Memory Foam vs. Foam Mattress

Last Updated on 5 Jul. 2020

Having a good mattress is very important. With such a wide variety of foam mattresses on the market, it can be difficult to choose the right one. Between memory foam and foam mattresses, which is the better of the two?

Memory foam has longer durability, better support, and better motion absorbency than polyfoam. However, it costs more, retains heat, and has an unpleasant odor for the first four weeks. It also has more benefits and has different types, such as those with gel layers, which retain less heat.

Read on to find out more about each type of mattress and detailed comparisons of factors such as the cost, temperature, support, pressure relief, and motion transfer. Hopefully, you’ll have an easier time making your decision about the two mattresses after reading this article.

What Is a Foam Mattress?

Memory Foam Bamboo Pillow

Polyurethane foam, or polyfoam, is derived from petroleum and is the most common type of foam in mattresses (which means it’s widely available). It is also used in couch cushions.

Polyurethane foam mattresses come in different levels of firmness and density. Firmness is measured as Indentation Load Deflection (or ILD). The lower the ILD, the softer the mattress.

Density is measured in pounds per cubic foot (or PCF). Conventional polyfoam has a density of less than 1.5 PCF. High-density polyfoam has a density of 1.5 to 2.5 PCF. Finally, the highest quality of polyfoam has a density of 2.4 PCF or higher.

What Is a Memory Foam Mattress?

Interestingly, memory foam was invented by NASA to keep test pilots cushioned during flights. It is also made of the compound, polyurethane, but with added compounds that break down to form gasses. These added compounds allow the mattress to deform under pressure and regain its shape when pressure is relieved.

Memory foam is typically denser than regular polyfoam. The lowest quality memory foams are 3.0 PCF and below, while the highest quality memory foams reach up to 7.0 PCF.


Cost is an important factor for most people purchasing a mattress, as we all want to get the most of our dollar. The cost between a regular polyfoam mattress and a memory foam mattress can vary dramatically.

Regular polyfoam mattresses are typically inexpensive and known as the budget mattresses. You can find all polyfoam mattresses for as low as £100 to £500. This makes it a great option for college students on a budget or if you are looking to purchase a temporary mattress.

Memory foam, on the other hand, is quite expensive. Although there are low-end and high-end memory foam mattresses, the average cost of a memory foam mattress is about $1400. Some memory foam mattresses can cost up to £4000.

One of the most well-known brands of memory foam mattresses is TEMPUR-PEDIC, which has models selling for about £2000. High-density memory foam rated 6 PCF (pound per cubic foot) or higher is found in the most expensive mattresses.


Memory foam is particularly prone to trapping heat because it relies on your body heat to become more malleable. It then retains this heat, which can be very uncomfortable if you don’t enjoy feeling very warm during the night.

The amount of heat a memory foam mattress retains varies by the brand and model. Some memory foam mattresses use copper or gel (either infused in the mattress or as a separate layer on top), which are designed to reduce heat.

Others, such as open-cell memory foam, have many tiny cells to allow airflow and cooling.

Regular polyfoam doesn’t respond to heat the way that memory foam does because it has an open-cell structure. This gives the mattress the ability to conduct heat away from the body, so it tends to feel cooler.


As mentioned above, densities of foam mattresses can vary greatly. In general, higher density foam is more durable and of better quality. Since even the lowest grade of memory foam mattress typically has a higher density than most polyfoam mattresses, it’s a given that memory foam is more durable overall.

The average lifespan of a memory foam mattress is eight to 10 years, while the average lifespan of a polyfoam mattress is six and a half to seven years.

However, as previously mentioned, some of the lower-quality polyfoam mattresses can begin to show signs of deterioration after just a couple of years.

Support and Pressure Relief

Support and pressure relief are two very important factors when choosing a mattress. No one wants to wake up with an aching back or neck.

This typically occurs when a mattress is too hard or sags and doesn’t provide even support. Unfortunately, regular polyfoam deteriorates faster than memory foam, providing less support after just a few years. In fact, it shouldn’t be a surprise to find two-inch sags after a couple of years of usage.

Many consumers would prefer memory foam for the support it provides. The feature of memory foam, which allows it to cradle your body, also provides pressure relief to the back, neck, and shoulder. This allows proper spinal alignment and the ideal sleeping position.

Regular polyfoam mattresses do not conform to the body the same way that memory foam does, but do give more at the heavier points of your body to provide some pressure relief.

Motion Transfer

Although polyfoam offers some motion isolation, memory foam mattresses are more absorbent, so they isolate motion better. This means that if you move on the bed, your movement will not carry over to other areas of the bed. You may remember the advertisement showcasing a person jumping on the bed with a full glass of wine, but not spilling a drop. This is thanks to the absorbency and isolation of the mattress.

The downside to this is that memory foam mattresses are less responsive to movement, which can make getting in and out of bed more challenging. With regular polyfoam mattresses, there is a bit more bounce.


Some memory foam mattresses may have an unpleasant smell, which lasts up to four weeks. This smell is caused by the breaking down of materials used to make the mattress.

These materials are called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and they form gasses when they break apart. Some of these gasses include toluene, formaldehyde, and benzene. Fortunately, the chemicals are not toxic, contrary to popular belief.

Regular polyfoam mattresses do not give off a significant odor when new because they are not made with the added compounds found in memory foam mattresses.


Although memory foam and regular foam mattresses are both made of polyurethane, the added compounds in memory foam cause it to have significantly different properties.

Overall, there are many benefits of memory foam mattresses, including higher durability, better motion absorbency, and better support. The cons of these mattresses are that they retain heat, give off an unpleasant smell when new, and are relatively expensive. However, these are minor factors.

Most consumers are concerned with the support a mattress gives so that they can have a good night’s sleep without harming their back or neck. Memory foam is the winner in this area because it conforms to the body.

Furthermore, there are different types of memory foam, such as gel or copper-infused memory foam, which reduces the amount of heat retained. So, the clear winner in the battle between the two types of foam mattresses is memory foam.

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