You may have heard the term “memory foam” thrown around in regards to mattresses and other bedding. “Viscoelastic foam” crops up less frequently, but it’s still a head-turner. What exactly is the difference? Let's take a look at Memory Foam vs Viscoelastic Foam.
What Is Viscoelastic Foam?
Viscoelastic foam is a polyurethane and chemical blend. Polyethylene is a byproduct, a polymer of petroleum refining, and adding chemicals to its make-up gives it low-resilience.
The foam reacts to any pressure you apply, and slowly sinks to cradle whatever object you place upon it. This ranges from items as small as pens, to as large as your body. When you remove the heat and pressure the foam rises, remembering its former shape.
Unlike other forms of foam, there’s no way to break in viscoelastic foam. It will never hold the shape of your body or head, no matter how long you spend using it. This makes it excellent for its original purpose: airplane seats.
Dozens of people sit in the same airplane seat every day. With any other material, the seats would become lumpy, misshapen and uncomfortable. In the 1970s NASA created viscoelastic foam to combat the issue and since then it’s become the most-used foam in bedding and furnishings to this day.
However, that doesn’t make it foolproof. As the foam ages, it’ll start to sag rather than contour to your shape, growing uncomfortable and nearly unusable.
Attributes of Viscoelastic Foam
With the basics in mind, what are the main attributes of a viscoelastic foam? There are a handful that stand out and give this substance an advantage over other types of bedding and comfort material.
1. Slow Sinking and Rising—Fantastic For Your Body
The low-resilience of viscoelastic foam has it sinking and rising slowly with applied pressure. This is excellent for its use in bedding. You’ll never find yourself unceremoniously plummeting into your mattress or pillow, or shooting up out of it either.
You’ll find yourself moving at an even rate as you sink, but the more pressure applied, the deeper your body will go. So, for example, your shoulders will sink deeper than your legs, but no faster.
This works wonderfully to keep the spine aligned on a viscoelastic foam mattress.
Spinal alignment keeps away many spinal ailments including chronic pain and sciatica. That makes this material a healthy choice for someone shopping for a mattress.
Pressure relief is something else that goes hand in hand with the slow sink and rise with the mattress. You’re essentially weightless on viscoelastic foam, which relieves any pressure on your joints.
It’s no secret that pressure on your joints hurt, which in turn can lead to reduced mobility if the pain becomes severe.
It’s vital that you keep your joints and limbs as pain-free and healthy as possible—experts at Harvard Health state as much about your shoulders. Sreevathsa Boraiah, MD, an orthopedic surgeon discussing the topic at Northwell Health, stresses that keeping your hips healthy is of equal importance.
One last perk of alignment, keeping your body aligned may reduce the symptoms of sleep apnea as it keeps your airways open.
2. It Lacks Bounce
Health aside, another attribute of viscoelastic foam is that it lacks bounce. When you think of beds, sooner or later your mind probably jumps to kids jumping on the bed and what a nuisance it is. There’s none of that with viscoelastic foam mattresses.
Thanks to its low resilience, it’ll sink and stay sinking if you attempt to jump on it. It literally cannot bounce back up while you’re still applying that pressure—but this only applies to where your feet are on the bed. Where other mattresses create a large dent when someone applies pressure on them, the viscoelastic foam won’t.
This isolation of motion means that even if you’re jumping for all you’re worth on the left side of the mattress, someone sleeping on the right will feel next to nothing of your antics.
Viscoelastic foam mattresses isolate motion better than other mattresses. That makes it an excellent material to use in couples’ mattresses, and it’s extremely unique when you remember that even basic stuffing has a little bounce to it.
3. It’s Widely Available and Inexpensive
Having been around since the 70s and nowadays being highly popular means the novelty has worn off and it’s widely available.
Its widespread availability makes it a cost-effective option for bedding, mattresses and other furniture. You can’t say the same about every mattress substance—hybrid mattresses are far costlier than viscoelastic ones, for example.
4. It’s Hypoallergenic
Visco electric foam’s density makes it almost impossible to penetrate with dust, mites or other undesirable substances. Instead, it settles on the surface which you can easily wipe down. Its inability to hold the irritating particles makes it hypoallergenic, great for sensitive skin.
5. It Holds Heat
As the viscoelastic foam is so dense, it holds heat well making it an excellent substance for winter mattresses. It can get painfully warm in summer though, which is one of its main disadvantages.
Disadvantages of Viscoelastic
Speaking of disadvantages, there are several drawbacks with viscoelastic foam that reveal its imperfect nature.
Although it’s a widespread substance, it doesn’t last forever. Eventually, the elastic stops bouncing back, letting the mattress sag and leaving you in need of a replacement. The mattresses generally have a warranty of about a decade, which at least takes some of the sting out of needing to replace your mattress.
It’s clearly not the sturdiest foam in the world, but it gets the job done.
Another disadvantage is how there’s no real way you can escape the sinking sensation of the mattresses enveloping and cradling you by night. Not everyone wants to sleep in their mattress like that.
There are options other than viscoelastic for those who dislike the substance, so at least there’s a positive. But here’s the thing: is one of those substances memory foam?
Memory Foam vs Viscoelastic Foam: The Distinction
There’s one clear difference between memory foam and viscoelastic foam: the name. Other than that, there’s no difference between the substances.
It’s not a matter of them being highly similar but differently named foams. Viscoelastic foam is simply a lesser-used version of the popular foam you know and probably love. It often appears in brand names for mattresses, such as ViscoSoft.
Viscoelastic is more like a descriptor for memory foam’s true nature. It’s easy to assume memory foam remembers you, and therefore holds your shape, but in truth, it’s more like an elastic band that keeps springing back no matter how much you manipulate it. Hence the name, viscoelastic foam.
The Science Behind Memory and Viscoelastic Foam
You’ll often hear people talking about foam mattresses, but don’t be fooled. Not all these “foam” mattresses are viscoelastic or memory foam mattresses. Viscose memory foam has a specific scientific makeup, which you can learn more about in the video below.
So when it comes to Memory Foam vs Viscoelastic Foam, the only difference between viscoelastic foam and memory foam—or viscose memory foam— is how fancy the name sounds. It’s easy to get confused over this and spend hours searching for the difference between the two, only to come up empty-handed.
- Memory foam and viscoelastic foam are the same.
- Not every foam mattress will be viscoelastic memory foam.
- Viscose memory foam mattresses aren’t for everyone, keep that in mind when shopping.
Feel free to comment below if you have any more questions about Memory Foam vs Viscoelastic Foam.