What you need to know before buying a memory foam mattress:
There are many buying guides for mattresses available, but how many really break down the most important considerations for choosing a memory foam mattress? As a shopper, you want to know the key factors that determine the quality of a mattress and ensure your satisfaction. We’ll take you through the six biggest questions everyone should ask when purchasing a memory foam mattress, and why.
Memory Foam Mattress Buying, At a Glance:
1) What is the memory foam?
Memory Foam is a chemically produced foam, not too dissimilar to other foams you may have around the house. The difference is that Memory Foam is viscoelastic, or reacts and softens when subjected to heat..
Memory Foam is manufactured as a polyurethane foam using water, isocyanates (common examples toluene diisocyanate and methylene diphenyl diisocyanate) and polyols (common examples glycerine, petroleum, plant based oil derivatives) which are usually sprayed onto each other on a conveyor belt and then combined with a reactant that acts as a catalyst to create an open cell structure.
This may all sound very complicated but we simplify it as follows:
*Water and a number of chemicals are combined (isocyanates & polyols), with an agent (reactive)
*This makes them then react a certain way aerating them (giving them the open cell structure) to create a foam.
*These are either sprayed continuously onto a conveyor belt or then poured into moulds and allowed to dry.
*Once dry you have the finished product of ‘Memory Foam’.
A small change in some of the chemicals then alters the density, hardness or response rate of the foam. The majority of foams are manufactured using a slabstock manufacture process, which is the process above of making large ‘slabs’ of Memory foam using the conveyor belt process rather than individual moulds which would be incredibly expensive.
2) What is the density of the memory foam?
Density is a reflection of how much a material weighs in a given square foot. In a memory foam mattress, this density plays a role in the “memory” feel. Denser foams tend feel more viscous, whereas low density foams mattress offer less of the floating, memory sensation. Though, thick layers of very high density foam mattress can give sleepers a trapped or stuck feeling as well. Optimal foam density tends to be around 4-5lbs, typically with 4.5lb density offering the best quality and support ratio.
If the mattress manufacturer cannot or will not tell you the density of their memory foam mattress, this a cause for concern. Trustworthy brands should be open about their products, if they are confident in the quality and value offered. So, make sure you can find out the memory foam density, and that it is near 4.5lb for the best chance at a comfortable, durable bed.
3) Is the material petroleum or plant-based memory foam?
Next, you will want to see what the memory foam mattress is made of. Many retailers won’t release the full details to keep their formulas proprietary, but they should at least be able to provide a general overview.
Memory foam is polyurethane type foam, and it is typically made with oil-based additives. Now, these can be either petroleum based, or plant-based. Plant-based memory foam has been shown to sleep cooler and dissipate heat better the petro-based foams. And of course, plant based materials are more environmentally friendly and far more sustainable than petroleum.
As an aside, those claiming to make memory foam from latex are likely retailing latex foam mattresses, which are distinctly different from memory foam. While it is true that they share many good characteristics, the conforming and pressure relieving capabilities of latex differ from memory foam.
4) What is the VOC profile of the mattress?
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are chemicals that react with and disperse into the air. Many products like foams, paints, and glues will continue emitting VOCs for days or years after manufacturing is complete. This is an issue commonly referred to as “off-gassing”, noticeable in the odors produced (think new car, new paint, new furniture).
VOCs are an issue because these chemicals and their byproducts build up in human tissues, and many are known or suspected carcinogens, cancer-causing agents. Since we spend more time in our bedrooms than almost anywhere else, exposure to toxic chemicals here should be limited as much as possible. While Tempurpedic and other brands neither deny or confirm the existence of VOCs in their mattresses, the odors and side effects experienced by sensitive people indicate many do. Look for a natural memory foam brand like Amerisleep that is VOC free due to it’s plant-based composition and produced in zero emissions environment.
5) What type of flame retardants does the manufacturer use?
Another chemical issue to be aware of stems from flame retardants. Recent legislation requires manufacturers to meet or exceed a resistance to open flame. While the measure was intended to help prevent tragedies linked to mattress fires, the chemicals that many manufacturers use to meet these guidelines pose a whole other set of problems.
PBDEs are one of the more concerning chemicals, of the few that have actually been studied, and its use is being voluntarily phased out in the United States and is banned in Europe. It is still used actively in other places, and manufacturers are not required to disclose the use. Several other worrisome chemical barriers remain in use with little knowledge of possible side effects.
When you are looking for a new memory foam mattress, ask the retailer what type of flame barrier they use or what is added to meet the flammability guidelines. Fabric barriers that utilize rayon and wool are preferable because there is nothing toxic to leach into your body or bedroom.
6) Does the company have reviews? Verified, 3rd party reviews?
Lastly, it is always a good idea to take a look at reviews before making a big purchase like a memory foam mattress. Other owners can offer you valuable insights into pros and cons and possible issues. Look for reviews that mention similar problems that you face, lower back pain for example, and whether or not claims match reality. Remember that any website can add text to their product pages, so you should check and see if the reviews are third party verified. This means an external company matches order details to reviewer details, ensuring the reviews you read come from real people and are legitimate.
Whenever you invest your time and money in a purchase, you want to make sure you are getting the best value, and keeping your family and home safe. For this reason, when researching memory foam, you should take care to check the manufacturing processes, chemical composition and additives, and reviews. Doing these things will help ensure you get the best memory foam mattress for comfort and health.