Memory Foam Mattress Technologies: Claims vs Complaints

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See which memory foam mattress types live up to claims and which don’t.

Memory Foam Mattress Technologies: Claims vs Complaints

From time to time, we hear memory foam mattress complaints and concerns from prospective customers. To provide a clearer guide and address these issues, we wanted to break down each topic and compare the claims of major technologies. Commonly heard complaints include trapping heat, emission of VOCs,  sinking or feeling trapped, durability, and cost. Because memory foam is no longer one homogenous category, we’ll look at the performance of traditional, gel and plant-based memory foam mattress technologies in these five areas.

Top 5 Memory Foam Mattress Complaints

As a whole, memory foam remains the best rated mattress in terms of owner satisfaction (according to numerous online opinion polls and sources like Consumer Reports). But, no one bed can please every buyer and there is significant difference between manufacturers regarding quality and material. The following assessment will explain the nature of each complaint and how the three types measure up. We’ve also included this helpful chart from BestMattress-Brand.org that illustrates these concerns and brand performance. Presented for consideration are Tempurpedic’s classic memory foam, Amerisleep.com’s plant-based memory foam, and  Serta’s iComfort gel foam.

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Complaint #1: Trapped Heat

Hotter sleeping is one of the biggest complaints and concerns related to the memory foam mattress. The idea is that closed-cell or dense foams will retain heat and insulate the sleeper rather than transfer and disperse warmth.

  • Traditional memory foam has made little headway in addressing the heat issue since it was originally developed. Higher quality foams like Tempurpedic utilize open cells, but the convoluted foam and air channels still receive complaints of ineffectiveness. Newer methods of regulating heat involve special cover materials, but this too seems to have a small impact. Tempurpedic claims its studies show 0.2-0.7 degrees cooler sleep than gel.
  • Plant-based memory foam features a larger cell structure than traditional memory foam and doesn’t rely on body heat to conform. Amerisleep’s memory foam offers 9 times cooler sleep than traditional and 10x faster heat dissipation ability. When compared to gel-based, plant-based sleeps offers a reduction in heat of 25% according to Cargill.
  • Gel-based or gel-infused memory foam contains intermixed gel beads, poured gel, or gel pockets that claim to transfer heat for cooler sleep.  But as a conductive substance, gel absorbs the temperature of its surroundings and releases it slowly (think gel packs used to treat injuries). Mattress manufacturers claim their gel-based foam will absorb body heat and release it into the mattress, however after initial coolness the gel warms to the sleeper. These beds still receive complaints of warmth, and have come under advertising scrutiny recently for their coolness claims.

Complaint # 2: Off-gassing and VOCs

The release of VOCs depends on the chemical makeup of the mattress. Many manufacturers, even in traditional spring beds, use hazardous chemicals in manufacturing and for flame retardants. These are often detected by consumers in the odors released by new products, called offgassing or outgassing. The most concerning chemicals have been linked to respiratory effects, endocrine changes, and carcinogenic properties with long-term exposure. The biggest offenders have been outlawed in the past 5-10 years so some improvements have been made as far as US-made mattresses are concerned, though manufacturers aren’t required to disclose much.

  • Traditional memory foam mattress lines have been long-associated with concerns regarding release of VOCs. Some states have enacted labeling laws and recommend that it not be used in institutions such as nursing homes due to its effect on respiratory irritation. Even big name brands like Tempurpedic all but ignore the issue and decline to say one way or another, though complaints of noxious odors point to VOCs.
  • Plant-based memory foam reduces chemical impact by replacing petrochemicals with plant-based polyols.  It may still release a new odor for a short period of time as with most products, however appears to dissipate quicker and not have the same level of effect as traditional foams. Amerisleep’s memory foam is claimed to be free of toxic VOCs and is manufactured with zero emissions making it better for home air quality and environmental air.
  • Gel-based memory foam claims do not include reference to VOCs which may or may not mean they are released. As the gel is typically added or based on tradition memory foam, its profile is likely quite similar. These mattresses have shown some complaints of chemical odor, but to a lesser extent than standard memory foam alone (likely due to odor neutralizers and other gel additives).

Complaint #3: Trapped and Sinking Due to a Slow Response Time

Many traditional memory foam mattress owners have complained about a trapped or sinking feeling which is exacerbated by slow response time and temperature sensitivity. The factors which are measured to determine this include changeable viscosity, resilience, elasticity and composition. These can lead to a decrease in the ability to move easily.

  • Tempurpedic has the slowest rate with a 45-60 second response in its standard Tempur material. It is also highly temperature-sensitive, meaning in a cool room, the memory foam mattress will soften near the sleeper’s body but remain firmer else where. This can make movements in bed uncomfortable while the foam readjusts, or when trying to exit the bed (some report this feeling as trying to get out of a crater, for example).
  • Amerisleep features the quickest response time, 5-8 seconds. The firmness of their plant-based foam doesn’t fluctuate based on room or body temperatures, and the structure of the foam allows for rapid recovery when changing positions or getting out of bed.
  • Gel-based memory foam mattresses were slightly faster than traditional at 30-45 seconds. This is an improvement over standard foam, but still slow enough to garner some complaints.

Complaint #4: Durability

Durability ranges considerably within the memory foam mattress industry and is factored by density. Density is measured by calculating the weight of one cubic foot of memory foam, with an ideal range of 4.5 lbs. to 5.3 pounds. Anything above this weight is considered too hard to be comfortable and anything less can begin softening and losing support after just a few months.

  • Overall Tempurpedic has proven to offer durable mattresses; however they recently offered a lightweight Simplicity line at a 2.5lb density, which raises some concerns. Some of their other newer lines, offered to improve upon the aforementioned complaints, also use densities below the optimal range. This may mean the newer models won’t last quite as long, and indeed there are some reviewers complaining of early loss of comfort.
  • Amerisleep beds features density ranging from 4.5-5.3 pounds per cubic foot which is within the ideal range for durability. Since its introduction in 2007, consumers have found it to be durable and comfortable, with very few complaints mentioning unexpected softening or loss of support.
  • Gel-infused memory foam manufacturers Serta and Sealy both have introduced mattresses with 3.0-5.0 pound density, however due to the gel infusion they are difficult to rank. Concerns have been expressed within the industry as to whether these will wear evenly, and how long the gel effects will last.

Complaint #5: Price and Value

Price and value must be addressed when comparison shopping. If all factors were the same then price alone would dictate which product to purchase, however that is rarely the case. Initially, memory foam was introduced as a high-ticket luxury item, so many consumers still expect this type of mattress to be fairly expensive. However, now that the technology is more widespread, the cost of a a quality memory foam mattress can similar or even less to quality innerspring beds.

  • Tempurpedic is the highest priced of the memory foam manufacturers. They have built their brand on a luxury image, and thus rarely offer any sales or discounts. Newer lines have attempted to enter the mid-price market, but the low-density foam impedes the value as similar beds can be found for much less.
  • Amerisleep is the lowest priced of the compared manufacturers. It has also perhaps best-addressed the complaints of consumers regarding heat, odor, and value. They have built their brand on offering quality products at reasonable prices, made possible by an online-only, direct retail model versus the dealer-showroom model that encourages high markups.
  • Serta iComfort is less expensive than Tempurpedic, but still on the high side for mattresses. The value aspect is less known since the technology is newer.

Which Memory Foam Mattress Best Addresses the Issues?

It is only recently, within the past five years or so, that memory foam mattress manufacturers really started listening to consumer complaints. For several years, the big brand names ignored these issues and stubbornly clung to the idea that their way was best. However, the prominence of internet reviews and encroaching competition has led brands like Tempurpedic and Serta to start branching out in different directions to address concerns. As a younger brand, Amerisleep appears to have taken these considerations to heart from the start with their plant-based memory foam technology which addresses heat, odor, environmental concerns, and consumers’ budgets. While the other brands struggle to catch up with the modern buyers’ needs and wants, Amerisleep’s memory foam mattress line appears to be making headway via responsive, customer-centric product design.

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