Memory foam and latex mattresses are often compared to each other, as they’re both layered foam beds that adjust to a sleeper’s body. Memory foam is more affordable, while latex is more durable; however, memory foam can retain body heat, but latex mattresses are heavy and awkward to move.
We’ll learn what memory foam and latex are and the pros and cons of each. Before shopping, you might consider your budget and sleeping preferences to decide which material is the better option for you.
What is Memory Foam?
Aeronautical engineer Charles Yost first developed memory foam under a NASA contract in the mid-60s to offer crash protection for aircraft seats.
To create memory foam, manufacturers take polyurethane foam and add chemicals to make it more responsive. The resulting viscoelastic foam conforms to pressure or body heat but bounces back to its original shape when pressure is removed.
Mattresses first used memory foam in the early 1990s, but it was the bed in a box mattress idea that made the mattress type popular. Companies could compress and roll memory foam mattresses into boxes for easy, convenient delivery.
Memory foam beds contain an open-cell structure that enhances breathability. Some manufacturers infuse the foam with cooling gels or other conductive agents to wick heat away.
What is Latex?
The answer to this question depends on the type of latex mattresses as there are three different categories: natural latex, synthetic latex, and blended latex.
To create natural latex foam, manufacturers harvest rubber tree sap. From there, the sap goes through the Dunlop or Talalay process to create latex foam. Of the two, Dunlop latex is denser and firmer, making it less responsive to movement than Talalay.
Synthetic latex is made from petrochemicals to mimic the feel of genuine latex. This lowers production costs but creates a material less durable than natural latex.
Blended latex is a mixture of the two to offer the benefits of a natural latex mattress at an affordable price.
Latex vs. Memory Foam: Pros and Cons
Every mattress has a set of pros and cons. What is right for you will depend on your sleep position, allergy sensitivities, budget, and personal preferences.
The Pros of Memory Foam
Memory foam molds to body shapes, which relieves pressure points that build up. Additionally, the material conforms rather than pressing against the body, which alleviates pain rather than adds to it.
As part of its background as a crash material, memory foam prevents movements from transferring across the bed. Restless sleepers who share a bed may want to try a memory foam mattress.
Memory foam’s dense structure naturally resists the accumulation of dust mites and other allergens. Sleepers allergic to natural materials such as wool can also rest well on most memory foam mattresses.
You can find memory foam mattresses at almost any price point. Many top quality memory foam mattresses cost less than $1000.
The Cons of Memory Foam
The density of memory foam can make it difficult for the material to disperse body heat. Many manufacturers address this issue by adding air channels, cutouts, or conductive material infusions such as gel memory foam.
Some memory foam mattresses have an unpleasant chemical smell when first opened called off-gassing, which comes from VOCs breaking down at room temperature. Most of the time, the scent disappears within three to seven days.
If you’re bothered by strong smells, look for a CertiPUR-US® certification as it means the mattress contains low amounts of VOCs.
Lack of Edge Support
Memory foam’s conforming nature means most mattresses give way to your weight when you’re sitting on the edge. Some models do firm up the sides by wrapping the mattress’s perimeter with stiff foams.
Some memory foams are less responsive than others as the formula varies by brand. Lower quality foams can take up to a minute to regain their shape, leaving a sleeper feeling stuck in the foam. High-quality memory foam, however, returns to its original form within seconds.
The Pros of Latex
Latex is a bouncier material than memory, which leaves a sleeper feeling more on top of the mattress.
This varies depending on the type of latex. Natural latex mattresses often last about 15 years, while blended latex mattresses last 6 to 10 years. For comparison, the average memory foam mattress lasts 7 or more years.
Many latex mattresses have a zipper along the side to open up the mattress and adjust its feel. This lets you clean the inside of the bed as well, which you can’t do with other mattress types.
Natural latex mattresses are manufactured with little to no added chemicals, and harvesting the materials causes minimal environmental impact. Additionally, many latex mattresses brands use other natural materials such as wool and organic cotton.
Latex is naturally cooling, and many manufacturers aerate the foam for added breathability. Many latex mattresses contain other breathable materials such as cotton and wool.
The Cons of Latex
Too Much Bounce
The responsive springiness of latex you enjoyed may sour once you sleep on it—particularly if you share a bed. Latex does absorb motion, but it can’t prevent motion transfer as well as memory foam can.
Natural latex mattresses can have a strong rubbery smell when new. The bed may also have an animal-like smell if it contains wool.
Latex is the heaviest mattress material because of its density. The average queen mattress weighs 140 pounds.
Lack of Availability
Latex mattresses are not widely carried in stores, so most shoppers can only get one from an online seller. There are fewer brands that carry latex mattresses than brands that sell memory foam, though the numbers are increasing.
Many queen-size natural latex mattresses cost more than $2000, which makes it one of the more expensive types of mattresses.
How to Decide Which Is Right for You
The best mattress for you is often a matter of what benefits you want to receive or your shopping restrictions.
If you’re shopping on a budget, we recommend choosing a memory foam mattress. Synthetic latex is inexpensive, but it lacks the durability of high-quality memory foam.
If you are an environmentally conscious shopper, choose a natural latex mattress. Manufacturers cannot make memory foam, synthetic latex, and blended latex without petrochemicals.
If you want a softer mattress, choose memory foam. Latex is firmer than memory foam because of its structure.
If you want a bed that resists sagging, choose natural latex. With care, a natural latex mattress can last up to 15 years.
If you want to sink into your mattress, choose memory foam.
If you want to lie on top of the mattress, choose latex.
Other Types of Mattresses
After reading about both memory foam and latex, you’re not sure if either one is the right mattress for you. If so, there are other mattress types you can consider.
Innerspring mattresses are a familiar mainstay. A coil support system makes up the bulk of the bed and has a thin layer of wool, cotton, or polyester on top. Air circulates freely between the coils, which creates a cooling mattress.
Hybrid mattresses draw upon foam and spring mattresses to try to provide the best of both. A coil support base is topped with 2 to 3 inches of memory foam or latex to offer a bouncy yet contouring bed.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is latex or memory foam better for back pain?
Both materials can provide excellent pain relief by conforming to a sleeper; however, owners of memory foam mattresses report slightly higher amounts of pain relief. Additionally, high-density foams tend to relieve pain more thoroughly than lower density foams do.
What are the benefits of a latex mattress?
If you choose a natural latex bed, you’ll get a durable, contouring bed produced through eco-friendly methods.
How many inches of memory foam do I need?
The exact thickness of memory foam you need depends on your preferred sleep position. Side sleepers need at least 3 inches of foam to sink in and prevent pressure from building up in their sides. Back and stomach sleepers rest well on 2 inches or less as too much softness will cause their torso to bow into the mattress, drawing the spine out of alignment.
Did We Help?
Buying a new mattress is a personal decision and only you can decide which is the right type for you. Memory foam prevents motion transfer and provides customized pressure point relief, while latex mattresses can be resilient and eco-friendly.
If you’re unsure if a mattress type is right for you, look for one with an attached sleep trial. With a sleep trial mattress, you can try out a mattress for around 100 days and return it if it’s not to your liking.