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What Is a Gel Mattress?

Gel mattresses are relatively new, which means not a whole lot of information about them is readily available. Here, we’re solving that problem – come with us as we take a deep-dive into the world of gel mattresses, what exactly they are, how they are made and why you should (or shouldn’t) get one!

What Is a Gel Mattress, Anyway?

Technically, there aren’t any gel mattresses – only gel-and-foam mattresses. Well, there probably is a 100% gel mattress floating out in the world somewhere, but we’re telling you right now: if there is such a thing, it’s not that comfortable. This is because gel is dense, and so doesn’t mold as well as memory foam. Gel is, however, cooling, which is the primary reason many customers choose a gel foam mattress over a foam mattress.

Gel Mattresses vs. Foam Mattresses

Let’s take a look at some of the common reasons for choosing gel foam over foam and vice versa:

Gel mattresses are cooler. Coolness is the main selling point of a gel-infused foam mattress. While gel is naturally cool, over time, it matches the temperature of its environment. Because of its temperature-matching, gel is often infused into naturally-cool foam to help retain the lower temps. The caveat? Gel’s temperature-matching properties also means that if the gel layer is placed too close to the surface of the mattress (where your body sleeps), it runs the risk of warming up to your body temperature and losing its coolness. Before you buy a gel mattress, make sure the gel layers are not close to the surface; even better is to try for a mattress with gel-infused beads throughout, rather than a single, flat gel layer.

Gel mattresses are often thicker. The extra gel layers may mean that you’re getting a thicker mattress than one that’s made entirely of foam. If you prefer the extra couple of inches in height, whether for the extra support or simply for climbing in and out of bed, a gel-infused mattress (with extra gel layers) may be the better deal.

Memory foam mattresses are more affordable. The gel mattress is a relatively new concept, and as with anything new (to any market), it comes with higher prices. There are really only two “star” materials that mattress manufacturers have ever used: foam and springs. With the innovation and introduction of gel, the competition is suddenly kept on its toes. As mentioned, gel mattresses are often more expensive than all-foam mattresses; but in many instances, the introduction of gel also means that many all-foam mattresses are actually more affordable than they were before gel entered the picture – the ‘lower-price’ tactic used to help promote sales for all-foam mattresses.

Memory foam mattresses are often more contouring. Gel is denser than foam, which means that it’s not designed to contour as well. If you don’t care about the extra cooling properties of gel, and if you’re after that ‘sinking-into-a-foam-mattress’ feeling, your better option is to skip the gel and go with the foam. (Gel can mold, but doesn’t feel as plush; for most, it’s a dealbreaker.)

Can a Gel Mattress Leak?

The short answer? No. The long answer? Gel mattresses are not like water beds – if you “puncture” a gel mattress, it’s not going to spill out gel. As mentioned above, gel mattresses aren’t technically gel mattresses; gel mattresses are actually gel-infused foam mattresses. (In fact, the contents of a gel mattress look so much like a regular memory foam mattress, that if you were to examine them, it would be hard to even spot the gel without a magnifying glass.) Of course, there are some gel mattresses that are made with gel layers (as opposed to being infused with gel beads), but even those aren’t “leak-able,” since they are built into the construction of the foam.

How Long Do Gel Mattresses Last?

Gel mattresses are designed to last as long as any other mattress type – typically, the lifespan is around 10 to 15 years, given the mattress is properly maintained. While it may sound fancy, a gel mattress isn’t that much different from a foam mattress, and should be treated as you would the same. When possible, use your gel mattress only for the night; pair it with a solid foundation; avoid allowing children to jump on the bed; limit the time pets spend on the mattress; regularly wash the protector and sheets; and examine the surface of the mattress itself every once in a while for dust, dirt and other irregularities.
While marketing materials will highlight various factors at play in gel technology, for budget-seekers, it’s important to remember that gel mattresses really only differ from regular foam mattresses in that they offer a bit more cooling properties. If cooling isn’t important to you, you’re better off purchasing a non-gel memory foam mattress for the price. If you tend to sleep hot on foam mattresses, a gel mattress could be your saving grace (and worth the splurge).

Gel Mattress Essentials

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Editorial Disclaimer: Articles featuring tips and advice are intended for educational purposes and only as general recommendations. Always practice personal discretion when using and caring for furniture, decor and related items.