Foam vs. Memory Foam Mattress Comparison: Which Is Best? Update 06/2024

For nearly a century, polyurethane foam has been employed in both the comfort and support layers of the majority of conventional mattresses. A seemingly inconsequential result of this remarkable technological growth has been the invention and innovation of new and improved sleeping materials.

Shock absorbing foams like memory (or viscoelastic) foam, which was originally designed to offer cushioning for astronauts as they were propelled into space, have since found their true calling as therapeutic, conforming mattresses.

A wide variety of products are now available on the market, and it is crucial to know the features of both materials, specifically how they complement and contrast one another.

Keeping this in mind, here’s an explanation of foam vs. memory foam so that you may compare mattresses that use these materials.

Basics of Polyurethane Foam

Foam made of polyurethane foam is commonly utilized in the bedding industry (as well as a whole host of other applications). As a first impression, low density polyurethane (LDPE) is selected by many manufacturers because it has an initial feel that is soft but does not endure long.

As a result, the most pressing sections of your body are held up by highly durable and gradually resistant support cores made of a higher density polyurethane (i.e., with a higher density).

Polyurethane’s durability depends on its density: low density foams will begin to exhibit indications of deterioration within a few years of use, whereas high resilience foams will survive for years without any noticeable change in their performance.

The Pros and Cons


  • Generally speaking, it’s a bargain.
  • A variety of hardness levels are available.
  • By changing density and stiffness, one may give both durable support and pressure alleviation.
  • It’s easy to keep up with.
  • Cooler


  • Memory foam is more durable.
  • No compliant support is provided.
  • Motion transfer is still present, although it is reduced.

Comfort and Pressure Relief

Unless the mattress is going to be used sparingly, even low density polyurethane can provide adequate spring support. However, this material won’t last very long. You can get robust comfort from HD and HR grade polyurethane that will last for years if the producer does not go overboard with the thickness to make favorable impressions in the near term.

The word “resilient comfort” refers to the ability of a mattress to bounce back after being pressed, with the hardness of the mattress dictating how it will respond to the weight of your body. While the softer variants of high density polyurethane foam may be more compressible and so less expensive than the other alternatives, they will be less bouncy as a result.

Heat Retention and Breathability

In spite of its open cell structure, polyfoam is more effective at transferring heat away from your body than most other materials.


Density plays a big role in the durability of both viscoelastic and polyurethane.

When used more “intensely,” lower-density polyurethane foam begins to sag after just a few years, whereas higher-density foam (with a density above 2 lb./cu.ft.) can be expected to persist for much longer. But it still won’t be able to age as gracefully as viscoelastic.

Motion Transfer

Some motion reduction can be achieved using polyurethane (especially the stiffer kinds), but it’s not quite as effective as viscoelastic foam, which is more point elastic.

Basics of Memory Foam

For those who sleep on their side, memory foam is a great option because it can absorb and redistribute pressure, allowing it to form an ideal cradle that matches their sleeping style. This means the hard points, such as hips and shoulders, can be relieved of pressure, so that a more natural spine position can be achieved.

Viscoelastic foam, on its own, can’t provide complete support; rather, it excels in relieving pressure. The base of a mattress must be made of a tougher, more resilient substance like HD polyfoam in order to provide both support and relief.

Compared to conventional polyurethane, viscoelastic foam employs extra chemicals in order to achieve its viscoelastic properties. Viscoelastic foams having densities of more than 4 pounds per cubic foot tend to keep their capacity to conform for a longer period of time than other types of foam.

The Pros and Cons


  • Constantly adapts to your figure.
  • Provides customized relief from stress.
  • A skilled motion-isolation specialist.
  • When paired with a solid base, can give cradling support.


  • Pricey.
  • Hot.
  • Extreme heat and cold are a problem for them.
  • The first whiff of chemicals.


Memory Foam Vs Low Density Foam

Since viscoelastic foam absorbs most of your body’s impact and reflects very little of it, it’s sometimes referred to as “dead” foam because of the lack of “resilience” or “springiness” it has compared to polyurethane.

More than a few inches of viscoelastic comfort material can lead to spinal misalignment, especially in heavier people (unless there is a firmer support layer underneath, as is the standard with current mattresses), because of its capacity to melt away locally in response to your body heat and weight.

While it lacks the viscoelastic properties of memory foam, low density polyurethane (under 1.5 lb./cu.ft.) offers the same soft support with a little more spring. In order to adequately support your body, however, you will need additional support elements beneath the mattress.

Memory Foam Vs High Density Foam

Viscoelastic foam, as previously stated, does not provide any rigid support. Soft support and deep support can be provided by high-density and high-resilience foams, such as 1.5 to 2 pounds per cubic foot of density and 2.5 pounds per cubic foot of resilience.

HD and HR foams can be utilized in any support role, whereas viscoelastic can only be employed in comfort layers because of their stiffness and quality. High density viscoelastic foam / high density foam mattress hybrids are available from reputed local manufacturers.

Comfort and Pressure Relief

Using viscoelastic foam, you can target the portions of your body that protrude and cause back pain by cradling them in the foam. In order to ease pressure on certain areas, it forms itself around them. This results in greater pain relief.

Viscoelastic mattresses have a more “inside-out” feel, so if you’re looking for something with a little more oomph, this might not be the ideal option for you.

Heat Retention and Breathability

An difficulty with traditional viscoelastic foam, which has a closed cell structure and is non-breathable, is that it tends to run hot. This is compounded by its intrinsic heat-responsiveness that encourages it to sink even deeper into the body, making it even hotter.

To address this problem, open-cell memory foam was created, and it has proved successful to varied degrees. In the future, producers began to insert unique gel beads into the open cell structure to further promote heat transfer and breathability, as shown in this image.

It’s important to remember that viscoelastic is still the hottest form of bedding material and should not be used in tropical settings, especially without active air conditioning.


A high compressive modulus and adequate thickness (over 3″) are required for memory foam to sink in and produce the encircling cradle that it is so well known for. There is a wide range of firmness in polyurethane – from extremely soft to quite firm.

Indentation Load-Deflection (or Indentation Force-Deflection) is a standardized physical test that measures the material’s firmness. Higher ILD values are associated with a mattress that’s more firm.

Typical ILD ranges for viscoelastic foam mattresses are 10 (very soft) to 14 (semi-rigid). Polyurethane varies from 6 to 45 ILD. It is clear, then, which of the two materials has the most fluctuation in stiffness..


Density plays a big role in the durability of both viscoelastic and polyurethane.

As long as the density is greater than 4 pounds per cubic foot, viscoelastic mattresses will survive for several years and preserve their properties without any noticeable change. Viscoelastic foam begins to degrade, but instead of becoming a hard lump, it softens and begins to feel like you’re sleeping in a fluid. When this happens, it’s time to get a new bed.

Motion Transfer

When you move in the middle of the night, the person on the opposite side of the bed won’t be disturbed because memory foam is a viscoelastic substance with high point elasticity.


Rotating your polyurethane foam or memory foam mattress once every three months or so will allow the material to relax and restore some of its natural form.

I would also recommend that you utilize viscoelastic foam in a moderately regulated environment (with respect to humidity and temperature). When the viscoelastic material is too cold or hot, the cell structure of the material may begin to distort, making it more susceptible to wear and tear.


The cost of viscoelastic foam is more than ordinary polyurethane because of the additional processes and materials needed in its production. This is reflected in the large price difference between mattresses that utilize viscoelastic and those that only use polyurethane.

Memory Foam vs Reflex Foam

Reflex foam is a specific kind of polyurethane foam that offers higher physical conformance than standard polyurethane if you like viscoelastic foam but lack the funds to purchase it.

Viscoelastic foam, on the other hand, relies on holes in the material to generate its elasticity. Reflex foam, on the other hand, uses bubbles. As the weight differential is applied, the bubbles collapse, and as the pressure is released, the bubbles re-inflate.

Open-cell Versus Closed Cell

These are some more terminology you may come across while shopping for a mattress, and understanding their definitions could be helpful.

These chemicals are structurally distinct, but it’s the name that tells the story. The cell walls of open-celled goods have been compromised. Cooling sleepers on mattresses can benefit from this characteristic because these materials allow air to fill the cells.

This is something to keep in mind while you’re shopping because it can alter the hardness and durability of the product over time.

For closed foams, the walls are closed and the construction is more substantial, hence they should be denser than open cells. Traditional versions of these materials tend to sleep hot since they are more robust and serve as an insulator.

Gels and other elements that assist diffuse heat more evenly across the foam are typically included in modern iterations of closed-cell goods.

Memory Versus All-foam Mattresses

The term “all-foam” can apply to either a combination of temper and poly components or the sole usage of either one of the substances, while a memory bed refers to a product that employs only viscoelastic goods.

Memory mattresses differ greatly from ordinary poly mattresses in terms of how they feel. It’s commonly associated with excellent pressure relief (particularly for side sleepers), and it’s also more resilient than other mattresses. In some traditional memory beds, it might be difficult to get out of the impression your body creates in the bed, which can cause a feeling of being “stuck.”

Increasingly, manufacturers are incorporating gel additives and cooling technology into their sleep goods (known as a hybrid bed) as they become more aware of their advantages. Mattresses that combine different materials can be perfect since they offer flexibility in movement and temperature management, as well as comfort.

Polyurethane Foam vs Memory Foam Comparison Table

Polyurethane Foam Memory Foam
Generally cheap. Generally expensive.
Tends to run cooler than viscoelastic foam. Tends to run hot.
Provides resilient, non-localized support and pressure relief, depending on firmness and density. Provides soft, conforming support and pressure relief.
Available in a range of firmness values. Generally soft.
Deteriorates relatively quickly. Longer lasting than polyurethane in general.
Tends to be used in the support layers of a mattress. Sensitive to temperature and humidity.
Works well for back and stomach sleepers. Works well for side sleepers and those who suffer from chronic back pain.


I won’t make a final decision on which of the two materials is superior because sleep preferences will play a key influence in deciding which one you choose: When it comes to finding a mattress that provides adequate pressure relief and support, a high-density medium-firm polyurethane mattress is the best option for the average back and stomach sleeper.

Because of the way their shoulders and hips cut into the sleeping surface, side sleepers tend to put a lot of stress on their spine, which requires soft, conforming support from memory foam mattresses. The same is true for those who suffer from persistent back discomfort.

Additionally, I’ve already covered motion transfer, heat retention, and maintenance in-depth, so ideally you now have enough information to make an informed decision about which material is right for you.

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