Advantages and Disadvantages of Memory Foam Mattresses

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Foam mattresses offer something like the next level of comfort. The mattress base may have a firm foundation at the bottom. As the manufacturer adds layers to the mattress, the mattress increases in softness, with the most comfortable layer on the top. Beautiful.

There are different types of foam mattresses. Two main types are memory foam, which is all about comfort (or mostly, if not), and Reflex foam, which is similar to memory foam but has subtle differences.

If you’re looking for a new mattress but aren’t sure whether a foam one would be right for you or how to choose one, you’ve come to the right place. This is the Bedstar Guide to Foam Mattress. We start by discussing what exactly memory and reflex foam are, look at each’s advantages and disadvantages, and offer tips on choosing a mattress and taking care of it.

What is memory foam?

Memory foam has been around longer than you think. It’s not some new 21st-century invention. It came from a contract with NASA in which researchers looked to develop better seat cushioning and crash protection for airline pilots and passengers. Memory foam has been around since the 1970s. At the time, it was also called ‘temper foam.’ 

Foam mattress.
Image source: NASA.gov

It’s an artificial foam, and the primary material is polyurethane, but you’ll also see some bed and mattress manufacturers and retailers refer to this material as “viscoelastic.” The foam works by reacting to heat from the human body. The foam’s open cell structure makes it more sensitive to heat and becomes softer and more pliable, allowing it to mould to your body.

Different types of memory foam

Since so many manufacturers make memory foam, many different types exist, and each manufacturer may use different compositions to produce the memory foam. The foam comes in various densities or firmness levels, rated from 40 kilos, which is soft memory foam, to 85 or 90 kilos, which is firm.

For all the different types of memory foam out there, it generally comes in the two styles below:

  • Standard memory foam, which responds to your body shape and weight to support your body, can minimise pressure points and improve blood circulation.
  • Memory gel tends to contain the same gel formulation in shoe inserts. This gel, however, allows more air to flow through the mattress and draws heat away from the body. Memory foam tends to trap heat and, as a result, can become quite warm for the person sleeping on them.

Many memory foam mattresses are sprung with a layer of memory foam on top of them. These could be open-coil, pocket-sprung, inner-coil, or Miracoil mattresses. Some mattresses, however, replace the springs with extra layers of foam. These are “pure foam” or “memory foam only” mattresses.

If you don’t think a memory foam mattress is for you or aren’t sure, you might like to try a memory foam mattress topper. This layer you place on top of your bed will give you a  feel for how the memory foam shapes itself to your body. The mattress topper won’t offer extra support, however. It’s all about making your existing mattress more comfortable. 

What is Reflex foam?

Reflex foam is a bit like memory foam but has a higher density. It’s also made from polyurethane and moulds to the person’s body shape. 

Reflex foam is often the middle layer and/or the base layer of a (foam) mattress because it lends firmer support, whereas memory foam is closer to the top. Although you can get some mattresses that comprise purely Reflex foam, many foam mattresses consist of memory foam at the top and Reflex foam making up the rest of the layers.

What are the advantages of memory foam and Reflex foam? 

Much like many other products, foam mattresses have their advantages and disadvantages. We take a look at those of both memory foam and reflex foam.

Advantages of memory foam mattresses

  • Memory foam mattresses are suitable for insulation. The foam’s properties naturally retain heat, making it ideal for colder climates.
  • Memory foam suits all types of sleepers, whether you sleep on your front, back, or side. If either you or your partner is the kind that shifts around in their sleep a lot at night, the foam will adapt to your position every time.
  • The dense material is suitable for relaxing restless limbs. Since it contours to your shape, it can help you fall into a deeper, more restful sleep.
  • Memory foam distributes weight evenly throughout its surface, providing comfort and can help with back pain and other aches and pains. You shouldn’t, however, rely on a memory foam mattress to cure back issues.
Sleepeezee Jessica 1800 Pocket Gel Memory Mattress.
Pictured: Sleepeezee Jessica 1800 Pocket Gel Memory Mattress.

What are the disadvantages of memory foam mattresses?

  • Some memory foam mattresses can dip or sag. They may be comfy at first, but eventually, the foam may stop returning to its original shape. 
  • As the foam loses its ‘memory’ and does not bounce back, the sags and dips can lead to back pain because the mattress no longer supports you as much as you need it to. You’ll have to buy another mattress, which you may not wish to do.
  • Depending on the mattress’s quality, memory foam may be several times more expensive than a regular pocket spring mattress.
  • Since memory foam mattresses trap heat, they can also cause you to sweat; because you sweat onto the mattress, the mattress may start to smell. Removing the smell can be difficult, especially if the mattress isn’t of good quality. 
Giltedge Beds Majestic 1000 Pocket Spring Foam Mattress.
Pictured: Giltedge Beds Majestic 1000 Pocket Spring Foam Mattress.

Advantages of reflex foam

  • Reflex foam mattresses are naturally hypoallergenic. This makes them great if you suffer from an allergy. The mattress is less likely to trigger your allergy.
  • These mattresses are durable and offer firm support. They suit people who prefer a firmer mattress.
  • Reflex foam mattresses are generally a little cheaper than memory foam mattresses.
  • Reflex foam mattresses offer healthy weight distribution and good spinal alignment.
  • Although the foam moulds to your body shape, you don’t get the ‘sinking’ feeling that a memory foam mattress gives you. Not everyone enjoys the sinking feeling.

Disadvantages of reflex foam

  • Lower-quality reflex foam mattresses may give off toxic chemicals.
  • Lower-quality mattresses may sag faster than other types of mattresses.

Foam mattresses, bed frames, and foundations

You want to get as much use as possible out of your mattress and take the best care of the mattress. Part of this is choosing the right foundations. If you have the wrong foundation, the mattress can start to sag.

If you have a metal bed, you’ll need a box spring between the bed frame and the mattress. This will help the memory foam mattress distribute the weight evenly. If you have a wooden, platform, or adjustable bed, you won’t need a box spring for your memory foam mattress. The slats within the foundation will provide support for the mattress.

Memory foam mattresses and thickness

Memory foam mattresses come in three main densities: 

  • Low. These mattresses are more accessible to break in, and your body may adjust more quickly to them.
  • Medium. These mattresses are good for sharing with a partner because they allow optimal motion isolation.
  • High. These tend to be the most durable.

To understand the density, you need to know the kilos per cubic metre weight. The higher the number, the higher the density, of course. If you have foam with a density of 60 kilos per cubic metre, this is how much it will weigh if you have one cubic metre. A higher-density foam with 75 kilos per cubic metre will have more foam packed into it, whereas a lower one with 45 kilos will have less compressed foam per cubic metre and more air pockets. 

Thickness-wise, a memory foam mattress tends to be between 6 and 14 inches (15.2 and 35.5 cm) thick. Often, thick mattresses are softer than thin ones, but this doesn’t necessarily mean those thin ones are more uncomfortable. The base layer provides the main level of support, and the additional layers add softness.

How to choose your memory foam mattress

Now that you know more about foam mattresses, you can choose one that suits your bed. Here are some tips:

Choose one that fits your sleeping style

A memory foam mattress can help you cope with neck pain, back pain, or other aches and pains, but the level of firmness is crucial. If you sleep on your back, you’re more likely to need a firmer mattress to support your back. You’ll also find a firmer mattress better if you sleep on your stomach. However, if you sleep on your side, you’ll find a softer mattress more comfortable. 

Make sure it fits the foundations.

You must ensure your bed offers the right foundations for your memory foam mattress. You could have a jolly uncomfortable sleep if you don’t. Also, having the wrong foundations could invalidate the mattress warranty.

Pick a size

Memory foam mattresses often come in all standard sizes. You can visit our memory foam mattress page and find the size that suits your bed best.

Look at the warranty.

Some of the best brands have extended warranties, partly because the warranty is another area to compete for customers. Note that you should be wary of ‘forever’ warranties that last long. A memory foam mattress lasts around 8 to 10 years, possibly a little more, before you need to replace it. 

Pick something easy to clean.

You want to keep your mattress in the best condition possible. You don’t want something that’s a real “chew” to clean. Please review the product specifications to gauge whether it’s easy to clean. 

Memory foams and heat

Unfortunately, as comfortable as they are, memory foam mattresses can become too warm. That doesn’t mean you should steer clear of them. There are different ways to cool them down.

Cooling down your memory foam mattress

Here are a few ways to keep cool while sleeping on a memory foam mattress:

  • Wear breathable nightgear. Cotton pyjamas are breathable and cooling by nature. You could even sleep in the buff, which can help to lower your body temperature. This latter option has more benefits than you think!
  • Sleep under a lower tog duvet. Choose a breathable duvet that has a low tog rating. The tog rating relates to a duvet’s warmth. The higher the rating, the warmer the duvet will be. A tog rating of around 2.5 to 7 is suitable for spring and summer, whereas a heavier one of approximately 10 to 13.5 tends to be better for autumn and winter. 
  • Choose a memory gel mattress rather than a memory foam one. Memory gel mattresses let the air circulate a little more and help you keep cool while you sleep. 

Making your mattress last longer.

Look after your memory foam mattress, and your memory foam mattress will look after you… for a bit longer. Something like that goes! It doesn’t have to involve some mind-bogglingly complex trickery, either. Taking the few simple steps below can help you get more out of your mattress: 

  • Rotate your mattress once per month. Do this from head to foot to even out areas of concentrated pressure. Don’t flip your mattress, however. This would cancel out the benefits of the mattress’s design by placing the most comfortable part of the mattress at the bottom.
  • Don’t drink liquids in bed. Even the best memory foam mattresses can suffer some damage to their integrity if you spill a liquid on them. You could use a mattress protector, too, to minimise any damage from liquids.
  • Don’t cover your mattress with lots of sheets and throws. Allow it to breathe. This allows any moisture to evaporate.
  • Make sure your bed base is supportive.

How to clean a memory foam mattress

Cleaning your memory foam mattress needn’t be a huge chore. Thankfully, some simple measures will be enough to keep your mattress clean and fresh, such as the ones below:

  • Wash your bedding regularly. Nice and straightforward. Just (machine) wash your linen once per week so that grease and dirt don’t make their way onto the mattress (and so you don’t grind them into it).
  • Spray lukewarm, soapy water onto stains. Do this on the affected area and lightly dab at the stain with a sponge. Don’t soak the mattress; use the liquid sparingly to avoid damaging the foam. Then, air off the mattress in a well-ventilated room.
  • Attack stubborn stains with half white vinegar and half white water. Some stains get too comfortable on your mattress and can’t be removed. Mix half white vinegar and half water and spray the liquid onto your mattress. Sprinkle some baking powder lightly over the affected area if it starts to smell. Hoover the baking powder off when the mattress has dried. 

Dealing with a smelly foam mattress

When you buy a new memory foam mattress, you’ll likely notice a peculiar smell, like fresh paint or a new car. The air-tight packaging and compression cause small amounts of gas to build up inside the foam. When you rip the packaging off, the mattress releases the gas into your bedroom (or wherever you’ve deposited the mattress). We call it “off-gassing” in the industry.

The good news is this smell doesn’t last forever, and you can deal with it quickly. All you have to do is place the mattress near an open window, without any bedding, and let it breathe. Give it a few hours, or even leave it overnight. The smell soon disappears, and then you get on with the significant business of getting comfortable.  

A few final words on foam mattresses

Foam has come a long way since the initial investment by NASA. A foam mattress lends you extra comfort and extra support. Are they expensive? It depends on the size, quality, and other specifications. A foam mattress can cost you as little as £99 through to as much as £200 – £500+. Sums like the latter might seem like a lot, but if you get the sleep you need and are comfortable, you’ll be happy you invested. 

If you spend a lot of money on your mattress, you’ll also want to take good care of it, which isn’t too hard. Simple measures such as rotating your mattress, cleaning it, and letting the air get to it regularly will help keep it in good condition and allow it to serve you longer. 

Note that no matter how you take care of your mattress or how much you pay for it, if it’s sagging or has dipped or isn’t as comfortable as it used to be, you shouldn’t risk your health and well-being. Visit a bed or mattress store online or offline, and invest in a new mattress.

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