Which Memory Foam Mattress Performs Best: Traditional, Gel or Plant-Based?
Memory Foam Mattress Technologies Compared
As new types of memory foam mattress compositions emerge on the market, consumers are left wondering which type actually performs best, traditional, gel or plant-based. While this is subjective, known quantifiers 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 overall receives a higher rank of consumer satisfaction than those of any other composition.
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. 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.
Addressing the top concerns voiced by people who have owned memory foam mattresses as well as those who are considering purchasing a new bed, such as the release of VOC’s led us to compare each of these compositions on a per issue basis. The results are as follows:
Off-Gassing & Odor:
The most commonly voiced concern is the release of VOCs and off-gassing:
- 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.
- Plant-based memory foam mattresses can be made VOC-free depending on the process and manufacturer. Those that are 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.
- Traditional memory foam has received the highest rate of complaint, yet continue to produce their mattresses 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.
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.
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.
- # 2 belongs to Tempurpedic, who would have tied for first except for their recent inclusion of their Simplicity line at a 2.5 lb density, and 4.0 lb densities in other 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 3.0-5.0 lbs. As it is a new product, few real verified reviews are available.
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 $1099 and $1199 respectively for queen size beds. In this price range, Tempur-pedic uses only 2.5lb density foam and Serta 3.0 lbs. However at Amerisleep, an entry level queen costs $899 and has more supportive and durable 4.5 lb density memory foam, has been shown to sleep cooler, and is free of toxic VOCs. The chart below summarizes the comparison via grades (A being highest).
Comparison of Memory Foam Mattress Brands
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, and we hope you find it useful!