What Is the Difference Between Memory Foam and Latex?

The memory foam in most mattresses is a synthetic material made of polyurethane foam, or polyfoam. The raw polyfoam is treated with special chemicals to make it exceptionally soft and viscoelastic, or conformable to the sleeper’s body; memory foam is also commonly referred to as viscoelastic polyfoam. Shoppers should beware of ‘natural memory foam’ labels; these are misleading, and have actually been the target of a recent FTC investigation.

Latex is a natural substance derived from the sap of the common rubber tree. Latex in mattresses is processed using one of two distinct methods (Dunlop or Talalay); Dunlop latex is denser and heavier, while Talalay latex is softer and lighter. Latex mattresses may be all-natural (pure), or made entirely or partially from petrochemical-based synthetic latex; mattresses with both natural and synthetic latex are known as ‘blended’.

Read on to learn about more differences — as well as a few similarities — between memory foam and latex. 

Construction

The terms ‘memory foam’ and ‘latex’ do not refer to the entire mattress, but rather the topmost comfort layer of the mattress. The comfort layer of a latex mattress is made entirely of natural and/or synthetic latex components, while the comfort layer of a memory foam mattress may be reinforced with standard polyfoam. The ratio of memory foam to standard polyfoam in the comfort layer will vary by mattress manufacturer.

Unlike traditional innerspring mattresses — which feature steel coils in the support core — memory foam and latex mattresses do not contain any metal components. Instead, the support cores found in both memory foam and latex mattresses are usually made of polyfoam. For this reason, memory foam and latex beds are typically small and low-profile compared to innersprings.

Feel

One of the biggest differences that sleepers notice between memory foam and latex is the feel of laying on top of the mattress. Latex is more supportive and responsive to compression, making it easier to move on — and more suitable for sex. Memory foam, on the other hand, is designed to conform closely to the sleeper’s body and create a cradle-shaped impression for targeted pressure and pain relief. Memory foam also retains higher levels of body heat, and tends to ‘sleep hot’ as a result; latex retains less heat, and generally ‘sleeps cooler’.

Cost

Memory foam mattresses are the cheaper option of the two. Expect to pay between $800 and $1,000 for a new, high-quality memory foam mattress. Latex mattresses are much more expensive; expect a price-tag of at least $2,000.

Smell

A common complaint about memory foam is off-gassing, an unpleasant odor produced by particles known as VOCs that are released when the mattress is unpackaged. Off-gassing is harmless, but the smell can linger for days. Latex mattresses also produce off-gassing, but to a much lesser extent than memory foam models.

Lifespan and Customer Satisfaction

Both memory foam and latex mattresses have been touted for excellent longevity compared to other mattress types. Latex mattresses boast an average lifespan of 8.5 years, while memory foam mattresses usually last for at least seven years. According to our customer feedback, latex mattresses carry a satisfaction rating of 80% and memory foam mattresses carry a satisfaction rating of 72%.

Final Verdict

The following comparison table highlights the similarities and differences of memory foam and latex mattresses.

Memory Foam Latex
Feel Soft and sinking, with lots of contouring More responsive and supportive, with slightly less contouring
Pressure relief Excellent Great
Motion transfer Very little to none Very little to none
Sleep temperature Warmer Cooler
Off-gassing? Common Less common
Average cost of a new mattress $800 to $1,000 $2,000 or higher
Average lifespan 7 years 8.5 years
Customer satisfaction rating 72% 80%