memory foam vs. latex

Based on the research and information I have read on this site, it seems that latex mattresses are more durable, last longer etc. I have previously only looked at memory foam mattresses, so I decided to try out a latex mattress to see if this was something to consider. The problem is, I tried a good quality talalay latex mattress (based on specs I have read here) and it just did not feel comfortable to me. There seemed to be no give or sink in feeling at all. It also costs more than memory foam, not a considerable amount, but it is more and it wasn’t comfortable. Do you feel that by choosing quality materials in a memory foam mattress one can still have a long lasting, durable mattress with memory foam and not latex? I have lower back problems and everyone tells me I need firm support, but the feeling I get on the memory foam mattress I am leaning toward is better than anything I have tried. I have been researching mattresses for weeks now and really need to make a decision, I just don’t want to make the wrong one.

Hi cw09,

There are several types of latex and each type has a wide range of firmness/softness levels available. In addition to this … every layer in a mattress interacts with every other layer so the layering of a latex mattress and any other materials or components it is combined with will make a huge difference in how a latex or latex hybrid mattress feels and performs. In other words … there is really no such thing as a single latex mattress which “defines” the category in the same way as trying one innerspring mattress with polyurethane in the comfort layers (which is the most common foam material used) doesn’t “define” all conventional innerspring mattresses.

Different memory foam mattresses also have a huge range of differences in how they feel and there are hundreds of different formulations of memory foam that each have different characteristics. In addition to this … the materials that are used in combination with memory foam and the layering combinations used vary as widely as any other mattress material and once again … every layer and component interacts with every other layer in a mattress. Post #9 here will give you a sense of the wide range of different properties of different types of memory foam. Once again … there is no single mattress which “defines” the category.

One broad differences between them though is that like polyfoam, latex is generally a fast response material (although some newer types of latex now have slow response properties) while memory foam is a slow response material. Some of the pros and cons of latex are here and some of the pros and cons of memory foam are here. There are even many mattresses that use a combination of both materials.

In the end though … your choices about the materials that you prefer in a mattress always involves tradeoffs between all the many variables and boils own to a matter of preference. Memory foam that is 5 lbs density or higher will generally be a very long lasting material (depending on many other variables as well) … but it will never be as durable as good quality latex. In many cases people will choose a lower density of memory foam because of the differences in how it performs (generally more breathable and faster response and less temperature sensitive) and are willing to give up durability for the other benefits of using a lower density memory foam that “feels” better. Part of this will also depend on weight considerations (higher weights will wear out any foam faster than lower weights).

Bear in mind too that all memory foam is rated as “soft” and is only firm in comparison to other memory foam. It is not supportive enough to be used in the support layers of a mattress although it can certainly feel firm when it hasn’t softened or with more rapid movement (like the difference between slapping a liquid or moving slowly into it). All memory foam mattresses have a support layer under the memory foam that uses a more supportive material.

There are also two types of support. The primary or “deep” support of a mattress is designed to “stop” the heavier parts of the body (th pelvic area) from sinking in too deeply and keeping the spine aligned … especially the lower spine. The upper support of a mattress is designed to fill in the gaps in the sleeping profile and “allow” the wider lighter shoulders to sink in enough (and needs to be soft and thick enough to do both) and to provide more gentle support help maintain the natural curves of the spine in all sleeping positions.

So again … the combination of materials that you choose to have in your mattress is almost infinite and involves many tradeoffs but the goal is always to make sure that your needs and preferences or what I call PPP (Pressure relief, Posture and alignment, and Personal preferences) are met.