sleep Experience
TEMPUR material responds to each sleeper's unique shape, weight, and temperature, and automatically adapts to support each sleeper's body. Whether you spend your nights sleeping on your back, side, stomach, or you change positions throughout the night, TEMPUR material conforms to your body to ensure you get the perfect amount of comfort and support in every position. TEMPUR material also excels at relieving pressure points, which are focused around the outlying areas of your body that press against the mattress (mainly the shoulders, hips, and heels).
Pressure points create discomfort, which may cause you to toss and turn during the night. These disruptions can reduce the amount of deep sleep you get during the night, lowering the quality of your rest. Since TEMPUR material adapts to the curves of each sleeper's body, support is evenly distributed across the entire sleeping surface. Heavier areas, like the shoulders and hips, sink further into the mattress, while the lighter areas sink in less. This even distribution of support keeps the spine properly aligned and distributes pressure evenly.
TEMPUR material is also one of the best materials to dampen motion transfer between sleeping partners. This is an especially valuable feature for those who share the bed with a restless or light sleeper.
Experience the TEMPUR Difference
There are countless brands manufacturing memory foam mattresses today, but only Tempur-Pedic mattresses are made from advanced TEMPUR material. While other memory foams perform many of the same functions as TEMPUR material, they can't match the quality and conforming comfort of the foam that started it all.
How Long Does it Take Foam to Recover?
The Handprint Test
When we think of memory foam, many of us picture a handprint slowly disappearing after pressing down on the foam. Latex foam, on the other hand, exhibits a springiness unlike memory foam, it seems more bouncy. The main noticeable difference between these two types of mattress foams is their recovery time. Recovery time is a measurement of how long it takes a piece of foam to return to its original shape after compression. Memory foam has a slower recovery time than latex foam, so that's why it takes longer for the handprint to disappear on a memory foam mattress than it does on a latex foam mattress.
Foams vary in their recovery times, and sometimes different types of the same type of foam can recover differently. For example, while traditional memory foam has a slow reaction time, AirCool memory foam, which is found in Beautyrest mattresses, has a faster reaction time. This is due to the open cell structure of the AirCool foam. Since more air can pass through the foam, it can recover its original shape more quickly.
Your Preferred Recovery Time
Sleepers who don't enjoy sleeping on foam because they don't like to sink into their mattress might feel differently after spending a night sleeping on a mattress with a faster recovery time. Another type of mattress worth consideration is a hybrid mattress. Hybrid mattresses incorporate memory foam, and sometimes latex foams, with a traditional innerspring system for additional support so you get the best of both worlds! Memory foam mattresses are well known for that sinking feeling that engulfs your body in a "you-shaped" divot. Latex foam gives a similar sinking feeling but moves with your body more quickly. A hybrid can do either depending on the model that you choose!
Sleeping With Latex
Over the last several years, latex has become more and more popular as a bedding and mattress component. Latex is a natural product, biodegradable foam, that comes from the rubber tree predominantly found in the rainforests of South America. The material is tapped from the tree in a similar fashion as maple syrup from a maple tree.
Many consumers favor latex foam over memory foam for its healthy, anti-microbial properties, as well as its quick response time. Sleepers who don't enjoy sinking into a memory foam mattress often appreciate the more responsive feel of latex. Latex foam is the ideal mattress material for those who like the feeling of sleeping "on" a mattress, rather than "in" it. Latex is also a popular component in pillows for its exceptional support and ability to softly cradle the head and neck to maintain proper spinal alignment throughout the night.
While latex foam continues to grow in popularity, many consumers are still unclear about its details. People often get confused when they read that there are two main varieties of latex - Dunlop latex and Talalay latex. While neither is necessarily superior to the other, there are a few notable differences.
Dunlop vs. Talalay Latex Foam
The Dunlop process has been used in latex manufacturing since 1929. During the process, thick rubber sap is whipped into a froth inside a centrifuge, poured into a mold, capped, and then steam baked. Natural sediments from the rubber settle to the bottom of the mixture, which makes each Dunlop latex layer slightly firmer on the bottom.
The Dunlop process creates a thick, inconsistent foam. Today, most manufacturers today prefer to use the Talalay process.
Talalay latex is the more modern of the two, and it undergoes an elaborate process that yields highly controlled results, allowing manufacturers to create specific levels of comfort and support. During the manufacturing process, synthetic and natural latex, soaps, and rubber curing agents are mixed together in a water-cooled, stainless steel vacuum mix tank to create the latex foam. Molding and freezing steps give the foam its shape and strength while enhancing its long-term durability.
Another notable aspect of the manufacturing process is vulcanization, which removes all of the proteins from the latex foam, rendering it 100% hypoallergenic.
While both the Dunlop and Talalay methods create high-quality latex foam, Talalay has become the industry standard. As such, every latex mattress at US-Mattress is made using the Talalay method.
There are also synthetic latex mattresses, meaning polyurethane and chemical fillers have been added. Most of the mattresses branded natural latex have some fillers, so check for a label that says 100% natural latex if that's what you want.
Polyurethane foam, also called polyfoam, is one of the most widely used foams in mattresses, furniture, and even automotive interiors. This is because the foam can be tailored to be of varying firmness or softness. Whether you want medium-firm or softer than a cloud, it can be customized exactly.
It’s a very versatile foam that’s been used for over 60 years. Nearly all foam beds have a foundational layer of polyurethane foam that acts as the base for all the other materials used in their construction.
All-foam mattresses will commonly use a combination of polyfoam and memory foam. Different types of foams are frequently mixed to provide the best overall feel.
When most people think of foam, they picture a soft and fluffy material, but foams actually come in a variety of formations. Today's mattresses use a wide variety of foams to provide varying levels of support and comfort. One of the most quality foams is called High-Density foam, given its name because of how dense it is.
High Density (HD) foam is a type of polyurethane foam that is made up of open cells that are tightly packed together. This allows air to pass through the cells with ease, which makes this type of foam the ideal comfort material for furniture cushions and mattresses. HD foam also holds its shape very well and has a quick response time, meaning that it quickly returns to its original shape after compression.
Supportive and Comfortable
Hi-density foams are extremely useful as comfort materials in mattresses because they have the capability of providing both support and comfort. HD foams can contour to the curves of a sleeper's spine to keep the body properly aligned to eliminate stress on the neck and back. This type of contouring comfort allows sleepers to enjoy a deeper and more restorative sleep that will help them wake up feeling rested and ready to enjoy a new day.
Unlike many other types of foam, HD foam can easily regain its original shape after weight is lifted from its surface. So, even though it can contour to a sleeper's body, it will quickly go back to its original shape when the sleeper gets out of bed. Not only does this have an immediate impact, but it helps the mattress retain its original comfort as time passes. Without HD foams, mattresses would lose their shape and quickly become uncomfortable.
HD foam is also a popular component in pillows, as its responsive properties make it the ideal surface to support the neck and spine while keeping them properly aligned. HD foams create a "push back" that the neck requires to be fully supported. Without this force pushing back against the neck, a pillow won't give the right amount of support and will likely leave sleepers with an achy neck in the morning.
Which Foam Should You Go For?
The type of foam that'll be best for you depends on your sleep style and preferences. For someone who likes to sink into their mattress, a memory foam bed will be perfect for you. If you are a side sleeper, memory foam provides relief to your pressure points very effectively.
Polyfoam mattresses offer a huge variety, so you're likely to find one that you like. If you value a natural material, latex mattresses are going to be your best bet. For something very pressure-relieving and durable, try a gel memory foam mattress.
What Is High-Resiliency Foam?
There are a wide variety of foams used in the bedding industry today, and all of them perform certain functions well. Foams provide comfort and support in mattresses, toppers, pillows, and other bedding components.
High Resiliency (HR) foam is the highest grade of polyurethane foam and weighs 2.5 lbs or more per cubic foot. HR foams excel at contouring to the body exception. Their cell structure enables extreme elasticity and optimal supporting force. These high-quality foams distribute pressure across an entire surface, which is good for relieving pain points. This also reduces motion transfer between sleeping partners, which is great for couples with restless or light sleepers.
HR foam is known for its high response rate, in fact, it is more responsive than memory foam. According to Slumber Search, HR foam is often used to make up different layers of many important. It is typically the transitional layer or base layer of memory foam.
The elasticity of HR foam makes it very durable, lengthening the comfort life of a mattress. The more high-resiliency foam, the longer you can expect a mattress to maintain the showroom level of comfort. HR foams should last at least ten years if used regularly, so mattresses containing them usually have a strong warranty.
How Is HR Foam Made?
HR foams are different from regular poly foams because of the chemicals used to make them. HR foams use higher-quality chemicals that contribute to elasticity and durability. They’re heavier foams, but there are many densities available.
Experience the Benefits of HR Foam
While HR foams are more expensive, many sleepers find the extra benefits worth the money. At US-Mattress, you can find a number of models made with HR foam. Stearns & Foster uses only the highest-quality HR foam in their mattresses. Their beds also come with a strong warranty as the foams they use are pre-stressed. With their high durability, mattresses with HR foam will maintain their original shape longer.
For more help deciding which material will make the best mattress for you, call our team of experts at 1-800-455-1052.
About the Author, Juliana Huhta, Mattress Expert
Juliana has spent several years in the mattress industry, writing about and reviewing mattresses. She has a deep understanding of how mattresses work for different people and affect sleep.