Which Memory Foam Mattress Performs Best: Traditional, Gel or Plant-Based?
Memory Foam Mattress Technologies Compared
As new memory foam mattress compositions emerge on the market, consumers are often left wondering which type actually performs best. The three main types of memory foam mattresses are traditional, gel and plant-based. While preference is subjective, known quantities can be compared to enable consumers to determine which type is best for their personal needs.
Although differences exist within the industry, the memory foam mattress receives a higher consumer satisfaction rank than those of any other composition. Nearly across the board, memory foam mattresses reduce pressure points and conform to the body much better than typical innerspring mattresses.
Memory foam mattresses used to be prohibitively expensive for many consumers. Advances in production technologies and increases in competition have created more choices across a wide range of prices. With so many new options, the amount of information can be overwhelming when trying to make a decision. In this article we hope to make shopping for a memory foam mattress easier while increasing the likelihood of customer satisfaction.
There are many factors to consider when choosing the right mattress for you. For the purpose of this article we will look at traditional, gel-infused and plant-based memory foam mattresses individually.
- Traditional memory foam has been in use for a couple of decades and is made from petroleum-based products. It is based on the original process and has changed very little from when it was first developed.
- Gel-infused (or gel memory foam) is a recent addition and generally includes a combination of gel and traditional memory foam. The gel may be infused throughout the mattress or in some instances may be contained within a layer, although that is more commonly found with pillows.
- Plant-based memory foam was developed to address concerns regarding the release of VOCs, heat and the response rate of traditional memory foam. Plant-based memory foam features a much larger cell structure that allows better breathability than traditional types.
In order to address the top concerns of actual and potential memory foam consumers we decided to compare mattresses on a per-issue basis. The results are as follows:
Off-Gassing & Odor:
The most commonly voiced concern is the release of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and off-gassing. VOCs are a large group of carbon-based compounds that evaporate at room temperature. Some VOCs have been linked to adverse health effects. The gasses emitted can produce a noticeable odor, which most consumers claim decreases with time.
Here is how our mattresses compare in this category:
- Traditional memory foam created from petrochemicals have been shown to release 61 chemicals, 18 of which are dangerous enough to warrant concern from state and international agencies. Anywhere from 5-15% of people may experience discomfort with the odor, and it is a fairly frequent complaint seen in reviews.
- Gel-infused memory foam is an unknown at the present as it has only recently been introduced. Since the effect of the gel has not been thoroughly tested the composition of the remainder of the mattress will be an indicator. It is believed that most companies have combined gel with traditional memory foam (see above) so likely the profile is quite similar. Some gel brands do exhibit fewer odor complaints than traditional memory foams.
- Plant-based memory foam mattresses can be made with very low VOCs depending on the process and manufacturer. A proportion of the petroleum-based products are replaced with plant ingredients, and some manufacturers are more conscious of using foam ingredients, adhesives and other materials with low to no VOC output. Those that are low-VOC may still have a “new” smell, but this is not composed of harmful chemicals.
Heat Retention/Sleeping Hot
The release of trapped heat has been mentioned by 8-10% of the owners of traditional memory foam mattresses throughout the years. A recent memory foam comparison article from Mattress-Inquirer.com goes into this subject in more detail for those who want to see more technical information.
Heat can be a real problem for some mattresses; no one likes to be too warm when trying to rest. Manufacturers have tried to reduce the amount of heat retained in mattresses in a number of ways, with varying results. Here is what we found:
- Traditional memory foam has received the highest rate of complaint, yet they continue to be produced in the same manner. Some manufacturers cut holes in the foam or use convoluted layers but this seems to have minimal effect.
- Gel-infused memory foam manufacturers have reported their mattresses sleep cooler than traditional, although these claims have been contested and disproven by Tempurpedic (traditional) and Cargill (plant-based). The gel technology relies on ambient heat being passed through the gel to other portions of the mattress, which may be slightly beneficial initially. However, it seems as though the gel eventually warms to body heat.
- Plant based memory foam mattress manufacturers such as Amerisleep have proven to create a 10X increase in breathability over traditional memory foam and shown to sleep 25% cooler than gel. This is attributed to the open-cell structure many plant-based mattresses are comprised of, and the temperature neutral properties of this type of foam.
Response Time / “Stuck” Feeling:
Response time is determined by a number of factors. Composition, changeable viscosity, the rate of elasticity and resilience all factor into response time. The slower the mattress returns to its original state or remolds, the more likely complaints are. Commonly voiced complaints include a trapped or sinking feeling as well as decreased sexual enjoyment. The measured rate of the top brands in each category are as follows:
- Tempurpedic traditional memory foam mattresses 45-60 seconds.
- Gel memory foams were 30-45 seconds.
- Amerisleep (plant-based) memory foam mattresses 5-8 seconds.
Older consumers, or those with mobility problems may find it very difficult to get off mattresses with slow response times. If you have issues with mobility, this should be a major determining factor in your decision. A bad mattress can make mobility and back problems worse.
Memory Foam Mattress Durability
The durability of these memory foams may vary even within lines from the same manufacturer. Memory foam density is measured based on the weight of one cubic foot of memory foam. Anything with a weight less than 4lb. is considered inferior as it will not last, while anything over 5.3 lbs will be too dense to be comfortable in thicker layers. The ideal is between 4.5 – 5.3 lbs for both comfort and durability. Here are the same brands as above compared on density:
- #1 in this category belongs to Amerisleep with its density ranges between 4.5 and 5.3 pounds across the whole line. Remarkably, this is the ideal range.
- #2 belongs to Tempurpedic, whose density ranges from 3 pounds in their Weightless and Flex lines to as high as 7 pounds in their Contour and Grandbed lines.
- #3 in this category goes to the gel-infused Serta iComfort mattresses due to concerns about their composition which may lead to uneven wear, and densities ranging from 3.0-4.0 pounds. As the newest product, fewer real verified reviews are available.
Finding the right balance between comfort and longevity is important. A durable mattress may not be comfortable, and a soft mattress may not last long. Thankfully, some mattresses are in the ideal range to maximize durability and comfort.
Overall price and value should also be considered when purchasing a memory foam mattress, whether it is traditional, gel, or plant based memory foam. Tempurpedic and Serta price their beds in the higher range, with entry models starting at $1500 and $1150 respectively for queen size beds. In this price range, Tempur-pedic uses only 2.0-4.0 pound density foam and Serta 4.0 lbs. However at Amerisleep, an entry level queen costs $849 and has more supportive and durable 4.5 pound density memory foam, has been shown to sleep cooler, and is free of toxic VOCs.
What have we learned? There are many factors to consider when trying to create the best sleep environment. The chart below summarizes the comparison via grades (A being highest).
Comparison of Memory Foam Mattress Brands
|Brand||Type||Heat Dissapation||Off Gassing||Response Time||Durability||Price|
Value will obviously depend on the factors you consider important as a buyer. Some people value brand names more, while others go for price. This comparison was designed to highlight a few of the major concerns and performance indicators one can use when shopping for a memory foam mattress.
Your specific tastes and preferences will guide you to the right choice with the right information. Take notes on the qualities you like best in a mattress and be sure to pay close attention to the specifications of your potential purchase. Memory foam mattresses are large purchases that last for years. Hopefully, you now have the knowledge you need to make a proper, informed decision.