6 Questions To Ask When Buying a Memory Foam Mattress

Guide to Buying a Memory Foam Mattress

There are many buying guides for mattresses available, but how many really break down the most important considerations for choosing a memory foam mattress? As a shopper, you want to know the key factors that determine the quality of a mattress and ensure your satisfaction. We’ll take you through the six biggest questions everyone should ask when purchasing a memory foam mattress, and why.

Memory Foam Mattress Buying, At a Glance:

  • Origin
  • Density
  • Composition
  • Chemicals
  • Reviews

1) Where is the memory foam mattress made?

A product’s country of origin has a much to do with it’s quality, environmental impact, and possibly even ethical implications. Countries like China have few environmental or labor safeguards, as their primary motivation is to export a cheap commodity. Quality and product material standards are also different than the U.S., as evidenced by several recent recalls and scandals.

Chinese-made memory foam often contains harmful chemicals, and is typically manufactured in an open-air environment, with no limits on pollutants released into the atmosphere. Many also use banned or toxic chemicals as pest deterrents and flame retardants, which aren’t necessarily required to be disclosed. Many big-box retailers source their foams from China, so always be sure to check not just the origin of mattress assembly, but where the actual foam was poured and created.

U.S. manufacturers must comply with fair labor laws, pay fair wages, meet environmental regulations, and guarantee a certain standard of product safety. While this may mean costs are a little higher (usually marginal), consumers have to ask themselves if the effects to the economy, their health, environment, and product longevity risks are worth a few dollars of savings.

2) What is the density of the memory foam?

Density is a reflection of how much a material weighs in a given square foot. In a memory foam mattress, this density plays a role in the “memory” feel. Denser foams tend feel more viscous, whereas low density foams offer less of the floating, memory sensation. Though, thick layers of very high density foam can give sleepers a trapped or stuck feeling as well. Optimal foam density tends to be around 4-5lbs, typically with 4.5lb density offering the best quality and support ratio.

If the manufacturer cannot or will not tell you the density of their memory foam mattress, this a cause for concern. Trustworthy brands should be open about their products, if they are confident in the quality and value offered. So, make sure you can find out the memory foam density, and that it is near 4.5lb for the best chance at a comfortable, durable bed.

3) Is the material petroleum or plant-based memory foam?

Next, you will want to see what the memory foam mattress is made of. Many retailers won’t release the full details to keep their formulas proprietary, but they should at least be able to provide a general overview.

Memory foam is polyurethane type foam, and it is typically made with oil-based additives. Now, these can be either petroleum based, or plant-based. Plant-based memory foam has been shown to sleep cooler and dissipate heat better the petro-based foams. And of course, plant based materials are more environmentally friendly and far more sustainable than petroleum.

As an aside, those claiming to make memory foam from latex are likely retailing latex foam mattresses, which are distinctly different from memory foam. While it is true that they share many good characteristics, the conforming and pressure relieving capabilities of latex differ from memory foam.

4) What is the VOC profile of the mattress?

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are chemicals that react with and disperse into the air. Many products like foams, paints, and glues will continue emitting VOCs for days or years after manufacturing is complete. This is an issue commonly referred to as “off-gassing”, noticeable in the odors produced (think new car, new paint, new furniture).

VOCs are an issue because these chemicals and their byproducts build up in human tissues, and many are known or suspected carcinogens, cancer-causing agents. Since we spend more time in our bedrooms than almost anywhere else, exposure to toxic chemicals here should be limited as much as possible. While Tempurpedic and other brands neither deny or confirm the existence of VOCs in their mattresses, the odors and side effects experienced by sensitive people indicate many do. Look for a natural memory foam brand like Amerisleep that is VOC free  due to it’s plant-based composition and produced in zero emissions environment.

5) What type of flame retardants does the manufacturer use?

Another chemical issue to be aware of stems from flame retardants. Recent legislation requires manufacturers to meet or exceed a resistance to open flame. While the measure was intended to help prevent tragedies linked to mattress fires, the chemicals that many manufacturers use to meet these guidelines pose a whole other set of problems.

PBDEs are one of the more concerning chemicals, of the few that have actually been studied, and its use is being voluntarily phased out in the United States and is banned in Europe. It is still used actively in other places, and manufacturers are not required to disclose the use. Several other worrisome chemical barriers remain in use with little knowledge of possible side effects.

When you are looking for a new memory foam mattress, ask the retailer what type of flame barrier they use or what is added to meet the flammability guidelines. Fabric barriers that utilize rayon and wool are preferable because there is nothing toxic to leach into your body or bedroom.

6) Does the company have reviews? Verified, 3rd party reviews?

Lastly, it is always a good idea to take a look at reviews before making a big purchase like a memory foam mattress. Other owners can offer you valuable insights into pros and cons and possible issues. Look for reviews that mention similar problems that you face, lower back pain for example, and whether or not claims match reality. Remember that any website can add text to their product pages, so you should check and see if the reviews are third party verified. This means an external company matches order details to reviewer details, ensuring the reviews you read come from real people and are legitimate.

Whenever you invest your time and money in a purchase, you want to make sure you are getting the best value, and keeping your family and home safe. For this reason, when researching memory foam, you should take care to check the manufacturing processes, chemical composition and additives, and reviews. Doing these things will help ensure you get the best memory foam mattress for comfort and health.

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