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Guides How to Buy a Memory Foam Mattress

Published on April 22nd, 2013 | by Mattress Journal

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How to Buy a Memory Foam Mattress

Buying a memory foam mattress can be both exciting and confusing. Because this particular type of bed has many aspects to consider, it is important to understand the features and facts in order to compare and get the best bed. In this guide, we will look at the key things consider when shopping for a memory foam mattress, like density, foam types, firmness, and thickness, as well as how these features relate to personal preferences.

Memory Foam Mattress Buying Guide

The first thing that buyers should consider is whether or not a memory foam mattress is the right type of bed. Memory foam proves ideal for those with back pain, pressure points, and couples that dislike the motion transfer aspects of other beds. This type of mattress has a unique feel that is quite different from standard spring mattresses. It works by contouring to the shape of the sleeper, and allowing the body to settle into a natural position without placing added pressure on heavier areas of the body. It is for these reasons that memory foam tends to be the best rated mattress type overall. However, there are differences among memory foam mattresses that may affect satisfaction and comfort. Here, we will describe these differences so you can get a better idea of what to look for when shopping.

Foam Type

The type of memory foam refers to the ingredients used to produce the material. We compared memory foam mattress types in detail in a previous article and in our side by side comparison, we found plant-based memory foam to be optimal for those concerned about chemicals and heat. Here are the highlights:

  • Traditional – the original type of memory foam, popularized by Tempurpedic. This type is made from petroleum-based chemicals and typically contains some chemicals of concern. While reviews report comfort and pain relief, some people complain of issues with heat retention and off-gassing odors.
  • Plant-Based – this type of memory foam replaces a portion of the petroleum with plant oils and some lines eliminate the toxic VOCs that cause the off-gassing issues. One brand of plant-based memory foam mattresses, Amerisleep, makes mattresses free of toxic VOCs shown to sleep 10x cooler than traditional memory foam. Cargill also confirmed in a study that plant-based memory foam slept 25% cooler than gel.
  • Gel – gel memory foam involves the addition of liquid gel or gel beads to traditional memory foam. One popular brand is Serta iComfort. Manufacturers of gel foam claim that it sleeps cooler and less likely to smell, though the coolness claims have been called into question recently by other brands, the National Advertising Division of the BBB, and Consumer Reports.

Density

Density refers to the weight of one square foot of material and affects the overall feel of a memory foam mattress as well as how it holds up over time. Density does not affect firmness, but rather the viscosity or melting feeling of the foam. Higher density foams will reflect higher temperature sensitivity, and appear to have a higher frequency of complaints regarding heat retention. Typically, the lower support layer and the upper memory foam layer will have different densities. The details below refer to the upper layers of the memory foam mattress; the base support layer should be around 2-3lbs/ft for optimal support and durability.

  • Low Density – under 4.0lbs. These foams are often cheaper, but will degrade and lose support fastest.
  • Medium Density – 4.0-5.3 lbs. This is considered the ideal weight, offering  a universal level of support and durability.
  • High Density – 5.3lbs or higher. High density foam excels at recovery, but may be too viscous for use in layers of more than 1-2 inches.

Firmness

Firmness is very important when it comes to comfort, but is something that will need to be determined individually. While you can certainly go to a store to try out a few mattresses,  you can also consult your current mattress to get an idea of what would work. Identify the firmness of your current bed and ask yourself if you are happy with this level, or if you would prefer something softer or firmer. Memory foam can feel different from other types of mattresses, and words like firm and soft can have different meanings across brands (unless you are comparing ILD levels). Overall, here are a few tips and suggestions we’ve collected regarding firmness:

  • Soft/Plush: Best for elderly, people with pressure point issues, and side sleepers. If you want plushness but are concerned about support, consider opting for a multilayer memory foam mattress with a plush layer on top and a firmer layer in the middle .
  • Medium: Medium and medium-firm beds are typically the most recommended type for back pain. Medium is the most universal feel, and if you are unsure about what you like this would be a good starting point.
  • Firm: Firm beds focus on support and may be most ideal for back sleepers. A firm memory foam mattress should have a stiffer sensation but still contour to keep your spine aligned. The good part about buying a firm mattress is that it is easier to make it softer with toppers (whereas a too-soft mattress is hard to remedy).

Thickness

Thickness is another aspect to consider with memory foam. The profile of a memory foam is not composed strictly of memory foam. Typically you will have 2 to 6 inches of actual memory foam over 4 to 8 inches of a support poly foam. When comparing beds, you will want to consider the thickness of the actual memory foam layer in addition to the overall profile. The thicker the memory foam layer, the greater the contouring will be. A mattress less than 6 or 7 inches would be best used in a sofa bed or guest room and would likely not be suitable for long term daily use.

  • 6″ to 8″ – Most entry-level beds will be around 7-8″, with 2-3″ of actual memory foam. These will work out well for back sleepers and lighter individuals, so long as the density is in the medium range.
  • 9″ to 12″ – These tend to be the most popular beds, with anywhere from 3-6″ of memory foam. Side sleepers should look for a bed with at least 4″ to ensure the memory foam mattress will contour to hips and shoulders without bottoming out.
  • 13″ or more – A majority of consumers would not need more than 5-6″ inches of memory foam to feel comfortable, though if you prefer a very plush or cloud-like sensation a 13-15″ mattress could be ideal. Keep in mind the greater amounts of memory foam will mean greater contouring and may create an exaggerated sinking feeling not all will enjoy.

Origin

When comparing brands, it is also important to consider where the mattress is actually created. In some countries, there is no worker safety guarantee or manufacturing regulations. This could ultimately influence the durability and quality of the product and whether or not it was made ethically in regards to labor and the environment. Memory foam made in the United States faces tighter relations on labor and pollution, as well as chemicals. There are many brands that make both their memory foam and mattresses in the United States, and prices are often comparable to imports (depending on brand).

Tips for Buying a Memory Foam Mattress

  • Look for a Trial Period – A good quality memory foam mattress will have no less than a 30 day trial period. You should be able to return or least exchange the mattress with minimal fees, which proves especially important for those new to this type of bed. The industry standard is about 90 days, as it can take up to a month to acclimate to memory foam.
  • Check Out the Warranty – Most manufacturers will have both a full coverage period and prorated period on their warranties. They will typically cover defects in workmanship and impressions over certain depth. Be sure to check out the terms and exclusions on the policy.
  • Read Reviews – One of the best ways to learn about a bed is to check the reviews for the brands and models you are considering. Look for reviews that are third-party verified to ensure you  are reading real owner opinions. As a general rule of thumb, memory foam mattress brands overall have average satisfaction ratings around 80-82% (4-4.1 stars out of 5). Don’t expect reviews to be 100% perfect, as no one bed will be right for everyone, but look for patterns of issues with durability, odor, service, etc.

Taking the time to learn about the memory foam mattress sector gives you the information necessary to make a smart decision.  It is important to consider all of these tips because each can affect the quality, comfort, and satisfaction of the mattress you choose. We hope you have found this memory foam mattress guide helpful, and if you have any questions or want additional information feel free to leave a comment!

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