Is a Foam Mattress Better than Spring?
Affordable Comfort and Support

Last updated on March 20, 2019

The newest mattresses on the market are made of foam, allowing for easy online ordering and shipping to your door, compressed in a box. But does foam have better performance than spring beds?

In our Expert Reviews, we evaluate foam beds with the criteria we use for innerspring and hybrid beds. While foam beds generally lag behind other types in terms of some preference factors, we found that a foam mattress can have support characteristics that are just as good or better than spring mattresses.

Below: Examples of polyurethane foams

Examples of foams in mattresses

What are the Benefits of Foam Mattresses?

One of the biggest benefits of polyurethane foam is its ability to resist body impressions— the compression that takes place over time due to your body’s weight. By adding the right amount and firmness of foam in strategic areas and layers, poly foam mattresses can be designed to resist body impressions and last longer.

Another benefit of quality poly foam as a comfort layer is that while it may compact a little bit right after you start sleeping on your new mattress, it doesn’t tend to change much after that. This characteristic can help protect the materials used in the lower levels of the bed from compacting as they otherwise might.

Polyurethane foam has a higher chemical content than natural materials such as rubber latex. But, in addition to its lower price tag, poly foam has the benefit of being noiseless and dustless, and it resists crumbling. In addition, the material features an open cell structure that lets it breathe, reducing the chance of mold and mildew.

Polyurethane foam has been used as both a comfort layer and solid support core in mattresses since the late 1950s, when it was first touted as a “space age” material that could be made at different levels of firmness to vary the feel of a mattress. Today's foams come in a huge variety, some flecked with gel or minerals, cut with holes or channels to improve air flow, or used in zones to improve support in certain areas of the mattress.

Today, most people still sleep on a mattress that contains at least a small amount of polyurethane foam, whether it’s a conventional innerspring model or a specialty mattress made with memory foam or latex.

Poly foam is a versatile and affordable mattress material, with applications ranging from constructions where the foam provides both comfort and support, to more targeted uses, where the material is used to create a low-cost support base for more expensive layers of memory foam and latex, or as an additional comfort layer.

How Long Does a Foam Mattress Last?

When shopping for mattresses, keep in mind that not all polyurethane foams are equal. Some foams offer more support, a greater resistance to compaction and a better feel. In general, higher density foams will last longer.

The "density" of a foam is expressed as the weight of one cubic foot of material. For example, the most common densities of foam used in the bottom layer of foam mattresses is either 1.8 lbs. per cubic foot, or 2.2 lbs. per cubic foot. Up at the top of mattress, in the comfort layers, you might see polyurethane foams in the 2.5 to 3.0 lb. range.

Keep in mind that memory foam is also a petroleum-based foam, so could be considered a subset of polyurethane foam. Memory foam, however, has a distinctive feel and comes in higher densities (up to about 5.5 lbs.)

Synthetic latex foam is also petroleum based, but has different qualities than standard polyurethane foam.

Most beds use uniform slabs of poly foam, but you'll sometimes see convoluted, or egg-crate, foam -- with channels or columns cut into the foam that can change the support and improve airflow (see an example in the third image above).

Keep in mind that the color of the foam means nothing. Some manufacturers add color to their foams, while some do not.

Brands of Foam Mattresses

Almost every mattress contains some polyurethane foam, and quite a few budget beds use exclusively poly foam. Examples reviewed by GoodBed include the Casper Essential mattress and the Tuft & Needle bed.

Many mattresses are constructed mainly of poly foam, with perhaps an inch or two of some kind of specialty foam, such as memory foam or latex. See the GoodBed reviews for the Luxi One mattress, which has a small layer of synthetic latex in addition to poly foams, and the Bear mattress, which contains an inch of memory foam in addition to poly foams.

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