What's the Best Memory Foam Mattress for the Money?
If you're looking for a quality mattress at a reasonable price, you can't go wrong with memory foam. As a mattress material, memory foam has a lot going for it. For starters, it molds to your body and provides support where you need it most, which makes it a particularly good choice for people who suffer from chronic lower back pain, says Michael Breus, PhD, a Los Angeles sleep disorder specialist and author of Good Night: The Sleep Doctor's 4-Week Program to Better Sleep and Better Health. Memory foam also has advantages for couples—especially if one partner tends to toss and turn—because it excels at isolating motion from one side of the bed to the other.
But once you start doing your memory foam research, you'll quickly find that there are huge variations in price point—anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to upwards of $4,000 for a queen, according to independent mattress review site Sleep Like the Dead. And shelling out more money doesn't necessarily mean you're getting a better product, notes Joe Auer, editor of the mattress review site Mattress Clarity.
How to get the best memory foam mattress for the money
Here, four things to keep in mind to make sure you're getting the best value for your mattress-buying dollar.
In general, the higher the density, the more expensive the memory foam mattress, Auer says. Higher density foam translates into a more durable product that should last around 10 to 15 years. For most sleepers, foam density of four to five pounds per cubic foot is in the "sweet spot" for both comfort and quality. Less than that, and the memory foam mattress will be too soft and quicker to break down; much more, and you'll be paying a lot for something you may not need.
Higher-end memory foam mattresses typically have multiple layers of foam of varying densities, with a support core of high-density polyurethane foam topped with comfort layers of premium memory foam. (Learn more about what goes into a memory foam mattress, and how memory foam differs from innerspring mattresses.)
Even within the memory foam category, there's more than one type to choose from, each with its own pros and cons.
Traditional memory foam: Also called viscoelastic foam, traditional memory foam is made from polyurethane, a petroleum derivative. As a result, it can give off a chemical smell—a process commonly known as off-gassing. Formaldehyde, perfluorocarbons, and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) from chemical flame retardants are just a few of the volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, that can lurk in memory foam. While there isn't any evidence of permanent health effects, off-gassing contributes to indoor air pollution and can be irritating to people with chemical sensitivities or breathing issues. Plus, it's stinky. Check out our post about the unique features of a visco mattress to learn more.
Gel infused memory foam: The knock on memory foam has long been that it "sleeps hot." That's why newer types of memory foam include materials that help keep sleepers cool by transferring heat away from the surface of the mattress. So-called "phase change" gels can be mixed into the foam (infused) or applied as a layer on the surface (laminated). Gel and other cooling features may add to the cost of the memory foam mattress, but if you have any concerns about heat it's a worthwhile investment.
Plant-based memory foam: Eco-friendly foam uses some plant-based ingredients, like soybean and corn oil, in place of petroleum derivatives. The "greenest" foams are certified to be low-VOC and free of potentially toxic chemicals. The Certi-PUR label, for example, means the foam contains no CFCs, formaldehyde, phthalates, or PBDEs and won't off-gas in your home. (Saatva's Loom & Leaf mattress uses Certi-PUR foam, and you can find a full list of manufacturers here.) There are other advantages to plant-based foam as well. “Since this type of foam has a more open-celled structure, it tends to be more breathable, which means people often sleep cooler," Auer says.
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Other factors that affect memory foam mattress cost
When you're calculating the value proposition for a memory foam mattress, here are two other factors to consider:
Mattress thickness: It stands to reason that thickness would affect cost; after all, the thicker the mattress, the more material it contains. Memory foam mattresses can be anywhere from six to 14 inches thick. In general, higher quality memory foam mattresses are in the upper end of that range. Note that a thicker mattress doesn't necessarily translate into more support; that's chiefly a function of foam density and layers. One caveat: If you're heavy, look for a mattress with sufficient foam density and thickness to keep you from "sinking in" too deeply. (Here's how to pick the best mattress for your body type.)
Bed in a box: If you've shopped for memory foam mattress lately, you've no doubt encountered the trend of a "bed in a box." These memory foam mattresses are flattened, rolled, vacuum-sealed, and put in a box for drop-shipping to your door. They can be cost-effective and convenient, but the need to squeeze them into a cardboard tube means lower-density foam and a tradeoff in durability—and it requires you to do all the heavy lifting, which is why Saatva doesn't sell them. And if you don't like it, the onus is on you to arrange a return yourself, which may mean schlepping a heavy mattress to your local post office.