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Some Positives and Negatives of Memory Foam Mattresses

Nov 15, 2012

In my 15 years of working in the and around the mattress business, I am daily amazed at how polarizing the subject of mattresses can be, how much emotion is attached to them, and just how politically charged the subject can be. Its a simple foam box we lay down on, right? And yet so much energy is expelled extolling their virtues and decrying their negatives, and none more so than memory foam mattresses. 

As I write this I am laying in my memory foam mattress, quite comfortably. I am soon going to be switching to a latex mattress, for a while, to give that experience a test drive so I can blog about it. But let's start by discussing some of the benefits and positives of the memory foam mattress.

Not all foams are created equally. The foam mattress you buy on sale at Costco is not the same quality you buy from Nest Bedding in Albany Berkeley or any other mattress store. Memory foam is not too unlike cars: that all get you from point A to point B, but some are a much better quality. They are all still cars though. Some memory foams are a very low quality, will not hold up long under the pressure of your body, combined with the moisture from your body. While it looks the same as other types of foams, low quality foams tend to sleep hot, off-gas horribly and not last long. Conversely, a good quality foam with hold up over a long period of time, will have little to no off-gassing and will not sleep hot. It all has to do with the construction and science behind the formulation, combined with the manufacturing practices. Some foams are poured and shipped to off-gas in your home, some are cured, or pre-off-gassed so you don't have to subject your body to the chemical off-gassing.  

So, a positive: A good quality foam mattress is dense enough to cradle the curves of your body without allowing you to sink too much, while providing the support without the pressure of a spring. A spring mattress, or coil mattress, will send your body weight back at your body through deflection, whereas a foam mattress will absorb most of that energy. This attribute allows for support without decreasing blood flow and without causing pressure on injuries or just creating new pain. Time and time again, over my illustrious career, I have witnessed customer's lives changed by a good foam mattress as they get proper rest for the first time in years. 

Another positive: Choose the right kind of memory foam mattress and you could be sleeping comfortably for 12-15 years. My last foam mattress was from the last company I worked for, an eco-friendly mattress company in the city of San Francisco. After just a year of sleeping on that mattress, it developed a significantly mushier side where I usually slept. That company frequently dealt with defective batches of foam due to manufacturing issues in China. This was due, in part, to the manufacturing facility and the challenges they were experiencing at the time. However, a good quality foam mattress potentially could last you 12-15 years if you care for it properly, which includes a breathable, slatted platform or base, waterproof, breathable protector and occasional rotating of the mattress. I always tell customers to think about their car seats. You don't flip and turn your foam in the car seat, and yet, despite lots of pressure in one direct area over a long period of time, even years, the seat does not develop a body impression. Good quality foam will last a long time.

So, we have a supportive surface which provides supportive sleep, and we have durability. We can also add affordability, as some, not all, memory foam mattresses are affordable. Now, taking the leading brand out of the equation, you can get a very good quality memory foam mattress, in a queen size, between $1000-$2000. Of course, most people have experienced the sticker shock of the "T" brand of memory foam mattresses, but with them you are paying a large percentage of the price for advertising expenses. There are good quality foam beds out there that will not cost you an arm and a leg, and you don't have to buy a Chinese made memory foam mattress to get a good price.  

Now, some of the negatives that can be associated with memory foam. First of course is that memory foam is made with polyurethane foams. Polyurethane foams come from synthetics, which comes from petroleum. There are chemicals involved in the process of polyurethane foam, chemicals in the polyester or microfiber fabrics that usually cover them, and in the material used to make the bed fire retardant. Not the nicest thought in the world. Foam and synthetics are a major part of our lives, and many people are trying to limit the amount of synthetics in their personal lives. The computer and phones we use are made with petroleum based synthetics, the foam in the bumpers of our cars, on our steering wheels and car seats, airline seats, chairs, under our carpets, the carpets themselves, most of the building materials, etc. We have done a wonderful job of exposing our bodies to an onslaught of chemicals in the name of convenience. 

One thing the mattress business has taught me is that everything we make as humans has some impact on our environment, both personal and community wide. Latex mattresses for example, which are made with pure rubber. There is energy expelled, transportation involved, chemicals involved in processing, not to mention the global demand for rubber and the subsequent deforestation of native rain forests in some regions to grow cash crops of rubber trees. Everything we do affects everything around us, so we must carefully consider balance our needs with the products we buy. 

The memory foam mattresses we carry at Nest Bedding are some of the more responsible foams we have seen, in that they are made in the USA which cuts down on shipping costs and compress-packed so they can be shipped in a consolidated fashion, reducing shipping costs and environmental impact. They do not rely on the Chemical Companies for their fire barrier, instead opting to use a more expensive material that does not rely on a chemical reaction to prevent fire ignition. And they use natural sources for their fabrics which sleep cooler and lessen the exposure to synthetics. 

Another negative to most memory foam mattresses are the materials used to make them pass federal fire standards. Keep in mind, the feds don't care what a company uses to make the mattress fire retardant, just as long as it passes the burn tests. However, the chemical fire retardants are cheap and in order to maintain higher profit margins, they will opt to use the chemicals. I don't know how some mattress salespeople and store owners live with themselves, allowing parents with babies or small children to sleep on these mattresses, knowing full well they are a chemical experiment. I won't debate anyone on the purported safety of these untried and untested chemicals, but if you want to argue that breathing in those chemicals is safe and won't cause you any harm, you will find yourself with few advocates in your corner.

The memory foam mattresses we sell at Nest Bedding, from Bed In A have addressed many of these negatives in a way no other brand has, to where I feel safe offering them to my customers, as an alternative to organic and natural latex mattresses. The simple fact is some customers either can't fit an organic mattress in their budget, are allergic to latex or simply can't sleep comfortably on a latex rubber. Bed In A Box, with their non-mystery fire retardant fabric, which is Oeko-Tek certified and foams that have been cured so you don't have to have them off-gassing chemicals in your home, makes a memory foam mattress accessible for most consumers. And because of their efficient business model, combined with Nest Bedding's, we can offer them at prices well-below what you will find at your local mattress sale or local mattress store throughout the San Francisco Berkeley Bay Area. 

So, in review: Not all memory foam is created equal. Some of it is good quality, some poor quality. Do your research. Memory foam is created from synthetics, and again, some have better manufacturing practices which result in a better customer experience. Memory foam mattresses can be a good value and are a very good choice for consumers with injuries or pressure-sensitive physical issues. 


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