As far as pillows go, foam is the current buzzword. Memory foam is the most recent innovation, but latex foam has been around since the 1950s. You’d think the newest innovation would leave little room for an old standard, but for some, latex could be a preferable pillow choice. So how do you choose between them for the optimum in bedtime comfort? Here’s a comprehensive guide to which foam is right for you.
What Is Memory Foam?
Memory foam is made from viscoelastic polyurethane. It was originally created for use by astronauts, though it never actually made it to space. It was actually first used in medicine in wheelchair seat cushions and post surgery padding before making the commercial transition to bedding. Memory foam was designed to be an innovative material, and thus has very unusual and unique properties.
Memory foam can be initially hard to the touch, but the natural heat of the body softens it and it molds around it after a few moments. A visible imprint is left behind for a few seconds. Memory foam adjusts around pressure and is slow to bounce back, which gives it that typical “cushioning” feel.
What Is Latex?
Latex originally became known as a natural type of foam, made from the sap of the hevea-brasilienis rubber tree. The sap is foamed to create a myriad of tiny air bubbles, giving it the soft and bouncy texture latex is known for.
These days, however, synthetic forms of latex are increasingly common. Synthetic latex is typically made from styrene-butadiene rubber. It can feel very similar to but does not always have the durability of natural latex.
Latex is manufactured in two main ways: the Dunlop method, in which latex is poured into the mold in one go, or the Talalay method, in which it’s poured in layers.
Natural latex is chemical free, and is often marketed as a “green” alternative to memory foam, having many similar properties. Latex and latex-like foams (both natural and synthetic) are typically soft and bouncy, highly durable, and long lasting. Synthetic latex has a similar bounce and feel, though it may be slightly less sturdy and durable in some cases.
What’s the Difference?
Latex is either a natural product, or a synthetic interpretation of one. Conversely, memory foam is 100% man made, and created with a very specific weight-absorbing intention.
Memory foam acts somewhat like an intensified version of latex. While latex is soft to the touch and springs back relatively quickly, memory foam is slower to bounce back after touch.
Another main area of difference is that of price range. Memory foam has a large amount of variance in both quality and price, whereas latex is typically all of similar, high quality, with a matching premium price tag. As with all bedding purchases, it’s important to read the label in order to know exactly what you’re getting.
Benefits of Memory Foam in Pillows
The main selling point of memory foam in pillows is that they hold the contours of the head and neck, distributing weight evenly, relieving pressure, and helping with neck and back pain. This can also help with a better night’s sleep and a feeling of well restedness.
Memory foam is also beneficial for those who share a bed with a restless sleeper. Because it’s so energy absorbent, the tossing and turning of a sleeping partner on a memory foam pillow will have little to no ripple effect. They’re also normally squeak-free.
Another big benefit of a memory foam pillow is its large and encompassing range. You can buy a fairly inexpensive, low-density memory foam pillow, and it’ll feel softer than a higher-priced counterpart (though you may prefer a firmer pillow in the long run). However, be prepared for it to last much less well than a higher density, and thus pricier, memory foam pillow. Nonetheless, this makes memory foam a solid budget pillow option.
Memory foam and latex are both aesthetically attractive pillow options, because of their natural return to plumpness after use. Neither require fluffing, which can cut down on bed-making time.
Latex and memory foam are also resistant to dust mites, making either an excellent pillow choice for those with allergies or asthma.
Benefits of Latex in Pillows
Both memory foam and latex pillows can be more durable than standard down feather pillows. They tend to outlast polyester and feather in terms of both comfort and hygiene. However, because latex can last even longer than memory foam.
A latex pillow does mold to the contours of the head and neck, but doesn’t hold in such a rigid way. It also feels much softer to the immediate touch than memory foam. It’s a good choice for those who like the feel of memory foam, but not its initial firmness.
Latex is also naturally antifungal and hypoallergenic, which generally makes it a hygienic, comfortable pillow choice. It can have better heat and water dissipation than memory foam, meaning it can be much more comfortable in hot weather or those whose body temperatures cause discomfort.
Drawbacks of Memory Foam In Pillow
It really comes down to personal taste. Memory foam is unsuitable as a bedding choice for babies, who can get stuck in the contours and struggle to breathe.
Memory foam also retains heat, which can be really uncomfortable in warm climate, and water, which can feel quite sweaty.
Drawbacks Of Latex In Pillows
Buying a latex pillow can be confusing because of the wide variety of both raw materials used and methods of manufacture.
Latex pillows can have an initial unpleasant smell after manufacture. This does fade over time.
Latex is also less ergonomically designed than memory foam. For those with joint pain, weight distribution issues, memory foam may be the healthier pillow choice. A further significant drawback of latex as a pillow choice is for those with a latex allergy, for whom it can be quite the poor choice.
Which Is the Better Choice?
A lot of the choice here depends on personal preference. Memory foam contours and is slow to react, while latex is bouncier and softer. Memory foam can be quite affordable, but, as with all bedding products, you get what you pay for, both with memory foam and with latex.
In terms of memory foam, some of our favorites include the SpineAlign and the Coop Home Goods. The former is slightly more expensive, at $129, and specifically designed for side and back sleepers and is customizable in terms of height and support. The latter is more universally designed for all types of sleepers, and is a real bargain with prices starting at $52.99.
If you’re interested in latex, some of our favorite latex pillows are the Malouf Talalay and the Naturepedic. At $70, the Malouf is incredibly good value, particularly for a 100% natural latex pillow. Naturepedic’s offering is slightly pricier, starting at $99, and more specialized for back and side sleepers.