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Memory Foam Buyer's Guide

While memory foam was developed for NASA in the 1970's, it didn't hit the consumer market until the early 1990's - first as memory foam mattress topper pads, and later used in memory foam mattresses.

Since then, memory foam mattresses have become the fastest growing segment in the mattress industry. With every year, you see more and more companies selling memory foam mattresses and topper pads, and it is very difficult, even for those of us in the industry, to keep up with all the new memory foam products being introduced. What is a consumer to do?

In this guide, I'm going to do my best to give you the straight story on what memory foam is, how it works, and what to look for in memory foam (density and quality, memory foam toppers versus memory foam mattresses, etc.).

Armed with the information in these different guides, I hope you are able to find just the right memory foam mattress, topper pad, or other product that fits your needs.

For those looking for memory foam mattresses, we offer The Healthy Foundations 10" Memory Foam Mattress. As you will see on this page, our 10" Memory Foam Mattress stood head and shoulders above the other memory foam mattresses we tested -- with an amazing 95%, of our over 280+ customers who have posted a review, saying they would recommend our 10" Memory Foam Mattress to a friend.

Brief History of Memory Foam

After memory foam was developed as part of a NASA project, some saw the promise of memory foam for use in the medical industry to relieve pressure sores. Over the years, memory foam was shown to be unique in the way it responded to temperature and also in its ability to spread pressure over a greater surface area (and thereby reducing pressure points significantly). While the initial version of the foam developed for NASA (called T-Foam) did have a great deal of promise as a bed topper or wheel chair cushion material, it did have issues with wear over time. This first generation of material wasn't very durable, and would often compress or crack over time.

The first company to realize the potential of memory foam for the consumer market was Tempur-Pedic ®. They had worked on creating their own version of memory foam, and developed foam they called Tempur ®, that was much more durable and still had the pressure reducing benefits of memory foam. Initially, this Tempur ® foam was used in medical settings, but soon they began to hear that patients who used the foam slept better, had less back pain, and felt more refreshed in the morning. A light bulb switched on over someone's head in Sweden, and Tempur-Pedic ® began to sell the products to consumers.

Due to its origin as a medical device, Tempur ® foam was very expensive, and has stayed that way to this day. After a few years on the consumer market, other foam manufacturers saw the potential of memory foam and began to produce their own memory foam product lines. Because these manufacturers came from the consumer foam industry, rather than the medical industry, their cost structure for memory foam was much lower and they priced their products at a fraction of the Tempur ® foam. As the years went by, memory foam became more and more popular, and now manufacturers all over the world are making their versions of memory foam.

Not All Memory Foam Is The Same -- Some Are Just More Comfortable Then Others

What you need to remember is that not all memory foams are equal. They differ a great deal in quality - density, hardness or softness, response to temperature, and also durability and longevity.

Just by looking at the technical specs, though, of a particular memory foam, you can't determine the overall comfort of that memory foam. I hear from people all the time that get immersed in the technical details -- they want to know the different densities and ILD (or IFD -- which is a measure of how hard the foam is) -- as though these specs are they keys to buying a memory foam topper or mattress.

And while density and ILD do carry some import -- I've found memory foams 4 lb density and higher offer better support and comfort than less dense memory foams, and having a low ILD means the memory foam has a soft feel -- I've seen in my real world testing that memory foams with identical specs for density and ILD got very different ratings for overall comfort.

That is why it is really important to understand not only the quality issues that go into making a memory foam, but also why I focus so much on our products on real customer reviews to gauge how comfortable a particular type of memory foam or layered memory foam mattress configuration really is.

Just a quick example to illustrate this that I will go into more later. In the test I did to pick our latest memory foam mattress, there was a gaping difference in comfort ratings by our testers of the lowest rated mattress and the top rated (which is now the mattress we carry).

Again, these mattresses had almost identical specs in terms of density and overall construction, but the lowest had only 75% say they would recommend it to a friend, while our current mattress got an overall 87% rating in the test.

And since then, with a few tweaks to its design, our 10" Memory Foam Mattress is getting a 95% rating. That is a huge difference in overall comfort from the 75% of the lowest, and something that you could never have determined solely from the specs.

So not all memory foam is created equal -- some really do offer a different level of comfort, and only by looking at real world results, not specs, will you be able to get a feel for the comfort of a particular type of memory foam.

Memory Foam Really is Unique, and Has Unique Benefits

While specific types of memory foam do differ in the level of comfort they offer, looking at the broader picture, overall memory foams in general are unique in many ways versus other comfort products used in bedding.

I've looked at many bedding materials, from latex to cotton to wool. And nothing compares to memory foam in the way it conforms to your body and reduces pressure points.

Why is memory foam so different? There are a couple of reasons that memory foam is so unique.

First is the way memory foam cells deform when weight is applied. Unlike standard foams that compress and want to spring back to their original shape immediately, memory foam cells (open cell foam, which means the individual cells in the foam have holes in them) compress fully and spread their air pressure to adjoining cells.

This spreads the pressure through a greater number of cells of the memory foam - which decreases the pressure you feel in the cells of the memory foam that you are laying on. This accounts for the way that memory foam actually reduces pressure points.

This ability of memory foam to deform also allows it to really conform to your body's shape and weight bearing areas, thereby reducing these pressure points. No other material has this ability to shape to your body - this is unique to memory foam.

However while memory foam's characteristics offers unique comfort benefits, you wouldn't want an entire mattress made strictly of memory foam. Memory foam is too soft a material and isn't meant to be supportive. So it works best when layered over a firm, supportive material.

That is why you will mainly find memory foam as a 2" or 3" topper to be used on your existing, firm mattress, or as a 2" or 3" topping layer in a new memory foam mattress.

Second, memory foam is temperature sensitive. Which means that at lower temperatures it is firmer (more viscous), and at higher temperatures it is softer and more conforming (more elastic). This is the reason memory foam is known as visco-elastic memory foam.

This temperature sensitive quality accounts for the melting feeling that you get lying down on memory foam, and also accentuates the custom molding affect of the foam. Certain memory foams, such as Tempur-Pedic's ® Tempur ® foam, are fairly temperature sensitive and can get firm even near room temperature.

The memory foam used in our toppers and mattresses, in contrast, have a broader range of temperatures where they stay nice and soft, so they are soft and responsive at common room temps.

How To Choose Between Different Memory Foam Options

While memory foam was hard to find 20 years ago, these days there are lots of options -- both US manufacturers and also worldwide, notably a huge amount of inexpensive memory foam coming in from China.

As I discussed earlier, memory foam is not a commodity, and not all memory foams are created equal. But how are you to sort this all out?

I'm going to share with you how I do it -- the actual criteria I've used for sourcing the memory foam I use in our mattresses and toppers. Hopefully, by explaining what I look it when evaluating memory foams, it will help you sort through the options when you are buying a memory foam mattress or topper

Here's what I look at:

  1. First, I want the memory foam in our mattresses and toppers to be at least 4 lb density.

    What does the density of a foam mean? All that a particular density tells you is how much the foam weighs. So, for example, a 5 pound density foam simply means that a cubic foot of this material (a cube of this material measuring one foot in height, length and width) would weigh 5 pounds.

    Typically, when you buy memory foam, you will pay more for a denser foam. It simply costs more to make denser foam - more raw materials go into making a denser substance.

    And while density isn't the end all or be all for memory foam, I've just found over the years that memory foams below 4 lb density just don't have the cushion and conforming feel that I expect from memory foam.

    A lot of the inexpensive memory foam products out there do use lower densities, some a lot lower (the leading brand offers 2.5 lb densities in their most inexpensive line).

    Since my goal, however, is to offer the best overall value, not the cheapest, I've stuck with the 4 lb memory foam in our toppers since I believe it offers the best combination of cushion and pressure relief along with a soft feel.

    And I've gone with a layer of 4 lb memory foam on top of a layer of 5 lb memory foam in our mattress to offer the soft feel of the 4 lb as you first lay down, and the more supportive feel of the 5 lb as you then sink into the mattress.

  2. Next, I only consider foams made in the US, Canada and Europe. Why? Because I'm comfortable with the quality control of the major foam manufacturers from in these areas.

    I don't consider foams made in China, despite their lower price. And the price difference can be really huge -- some of the mattresses using Chinese foam are sold for a few hundred dollars. Which, to give you some idea of how this compares to US, Canadian, or European foam, means their price to the public is much less than the wholesale price I pay for a US foam produced bed.

    It isn't that the lower prices aren't seductive, they are, especially since US foam costs have more than doubled since Hurricane Katrina. So why won't I consider Chinese foams?

    The reasons I've stuck with the US foams I currently carry is because I don't feel comfortable that the cheaper Chinese foams would have the same quality of ingredients, not use cheap fillers to falsely up their density, or somehow substitute unsafe chemicals in the foams to save costs.

    There have just been too many stories I've seen of these sort of quality control issues with all sorts of Chinese products (drywall, lead paint in kids toys, toxic ingredients in toothpaste), so I don't feel comfortable using them.

    In addition, I don't believe that these Chinese foams offer the same level of comfort due to these quality issues, but I will address that in the next section.

    I understand if you want to go in a less expensive direction. The only thing I would say, without trying to sound hard salesy, is do you really get ahead in the long run saving a bit now on this sort of purchase. Not only because of the comfort and quality of sleep you might be missing out on, but also in having to perhaps spend more in the long run replacing the cheaper mattress much sooner than something using higher quality ingredients

  3. I only consider memory foams that meet Certipur-US® or similar standards for testing of foam for certain chemicals or toxins.

    It is really important to me that the foam I sell, and people sleep on, have met these strict criteria and testing.

    Here is what Certipur-US® standards mean:

    CertiPUR-US® approved foams are:

    • Made without ozone depleters

    • Made without PBDE flame retardants

    • Made without mercury, lead and other heavy metals

    • Made without formaldehyde

    • Made without phthalates regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission

    • Low VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) emissions for indoor air quality (less than 0.5 parts per million)

    In addition, I require that no additional fire retardant be used in the foams in our products as well.

    I've had to work hard to get all the foams I use compliant, but it has been worth it given the importance of these issues.

  4. Next, I focus on the comfort of that particular memory foam.

    And while this used to be just my subjective test of different memory foams -- and so explains my big collection of foam I have around the house -- these days I do objective testing.

    That is, I get a bunch of folks to try out different memory foam options, and then use their reviews and ratings to see which foam got the highest overall scores.

    For my mattress test, this meant getting samples from lots of companies, then testing out 6 different memory foam mattress using a variety of foams -- US, Canadian and European.

    Some of the memory foams used in these mattresses also used memory foams that had some portion of their chemicals coming from plant based sources. Which I found appealing from an eco perspective, although overall the actual % used in any memory foam is still pretty small (20 - 30% max)

    At that point I let the chips fall where they may, and unfortunately the eco-foams tested much lower for comfort. So while I hope that this will be something that does get better as we go forward, for now these foams just didn't rate as high for comfort as the more traditional memory foam.

    As I said before, the memory foam used in our 10" Memory Foam Mattress just got much higher ratings for comfort than the other memory foams I tested.

    I know it may not be as easy for you to compare memory foams by this sort of objective tests. But if you can, look for objective reviews on the memory foam mattresses you are considering, and try to get a feel for both the overall ratings for comfort and also people's sense of the feel (firmness and support) offered by that particular memory foam mattress.

  5. Finally, I look at the durability of the foam. I know how important it is to people, given the investment in a good mattress, that it lasts.

    In our particular case, since there wasn't a track record for our mattress, I had the manufacturer do extensive tests in the lab to document its durability. And it performed so well the lab said it was in the top 10% of all the mattresses, across all types, it had tested.

    When you are looking for a mattress, see if the manufacturer has long term data on its durability. And if not, then has it done these sorts of tests to document its durability.

I hope this detailed look at what I look for when I am researching memory foam products is helpful.

In terms of a general rule of thumb based my research methodology, you should avoid the noticeably inexpensive pads or pillows you will find on the market. They are generally made of either low density memory foam or layered with other, cheaper foam products and ingredients. These inexpensive memory foams just won't give the same comfort as higher quality pads and will wear out relatively fast.

So What Specifics Should You Look For In The Memory Foam Used In A Particular Mattress Or Topper Pad?

This issue is somewhat different depending on whether you are looking to buy a memory foam mattress or a memory foam topper pad to put on your existing bed.

This is because the memory foam in a mattress is bonded to the "mattress core", and as such, can't be replaced, so it must not only be comfortable, but durable as well.

A topper pad, on the other hand, is less expensive and can be replaced if it wears out after a few years.

So when you are researching a memory foam mattress, you need to look for one that uses memory foam which is both comfortable and durable. With a topper pad, comfort alone is the main issue since you can easily replace the topper.

For A Memory Foam Mattress Look For ...

With a mattress, you should look for at least 3 inches of medium to high density memory foam. 3 inches of memory foam gives you a proper amount of material to cushion and conform to your body.

While you could get by with 2 inches of memory foam in a mattress, 3 inches is plusher and a more comfortable feel for most people. It's a nice depth of foam where you wouldn't sink uncomfortably into the bed or lose the support of the base foam.

I've seen memory foam mattresses that offer much thicker memory foam layers and they feel too cushy - you get sucked in, and adjusting from side to side can be a real problem. And you just don't have the same support for your body and back as you would with memory foam mattresses that are 3 inches or so of memory foam depth.

Our 10" Memory Foam Mattress offers 4 inches of memory foam, and we've had a great response from customers on their feel and comfort.

As for densities of memory foam used in a mattress, for a long time I've often heard from customers that they liked the feel of the "less dense memory foams" (memory foams 4 lb density or so, or what I refer to as medium density memory foams) better than that of the high density memory foam of the "leading brand" (memory foam of 5 lb or greater density).

That was because people felt these "medium density memory foams" had a softer, more user friendly feel while the higher density memory foams could feel stiff and could be difficult to move around in.

Lately, I've been seeing some memory foam mattresses coming out with even lower density memory foams in their layering (by this, I mean memory foams of 3 lb density and lower). Personally, I still like the feel of the 4 lb density memory foams over the 3 lb memory foam. And also at these lower densities I think you need to ask about that particular foams durability and comfort.

For A Topper Pads' Memory Foam Look For ...

If you are looking for a memory foam topper pad to put on your mattress, you have many options.

In general, you will pay more for a higher pound density memory foam pad - it just costs more to produce denser memory foam.

Which ones do we recommend? We've looked at many topper pads, and we feel the 4 lb memory foam we decided to use in our Memory Foam Topper Pads just had the nicest feel and get great ratings and reviews from our customers.

Often a 2" pad is sufficient for making a mattress much more comfortable, but we decided to offer a 3" version, as well, for those looking for a plusher feel. We've tested the 5 lb density pads, but decided not to carry them because they really didn't offer any more comfort than our 4 lb pad - in fact, the 4 lb pads were softer and had a nicer feel to them.

We've found that our 4 lb memory foam pads perform very well and really offer a softer feel than denser memory foam pads. In our experience, they really do offer the best value for the money.

Can I Get By with Just a Topper, or Do I Need a Whole New Mattress

This is a question we get all the time, and not an easy one to answer. In general, though, if your mattress is basically in good shape -- still firm and supportive, no indented areas or dips in the mattress, etc. -- but not as comfortable as you would like (looking for a softer feel, less aches and pains in the morning, etc), then a memory foam mattress topper pad may well do the job.

To get a better feel for how a memory foam mattress topper pad can give you a better quality of sleep, see our Memory Foam Mattress Topper Page and Buying Guide.

On the other hand, if your mattress is too soft, rock hard, or has compressed areas, dips or a hammock feel, etc., then you are better off buying a new mattress - a topper pad just can't help with these problems.

For Those Needing A New Mattress, Our 10" Memory Foam Mattress -- 95% Of Our Customers Say They Would Recommend It To A Friend, And I Believe In It So Much I Offer It With Our Unmatched 1 Year Money Back Guarantee.

Healthy Foundations Memory Foam Mattress
Our 10" Memory Foam Mattress

As I've mentioned, I believe the only way to really get to the bottom of what mattress offers the most comfort is to test them with real people in their own homes.

That is why a few years ago when I was looking at memory foam mattress options, I sorted through all the different options to find 6 memory foam mattresses,that met all my various criteria, to put to the test.

We recruited 300 testers, 50 for each mattress, then compiled their reviews to see if any of the mattresses could offer the comfort of the leading brand, but at about 1/2 the price.

And after all the results were in, one mattress stood head and shoulders above the rest -- Our 10" Memory Foam Mattress. The quality and comfort of this mattress really made it stand out from all the other mattresses we tested.

Here's how our 10" Memory Foam Mattress stacked up in our tester's reviews:

Overall Ratings Of Healthy Foundations 10" Mattress From Our 50 Person Inital Test: (45 reviews submitted)

  • 87% Would Recommend To A Friend
  • 84% 4 and 5 Star Reviews
  • 89% Checked As Comfortable
  • 91% Checked As Offering Good Support
  • Only 4 Returns on test, so 92% kept our mattress, even with our money back return policy

And now, after three years of experience with the 10" Memory Foam Mattress, the results are even more impressive. Looking at over 290+ customer reviews, 95% say they would recommend the mattress to a friend, and 93% gave it 4 and 5 star reviews.

What are people actually saying about their experience with our mattress? While there isn't room to post all the reviews on this buying guide page -- you can read all the reviews on the right side of the 10" Memory Foam Mattress page -- here is one recent example:

"BEST MATTRESS EVER!!!"

"My fiance and I searched for a long time for a new mattress when we finally found this one. We couldn't be happier! It honestly saved our relationship and my health.

We bought the king size. We are both taller people (5'8'' and 6'2'') who love our own space when sleeping and do not like to be disturbed. His tossing and turning was killing me as I could feel every movement on our old mattress, my back was so sore, and my migraines were getting worse night by night.

We tried other memory foam mattresses in the store, but couldn't fathom paying those prices with a wedding to save for.

We were so nervous buying a mattress online, but everything went so well and the owner is such a professional. The mattress had a tiny initial odor when we first unwrapped it, but nothing major at all, and we just let it air out a day or so in our living room.

It is the most comfortable mattress ever. My only complaint is that it is extremely difficult to get up for work in the morning since I now sleep like I'm dead and do not want to leave the comfort of this bed!!

Since we bought it 10 months ago, my migraines have gotten progressively less frequent, my back is doing great, and my fiance and I are no longer waking each other up when we move ...

I highly recommend this mattress. It will pay for itself in no time at all with the improved quality of sleep you will get!!"

-- Krystal, January 26, 2014

I have to admit, it is great to hear how our 10" Memory Foam Mattress has helped change people's lives like this.

And while I can't guarantee it will do the same for you, I feel so strongly about the quality and comfort of our 10" Memory Foam Mattress that I am offering an unheard of 365 day money back guarantee on our 10" Memory Foam Mattress.

So if you are looking for a memory foam mattress, I hope you will check out all the information and 290+ reviews that we have on our 10" Memory Foam Mattress.


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Tempur-Pedic ® is a registered trademark of Dan-Foam Aps. We don't sell the Tempur-Pedic ® brand, and we are in no way affiliated with Tempur-Pedic ®. The information on this site with regard to Tempur-Pedic ® foam is for comparison purposes to our memory foam and memory foam mattress product line only only.