When choosing a new mattress, many people have trouble deciding between memory foam and latex. It is assumed that both mattress types are quite similar as they are both known for their support and pressure relief. However, if you dig a little deeper, you will find vast differences between the two materials. Read on to understand what sets latex and traditional memory foam mattresses apart so you can make an informed decision on which mattress type is right for you.
What is latex?
Pure latex is a natural material commonly used in the manufacturing of mattresses. Harvested from the sap of natural rubber trees, latex can be produced using the Dunlop latex method or the Talalay latex method. Dunlop latex is the older and more traditional method of the two. It involves whipping liquid latex into a froth, pouring it into a mould and then baking it. The Talalay latex process is more often used to combine natural and synthetic latex together. Most commonly, around 70% natural latex is mixed with 30% synthetic latex. Sometimes fillers from inert raw materials are combined with natural latex to bulk out the natural latex foam. When looking to buy a latex bed, always ask which method is used to process the latex foam as many latex mattresses are produced using the Talalay method. Dunlop latex is the superior mattress material over the two as it is entirely eco friendly and does not contain any potentially harmful chemicals or synthetic materials which may detract from your health.
What is memory foam?
Memory foam is a type of polyurethane foam that was originally developed by NASA in the 1960s to improve the safety of aircraft cushions. When pressure and body heat is applied, memory foam conforms to the contours of the body to offer pressure point relief. This makes the memory foam mattress a popular choice for those who suffer from back or joint pain. However, memory foam is made from a petroleum-based polyurethane, often paired with chemical adhesives and flame retardants, which together can emit chemical odours (known as ‘off-gassing’) and VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Research proves that over time, VOCs have been known to impact physical and mental health (Australian Government – Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water).
What are the major differences between a latex mattress and a memory foam mattress?
While both the memory foam and latex mattresses offer a comfortable sleep surface with low motion transfer, they have many other points of difference. Choosing latex vs memory foam will come down to your personal preferences and sleep requirements, although the following may help you to decide which is right for you.
The way it feels
Latex: Buoyant, cooling, responsive, supportive.
Memory foam: Damp sand, warming, pressure relief.
Support & pressure relief
Latex: Supportive yet springy, latex contours to the sleeper’s body to offer pressure relief and optimise spinal alignment.
Memory foam: cradling sensation that can offer pressure relief.
Latex: 20 years on average.
Memory foam: 8 – 10 years On average.
Latex: although no trees are harmed in the manufacturing of collecting the latex rubber in its liquid form, it takes 2,000 trees to make a queen size latex mattress. This generally means latex mattresses are priced higher than memory foams.
Memory foam: most memory foam mattresses generally sit in the mid-point price range for a mattress. A memory foam mattress is generally more expensive than an innerspring mattress, yet usually priced slightly lower than an all natural latex mattress. Prices do vary widely depending on brand and quality.
Latex: comfortable for most sleeping positions.
Memory foam: Comfortable for most sleeping positions, though the ideal thickness of the memory foam will vary depending on your preferred sleep position.
Latex: naturally moisture wicking and inherently cooling with an open cell structure that self-ventilates, natural latex foam does not trap heat, helping to regulate temperature – ideal for hot sleepers in the Australian climate.
Memory foam: memory foam mattresses rely on your body heat to react with the chemicals in the mattress in order to facilitate the ‘memory’ action of moulding to your body. As such, memory foam will have a tendency to retain heat, making it an uncomfortable choice for those who sleep hot. Sometimes manufacturers add cooling gel to their memory foams to counteract this, however, these added ‘cooling’ materials can be a marketing ploy.
Latex: Latex is resistant to mould, dust mites and bacteria, common allergens that can cause respiratory issues for some people. Additionally, the natural breathability of latex helps to prevent the buildup of moisture and heat that can create an environment for allergens to thrive. Natural latex mattresses are an excellent choice for those who suffer from allergies or have sensitive skin.
Memory foam: Traditional memory foam is a dense and closed-cell foam that can trap dust, skin cells and other allergens, triggering allergies for some people. Additionally, memory foam can retain heat and moisture, which can create an environment where allergens can thrive. While some memory foam mattresses are designed with hypoallergenic properties, such as antimicrobial treatments or covers that repel allergens, it is important to note that some people are sensitive to chemicals and other synthetic materials so these additions may not help.
Latex: Minimal motion transfer and partner disturbance.
Memory foam: Minimal motion transfer and partner disturbance.
DIFFERENT FACTORS TO CONSIDER BEFORE DECIDING BETWEEN LATEX AND MEMORY FOAM
If you still require further assistance deciding whether latex or memory foam is right for you, here are a few more points to think about.
WHAT POSITION DO YOU SLEEP IN?
Memory foam beds can be a good choice for side sleepers as they can conform to the curves of the body, providing pressure point relief to the hips and shoulders. However, memory foam is prone to heat retention, which can be uncomfortable for side sleepers who are already susceptible to overheating. Natural latex mattresses on the other hand, can work well for side sleepers as the natural buoyancy of latex foam can also help to prevent sinkage and maintain proper alignment of the spine while the breathability is ideal for those who sleep hot. If the latex foam also has supplementary zoning to account for spots that take extra pressure — such as the hips and shoulders — they can also offer excellent pressure point relief.
For back sleepers, both memory foam and latex mattresses can be comfortable options. Memory foam can provide good support to the lower back and lumbar region, while latex foam can help to maintain proper alignment of the spine in the supine position. Stomach sleepers may find memory foam to be too soft, causing the body to sink too deeply and creating discomfort in the lower back and neck. Latex mattresses may be the better option for stomach sleepers as they provide a firmer sleep surface, helping to prevent sinkage and fostering proper alignment of the spine.
LEVEL OF SUPPORT AND PRESSURE RELIEF REQUIRED
Latex mattresses are generally more supportive than memory foam mattresses due to the natural buoyancy and responsiveness of the material. Latex beds can provide a lasting supportive yet buoyant feel that contours to the curves of the body, helping to maintain proper spinal alignment and preventing discomfort. Latex mattresses can also offer optimal pressure relief, particularly for those who require firmer support.
On the other hand, the level of support can vary with a memory foam mattress. A high density memory foam mattress can provide deep compression support, while lower density memory foam will be much softer and may not offer nearly as much support. Memory foam mattresses can also offer excellent pressure relief, as they conform to the curves of the body and distribute weight evenly.
In general, latex mattresses are more expensive than memory foam mattresses due to the cost of the natural materials used in their production. A memory foam mattress is typically more affordable, though they can vary significantly.
WHICH IS BETTER LATEX OR MEMORY FOAM MATTRESS?
Latex is the best option if one seeks to achieve lasting support and comfort from their mattresses. Also, latex is an environmentally friendly option, free from toxins and chemicals. Ideal for pressure relief, memory foam can present a good option for those on a budget. However, expect for your memory foam to lose its ‘memory’ over a much shorter amount of time. Memory foam mattresses will only last up to 10 years.
IS MEMORY FOAM SOFTER THAN LATEX?
When it comes to a softer mattress, memory foam can be made in a softer feel. However, a memory foam that is too soft will compromise the support characteristics. Manufacturing technology has allowed pure and natural Dunlop latex to be manufactured in a soft density.
YOUR BODY TYPE & WEIGHT
A memory foam mattress can provide excellent pressure relief for those who are lighter in weight or have a smaller body type. The conforming nature of the foam allows it to contour to the curves of the body, which can help to alleviate pressure points and provide a comfortable sleep surface. However, those who are heavier or have a larger body type may find that memory foam mattresses sink too deeply, which can result in a lack of support and discomfort.
A natural latex mattress can be a good choice for those who are heavier or have a larger body type as they are more supportive than memory foam. The buoyant nature of the latex foam allows it to provide a firmer and more supportive sleep surface, which can help to keep the spine aligned and prevent discomfort. Additionally, latex mattresses are more durable than memory foam mattresses, which means they can withstand the weight of heavier individuals over time.
HOW LONG YOU NEED THE MATTRESS TO LAST
A latex mattress may be a better choice for those who are looking for a long-term investment and are conscious about sleeping on a natural mattress, while a memory foam mattress may be a more affordable option for those who are not as concerned with long-term durability. As mentioned previously, a latex mattress will last at least 20 years with proper care while the average memory foam mattress can last between 8 to 10 years. However, memory foam is sensitive to heat and moisture, which can cause the material to break down more quickly. This means they are prone to losing their shape and the comfort and support of memory foam beds may decline over the years.