Although polyurethane foam is one of the most commonly used materials in mattress comfort layers, it can sometimes be a sort of problematic character.
This isn’t to say polyfoam is necessarily a bad choice for your mattress, but you really have to know what you’re doing!
Polyfoam Is Everywhere
When you’re shopping around for a mattress, it’s important to realize just how ubiquitous polyfoam is.
This is especially true if you’re shopping in a brick-and-mortar store, rather than buying your mattress online.
It’s the single most common comfort layer material in the world, and most mattress models include at least some amount of polyfoam somewhere in their construction.
Polyfoam is also the material used to make those cheap, egg-crate mattress pads you’ve probably come across, and it’s also found in a variety of cushions, car seats, and more.
So if polyfoam is so ubiquitous, the question now becomes, what kinds should you be on the lookout for?
High-Density vs Low-Density Polyfoam
Density is the number one deciding factor between high-quality and low-quality foam.
Basically, the higher density you go, the better sleep you’re likely to get.
Low-grade polyfoam, usually called “conventional foam” by manufacturers, is defined as polyfoam that’s at 1.8 pounds per cubic foot or less.
Make no mistake—this stuff is utter garbage.
Unless it’s used in an extremely thin layer in the quilting of your mattress (<1 inch), do not buy any mattress with low-grade polyfoam.
It might feel OK at first, but conventional polyfoam will rapidly degrade over time—often lasting less than a year!
It’ll also tend to offer far less support than other kinds of polyfoam (more on that later).
If there’s polyfoam in a mattress you’re considering, be sure to get medium-grade (“HD polyfoam”) or high-grade (“HR polyfoam “) product.
HD polyfoam clocks in at 1.8 to 2.5 pounds per cubic foot, while HR polyfoam is 2.5 pounds per cubic foot or higher.
The increased density allows for improved support and durability.
Pros of Polyfoam Comfort Layers
Although polyfoam is certainly not the ideal mattress comfort layer material, it does come with a couple of perks it’s worth paying some attention to.
Don’t get me wrong, here—polyfoam certainly isn’t worthless; it just has its place.
Cheap and Easy to Get
The most obvious benefit of polyfoam is a practical one—it’s incredibly easy to get ahold of.
You have your pick of polyfoam mattresses to choose from, and none of them are likely to be ridiculously expensive (provided you’re shopping smart).
You’re probably not going to be running around smashing any piggy banks to pay for a polyfoam mattress, and there’s no shame in being thrifty!
Another advantage to polyfoam is that it tends to sleep a little cooler than its closely-related cousin, memory foam.
Both polyfoam and memory foam are porous materials filled with a lot of air.
Most memory foam mattresses are built with a closed-cell structure—meaning the air in the little pockets throughout your comfort layer is trapped, with nowhere to go.
Your body gives off heat when you lie down, and the air inside these pockets heats up—essentially enveloping you in a cushion of hot air.
This often leads to an uncomfortably hot mattress, which can disrupt your sleep-wake cycle, and even mess up your metabolism!
Polyfoam, on the other hand, is open-cell
This allows how air a chance to escape and cool air a chance to sleep in, greatly reducing issues with hot sleep.
Now, this certainly isn’t true of all memory foam.
In fact, a lot of top-rated memory foam brands like Nectar use gel-infused memory foam to help alleviate some of those issues with sleeping hot.
Other brands, such as Nolah, use an open-celled memory foam structure that sleeps at least as cool as polyfoam.
It’s also worth noting that polyfoam, while reasonably cool, isn’t the coolest material on the market.
Decent Motion Isolation
Polyfoam also offers decent motion isolation.
This means that if you’re trying to sleep and your partner is a little restless, their movements are less likely to wake you up.
Polyfoam does a pretty good job of absorbing motion, preventing the movements of your partner from reaching across the bed to you.
Of course, it’s not as good as memory foam when it comes to this, but for the most part it’ll get the job done.
Cons of Polyfoam
Obviously, though, polyfoam also comes with a number of downsides.
Be sure to have a look at this section before running off and buying a polyfoam mattress!
As I mentioned earlier, polyfoam—especially low-grade polyfoam—tends to have a pretty poor life expectancy.
It’s often the first thing to give out in a mattress, but you might not always realize that the polyfoam is the reason for your reduced sleep quality.
A lot of mattress salesmen and manufacturers like to highlight other materials used in their product besides polyfoam, so you could easily assume that these are the reason for your poor sleep and figure that’s just how mattresses work.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though.
If you stop buying low-grade polyfoam comfort layers and invest in higher-quality materials, your mattresses will stay comfortable for much, much longer than you’d probably expect.
Unlike materials like latex and memory foam, polyfoam does not offer any kind of localized support.
You lie down on the mattress, your body sinks in, and if any parts of your body aren’t getting the kind of support they need, there’s nothing for it but to shift positions until your sleep becomes at least a little more tolerable.
Not all people need the kind of location-specific support that comes with higher-tech materials, but especially if you’ve been suffering from something like back pain, you really need to make sure you’re getting the right mattress for your needs.
Memory foam mattresses in particular offer highly advanced support for all kinds of sleepers, effectively eliminating the possibility of painful pressure points many people experience from sleeping on the wrong mattress.
Tends to Permanently Compress
Although polyfoam is a naturally springy material that will instantly pop back into place as soon as you get off of it, a lot of the lower-grade products in particular tend to permanently compress a fair amount in the first few weeks of ownership.
This compression leaves your mattress substantially firmer than you were probably anticipating when you first bough the thing.
This isn’t necessarily that big a deal, since this compression tends to bottom out after a decent amount of use, but it does make selecting the right firmness level for your polyfoam comfort layers substantially more difficult.
Polyfoam Is Not Super Eco-Friendly
Polyfoam is a synthetic material, so obviously when you buy a mattress made with it, you’re not getting the same kind of eco-friendly benefits you might expect from, say, an organic mattress.
Some polyfoam-based mattresses do carry something called a CertiPUR certification, but this doesn’t actually mean all that much.
The certification was invented by the polyfoam industry itself, and while it does mean that your mattress is missing certain environmentally harmful materials, it’s by no means comprehensive and it doesn’t carry the same weight as some of the more legitimate, third-party certifications you’ll find.
And of course, at the end of the day, you are sleeping on a pile of God-knows-what kind of artificial materials.
There’s only so much eco-friendliness you can expect!
Final Verdict: Should You Get Polyfoam?
So, all in all, what’s the final verdict—should you get polyfoam, or shouldn’t you?
To be sure, it’s not exactly a luxury material.
There are a lot of top-quality mattresses out there you can get for very cheap (which you can read our full guide on here)!
Still, you don’t necessarily have to avoid the stuff like the plague—you just have to be shopper-conscious.
Don’t go for low-grade polyfoam in the upper layers of your mattress unless it’s in an extremely thin layer.
Don’t expect to get the same kind of performance out of polyfoam as you might hope for from higher-end materials like memory foam, either.
It might sleep a little cooler than memory foam, but it offers far worse support, motion isolation, and durability.
It’s fairly inexpensive, but it also tends to compress substantially over the first couple weeks of use.
It’s also not exceptionally eco-friendly (though to be fair, you can’t really expect that much out of this cheap a product).
All in all, polyfoam’s ubiquity is much more the result of its price than its actual quality.
You might be able to get a decent product out of polyfoam if you look hard enough, but don’t be expecting any miracles.
If you’re looking for the best mattress on the market, you’ll have much better luck checking out our complete guide to the best mattress of 2018.
This showcases the top products on the market, many of which are more affordable than you might think!
Don’t give up on a good night’s sleep.
Just play it smart!
Founder and Owner
Ted is the founder and owner of Mattress Guides and is an expert in his field. Ted believes that having the right mattress is key to getting a good night’s sleep and feeling well-rested in the morning.
Updated at November 6, 2020