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.

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