Polyfoam vs Memory vs Latex Foams

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There is an article here on Time To Sleep HQ specifically on memory foam compared to latex foam, which you can check out here. This article will bring polyfoam into the equation. Let the battle of the foams begin!

Polyfoam Foam

What is Polyfoam?

Polyfoam is found very commonly in our lives. We barely notice it, but it’s in our kitchen sponges, clothes, car seats, matts, couch cushions, and mattresses. It is used so commonly that unless the foam in your mattress is specified to be another kind of foam, you can probably safely assume it is polyfoam. 

The full name of polyfoam is polyurethane foam. It’s a combination of diisocyanates and polyols, both of which are from petroleum. They start foaming when mixed, and then the foamy mixture is cured to keep it solid. There are countless air bubbles in the foam, which makes the foam bouncy and soft. 

Certification and Quality

There are a couple of things to look out for to make sure the bed you’re buying uses good quality polyfoam. 

CertiPUR-US is one of the main health standard certifications for foam. It is a voluntary certification program which checks that the foam is low in Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). VOCs are let off by many materials, both organic and synthetic. They include a wide variety of chemicals and may have short and long term effects on people’s health. The lower the amount of VOCs, the better, and certifications like CertiPUR-US give peace of mind. CertiPUR-US also checks that there are no dangerous heavy metals including mercury and lead, and that it has not had formaldehyde and certain other chemicals used in its creation. 

Some manufacturers will claim that they are using high density polyfoam, and that therefore the product is better for it. It’s really not that straight forward. There is no strict correlation between high density and high quality, and neither is there any correlation between density and firmness. You can have a medium high density foam which is very low quality and very soft. 

So what do you look for? While there’s no strict correlation between density and quality, you still don’t want to go for a foam that is too low in density. Density is measured in kilos per cubic metre. A density of around 30kg/m3 to 50kg/m3 is classified as medium, while 50kg/m3 and higher would be high density. Don’t go for a bed with lower than medium density as that won’t last. That said, it can be frustrating finding these specifications, as quite a few manufacturers don’t provide these numbers up front. 

The quality of polyfoam depends on factors which unfortunately, aren’t that obvious to the eye. See if you can find “high density” polyfoam or even “high resilience” polyfoam for a more durable product. 

How polyfoam mattresses are usually constructed

Many beds will use polyfoam in some part of its construction. Innerspring beds and hybrid beds will often use polyfoam in the comfort layers. If the foam here is a lower grade, the longevity of the bed will be compromised. Check for whether the foam is high density or high resilience – if it’s not explicitly said then it’s probably lower grade polyfoam. 

You’ll find that there are mattresses with polyfoam as a support layer available on the market. Support layers last longer than comfort layers, so if polyfoam is used in this layer, durability is less of an issue. Still, avoid lower grade polyfoams here as they won’t provide the support your body needs. Higher grade polyfoams will be able to provide you the support and conform to the shape of the sleeper’s body, so you may not want to rule polyfoam out entirely, but they may not be able to provide the same level of support that other bed types will be able to. 

Pros of Polyfoam Mattresses

Polyfoam conforms to the sleeper’s body shape and bounces back much quicker than most natural fibres, for instance wool. There is minimal movement transfer, so partners won’t wake each other up when they shift in their sleep. It is also flame resistant, but the greatest advantage that polyfoam offers is that it is cheap and easy to make. It can be made to virtually any standard of firmness and density simply by adjusting the formula by which the foam is made. This level of customisation and variance is very attractive to manufacturers, and for customers who have specifically unique needs in their beds. 

Cons of Polyfoam Mattresses

All polyfoam will offgas and let off VOCs. It would be helpful to let the mattress air for a day or two before sleeping on it, but doing that may not be enough to give you peace of mind if this is a particular concern for you. 

For some mattresses, it isn’t clear what grade or quality of polyfoam they’re using. And if the polfoam isn’t of a high enough quality, it won’t be able to support your body night after night without sagging and having a crater form. That is the point at which back pain starts knocking on your door. 

And lastly, heat retention. If you sleep hot, polyfoam mattresses may feel uncomfortable and keep you sweating, tossing, and turning. 

Environmental Impact

Similarly to memory foam mattresses, polyfoam is petroleum based. Polyols (one component of polyfoam) can sometimes be made from natural oils from renewable sources, but more often than not it’s from an unsustainable resource. Also, at the end of the polyfoam bed’s life, its material means it will be difficult to recycle. Not impossible, but difficult. 

Summary Table

Latex Foam – ProLatex Foam – Con
Conforms to body shape to relieve pressure from spine and neckA bit more movement transfer
Sleepers can move freely through the nightRetains heat
Little-no off gassingHeavy and difficult to move
Resilient and durable, longlasting If synthetic latex, will off gass
Anti-microbial and resistant to dust mites and mold 
No VOCs if natural latex 
Sustainable resource 
Biodegradable and recyclable 
Memory Foam – ProMemory Foam – Con
Virtually no movement transferRetains heat
Conforms extremely closely to sleeper’s shapeSleeper can feel trapped
Extremely comfortableVery dense so can take a while to get used to
Relieves pressure pointsOff gassing
Supports spine and keeps it alignedNot easy to recycle
Polyfoam – ProPolyfoam – Con
Little no movement transferOff gassing
Conforms closely to sleeper’s shapeRetains heat
ComfortableSleeper can feel trapped
Relieves pressure pointsNot easy to recycle
Supports spine and keeps it alignedCan sag over time, especially if lower grade material
Low cost 

Final Thoughts

If cost were not an issue, my preferences would lean more towards latex foam, then memory foam, and lastly polyfoam. All the advantages that polyfoam has, memory foam has, except for cost. 

That said, if your budget is a bit tight, polyfoam can still be an excellent option, as long as you steer away from the lower grades of polyfoam. 

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