Love them or hate them, memory foam pillows are popular and here to stay!
What Is a Memory Foam Pillow?
As the name implies, a memory foam pillow is a pillow made of memory foam. This polyurethane material is also known as viscoelastic foam. Its optimal viscosity and density aid in its rapid response to pressure and temperature.
Due to its low resilience, it can mold to the contours of your head and body for maximum comfort. Despite being subjected to high pressure, the material can quickly return to its original shape – a quality that has earned it its name.
Because of the support, comfort, and durability it offers, memory foam is now one of the most preferred stuffing materials for pillows.
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What Are the Types?
There are 8 types of memory foam pillows:
- Traditional – the most common type; comes as a single block of memory foam
- Shredded – filled with small, shredded pieces of memory foam
- Hypoallergenic – resistant to dust mites and mold; prevents itchy eyes and runny nose
- Gel-infused – filled with evenly spread cooling gel; designed to beat the heat
- Orthopedic – filled with special memory foam that offers enhanced firmness and support
- Wedge – triangle-shaped and purpose-built to prevent health issues such as snoring
- Body pillow – designed specifically for side-sleepers
- Travel pillow – lightweight, portable, and designed for campers and backpackers
How Does Memory Foam Work?
The internal structure of the viscoelastic polyurethane material in memory foam is porous. It comprises ‘cells’ or ‘bubbles’ that are arranged in a matrix through which air can move.
Whenever pressure is applied, the air flows out and the porous material is squeezed outwards, causing it to change shape. Once the pressure is removed, the air flows back into the cells and the material is pulled inwards to regain its shape.
This phenomenon is known as the network effect. Three other effects can act against the network effect and delay the reshaping process for memory foam. We have discussed them below:
- Pneumatic effect: the time taken by the air to flow back into the porous structure. The longer the time taken, the greater the delay. Also, matrices with smaller cells tend to spring back slower than those with larger cells.
- Adhesive effect: the stickiness of the cell surfaces within the matrix. Stickier the surfaces, the greater the delay.
- Relaxation effect: the glass transition temperature of the material which changes it from firm to soft. The nearer the material is to its glass transition temperature, the greater the delay.
Additionally, memory foam is reactive temperature. It hardens when it’s too cold and returns to its original shape once it’s hot.
This video explains in detail the science behind memory foam:
What Are the Pros and Cons of Using Memory Foam Pillows?
- Offers excellent support for the head and neck
- Alleviates pressure points
- Aligns the neck and spine optimally
- Comes with anti-allergy properties
- Retains its shape eventually
- Lasts for a long time
- Demonstrates resilience
- Remains smooth for years
- Reduces and prevents snoring
- Is easy to maintain
- Not breathable
- Heats up quickly
- Is heavy
- Emits an unpleasant odor
- Can be expensive
- Not ideal for all types of sleepers
Why Was Memory Foam Invented?
NASA invented memory foam in the 1970s to improve aircraft seat cushioning, enhance crash protection for pilots and passengers, and reduce the impact of takeoff for astronauts.
Originally known as temper foam (due to its temperature sensitivity), this material was widely used in the aviation industry at the time.
However, because of its incredible shock-absorbing and hypoallergenic properties, memory foam soon found widespread commercial applications in the medical and automobile industries, too.
Today, it is used to create safety padding in helmets and other automobile gear. Additionally, it is used in wheelchairs and hospital beds of disabled and immobile patients to offer adequate spinal support and minimize bedsores.
It is also used in orthopedic shoes, blankets, mattresses, and pillows, particularly for people with postural issues. Because of the general comfort they provide, the same products have also made their way into our daily lives.
Are Memory Foam Pillows Safe?
There is no solid scientific evidence that memory foam pillows are dangerous However, some people believe the material emits harmful chemicals that cause respiratory issues. Others opine that memory foam is combustible like all other polyurethane materials, thus posing a fire hazard.
Earlier, there were serious concerns regarding the use of PBDE (a fire retardant) in manufacturing these pillows. However, its discontinued use has dismissed such concerns. Long story short, memory foam pillows can be considered safe for use.
Are They Good for Side Sleepers?
Memory foam pillows are ideal for side sleepers because they conform to the body’s shape and keep the head, neck, and spine correctly aligned. This, in turn, reduces pressure on the back, hips, and shoulders. However, experts recommend using a body pillow for utmost comfort instead of a regular pillow.
Alternatively, side sleepers can keep one memory foam pillow underneath the head and another between the knees for maximum comfort. Doing so will reduce the pressure on the hips and lower back while keeping the spine aligned.
Are They Good for Back Sleepers?
Memory foam pillows are great for back sleepers because they offer organic contouring of the body shape. The material provides adequate support for the head and neck and maintains the spinal alignment. However, memory foam pillows with poor firmness can easily cause back pain.
To avoid such consequences, back sleepers must use a memory foam pillow underneath their head and another underneath their knees. This arrangement will relieve pressure from the back and leave no room for pain.
Are They Good for Stomach Sleepers?
The majority of memory foam pillows aren’t great for stomach sleepers because of the thick structure of the material. Such pillows cause the neck to bend and do not offer the desired comfort. They could eventually lead to neck and back pain.
If a stomach sleeper must use a memory foam pillow, experts recommend placing two thin pillows – one underneath the head and the other underneath the stomach.
Are They Good for Hot Sleepers?
Traditional memory foam retains heat, which is why pillows made of this material aren’t recommended for hot sleepers. However, memory foam, when infused with cooling gel, copper, or graphite, can disperse the heat and make for a cooler slumber.
Are They Good for your Neck?
A memory foam pillow provides optimal support and preserves the natural curve of your cervical spine, which includes the first seven bones that form your neck. For best results, use memory foam pillows specifically designed for your sleeping position.
Are They Good for Your Back?
Memory foam pillows offer optimal neck spinal alignment and conform to your body shape, which is why they are great for the back. However, too thick a pillow used could lead to back pain, especially when used by stomach sleepers.
Do They Cause Allergies?
Memory foam’s porous structure makes it resistant to dust mites, mold, and fungus – the primary causes of most allergies. In short, the material has anti-allergy properties by nature.
Nonetheless, some people have reported shortness of breath, headaches, nausea, asthmatic symptoms, and eye and throat irritation. Furthermore, people who are sensitive to strong odors might find memory foam pillows repulsive.
Do They Cause Ear Problems?
Memory foam pillows, in general, would not cause ear problems, particularly infections, unless you haven’t cleaned them in a long while.
Moreover, if you are a side sleeper using a memory foam pillow, you might experience painful ears, especially if you sleep for long hours. But this issue is regardless of the pillow you use.
To be on the safe side, use a memory foam pillow with an ear hole.
Why Do Memory Foam Pillows Soften Over Time?
Memory foam pillows soften over time due to regular use. When you sleep on them every day, the fill material reacts to the pressure that your body applies consistently as well as its temperature. Eventually, it leads to the memory foam losing its shape.
The cells in its internal matrix either break down or become deformed leading to less space for air circulation. Finally, when the memory foam in the pillow reaches its glass transition temperature, it can no longer remain firm or spring back to its original form.
This phenomenon is known as polymer creep, where the material permanently loses its shape. Remember that only good-quality memory foam gets soft over time. If it doesn’t, consider getting it replaced.
How Long Do These Pillows Last?
The average lifespan of a memory foam pillow is usually 18 to 36 months, although multiple factors can enhance or diminish its longevity. Regular use and exposure to heat and pressure will lower its durability while using a pillowcase and cleaning the pillow as instructed will enhance it.
When Should You Throw Out a Memory Foam Pillow?
Consider replacing your memory foam pillow when…
- You fold it, but it doesn’t spring back to its original shape quickly.
- There are visible lumps in it.
- Your head dips in it into an uncomfortable position.
- You’re waking up with body aches, neck pains, headaches, and tiredness of late.
- You’re not comfortable in your sleeping position and it isn’t because of the mattress.
- You’re waking up sneezing or suffering from allergies.
- It has stains that won’t go even after deep cleaning.
- It is starting to smell funny.
In general, replace your memory foam pillows every 2-3 years.
Do Memory Foam Pillows Attract Dust Mites?
Memory foam pillows are considered highly resistant to dust mites owing to their porous structure. Regular air circulation within the cells of its matrix prevents the mites from burrowing in and living there.
Can They Get Moldy?
Mold grows best in moist environments. Regardless of whether your pillow is made of memory foam or not, it is susceptible to mold growth if it is often kept damp or left unclean.
This can happen due to the environment itself and even because of wet pillows that aren’t thoroughly dried. Sleeping on a memory foam pillow with wet hair is yet another factor that contributes to such conditions.
To prevent mold growth in your memory foam pillow, expose it to sunlight and fresh hair regularly. Using vinegar and borax while cleaning the pillow also kills molds.
Do They Give Headaches?
Memory foam pillows have been reported to alleviate headaches in many people. However, too high a pillow might cause the neck to bend forward, which in turn might stress the muscles and cause headaches.
Additionally, people who are sensitive to strong odors, heat, and noise have reported memory foam pillows to cause migraines and even disorientation.
Should You Put a Pillowcase on them?
Putting a pillowcase on a memory foam pillow increases its longevity. Covering the pillow will keep it safe from stains and enhance its hypoallergenicity.
Pillowcases, especially those made of silk, also make for a smooth, comfortable surface to sleep on. Furthermore, since memory foam retains body heat, a pillow cover will help you in beating the heat to a greater degree.
Why Does Memory Foam Go Lumpy?
Memory foam becomes lumpy due to age and usage. The open cell structure of the matrix in memory foam loses its ability to spring back to its original shape over time. When the polymer reaches its glass transition temperature, it degrades and lumps form.
Other causes include frequent and vigorous washing, as well as moisture retention caused by insufficient drying. Another factor is the accumulation of dirt and debris over time.
Why Do New Memory Foam Pillows Smell?
The smell of new memory foam is caused by the release of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in the polymer. These chemicals degrade and disperse in the atmosphere, emitting a strong odor. The process is known as off-gassing.
Is the Smell Toxic?
The strong smell of new memory foam is unpleasant, but not toxic. Nevertheless, people who are sensitive to smell might experience difficulty breathing, asthma, eye and throat irritation, headaches, and nausea.
How Do You Get the Smell Out of Memory Foam?
The smell of new memory foam fades away on its own after a few days. If the problem persists, consider airing out the pillow by placing it under a fan or in direct sunlight for a few hours. If the odor still doesn’t go away, sprinkle baking soda, which is a natural odor eliminator.
Are Memory Foam Pillows Washable?
Memory foam pillows are washable, but only by hand. Even so, they should only be surface-cleaned. Such pillows should never go into the washing machine. To clean a memory foam pillow without ruining it, mix water with vinegar, borax, or baking soda. Also, read our in-depth article on how to wash pillows.
How Do You Sanitize Without Washing?
To sanitize a memory foam pillow without washing it, follow these 5 steps:
- Dampen a clean cloth using a mild detergent or hydrogen peroxide.
- Gently rub on the surface and allow the pillow to thoroughly dry.
- Sprinkle baking soda all over it.
- Let it rest for 30 to 60 minutes.
- Use a vacuum cleaner to remove dust mites, dead skin cells, and other pathogens.
Is Shredded Memory Foam Better Than Traditional Memory Foam?
Shredded memory foam is better than traditional memory foam in the following ways:
- More breathable
- More comfortable
- More durable
How Much Does a Memory Foam Pillow Cost?
A memory foam pillow can cost as little as $5 or as much as $800 or more. The price will vary depending on the brand, the quality of the memory foam, the shape of the pillow, and the shop or website where you buy it.
Where Can You Buy the Best Memory Foam Pillows?
You can buy the best memory foam pillows online on the following sites:
- The Home Depot
Choose from a range of brands, pillow sizes, and prices to fit a variety of budgets. If you aren’t sure which product to pick, refer to our listicle of the best memory foam pillows you can buy online.
Do you have more questions? Let us know in the comment section below.