Buying Guide – How to Shop for a Memory Foam Topper
Memory foam mattress toppers are a smart purchase. If you own an older mattress they’re a great way to revitalize it, offering a firmness adjustment without having to spend money on a brand new bed. Or, if you recently bought a new mattress, these toppers will let you sleep comfortably during the “breaking in” period. In this guide, you’ll learn about how memory foam mattress toppers work and some important considerations for buying them.
What is a Memory Foam Mattress Topper?
There are other types of bedding products and materials you’ll want to avoid confusing with memory foam mattress toppers. For instance, if you’re not aware of memory foam’s unique properties, you might confuse it with another material, such as latex. Below we’ll explain the unique properties of memory foam mattress toppers.
Toppers vs. Mattress Pads and Protectors
While shopping for your mattress topper, be sure to distinguish it from mattress pads and protectors. They all have a few similar properties, but each serves a specific purpose.
- Mattress topper: Mattress toppers are cushioning layers that get placed on top of a mattress in an effort to provide extra softness and comfort. With a firmer topper, some offer increased support.
- Mattress pad: While some pads are quilted for comfort, their primary purpose is shielding the mattress from allergens, dust mites, bacteria, and other contaminants. They’re usually up to an inch thick, but are almost never as thick or cushioned as a mattress topper.
- Mattress protector:Protectors are similar to pads in that they act as a barrier between the mattress and many contaminants like allergens and dust mites. However, mattress protectors also tend to be waterproof to shield the mattress from urine, sweat, and other stains.
What Is Memory Foam?
Memory foam is the more common name for a material called viscoelastic polyurethane foam. Developed by NASA researchers in the 1960s, memory foam is known for its ability to absorb body heat and soften, allowing it to fully conform to your unique physical impression.
Once memory foam cools, it soon returns to its original form; the substance doesn’t hold onto any previous indentation. This unique feature allows memory foam to help alleviate aches and pains as well as effectively ease tension in the hips, lower back, shoulders, and neck.
Common Memory Foam Topper Designs and Characteristics
In addition to distinguishing memory foam toppers from other bedding products, it’s important to understand common design choices and characteristics. In this section, we’ll talk about common traits that will better help you decide which type of memory foam topper is right for you.
Memory foam’s heat absorption abilities can cause the material to feel excessively hot. For this reason, it’s common to combine the foam with a cooling substance. Some more popular choices include:
- Gel: While memory foam functions by absorbing heat, liquid gel is a substance that evenly distributes heat, making the mattress topper to feel much cooler than it would if it were just made of memory foam.
- Bamboo: Bamboo is a popular cooling material for bedding materials because the substance is much more cooling than cotton.
- Graphite: Graphite has long been used to cool down high-heat products, such as PCs. Because of its ability to cool exceedingly hot applications, graphite is often combined with memory foam to allow for an efficiently cool sleep experience.
- Copper: This metal is one of the most efficient heat conductors available. When infused in a memory foam topper, copper easily draws excess heat away from the body. Copper also kills bacteria and helps offer firmer support than most other materials infused into memory foam.
Shape is an important a quality for mattress toppers. The shape can affect how well the topper stays in place and subsequently impact heat absorption and how well the topper conforms to the body. Certain toppers are flat and square, while others are have a design similar to egg-crate polyfoam toppers.
Most memory foam toppers sold today tend to be between one and four inches thick. If you’re using a mattress topper in place of an actual mattress, such as during a camping trip, you might prefer a thicker topper. Thickness might also come into play if your covering an older mattress with less support instead of a newer, more springy mattress.
With mattress toppers, their firmness level is directly tied to thickness. A thinner topper will tend to offer a medium level of firmness, and will best serve heavy bodied sleepers who need the additional support. They’re also best for side and stomach sleepers. Meanwhile, softer, more plush mattress toppers are ideal if you’re a back sleeper.
A topper’s density refers to its overall weight, which gets measured in pounds per square foot (or PCF). Memory foam toppers tend to be between a low-density 4 PCF and high-density range of 5.0 PCF or greater. Low-density memory foam is comfortable enough for most sleepers regardless of their weight.
Medium-density foam is most comfortable for sleepers who weigh between 130 and 230 pounds. High-density foam tends to cause discomfort for sleepers who weigh less than 130 pounds or more than 230 pounds.
Pros and Cons of Using a Memory Foam Topper
Benefits of using a memory foam topper include the following:
- Conforming and Pressure Relief: Memory foam is a popular material for toppers because its conforming properties can help create a supportive sleep surface that aligns the spine and alleviates pressure in sensitive areas along the body, including the neck, shoulders, lower back, and hips.
- Durability: Most memory foam toppers will perform for at least three or four years before they begin to deteriorate. Thicker and higher-density toppers tend to outlast thinner and lower-density models.
- Motion Isolation: Memory foam toppers absorb motion whenever someone shifts positions or gets into or out of bed, and isolates this motion to certain areas of the mattress. This quality is beneficial for couples, since it can cut down on nighttime disruptions.
- No Noise: Memory foam is virtually silent when bearing weight.
- Dual Firmness Potential: Memory foam toppers may be useful for couples with different firmness preferences, particularly if one person is satisfied with the feel of their current mattress and the other is not.
Drawbacks of using a memory foam topper include the following:
- Sleeping Hot: Memory foam retains high levels of body heat, which can cause the topper to sleep hot. This may be problematic for people who naturally sleep hot on their own.
- Odor Potential: Memory foam toppers are associated with higher-than-average levels of off-gassing, or unpleasant smells emitted by the foam when new. These smells may dissipate after a few days, but some toppers have persistent odors that do not decrease with time.
- Ease of Movement: Because memory foam sinks and conforms closely beneath sleeper’s bodies, it can be difficult for individuals to move on these toppers unless they are relatively thin and have a lower density.
- Lack of Responsiveness: Thicker and higher-density memory foam toppers are slow to respond, and may not be as good for sex as other topper types. Thinner and lower-density memory foam toppers may be more suitable for sex.
- Price: Most memory foam toppers are relatively expensive. The average model costs between $150 and $250, but some cost $300 or more.
Who Should Use a Memory Foam Topper?
A memory foam topper may be suitable for the following types of sleepers:
- People who sleep on their side or back. Toppers that are two to three inches thick and have a density between 3.5 and 5 PCF are considered ideal for these positions.
- People who weigh more than 130 pounds. Most prefer mattresses that are two to three inches thick. People with average weights (130 to 230 pounds) tend to be most comfortable on memory foam with a density of 3 to 4 PCF, while those who weigh more than 230 pounds typically prefer densities of 4 PCF or higher.
- People who awaken easily due to disturbances, since memory foam toppers isolate motion to certain areas of the bed and produce little to no noise.
- People with neck, shoulder, and back pressure. Memory foam conforms closely to help align the spine and alleviate pressure points in these sensitive areas.
On the other hand, memory foam toppers are generally not suitable for the following sleepers:
- People who sleep on their stomach, although they may feel comfortable and supported on toppers that are less than two inches thick and have a density of less than 3 PCF.
- People who weigh less than 130 pounds. Lighter sleepers often do not weigh enough to experience full conforming on thicker and/or higher-density memory foam toppers, but they may feel comfortable on models that are less than two inches thick and have a density of less than 3 PCF.
- People who are sensitive to smell, since memory foam may produce unpleasant, long-lasting off-gassing odors.
How Much Does a Memory Foam Topper Cost?
The average memory foam mattress topper costs between $150 and $250, making them slightly more expensive than average. The graph below compares average price-points for the six most common mattress topper types.