If you’re looking for a new mattress, you’ve probably had someone tell you that you have to look into memory foam…or latex…or polyfoam. Whether you know what they’re talking about or not, many people love their foam beds. However, the bed that’s right for your friend may not be right for you. Instead of focusing on buying the exact mattress that someone else loves, focus instead on finding the one that’s right for you.

There are several different types of foam mattresses that you can buy. The one that’s right for you will be comfortable, offer the support you need, and will fit into your budget. Here are your options when it comes to foam.


Polyfoam, or polyurethane foam, is a flexible foam made through complex chemical reactions. This foam can be made higher or lower density through a process known as frothing or by adding blowing agents. Because manufacturers can manipulate the density, texture, rigidity and more of this foam by changing the ingredients or manufacturing process, it can be used in everything from mattresses to cars to couches and more.

Some mattresses are made only of polyfoam, while others have polyfoam cores to make the mattress more rigid, or they include multiple densities of polyfoam in one mattress so that the upper layers feel softer and more comfortable.

Polyfoam mattresses tend to be less expensive than other foam beds, though that isn’t always true. However, they also tend to lose their ability to bounce back quicker than those foams, too. This means that your body will start to leave an indention in your bed, and it may mean that you’re not getting the support you need at night

What foam density should you look for?

In general, you want to look at the density of the foam in a mattress before you buy it. Most polyfoams have a density of 1.8 pounds per cubic foot (PCF). Higher density ones will run from 1.8-2.5, and the highest are over the 2.5 more. The higher the density of the foam, the better it will resist compression, the longer it will bounce back into shape when you get up, and the more supportive it will be long-term. However, as with any superior product, higher density foams come at a greater cost.

Type of Foam Density Our Rating
Conventional Polyfoam
1.5 PCF and Below Below Recommended Standards
HD Polyfoam
1.5 – 1.8 PCF Standard
HD Polyfoam
1.8 – 2.0 PCF Above Average
HD Polyfoam
2.0 – 2.5 PCF Very Good
HR Polyfoam
2.5 PCF and Above (not commonly found) Best
Memory Foam
3.0 PCF and Below Below Recommended Standards
Memory Foam
3.0 – 4.0 PCF Standard
Memory Foam
4.0 – 5.0 PCF Above Average
Memory Foam
5.0 – 7.0 PCF Very Good
Memory Foam
7.0 PCF Best

Memory Foam

Memory foam is a specific type of polyfoam, and one that is particularly resistant to some of the problems that plague other polyfoam types. It responds to heat and weight differently than other types of foam. When it is warmed and feels pressure, it responds by conforming to the same shape of whatever is exerting the pressure. It does so without creating pressure points, and bounces back to its original shape afterward.

When scientists are making memory foam, they use gases and other processes to insert bubbles into the foam matrix. These determine the density of this particular foam. However, there are several types of memory foam.

Traditional Memory Foam

These are the most basic memory foam mattresses, introduced in the 1990s after NASA released the technology. That’s right! This foam was first designed to cushion astronauts in space. The only downside of this foam is that it tends to retain heat. This makes it a great bed in the dead of winter, but it can be hard to sleep on when it’s hot outside.

If you’re looking at a traditional memory foam bed, consider, again, the foam’s density. A good quality memory foam will usually have at least 4-5 pounds per cubic foot (PCF) of density, though it may have a short layer of lower density foam on top of that, to make the bed feel softer.

Look, too, at the foam’s Indention Force Deflection (IFD) or Indention Load Deflection (ILD) number. That’s the force in pounds that’s required to make a 25% indent in a 4-inch thick square. This number measures how soft the bed feels to sleep on. Lower ILD beds tend to feel softer than those with a higher rating. Here’s a guide to ILD ratings.



Note that a high-density foam can still have a low ILD, and vice versa. It’s important to keep in mind that ILD and density work in concert, such that a mattress that has a lower ILD rating with a higher density might not actually feel soft. You’ll want to find the combination that feels comfortable, offers you the support you need, and will last quite a while. 

Open Cell Memory Foam

Open cell memory foam was designed for people who like the feel of sleeping on memory foam but can’t take the heat that it holds in. It’s designed to allow more air to flow through the mattress. This helps the heat dissipate and the sleeper to feel cooler. These mattresses usually look and feel like traditional memory foam, they just sleep cooler.

Once again, you’ll want to look at a mattress’ density and ILD rating to compare beds. To determine which open cell foam bed will keep you cool, though, may require taking it home and sleeping on it for a few weeks before you make your final decision.

Gel Memory Foam

Gel memory foam, or gel-infused memory foam, is another take on making the traditional memory foam bed sleep cooler. At its most basic, it is simply traditional memory foam with microbeads of gel mixed in. These create space for air to flow through the mattress, cooling it down in a way similar to that of open cell memory foam.

However, more complex processing can allow the gel to mix with the foam and create a phase changing material. These mattresses store heat up to a certain temperature, then release it until they reach a certain temperature. It’s complicated, but it helps sleepers not only stay cooler and keeps them from getting too cold. I bet you didn’t know a bed could do that!

When you’re looking at gel memory foam, you need to look at foam density and the ILD rating.  You also need to ask which type of gel foam bed you’re getting. Is it going to keep you cool, or is it going to help you regulate your temperature? The phase changing beds are generally more expensive, but they can also be a huge boon for people who struggle with body temperature while they’re sleeping.

It’s also important to ask about the quality and size of the gel used in these beds. Larger microbeads of gel will allow for more airflow, but they may also cause the foam to break down faster. The smaller the beads, the longer the mattress will last.

Copper-Infused Memory Foam

One of the latest innovations in memory foam infuses copper throughout the foam. Because copper functions as a thermal conductor, it can help redistribute heat in a way that’s completely different from open cell memory foam and gel memory foam. Copper is also known for its antimicrobial properties, so it can help make the mattress a healthier place to sleep.

Copper memory foam is relatively new to the market, so it’s difficult to know how well these beds will last. However, if you buy one with a high-density foam and an ILD rating that is comfortable for you, it seems like it will probably be around as long as your gel or other memory foam mattress.

Latex Foam

Latex is another kind of foam, separate entirely from polyfoam and memory foam. It is made of natural and/or synthetic latex that is processed in one of two ways before it is made into a bed. Latex beds can be all natural. For these beds, the latex is made from rubber trees that are tapped. Once the latex is collected, it is stored, shipped, and processed. Beds made from 100% natural latex are eco-friendly, green options. However, if this is important to you it’s key to research your bed carefully. Manufacturers can mix a certain percentage of synthetic latex with natural latex and still call the bed “natural.”

How is latex processed?

Synthetic latex is usually petroleum-based and is not a natural product. However, both synthetic latex and natural latex are processed in the same ways to make beds.

In the Dunlop method of latex processing, the latex is whipped together with a frothing agent, a gelling agent, and a curing agent. Then it’s molded into the correct shape and cured with heat.

In the Talalay process, there’s a vacuum-sealed molding chamber and the latex is flash frozen. This makes it easier to control various factors of the final product, like its density and resiliency. However, the Talalay process is more expensive and that cost is passed on to the buyer.

What should you consider in a latex mattress?

When you’re looking at latex mattresses, consider first the process used to make the bed. Many latex aficionados drastically prefer either Dunlop or Talalay, so try beds made with both processes to see what you like.

Latex foam is also rated on an ILD scale. Softer feeling beds tend to have ratings between 14 and 35, while firm ones will be between 36 and 44. Many latex mattresses use multiple densities of the foam in a bed. These generally have bases or cores that are quite dense with softer layers on top or around the outside to make the bed feel more comfortable for certain people.

Super Plush Plush Soft Medium Medium-Firm Firm Extra Firm/Support Core Super Firm/Support Core
14 – 18 ILD 18 – 22 ILD 22 – 26 ILD 26 – 30 ILD 30 – 32 ILD 32 – 36 ILD 36 – 40 ILD 40 – 44 ILD

Choosing Your Foam Mattress



When it comes down to it, you need to find a bed that is comfortable, supportive, and fits in your budget. Most mattress purchasers list these as the most important factor in buying a new bed, for good reason. And what works for you may or may not work for others.

Figuring out what is right for you

The best way to choose a foam bed is to decide what is essential for you. If price is the overriding factor, you may want to look at polyfoam beds for now. You can always save to get a more expensive bed when it wears out in 5 years or so. In pain or have a bad back, you may need to prioritize support and pay whatever you have to pay to get it. Do you tend to overheat at night, you’ll want to eliminate traditional memory foam as an option. And if you want an all-natural option, you’ll need to figure out what brands of latex foam will work for you.

Starting your search

Once you know what is essential, you can start your mattress search. The only real way to know if a particular mattress will work for you is to try it for a while. Most mattresses these days come with trial periods that last anywhere from a month to 100 days. Make sure you know how long you can try the mattress and what procedure you need to follow to be able to return it. Then order the most likely candidate and see how you sleep.

It may take you two or three mattresses to find one that works for you. That’s fine! It’s more important that you have a bed that’s awesome than that you forego the hassle of making a return. Once you find a foam mattress that you love, you’ll know that the process was worth every single minute you invested in it.

by: Sarah Winfrey