Latex vs. Memory Foam: What’s the Difference Between These Mattress Materials?
Identify the key differences between latex and memory foam to determine which mattress type will keep you comfortable as you sleep and leave you feeling well rested.
If you’re shopping for a new mattress, you might be trying to decide between latex and memory foam. Chances are you’ve seen mattress ads where the manufacturers boast about their memory-foam or latex mattresses, but do you really know how each of these materials differs from the other?
Choosing a new mattress is an important decision; you want to select the product that will offer you the support, pressure relief, and comfort that best suits your sleeping position and preferences. Continue reading to learn more about latex vs. memory-foam mattresses to determine whether either of these mattress types offers what you desire for a good night of shut-eye.
What is a latex mattress made of?
Latex mattresses are made using latex foam. There are a few key terms to know to fully understand what a latex mattress is, as well as the different types of latex. The first two terms to know are “natural” and “synthetic.” These terms refer to the material type used to make the mattress.
- Natural latex: Natural latex is a raw material sourced from rubber trees. The sap of the trees is used to make the foam layers of a mattress. Many organic mattresses use natural latex for their foam layers.
- Synthetic latex: With synthetic latex, synthetic materials are used to mimic the feel of natural latex. Styrene-butadiene rubber (SBR) is the most commonly used material for synthetic mattresses. While synthetic latex mattresses will cost less than their natural latex counterparts, it is unlikely that the mattress will offer the same durability or bounce.
In addition to seeing the terms “natural” or “synthetic” latex when you’re shopping for the best latex mattress, you may also see the terms “Dunlop” or “Talalay.” Whereas “natural” and “synthetic” refer to a type of material, “Dunlop” and “Talalay” refer to different manufacturing processes used when making a mattress.
- Dunlop latex: To make Dunlop latex, the sap or synthetic material is poured into a mold in a single pour. As the rubber settles, the base becomes denser, and the top layer is a little softer.
- Talalay latex: When making Talalay latex, the mold is not completely filled with the sap or synthetic material. A special vacuum adds air into the mold, which causes the latex to expand. Therefore, Talalay latex doesn’t feel as dense as Dunlop latex and has a more even feel from the top to the base.
Our Recommendation: Botanical Bliss Organic Latex Mattress on PlushBeds, starting at $1,399
This organic mattress, which is available with a medium or medium-firm comfort level, features a 2- or 3- inch layer of Talalay latex (depending on desired mattress thickness) along with an Arpico organic latex core and an organic cotton cover.
What is a memory-foam mattress made of?
Memory foam is a synthetic material made from polyurethane foam. Viscoelastic polyurethane foam is the full name for memory foam, but you’re more likely to see it referred to simply as memory foam.
The special polyurethane foam used to make memory foam was actually invented by NASA. NASA designed it to offer padding and protection by absorbing the shock felt during a crash or a large jolt in an airplane. It didn’t take too long for others to realize the potential that memory foam held for sleep support and a variety of other applications, from shoe insoles to cervical pillows.
Memory foam softens with an individual’s body heat and offers excellent contouring properties. Once an individual moves or gets up from the mattress, the memory foam slowly returns to its original shape. This is a key difference between memory foam and other foam materials; most other foams will return to their original shape much more quickly.
The best memory-foam mattresses typically feature multiple layers of foam and memory foam with varying densities and heights. This allows the mattress to offer adequate support for individuals as they rest. For example, most memory-foam layers will consist of a polyurethane foam core, a transition foam layer, and one or more memory-foam comfort layers.
Our Recommendation: Original Mattress on Leesa, starting at $749
This mattress features a 2-inch comfort layer of CertiPUR-US certified memory foam to contour to each individual’s body shape. Leesa’s special cooling foam layer sits atop the memory foam, increasing the breathability and overall comfort of the mattress.
Memory foam conforms to the exact shape of a sleeper, whereas latex creates a more general impression.
Memory foam is known for its ability to contour to each individual’s body shape. Many compare sleeping on a memory-foam mattress with getting a full-body hug. Should you shift positions in the middle of the night, the memory foam will adapt to your new position, but it will take the foam some time to adjust.
Latex also adjusts based on the shape and size of each individual, but not to the extent that memory foam does. However, latex beds are more responsive than memory-foam mattresses. This means that when you change your position, the mattress will more quickly adapt, or respond, to the change.
Both mattress options are good for side and back sleepers, but memory foam provides more pressure-point relief than latex.
Finding a mattress that offers pressure-point relief is important for side and back sleepers. The exact position in which you sleep determines which areas of your body will experience the most pressure. Side sleepers, for instance, feel the greatest pressure around their hips and shoulders.
While both memory foam and latex can offer good support for back and side sleepers, memory foam will be the best option for alleviating the pressure placed on the joints. This is because the contouring material allows the hips, shoulders, and other parts of the body to sink in as needed to ensure the spine stays in proper alignment.
A memory-foam mattress eliminates motion transfer, while light sleepers may feel movement through latex.
Generally speaking, both memory foam and latex are good at minimizing motion transfer. Motion transfer refers to how much movement people feel on their side of the bed when their partner is tossing and turning or getting into or out of the bed.
Of the two mattress materials, the full-body contouring feel of memory foam gives it a slight edge related to minimizing motion transfer. When you sleep on a latex mattress, you’re a bit more likely to feel movement when a partner is tossing and turning. However, while latex doesn’t rank as high as memory foam when it comes to limiting motion transfer, it is still a much better choice for lessening motion transfer when compared to many other mattress types, such as innerspring mattresses.
Latex mattresses have less heat retention than memory- foam mattresses.
Latex has an open-cell structure that allows air to circulate through the mattress as a person sleeps. This prevents heat from getting trapped inside the mattress, keeping individuals from overheating.
Memory-foam mattresses, on the other hand, are not known for their abilities to keep sleepers cool. The dense structure of memory foam can trap heat in the mattress, which isn’t ideal for those who tend to sleep hot.
If you are looking for a mattress that will keep you cool throughout the night, a latex foam mattress may be the right solution. However, you don’t necessarily have to rule out a memory-foam mattress. Many manufacturers use special ventilation features, cooling gels, and unique phase change materials to help prevent individuals from overheating.
Latex mattresses are often more expensive than memory- foam counterparts, but they will likely last longer.
In most cases, the cost to purchase a latex mattress, particularly a natural latex mattress, will be higher than the cost of a memory-foam mattress. However, latex mattresses typically have a longer lifespan than memory-foam mattresses (up to 20 years compared to up to 10 years). One of the things cheaper mattress manufacturers won’t tell you when you’re buying a mattress is that a good mattress is worth the splurge. Spending the money on a quality latex mattress can pay off in the long run because of the product’s longer lifespan and an increased term for the mattress warranty (in many cases).
If you are interested in a latex mattress but want to make sure you get the best deal, take note of some of the best times to shop for a mattress. These can include holidays such as Labor Day and the Fourth of July, Cyber Monday and Black Friday, and between March and May.
A latex mattress topper is a cheaper alternative to consider that will still allow you to enjoy the benefits of latex. Latex mattress toppers go right over your existing mattress and can help it last longer.
Natural latex mattresses are considered better for the environment than memory-foam mattresses.
If finding a sustainable, environmentally friendly mattress is important to you, then you may choose to sleep on latex. Natural latex mattresses are crafted using sap from live rubber trees; no trees are cut down during the production process.
Latex mattresses also typically last longer than memory-foam mattresses, which means less waste will end up in a landfill. Plus, natural latex mattresses are 100 percent biodegradable; the same is not true of memory foam. Much of a memory-foam mattress can be recycled, but it is not an easy process and is one that is often skipped.
Related: 9 Ways You’re Ruining Your Mattress
The prices listed here are accurate as of publication on 3/28/22.