How To Choose The Best Memory Foam Mattress

Choosing the best memory foam mattress out of the wide range of options available can seem a little daunting, but knowing what features make a quality bed and how personal preferences factor in might make your decision a little simpler. From density to odors, see what matters most with memory foam mattresses and get tips for researching and comparing different beds.

What Makes the Best Memory Foam Mattress?

While the best memory foam mattress will vary from person to person, there are some objective measures of quality and statistical measures of owner satisfaction that might help narrow your list. The key differences between mattress lines are identifiable in the memory foam type, density, and layer compositions. In addition to these primary factors, secondary personal preferences like heat and odor tolerance, sleep position and budget may also make some options a better fit than others.

Foam Type

While all memory foam mattresses should have similar properties like open-celled structure and visco-elasticity (or the ability to contour and retain its original shape), the three different types of memory foam do have a few differences.

  • Traditional Memory Foam – This is the original memory foam formulation, composed of petroleum-based polyurethane foam. Traditional memory foam tends to be temperature sensitive and more viscous. It receives the highest rate of complaints regarding odor and heat retention.
  • Plant-Based Memory Foam – This type replaces a portion of the petroleum ingredients in the polyurethane with plant-based materials (often soy or castor bean). It tends to be more temperature-neutral and less viscous. Plant-based foams tend receive the lowest rates of complaints for odor and heat retention.
  • Gel Memory Foam – Gel memory foams may include mixed-in gel liquid, gel beads/particles, or gel pad layers, paired most often with traditional memory foams. These foams can vary on temperature sensitivity and viscosity. Some types of memory foam beds with gel do have fewer complaints of odor and heat than traditional, but bead-infused types may break down more quickly.


When shopping for the best memory foam mattress, it is important to know the full layer breakdown of the bed. A memory foam mattress consists of at least two components: the memory foam layer and the base layer. Unlike latex mattresses, memory foam is only used in the upper portion of a mattress, as it requires another material to provide support (otherwise you would sink through to bottom). Some beds will have multiple layers of memory foam to provide different feels. Others might add additional padding or quilting above the memory foam for a taller appearance which may reduce the pressure relief and contouring sensations associated with memory foam. Some brands will add in filler layers of low-quality poly foam or fiber quilting to reduce costs, which can affect overall comfort and longevity.

Additionally, knowing the layer compositions can help you discern value. For example, say you see two similarly priced 12” mattresses and want to see which offers the best value. If one has 4” of actual memory foam and the other has only 2”, than the first may be better deal (though the density of all layers would also be important). There are also brands and manufacturers that purposefully obscure layer information to make value comparisons difficult, and if a retailer will not or cannot tell you the detailed specifications of the mattress, it may be best to keep shopping.


Memory foam density reflects the weight of one 12×12 inch cube of material. Higher and lower densities are a result of higher or lower ratios of polymer material to air. Denser foams cost more to produce and will exhibit more of the visco-elastic characteristics, specifically slow-contouring and slow-response due to higher viscosity and temperature sensitivity. Temperature sensitive foams gradually soften and contour with body heat, but can also feel firmer or softer depending on the room temperature. While some prefer the slow sensations, for others these properties can make it hard to move around on the mattress, may trap heat and may feel like ‘quicksand’. Low density foams will exhibit reduced visco-elasticity and thus tend to be cooler to sleep on and easier to move on, but may break down quicker.

The bottom layer, or core, of a memory foam mattress will have a different density than the upper memory foam layers. Cores are typically made of regular polyurethane foam, which can either be standard (less than 1.8 lb), high-density/HD (1.8-2.5 lb), or high resilience/HR (2.5+ lb). Most medium and high quality memory foam mattresses use cores in the HD range. Cores below 1.6 lb will be less resistant to compression and softening over time, thus affecting overall support.

Low Density

Medium Density

High Density


3.5 lbs and less

3.5-5.0 lbs

5.0 lbs and higher









Heat Complaints





5-6 years

7-8 years

8-10 years

Personal Preferences

Every person has individual preferences that can affect their conception of the best memory foam mattress. Here are few additional things to consider when shopping and comparing:

Heat – Some people are naturally warm sleepers, and may find some times of memory foam uncomfortably hot. About 10% of people overall complain of heat with their memory foam beds, but this rate is consistently higher with high density mattresses and those that contain deeper layers of memory foam. Gel foams show a slight reduction in heat when gel is in the uppermost layer (up to 20%), although plant-based and lower-density foams seem to earn the lowest rates. A 2-year study by Cargill found that plant-based memory foam slept 25% cooler than gel-infused foams. If heat is a concern for you, than choosing a medium density, gel or plant-based bed might help resolve the issue.

Odor – About 15% note strong odors with memory foam mattresses, though only a small proportion find it significant enough to return their beds. These odors usually dissipate within a few days to a few weeks. Lower density beds and plant-based memory foam typically have less odor since there is less of the chemicals that release the odors present. CertiPUR is one organization that tests polyurethane foams for hazardous chemicals and issues certification to brands that meet their criteria, so this may be something to check for if you are concerned about possible side effects from chemicals or off-gassing.

Firmness – You may already know whether you prefer soft or firm beds, but there are a few things to consider when looking for the best memory foam mattress firmness. Dense, temperature-sensitive foams may feel firm initially but will soften with body heat and may feel softer in warm rooms or stiffer in cold rooms. Temperature neutral foams should feel stable across normal room temperatures. All memory foam will also soften over time, with low-density foam typically softening the most. If you are testing mattresses in stores, opt for a bed that feels slightly firmer. A too-firm bed can be fixed with a topper, but a too-soft mattress has few remedies.

Sleep Position – How you sleep can affect how comfortable a memory foam mattress feels. Memory foam is meant to contour to your body, reduce pressure points and support neutral alignment. In order to experience these benefits, there needs to be enough memory foam to adjust to your body. Side sleepers usually need at least four to five inches of memory foam to accommodate hips and shoulders, and softer mattresses might feel more comfortable. Back sleepers and stomach sleepers can feel comfortable with less memory foam since they will sink in less, and will generally feel more comfortable on firmer beds. Your frame size and weight will also play role, with larger individuals requiring thicker layers of memory foam.

Budget – Finally, your budget is going to play a considerable role in your mattress choice for obvious reasons. But, you should also consider your intended use of the mattress and long-term value. For a guest room or mattress that you only intend to use for 1-2 years, going cheap is probably okay. However, for a mattress you intend to use daily for several years, going cheap could end up costing you more in the long run since replacements will be more frequent. On the other hand, you also don’t want to assume an expensive mattress will be durable or comfortable. Comparing the density and mattress specifications of beds in your price range will prove important in choosing the best memory foam mattress and getting the best deal.

What is Not Important

  • Exaggerated Warranties – Mattress manufacturers often inflate warranties for the appearance of reliability, though a considerable span is usually limited or prorated. The most important things to look at are the “full coverage” period (10 years is good with quality mattresses), and the depth of sagging covered (1” or less is ideal).
  • Brand Names – A brand name is not an indication of quality; what’s inside the mattress is the best measure. National brands that may claim to have the best memory foam mattress often pay heavily for advertising and inflate prices compared to similar options from other companies.
  • Showroom Testing – The old adage that you should always test a mattress 15 minutes in stores fails to take into consideration that memory foam can feel different in showrooms than your home due to temperature differences and wear. Many online brands offer extended return or trial periods that allow you to test in-home and often have similar or higher owner ratings than national retail brands. Consumer Reports says 40% of mattress shoppers have buyer’s remorse, so a good return policy might be much more important than a quick showroom test.

Compare to Find the Best Memory Foam Mattress

When you want to find the best memory foam mattress, the best route is to consider what your preferences are and then start researching. Mattresses are often one of the more expensive purchases we make in the home, and your bed is where you will spend up to 1/3 of your day. Because the quality of sleep has many effects on health and daily life, taking time to choose a good bed is often time well-spent. One suggestion is to take notes on the beds you look at with information like density, type, warranty and price for easy reference and comparison later. The more you know about memory foam features and the various options out there, the better equipped you will be to choose the best memory foam mattress.

This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.

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