image of latex vs memory foam mattress

Latex vs. Memory Foam Mattresses: Which Is Best For You?

by
/ October 15, 2021

Latex and memory foam are both types of foam, but when it comes to sleep, they definitely aren't interchangeable. What they're made of, how they feel, how long they last, and what they cost are just a few things that factor into deciding which material makes the best new mattress for you.

So how do you decide which type of foam is the best fit for the way you sleep? Start by peering under the hood to really understand the differences. Below are some key points of distinction between memory foam and latex.

Latex vs. memory foam: key differences

From material to overall feel to motion transfer to breathability, these are the biggest differences between memory foam and latex.

Materials

Memory foam mattresses

Memory foam, also called viscoelastic foam, is a type of high-density polyurethane foam. Greener versions of memory foam use plant-based ingredients, such as soybean oil, in place of some of the petroleum derivatives. 

Most memory foam mattresses aren't 100% memory foam—if they were, they would be so soft you'd sink too deeply into the surface. Instead, premium memory foam mattresses are made from several foam layers of different thicknesses and density, for the right combination of comfort and support.

(For a closer look at what's in a memory foam mattress, see How to Pick the Perfect Memory Foam Mattress.)

Latex mattresses

Latex, on the other hand, is a natural material, made from rubber tree sap. To convert it into foam, it undergoes intense processing—including being frozen and then baked. But, because the material is derived from a natural source, latex remains biodegradable, hypoallergenic, and generally more eco-friendly than memory foam. 

Just keep in mind that not all latex is natural: Some mattresses are partially or completely composed of synthetic latex foam, which is typically made from SBR, or styrene-butadiene rubber. 

(For a closer look at what's in a latex mattress, see How to Pick the Perfect Latex Mattress.)

image showing the difference between memory foam and latex

Overall feel

Memory foam mattresses

Memory foam softens in response to heat and pressure, which gives it its characteristic body-hugging feel. It perfectly contours to your body, making it a great option if you're someone who suffers from back pain, joint pain, or needs some other form of pressure relief. 

Latex mattresses

Latex foam has a somewhat similar contouring feeling, but the foam pushes back more against your weight, giving a greater sense of buoyancy. 

That said, neither memory foam nor latex is going to come close to the liveliness of a traditional innerspring mattress.

Motion transfer

Memory foam mattresses

You'll notice that if you press your hand down on a memory foam mattress, it won't immediately bounce back to its original shape. This is known as "response time." Memory foam's response time is remarkably slow. 

This makes memory foam great for reducing "motion transfer" from one side of the bed to the other. That means your movements won't disturb your partner.

Latex mattresses

Latex, on the other hand, has a fast response time. The material feels quite bouncy and doesn't isolate motion nearly as well as memory foam does. 

So, if motion isolation is a priority for you, latex may not be the best material to go with. 

Sleeping positions

Memory foam mattresses

Memory foam beds are great for both back sleepers and side sleepers. 

For back sleepers, memory foam keeps the spine in alignment while providing adequate support for the neck, shoulders, and hips. 

For side sleepers, the main concern is relief for pressure points like your shoulders and hips, which are the widest points of your body and thus susceptible to pain in this position. Memory foam conforms to your body, giving you the right mix of support and cushion for better sleep.  

Latex mattresses

Latex foam beds are great for stomach sleepers and combination sleepers. 

Latex mattresses don't sink in as much as memory foam, making it an ideal option for both stomach sleepers, as well as people who vary their position between their back, side, and stomach. 

Airflow and breathability

Memory foam mattresses

Historically, the knock on memory foam has been that it "sleeps hot," a function of the foam's closed-cell structure, which can trap heat. 

Note, though, that many newer memory foam mattresses have addressed the issue with the addition of cooling gel layers and other ventilation features, which work to reduce heat retention. Plant-based memory foams also tend to be cooler than other types.

Latex mattresses

Latex, on the other hand, sleeps cool. The material has an open-cell structure that promotes better airflow through the mattress, so body heat isn't trapped in the first place. 

Off-gassing and allergens

Memory foam mattresses

Petroleum-based memory foam mattresses can release volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, a byproduct of the manufacturing process. VOCs are responsible for the unpleasant chemical smell that can sometimes come from memory foam beds, referred to as "off-gassing."

Common VOCs include such potential irritants as formaldehyde, toluene, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), benzene, trichloroethane, and perfluorocarbons.

Not all memory foam mattresses off-gas. Foams that carry the Certi-PUR label, for example, are verified to be low-VOC, meaning they meet low-emission requirements for indoor air pollution. On top of lacking mattress off-gassing, they're also guaranteed to be free of harmful chemicals and flame retardants.

Latex mattresses

Natural latex foam, as a plant-based material, doesn't off-gas (though some people report a slight vanilla smell when new). 

Latex is also hypoallergenic and naturally resistant to mold and dust mites, so it's a good choice for anyone who suffers from allergies or chemical sensitivity.

Lifespan

Memory foam mattresses

Generally, memory foam mattresses last 8-10 years.

The durability of memory foam can vary greatly depending on the quality and density of the foam. Denser foams typically last longer than lighter ones.

Latex mattresses

Latex mattresses can last 15 years or more.

This makes latex mattresses among the most durable types of mattresses on the market, typically lasting several years longer than other mattress types. 

Price

Memory foam mattresses

Memory foam mattresses run the gamut on price, from a few hundred dollars into the thousands.

To make sure you're getting the most for your money—no matter which material you choose—check out our guide to mattress costs

Latex mattresses

Natural latex mattresses tend to fall on the higher end of the price spectrum, owing to the cost of harvesting and producing latex. 

Synthetic latex mattresses, on the other hand, are typically much cheaper than natural latex mattresses. 

Latex vs. memory foam: which mattress is better?

Latex and memory foam both come with pros and cons. Check out this table to see which one is right for you.

Material

Pros

Cons

Memory Foam

-Motion isolation

-Contours perfectly for back and side sleepers

-Pressure relief

-Slow response time

-Traps heat

Latex

-Fast response time

-Durable

-Cooling

-Provides enough support for stomach and combination sleepers

-No motion isolation

-Limited pressure relief 

FAQs

What's the difference between the two types of natural latex? Is latex or memory foam better for back pain? Here, we answer your most common questions to help you determine which mattress material is right for you.

What's the difference between Talalay latex and Dunlop latex?

There are two main types of natural latex: Talalay latex and Dunlop latex. Dunlop latex mattresses are created by pouring the material into a mold all at once, creating a slightly firmer mattress. 

Talalay latex mattresses, on the other hand, are created by only partially filling a mold and then adding air to complete the process. This creates a mattress that is slightly less firm.

Both Dunlop latex and Talalay latex provide consistent conforming, which can help relieve aches and pains. That said, the firmness of both of these types of latex will vary greatly depending on the mattress model and manufacturer. Dunlop and Talalay can both be engineered for different firmness levels. 

Is latex firmer than memory foam?

Latex can be firmer than memory foam, due to its structure. Latex mattresses are better at dispersing your weight, so you don't sink in as much as you would on a memory foam mattress.

Is latex or memory foam better for back pain?

Because memory foam mattresses support the natural alignment of the spine while still providing enough support for the neck, shoulders, and hips, it's the best type of mattress for relieving back pain. 

Just make sure you buy a memory foam mattress at the right firmness level for your typical sleeping position. Side sleepers need soft to medium-soft mattresses, while back sleepers and stomach sleepers need medium, medium-firm, or firm mattresses.  

Check out Saatva’s latex and memory foam mattresses

Ready to buy a new mattress? Saatva offers a variety of latex and memory foam mattresses to suit your sleep style. All of our mattresses come with a 180-night trial so you can try one out before you decide if it's right for you. 

Zenhaven Latex Mattress

100% natural latex bed responds to every curve for pressure-free support and responsive comfort. Natural latex is supple, resilient, and durable, for the ultimate in elevated sleep. (It's naturally hypoallergenic too.)

Loom & Leaf Memory Foam Mattress

Premium memory foam, handcrafted in the US with eco-friendly materials. Breathable organic cotton, cooling spinal gel, and layers of high-density support foam assure a cool, comfortable night's sleep.

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