Polyfoam is a common mattress material, yet for some reason, it doesn’t seem to get talked about very much.
The mattress world loves to talk about memory foam, latex, and—to a lesser degree—innersprings, but plain old polyfoam doesn’t get the same spotlight.
Today, I aim to fix that.
In this article, I’ll be going into some depth about this ubiquitous, sleep-worthy substance.
What is Polyfoam?
“Polyfoam” is the common name for polyurethane foam, which you’ll also sometimes see shortened to “poly.”
Polyfoam is very similar in construction to memory foam—both are made up of incredibly complex chemicals.
It isn’t the same stuff plastic is made of, but that’s probably the nearest neighbor in terms of substances you’d run across in your daily life.
Unlike memory foam, poly doesn’t have viscoelastic properties—so instead of compressing from your body heat, it pushes back against your weight, providing a springier, bouncier feel.
Where Can I Find It?
This one’s pretty easy: polyfoam is everywhere.
Most mattresses produced these days have at least one layer of polyfoam somewhere in them.
If you’re looking for a polyfoam (or partly polyfoam) mattress, you won’t have to look very far at all.
But if, for some reason, you’re just looking to get your hands on a hunk of raw ‘foam any way you can, you can also find it in furniture upholstery and vehicle interiors!
Pillows, helmet paddings, and fancier-than-styrofoam coolers can all be made of polyfoam—like I said, it’s pretty ubiquitous.
Well, that’s a pretty easy question to answer.
Polyfoam is everywhere because it’s cheap.
Seriously, this stuff is not hard to make (as long as you’ve got all the right industrial-grade manufacturing equipment, of course)!
This means it’s an economical choice for manufacturers who need something cushy to fill up their products without breaking the bank.
And, of course, what’s cheap for the manufacturers will also be cheap for you.
So, to return to the subject of mattresses: polyfoam’s greatest strength is its inexpensiveness.
The price range on a polyfoam mattress is hundreds of dollars lower than the range on, say, a latex mattress.
Polyfoam is also notable for its lightweight nature.
Unlike some of the heavier beds you’ll see on this site, polyfoam is highly maneuverable, making it easy to set up wherever you might want it.
It’s also pretty good at motion isolation—that is, it allows you to move on one part of the bed without having that motion reverberate through the whole thing.
Polyfoam isn’t quite as good as memory foam in this regard, but it’s routinely better-rated than memory foam at temperature regulation.
Memory foam can sleep awfully hot, and while polyfoam isn’t too much different, that lack of viscoelasticity is a key feature in allowing polyfoam to circulate air.
They say you get what you pay for—and while that might not always be true, it certainly is when it comes to polyfoam mattresses.
The benefits of its inexpensive nature are counteracted by some serious downsides.
But, if budget is one of your top concerns, those just might be concerns you’re willing to set aside.
Let’s dive right in!
First off, poly is not known for its durability.
Exactly how long it lasts will depend on its density (more on that in a moment), and only the densest polyfoams will have a full, decade-long lifespan.
Second, polyfoam is—unfortunately—not particularly eco-friendly.
The manufacturing process can emit all kinds of funky chemicals into the air and water, and there’s not always a good amount of governmental oversight.
So if you’re an environmentalist on a budget, you’ll want to start looking elsewhere.
There’s also the problem of off-gassing, which, if you aren’t familiar, refers to the tendency of a new mattress to emanate an unpleasant, chemically smell.
Polyfoams are the primary culprits of off-gassing.
While this shouldn’t be a serious health hazard, it’s definitely worth making sure your mattress has Certi-PUR US certification.
That way, you can sleep comfortably knowing you aren’t breathing in hazardous chemicals.
Unfortunately, that isn’t the end of the downsides.
For a lot of folks, polyfoam simply isn’t comfortable.
It’s hard to say exactly why, but I get the sense that it’s because polyfoam, although it lacks the worst qualities of memory foam, also lacks the best ones.
It doesn’t provide that sinking-into-the-bed feeling, it doesn’t relieve pressure points as well, and it tends to break down to become softer than you expected.
Polyfoam isn’t the worst material you could be sleeping on, but it does leave a lot to be desired.
Grades of Polyfoam
If, despite all those downsides, you’re still interested in a mattress that’s primarily or partially constructed out of polyfoam, you’ll need to know about the grades of polyfoam.
These three categories sort poly primarily by density, which is also an indicator of firmness and durability.
When you’re looking for the absolute cheapest in polyfoam, you’re looking at conventional.
It’s low-density, low durability, and very soft.
This softness can be comfortable at first as part of your mattress’s comfort layer, but it’ll quickly compress and leave you with an unpleasant indentation.
I don’t recommend conventional polyfoam in any mattress.
High Density (or, HD) Polyfoam
The next step up is high density (HD) polyfoam.
You’ll usually see this in the comfort layer of the mattress rather than the support layer, as it enjoys some of the comfortable softness of conventional while retaining a degree of durability.
This is because, as you can guess from the name, HD polyfoam is higher density than conventional.
It can also be made firmer than usual in order to suffice in the support layer, but this isn’t really ideal.
HD is your best choice if budget is the ultimate concern—it’ll last long enough to be worth your while, without the up-front expense of higher-quality materials.
High Resiliency (or, HR) Polyfoam
Finally, at the top of the scale, we’ve got high resiliency (HR) polyfoam.
Unlike HD, HR polyfoam can be made as soft or as firm as you like.
No matter how soft it feels, you’re never sacrificing durability.
(I should mention, though, for comparison’s sake, that no polyfoam is going to match the durability of a top-tier latex mattress.)
This blend of softness and durability makes it a stellar choice among polyfoams for the comfort layer.
Since it can be constructed in varying degrees of firmness, a support layer of firmer HR poly can be a great choice as well.
HR is going to be pricier than lower-grade polyfoam, but compared to a mattress made of different materials, you’re still looking at a good alternative price-wise.
And there you have it: the guide to polyfoam you never knew you needed.
I’d recommend mattresses of this material primarily as a short-term solution (guest or kid’s bed) than for your everynight needs, but I know cash is often in short supply.
Sometimes, you just have to bite the bullet and buy poly.
Any more questions? Check out our blog!
And, as ever, happy sleeping!