How to Choose a Memory Foam Mattress

July 16, 2021

You’re tossing and turning all night.

Your back and shoulders ache.

You don’t feel refreshed in the morning.

Whether you identify with one or all three, these are tell-tale signs that it’s time to begin shopping for a new mattress. After all, your mattress is not just a place to sleep: It’s where you spend one-third of your life.

Unfortunately, buying a new mattress can feel like yet another expense.

But in reality, it’s an invaluable investment. Studies have found that a new bed can change your life for the better by reducing back discomfort, diminishing stress-related symptoms, and offering deeper and longer REM cycles.

To obtain the best sleep possible, many people end up opting for memory foam mattresses. With so many to choose from, how do you know what kind is right for you? There are different types with varying thicknesses, materials, types of foam, among other vital factors.

The good news is that this guide will dive deep into everything you need to know about how to choose a memory foam mattress.

4 Tips to Choosing a Quality Memory Foam Mattress

If you’re in the market for a new memory foam mattress, it can be challenging to know what features are essential and which ones to overlook. Density, mmHg, ILD, and knowing the country of origin are the four most important qualities you should consider when choosing the right memory foam mattress.

Tip #1: Pick the Right Foam Density (and Avoid Low-Density Foam)

The first thing you need to think about when choosing a memory foam mattress is the foam density. Memory foam density has to do with the foam’s durability and lifespan.

So, for example, a 5-pound-per-cubic-foot memory foam mattress will outlast a 3-pound memory foam mattress by ten years. This means that most high-end memory foam mattresses will have density foams somewhere between 3.5 and 5 pounds.

But what exactly is foam density? Simply put, density is a significant influence on how the memory foam feels and performs.

This means that foams with a high density will feel more firm and withstand more pressure, whereas low-density foams are softer and won’t support as much pressure. A comfortable mattress should help you maintain support through the night.

Manufacturers will often use a mix of foams and various density ratings, so you should read the label closely when shopping for a new memory foam mattress. Many companies claim that they have 5-pound or higher density foams but fail to specify that the density is only within the first inch of the mattress.

That makes the other support layer weaker.

You want to avoid buying into these mattress types. Opting for a high-quality foam mattress will boost overall performance in several ways, including durability, pressure relief, and temperature regulation.

Factor #1: Durability

When you invest in something as costly as a quality memory foam mattress, you want to be sure that’s the last bed you have to buy for at least a decade.

Unfortunately, when you buy memory foam beds made of cheaper materials and foams, the quality degrades — and fast. That’s why it’s best to stick to high-end memory foam mattresses, like ones that are made of organic latex.

Factor #2: Pressure Relief

When shopping for a new mattress, around 75% of buyers say comfort and avoiding sore muscles are at the top of their priority list. And because of their pressure-relieving capabilities, people are attracted to memory foam mattresses.

Here’s how it works: The foam inside the mattress can match the sleeper’s body shape, which means better pressure relief and less stress on joints and muscles. In addition, higher-density foams will offer better support by molding closer to the body, whereas lower-density foams won’t offer as much support.

Over time, cheaper, low-density memory foam contours around your body in a way that forms dips around your usual sleep area. These spots don't support your body — rather, they contribute to deep tissue pains and soreness.

Factor #3: Temperature Regulation

Are you sleeping hot? Perhaps the only problem with memory foam mattresses is that even the most high-end ones tend to trap body heat, which is not ideal for hot sleepers. To counter this, some mattresses use cooling gel beads to help you sleep cooler. Others rely on quality organic materials to naturally pull away body heat, which can promise a better rest if you sleep hot.

Tip #2: Know the mmHg of the Memory Foam Bed

The mmHg (Millimeter of Mercury) is a unit of pressure used to measure how a mattress reacts to pressure. In other words, the number of mmHg gives you insight into how well the sleep surface supports you through the night. This number is what you should look at to gauge mattress comfort level.

Healthcare experts say that 32 mmHg is the standard, and anything lower than that is considered pressure-relieving because the dense foam provides better circulation. With that being said, do your best to avoid any mattresses over 32 mmHg because that’s when your blood circulation begins to impede.

Some mattress companies offer super-low mmHg, which means fewer pressure points and more pressure relief. For example, Essentia mattresses use high-quality organic latex and foam, resulting in a low mmHg of 12.43 and a medium-firm feel.

Tip #3: Understand the Indentation Load Deflection (ILD)

The Indentation Load Deflection, or ILD, refers to the process in which the foam manufacturing industry uses to assess the softness of foam. Here’s what you need to know about indentation load deflection:

- ILD ranges from 6 to 40, with most memory foam mattresses somewhere between 10 and 16 ILD.
- In addition, many memory foam mattress companies will use multiple layers of different mmHg levels to enhance the overall comfort and foam softness.
- These are known as comfort layers.

Companies use a circular flat indenter to conduct an ILD test that presses against the given foam sample. First, it is compressed two times to 75% before it’s allowed to recover for six minutes. Then, the indenter will measure for 60 seconds after achieving 25% indentation.

After the testing, scores are given. Lower scores correspond with less firmness, whereas higher scores indicate a firmer mattress. So if you want an extra-soft mattress, find memory foam mattresses with a low ILD number. And if you prefer a firmer night’s sleep, look for a number on the higher end of the scale.

Quick Tip: Density and firmness often get confused with one another, but they’re not the same. Firmness refers to the entire composition of the bed, whereas density is a measure of individual components of the foam.

Tip #4: Find the Country of Origin

The fact is that a mattress’s country of origin is an important thing to consider—and it’s even more crucial to know that “made in” and “assembled in” are not the same thing. For example, your mattress label may say it was “assembled in the United States,” but its parts are transported from overseas.

Even if your mattress brand is assembled in the U.S. or Canada, tests are rarely performed on imported mattress components. Unfortunately, that means that there’s no accurate way to know the exact components for certain mattress parts, which can be dangerous to your and your loved ones’ health.

This is because mattresses are typically made of toxic chemicals that can cause chemical off-gassing within a few hours of unpacking. These chemicals trigger volatile organic compound (VOC) exposure, which has been connected to incidences of cancer, respiratory issues, and even infertility.

When buying a memory foam mattress, always ask about the country of origin and whether or not your bed was made and assembled in the U.S. or Canada to avoid low-end quality mattresses that may cause VOC exposure. The good news is that organic latex memory foam mattresses don’t cause this type of chemical off-gassing.

What Is Chemical Off-Gassing?

Chemical off-gassing refers to the volatile organic chemicals that emit from household materials like cleaning products, paint, and mattresses, over time.

In terms of buying a new mattress, you should know that most beds are made with some dangerous chemicals that your household can be exposed to. One study found that body heat is a significant trigger for VOC emissions, which means these levels are increased when the bed is being used.

 

“Consumers are in a very difficult position,” says Dr. Kenneth Spaeth, chief of occupational and environmental medicine at Northwell Health. “It’s very hard to get good information about what a mattress contains, and even if you know that, unless you have a good understanding of the different materials it’s hard to know what chemicals might be emitted from those materials.”

But if VOCs are found in many household products, then how bad could they be?

The fact is that in small doses, VOCs aren’t all too dangerous—and, it's important to note that not all VOCs are toxic. However, exposure to most VOCs can (and does) negatively impact your home’s air quality thanks to chemicals like polyurethane, flame retardants, formaldehyde, and benzene.

This type of chemical off-gassing has been linked to health issues like cancer, infertility, and brain disorders and can cause a laundry list of uncomfortable health effects. Unfortunately, these chemicals are present in most mattresses, including traditional memory foam and innerspring mattresses. So far, natural latex mattresses remain the exception. 

Which Is Better: Foam or Memory Foam Mattress?

In the mattress industry, sometimes “foam” and “memory foam” are used interchangeably. But, in actuality, the two are very different—especially in their durability and overall lifespan.

average mattress lifespan

(image source)

First, we’ll start with the similarities: Both foam and memory foam mattresses are most often made with a synthetic polymer called polyurethane foam, one of the most inexpensive and widely-used materials bedding in the world.

In addition, polyurethane foam is soft to the touch and can offer more support and help achieve neutral spine alignment. However, it's the chemical composition that sets regular foam and many memory foam mattresses apart.

Foam Mattresses

Regular foam mattresses usually refer to poly-foam beds, which are primarily made up of compounds from petrochemicals. Poly-foam mattresses come in several densities, with high-density poly-foam offering more durability and longevity to the mattress.

However, when you're mattress shopping keep in mind that thickness doesn't play a role in longevity. Poly-foam will still degrade faster than latex memory foams of decent quality.

Poly-foam is popular because it’s inexpensive and comfortable, but only for a short time. In fact, it might not even make it through the standard 100-day sleep trial. Initially, these types of mattresses provide support and softness, regardless of sleeping positions or body weight.

However, the quality won’t last for several years as it would for memory foam mattress owners. Since poly-foam collapses when pressure is applied quickly, it is not on the same level of pressure-relieving contour as latex memory foam mattresses.

Memory Foam Mattresses

Memory foam mattresses are made of a man-made material called viscoelastic polyurethane foam, which has added compounds that change the way it feels. These components give memory foam mattresses unique pressure-relieving and body-contouring capabilities.

However, since memory foam is also made of polyurethane, even the highest-quality memory foam mattresses still have compounds derived from petrochemicals. This means that while memory foam is more comfortable than regular poly-foam, the chemical makeup is not much better.

That’s why you should go for an organic, latex-based option instead.

Your Best Option: A Latex Memory Foam Mattresses

Latex memory foam mattresses are rising in popularity—and rightfully so. These mattresses feature higher quality in every detail, including materials and comfort. Higher quality means longevity so you can feel confident knowing you're getting the best memory foam mattress designed to help you sleep without discomfort or hazardous chemical off-gassing.

In fact, studies have found that sleeping on a latex mattress guarantees a better night’s sleep in terms of comfort. Compared to polyurethane foam mattresses, latex mattresses exert lower peak pressure points, translating into better sleep comfort and quality.

Latex foam mattresses are often natural, organic, and don’t contain any harmful chemicals that are usually found in polyurethane foams. Companies like Essentia offer organic and latex memory foam made with hevea milk, GOLS-certified organic latex, Dunlop latex, organic essential oils, and natural plant extracts, and GOTS-certified organic cotton.

What Is Latex Memory Foam?

Latex is a similar material to memory foam in the sense that it contours to the body. However, latex mattresses have a faster recovery time and a lot more bounce. Latex mattresses can be made differently, with natural latex and synthetic latex being the two most common materials.

Natural latex comes from rubber trees and is the purest, most natural option available for the health- and environmentally conscious. Synthetic latex is a different kind of rubber made from various synthetic materials intended to mimic the natural look and feel.

In addition to natural and synthetic latex, you can also choose from Talalay or Dunlop latex.

Dunlop Latex

Dunlop latex is the birth of latex mattresses, serving as the original process of manufacturing latex foams. The method was developed in 1929, and the process has since remained the same.

Dunlop latex foam is a dense and firm foam that is relatively inexpensive to manufacture. This latex is “bottom-heavy,” which means that the bottom is firmer than the top. Because of this, many mattress companies incorporate Dunlop latex as core support.

Talalay Latex

The Talalay latex process derived from the Dunlop and was first established in the 1940s to mold pieces of latex foam rubber. Talalay latex typically uses styrene-butadiene rubber, which is mixed with natural latex found in the hevea tree.

Conclusion

There are hundreds of memory foam mattresses to choose from, but as with anything, you should always do your research before taking the plunge:

- Pick the proper foam density for you
- Know the mmHg for ultimate comfort
- Understand the ILD for firmness preference
- Find the country of origin so you can know how it’s manufactured

 

Among these crucial tips, you should also decide whether you want a regular foam, memory foam, or latex mattress. At the end of the day, natural memory foam mattresses with latex are the clear winner: They are organically made without any harmful VOCs, will last years beyond your expectation, and are sure to fit any type of sleeper.

The best part is that organic latex mattresses are easy to find. At Essentia, you’ll find the most comprehensive selection for natural and organic latex memory foam mattresses. This means that you can get the best of both worlds by getting both comfort and health when you choose a latex mattress from Essentia.