Guide to Understanding Different Mattress Types

Learn about the most popular mattress types and what each offers.

Guide to Understanding Different Mattress Types

How does someone know which is the best mattress for them? This is a question many have wondered, probably now more than ever since we have so many options. Often, individuals tend to repurchase the same type of mattresses they had before, out of fear of making a costly mistake or because they are unsure of other options. Plus, researching products takes time, something many of us have little of to spare. In this guide, we will be sharing our research into different mattress types to provide a starting point. We will introduce and compare the four leading types of mattresses currently on the market so you will be better equipped to cut through the hype and choose a bed that meets your needs.

Innerspring, Coil, Pillowtops

Background

This group comprises the traditional innerspring mattresses most people are familiar with. Coil mattresses were first introduced in the 19th century. Since industrialization, these have remained the most common mattress type in American homes.

Construction

A complete spring mattress consists of the boxspring base, the mattress springs, and padding layers. In each type, metal coils comprise the support system. There are several different types of spring systems in use, from connected Bonnell coils to independent pocketed springs.  Quality is often represented by the gauge and number of coils. The lower the gauge, the less give the coils have, with 14-gauge considered high-quality. Coil count can be more arbitrary, but the idea is that the greater the number of coils, the better the bed can contour and support the sleeper. On top of the coils, manufacturers use foams, padding, and stuffing to provide a comfortable sleeping surface. They can range from basic quilting to memory foam or latex, and may be several inches thick.

Pros

Innerspring mattresses are easy to find, and are available in nearly every showroom. These are often the most affordable mattress types as well, for basic models at least. Innersprings also tend to rate higher for ease of movement on bed, and tend to receive less complaints for sleeping hot as compared to some foam mattresses.

Cons

While most common, these types of beds have the lowest owner happiness with only 60-65% of people reporting satisfaction. The biggest causes for complaint prove longevity and comfort issues. Innerspring beds to to wear faster than other types as the springs lose support and padding compresses. You can expect to replace an average innerspring mattress every 5-7 years. Motion transfer is another drawback, as the design does not prohibit one partner’s movements from disturbing the other. And with the big industry brands, price may not always match value and some models even exceed the costs of better-rated specialty mattresses.

Availability

Innerspring mattresses are widely available, sold at innumerable mattress stores across the country. Key brands in the industry include Sealy, Simmons, and Serta which all feature multiple lines of spring beds. Of these brands, satisfaction ratings tend to be fairly similar, with Sealy maintaining a slight advantage. There are also several other regional manufacturers and online sources for spring beds.

Memory Foam

Background

Memory foam mattresses were first introduced in the early 1990’s under the brand name Tempur-Pedic. NASA scientists invented the original concept of visco elastic foam, as a cushioning material to absorb the affects of G forces during take off, though they believed the concept would be best utilized in consumer applications. Memory foam is a unique material in that it contours to the shape of the sleeper, and distributes the applied weight evenly over its surface  to eliminate pressure points caused by heavier areas like hips and shoulders.

Construction

These types of mattresses utilize fairly simple constructions that differ little between manufacturers. The “memory foam” portion of the mattress is the upper layer, which may be anywhere from 2-8 inches thick. This is supported by a base foam, which is typically denser and does not have memory properties (otherwise a sleeper would sink to the bottom). There may be multiple layers of foam with different properties, and some manufacturers will cut air channels into the layers to reduce heat. A bed with a spring core would be not be considered a true memory foam mattress.

The key differences you will encounter when shopping memory foam beds is the foam density and type. Optimal density ranges between 4.0-5.3 lb (per sq ft). Anything less is apt to breakdown and offer sub-standard support, while anything higher may be to viscous or firm for most people. Memory foam also comes in different formulations: standard (traditional visco foam, temperature sensitive, slow-response), plant-based (uses natural oils, more breathable and faster response), and gel infused (gel plus memory foam, marketed as cooler).

Pros

Overall, memory foam is the highest rated mattress in terms of owner happiness with about 80-83% of people reporting satisfaction. These are considered the best mattresses for individuals who suffer from back problems and other aches and pains, since the material supports natural alignment and does not place additional pressure on the body. Memory foam also maintains an advantage in longevity with quality beds lasting 10-20 years, and is the best at prohibiting motion transfer.

Cons

Though memory foam is the best-rated mattress, there are a couple of drawbacks reported by a percentage of owners. Traditional memory foam has come under fire for using many toxic components during the manufacturing process and for containing a host chemicals (especially imported foams). Some people also find memory foam to sleep hot, and some brands may give off strong odors initially. Newer versions like gel and plant based memory foam aim to make improvements in these areas. Memory foam also has a reputation for being expensive, though many brands are on par with quality spring beds nowadays.

Availability

 Memory foam continues growing and is available throughout the states. Tempurpedic remains one of the most recognizable luxury brands, and can be found through many furniture dealers. Gel memory foam is also widely available under Sealy and Serta’s lines. Plant-based types can be harder to locate locally, though Amerisleep.com ships their plant-based memory foam collection nationally.

Latex Mattresses

Background

The material for natural latex foam comes from living hevea brasiliensis trees. Latex mattresses have been around since the early 1900’s, when the Dunlop process made latex foam a viable product. Over the years, the process has expanded to include the Talalay process as well as synthetic latex and even organic latex. Initially, latex was very expensive but modern manufacturing has lowered the price considerably.

Construction

Latex mattresses feature one of the most simple constructions of all beds. A true latex mattress will actually contain only latex foam, as both the support core and comfort layers. After the foam is manufactured, it is cured, cut, and layered to create a bed. The layers may or may not be glued together, and the mattress can feature a range of covers from simple cotton to wool, and more.

Latex mattresses are typically distinguished on two factors: the manufacturing process and type of latex. The Dunlop process is the original method for making latex foam, which results in a durable, often firm product. The Talalay process is more controlled and yields a product touted as more consistent. Talalay typically costs more, though in actual reviews, the two types tend to perform similarly. The latex liquid from either type can be made of 100% natural latex, a synthetic chemically-derived latex, or a blend of both. Latex aficionados prefer the 100% natural product for its durability, eco-friendliness, and hypoallergenic properties.

Pros

100% natural mattresses are the second highest in term of owner satisfaction, averaging at 79-81%. These types of beds are highly durable, with expected lifespans of 15 or more years. This material also offers many of the benefits of memory foam like low-pressure support and natural contouring without the slow-response, chemical odors, or heat retention.

Cons

Latex mattresses tend to be a little more expensive than other mattress types, due to the cost of the materials used. This mattress type is also difficult to buy or try locally, as few national brands carry 100% natural latex beds.

Availability

Most people looking for a natural latex mattress end up shopping online, where one can find a variety of retailers with different types and features available. When comparing online retailers, you will want to check the mattress specifications and ensure the bed is returnable, especially if it will be your first time trying latex. One website that ships nationally is Astrabeds.com which offers 100% natural latex mattresses made with certified organic latex that rate well in reviews, with free shipping and a 90 day trial period.

Waterbeds

Water beds have been around for very long time, with the modern vinyl version we know today debuting in the 1960s. Today, there are many variations on the classic with both hardside wood-frame models and softside waterbeds which can be used with standard furniture. The water chamber can be “free flow” in which nothing obstructs the flow of water (often disruptive for couples), or “waveless” in which fiber or baffles limit the motion. Waterbeds also tend to rank about 75%, with a steady base devotees despite the potential mess and hassle of maintenance. Very few mattress stores retail waterbeds, though local specialty shops and internet retailers remain a good resource.

Mattress Comparison Chart

 SpringMemory FoamLatexWater
TypesBonnell, Pocketed Spring, Continous Coil, etcTradiitonal, Gel, Plant-BasedTalalay/Dunlop, Natural/SyntheticHardside/ Softside, Freeflow/Waveless
Price$-$$$$$-$$$$$-$$$$-$$$
Pain ReliefAverageExcellentExcellentAverage
Heat ComplaintsLowLow to MedLowLow
Odor ComplaintsLowLow to MedLowLow
LongevityAverageExcellentExcellentAverage
AvailabilityHighMedLowLow

Shopping for a new mattress in today’s market can be quite the experience, with dozens of brands, models, and styles, and new technologies introduced every year. Part of choosing the best mattress involves knowing all of your options, and thoroughly researching your purchase. While each person’s idea of comfort will vary, reviews and ratings offer a good starting point especially if you have not shopped mattresses in a while or are looking for a change. In terms of ratings alone, the best mattresses on the market prove memory foam and latex, with over 4/5 owners of these two types reporting satisfaction. Many people opt for innersprings since specialty mattresses can be harder to find, but the internet has revolutionized mattress shopping with a much greater selection, more competitive pricing, and a wealth of information. We hope you found this introductory mattress guide useful, and always let us know if you have any mattress questions that need answers!

6 thoughts on “Guide to Understanding Different Mattress Types

  1. I have a habit of sitting on the edge of the bed with my 6 foot 4 inch 19 stone frame, match of the day, formula one etc so considerable time, and am ruining mattresses in the one spot I sit. which mattress type do you suggest which will accommodate my habit.
    Thanks in anticipation

    1. Well, spring mattresses often have wire frames or other reinforced supports designed to maintain an edge, but yes these can wear over time and create an uneven surface. Foam mattresses (like memory and latex) will sink down more when you sit on the edge, but the durable nature of the foam and lack of wire/coils means that foam will return to its original shape once you get up. Regardless of mattress type, regularly rotating your mattress and changing up where you sit will be helpful for improving longevity and even wear.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. Partially informative article, although I am finding that even innerspring mattresses seem to be a combination of latex, gel or memory foam with the innerspring. But I don’t seem to find this combination option mentioned above. Also, for longevity I am slightly confused because the memory foam is rated as excellent although I have heard practically the opposite from other research and buyer opinions, seems that it quickly tends to wear down, dent or develop huge impressions that don’t bounce back. What are your thoughts regarding this issue? Lastly what about the different firmness options, is firmer better or does it tend to wear down the same and also regarding comfort and durability of the low profile mattress foundation or the dual mattress/foundations? Thanks.

    1. Hi there,

      The longevity of memory foam will depend greatly on the quality of the foam, especially the density. Medium to high density memory foam (4+ lb) typically has pretty good longevity and resistance to impressions compared to materials like standard poly foam or fiber batting. Lower density foams are going to be more prone to compression. Quite a few brands use lower density foams, so it’s important to consider specifications when trying to determine durability. Also important for all foam mattresses is the core/base layer; high density 2.0+ lb foam for the core is likely going to prove more durable than standard foams (around 1.4-1.5 lb).

      Solely from a durability standpoint, firmer mattresses are typically seen as longer lasting, if for no other reason than there is less padding to wear down and more room to soften. You can also use a separate topper than can be replaced as needed.

      Mattress foundations depend on the type. A memory foam or latex bed should ideally be supported by a firm and fairly solid base. Spring beds can differ more; but I’ve not seen anything showing low profile or split foundations affecting durability.

      Hope these answers help your search!

  3. Your article,”Guide to Understanding Different Mattress Types” does not mention suitability of each mattress type for use on an adjustable bed. I’m researching replacement options for the mattress on my adjustable bed and need information specific to that purpose.

    1. Hello,

      Thanks for the suggestion! In general, memory foam under 12″ and latex mattresses under 10″ both work well on adjustable beds. Foam beds that are plush to medium-firm will also be more flexible than very firm beds. Innerspring mattresses, unless specifically designed for adjustable bases, will not bend and flex well. The best course of action would be to check with the brand/manufacturer of the mattresses you are considering, since some brands may have warranty exclusions for use on adjustable base beds and brands can vary considerably in their suitability.

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