Gel Memory Foam vs. Memory Foam: What’s the Difference?

Gel Foam Mattress

CC Flickr photo courtesy of AtGeist.

It wasn’t long ago that memory foam mattresses like the TempurPedic were at the very top when it came to mattress comfort technology. NASA developed the original technology for viscoelastic memory foam to cushion and support astronauts during blastoff.

In the early 1990s that NASA developed technology became available for commercial products. A Swedish company acquired the rights from NASA to this technology, and then perfected it. This led to the TempurPedic brand, which pretty much dominated the memory foam market for almost two decades.



Gel memory foam has more of an earth-based origin. It was developed in the hospital bed / medical setting, to reduce pressure points for bedridden patients. It became quickly clear that the same technology could be tweaked to make an ideal regular mattress for consumers at home, and mattress manufacturers begin to introduce various gel memory foam models.

Gel memory foam mattresses really started to take off in 2011 with the introduction of the Serta iComfort gel mattress in 2011. Serta is one of the big names in mattresses, with wide distribution, making gel memory foam available just about everywhere. And the iComfort line has been a huge hit, launching Serta into the top selling position in the market in 2011.

The only real disadvantage of regular viscoelastic memory foam mattresses is that they can sometimes feel hotter to some people. Gel memory foam mattresses reportedly solve this issue.



Some argue that there is very little difference between gel memory foam and regular memory foam. And let’s face it, traditional memory foam gets very high customer satisfaction ratings. The latest 2012 Consumer Reports guide to mattresses wrote that TempurPedic had the highest satisfaction rating of all types of mattresses, including memory foam and traditional innerspring.

But don’t write off gel memory foam as a gimmick just yet! They don’t tend to use something in a medical setting unless it works.

Many of the gel memory foam mattresses use the same gels developed for hospital beds to avoid or overcome bedsores and alleviate pain from pressure points. Some of them even use a patented “buckling column gel” system that must be licensed out to a mattress manufacturer.

Whether you go with a traditional memory foam mattress or a gel memory foam, one thing you can look forward to is a longer mattress life. Both types of mattresses tend to outlast innerspring mattresses, which typically wear out in 5 to 7 years. Many memory foam brands have 20 year warranties. (My own standard TempurPedic is still going strong after a full decade. I’ve passed it down to my kid because we went from Queen to King and bought an Intellibed gel.)

Got an opinion? Leave a comment and share it. Feel free to mention brands that you like or dislike!

Additional reading:

Memory Foam Mattress? That’s So Last Night from the Los Angeles Times.

Looking for a good gel or memory foam mattress that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg? Amazon has some good options to consider at surprising low prices.



{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

SmittyNYUSA April 23, 2014 at 9:43 am

I LOVE all my memory foam mattresses. I find the new scam is to quote 3 or 4″ mem foam but it’s really 3/4 regular foam and only an inch or so of memory foam… not as good, and it certainly should be much cheaper.

I make sure to buy 4″ not 3″ and also make sure to buy the heavier denser but still soft type, there are many “STIFF” memory foam products that are WAY TOO FIRM. Hardly any benefit from them at all over a standard mattress.

I buy mine from Overstock.com, great deals!

Smitty

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Fred June 9, 2014 at 7:24 pm

The statement that foam is warrantied for 20 years is deceiving . Foam goes soft where you lay so even though it springs back when you get off a soft spot is created with stiffer foam around it and that is not covered by the warranty. I know because my temper pedic got that way after three years and they wouldn’t cover it.

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vonda December 14, 2014 at 8:35 am

Told a saleman I did not want any type of memory foam mattress so he showed me a Simmons Beautyrest plush pillowtop anniversary edition. Found our this has a memory gel, which to me reacts to my body the same as memory foam. Cannot sleep, my body sinks into the mattress . Now they won’t let me return for something different. Do I have a case against the retailer?

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Pam April 27, 2015 at 10:08 am

I agree that memory foam mattresses are better, but they don’t seem to last any longer based on my own experience and many reviews I’ve read. We purchased a $1700 one, and after 5 years, it has permanent indents, and I’m finding many reviews saying the same thing. But I’d still rather have a memory foam than a regular mattress, as they really do work better for pressure points!

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SmittyNYUSA September 24, 2015 at 1:54 pm

I buy the $160 4″ heavy density topper from Overstock.com
They are cheap enough to replace if need be. None of mine have developed any “spots”. One has torn in the middle from moving it around but still sleeps fine.
I put them on top of ANY mattress and I love it! Been a bad sleeper with back and hip problems and sciatica forever. Gave up my waterbed, the memory foam is the greatest!!!
I tried one gel mattress and it was MUCH TOO STIFF and didn’t feel any different than a stiff memory foam pad.
I have found some memory foam pads and gel memory foam pads at cheapo stores and they are super hard, can’t imagine how anyone could sleep on them.

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