Memory Foam Mattress Myths, Busted

There are many memory foam mattress myths floating around online, and as with most myths, they usually evolve from a bit of truth that gets exaggerated or taken out of context. In this article, we will look at the most popular memory foam mattress myths, their origins, and the facts to cut through the confusion.

There are many myths floating around about memory foam

Top Memory Foam Myths vs. Fact

Guy searching for the right memory foam mattress

If you have been shopping for or researching a memory foam mattress, there’s a good chance you’ve heard a few things, such as “memory foam is hot” or “memory foam is unhealthy”. Usually, these claims are made without much substantiation other than anecdotal accounts, but can be enough to cause concern for many people. In the myths below, we’ll do our best to present an accurate portrait of memory foam so readers can make an informed decision.

Myth:
Memory Foam Sleeps Hot & Makes You Sweat

Origin:
Older, less breathable types of memory foams do limit air flow, and dense, temperature sensitive foams contour closely to sleepers’ bodies. This can leave feel people feeling warm, especially those who naturally sleep hot.

The Facts:
On average, only 10% of people who own any brand of memory foam mattress complain about heat. This is higher than spring mattresses, which average heat complaint rates of 5%. However, there are significant differences between different types of memory foam. Traditional foam mattresses tend to sleep hot for 10-15% of people, gel memory foam 5-10%, and plant-based memory foams 2-8%.

Compare the percent of reviewers mentioning heat for the brands in the following chart. As you can see, the Amerisleep and iComfort foams are similar or better than the average spring mattress for heat. So, while some memory foam can sleep hot, there are types that have been developed to breathe better, and heat retention affects only a small minority of owners overall.

Less breathable memory foams tend to sleep hot
Brand
Amerisleep
iComfort® by Serta
Tempur-Pedic®
Mattress Type
Plant-Based
Gel & Traditional
Traditional
% of Reviews Mentioning Heat Retention
2%
6%
12%

Taken from third-party reviews on Amerisleep.com, and customer reviews and specifications on Tempurpedic.com and Serta.com

Myth:
Memory Foam Stinks

Origin:
Polyurethane foams traditionally contain various petrochemicals and additives than can have residual odors, just like new furniture, new cars, new paints and other manufactured items.

The Facts:
Memory foam can have a smell, especially when it is sealed in plastic right after it is manufactured. However, odors should dissipate within a few days to a few weeks. Denser memory foams are more likely to smell, while less dense foams or ones that use less petroleum products or VOC-producing chemicals are less likely to have strong smells.

In general, about 15% of all memory foam mattress owners complain of odor, with only 2% reporting odor severe enough to return their bed. However, these rates vary considerably by brands and types of memory foam. As you can see in the chart below, Amerisleep beds, made with medium density, plant-based memory foam, have very low complaints of strong odors, while Tempurpedic mattresses, which use medium to higher density traditional foams, have higher than average complaints of odor.

Memory foam mattresses can have a smell but may not be off-gassing
Brand
Amerisleep
iComfort® by Serta
Tempur-Pedic®
Mattress Type
Plant-Based
Gel & Traditional
Traditional
% of Reviews Mentioning Strong Odor
3%
8%
18%

Taken from third-party reviews on Amerisleep.com, and customer reviews and specifications on Tempurpedic.com and Serta.com

Myth:
Memory Foam is Toxic

Origin:
Polyurethanes and memory foam produced before the 1980s and 1990s sometimes contained harsh chemicals like formaldehyde, chlorofluorocarbons, PBDEs and other volatile organic compounds (chemicals that break down overtime and outgas into the air). Other chemicals used in the process also have some shocking warning labels in their raw form.

The Facts:
American and European brands have phased most of the worst offenders like CFCs, formaldehyde and carcinogenic PBDEs out of their production processes due to public concern, environmental restrictions, and government regulations. However, trade secrets limit the amount of information available publicly, especially for imported foams. Compounds that people find most concerning in today’s foams are methylene chloride, methylene dianiline, methyl benzene and vinylidene chloride, which are suspected carcinogens and/or mucous membrane/nervous system irritants in the raw formats.

Memory foam mattresses produced in the 1980s and 90s contained harsh chemicals

Some companies also use chemical flame retardants that can further contribute to off-gassing (versus fabric barriers). The biggest concerns are inhalation and absorption through the skin, however most of the risks are presented during manufacturing. People who complain of side effects, like difficulty breathing or eye/throat irritation, usually mention co-occurring strong chemical odors, associated with high VOC content and the aforementioned chemicals. MSDS for memory foam shows the primary concern of coarse dust causing mechanical lung or eye irritation (however unless you are chopping up your mattress you aren’t likely to be exposed to coarse dust).

Additionally, not all memory foam is riddled with toxic substances. For people seeking to reduce household chemicals or eco-friendly options, the independent Certi-PUR® organization tests polyurethane foams for VOC-levels, banned phthalates, formaldehyde, CFCs and overall durability. Foams with Certi-PUR® certification were found to have low-VOC levels and to meet the established chemical standards. Amerisleep uses certified foams, and also has a very low rate of complaint for odors.

Brand
Amerisleep
iComfort® by Serta
Tempur-Pedic®
Claims
Low VOCs, PBDEs, CFCs, phthalates, heavy metals, and formaldehyde
Free of PBDEs, CFCs, banned phthalates, lead, mercury
No mention of chemicals excluded or included
Fire Barrier
GreenGuard Rayon Fiber
Fire Blocker Rayon cellulose
Unspecified fabric barrier

Taken from third-party reviews on Amerisleep.com, and customer reviews and specifications on Tempurpedic.com and Serta.com

Myth:
Memory Foam Feels Like Quicksand

Origin:
Dense, temperature sensitive memory foam relies on body heat to soften and contour. This results in a gradual softening that can feel like sinking. In thicker, dense memory foam, the contouring can leave some people feeling stuck, and make it harder to move around or get out of bed.

The Facts:
This myth is true, but only for dense foams (over 5.0 lbs) with temperature-sensitive properties. Foams that are temperature-neutral contour instantly with pressure, and respond quicker to sleepers’ movements. This eliminates the sinking sensation, and because the memory foam is temperature-stable, the firmness is consistent across the mattress surface.

Dense, temperature sensitive memory foam mattresses will soften with body heat
Brand
Amerisleep
iComfort® by Serta
Tempur-Pedic®
Type
Temperature-Neutral
Temperature-Sensitive
Temperature-Sensitive
Response Time
Fast (8 seconds)
Moderate (15-30 seconds)
Slow (45-60 seconds)
Density
4.5 - 5.3 lbs
3.0 - 5.0 lbs
2.5 - 7.0 lbs

Taken from third-party reviews on Amerisleep.com, and customer reviews and specifications on Tempurpedic.com and Serta.com

Myth:
Memory Foam is Expensive

Origin:
The first brand of memory foam to go mainstream, Tempur-Pedic®, positions itself as higher-end luxury brand. Because their average mattresses range around $3000, many people continue to believe memory foam is always expensive.

The Facts:
Memory foam does cost more to produce than standard polyurethane foams, but today, many manufacturers make the material. Because memory foam is produced in greater quantities and there is now greater marketplace competition, many affordable brands have popped up. Brands that price their beds in the luxury range often do so to create a certain brand image or to finance their extensive and costly national advertising programs.

When shopping for a memory foam bed, you may see mattresses with similar densities and specifications that range significantly in price. Many good-quality memory foam beds are available that are priced similar to or even cheaper than leading innerspring brands, and not all brands that cost more use high-quality materials.

Memory foam has an expensive reputation because of brands like Tempur-Pedic®
Brand
Amerisleep
iComfort® by Serta
Tempur-Pedic®
10" Queen Mattress Cost
AS1 ($1199)
Genius® ($1374)
Contour™-Select ($2199)
Memory Foam Layer
3"
2.75"
4"
Density
4.0 lbs
3.0 lbs
5.3 lbs

Taken from third-party reviews on Amerisleep.com, and customer reviews and specifications on Tempurpedic.com and Serta.com

Guy happy that he knows about memory foam mattress myths

So, now you know the truth about memory foam. Just like with other all legends, memory foam mattress myths are part fact and part fiction, so don’t be sold or scared by statements that all memory is hot or all memory foam smells. Knowing what differentiates types of memory foam and what actually impacts comfort and satisfaction are important when shopping for a new bed, and researching rather than accepting memory foam mattress myths or anecdotes at face value can help you choose the right mattress for your needs without missing out on comfort.

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