Memory Foam Buyer's Guide

Part 2 - How To Choose Between Different Memory Foams

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. certipur sealI 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) [2]

    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.

In the last section of this memory foam buying guide, I will look at what to look for when buying a memory foam mattress or topper (what sort of construction in a mattress (layers and depths of foam and memory foam to look for, etc) to make sure you get a memory foam mattress or topper that will both be comfortable and last.

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