The materials in a mattress affect that mattresses qualities; the firmness or softness, durability, texture, and expense of a given mattress are all determined by the materials it’s made out of.
For example, if you prefer soft mattresses, you need mattress a top that cushion your body and a mattress core that lets the mattress bend around you. The top could be foam or feathered, and the core could be air, water, or springs, but it needs to be designed to not go beyond a “3” on a 1-10 firmness scale.
Likewise, a firm mattress will not have a pillow top, and the springs will not allow as much give when compared to a soft or medium mattress.
Fam mattress basics
A foam mattress is a synthetic rectangle that’s made of the same material on the inside as it is on the outside, although a foam mattress could be pillow topped. Some foam mattresses are layered, with upper layers made of a temperature-sensitive polyurethane compound, and lower layers that are denser.
Polyurethane just means that the mattress is made of plant-based materials (like cotton or other hydrogen-containing compounds) mixed with carbon, a building block of almost everything on earth. By tinkering with the specific amounts of carbon and other compounds, inventors have created foam mattresses with varying properties.
So, for example, some foams react to pressure or temperature by changing into something airier or by molding to the shape of the person or thing on top of it. Because of this tinkering, there are many kinds of foam mattresses to choose from, including latex foam, memory foam, and non-compounded poly foam mattresses.
Other mattresses have springs inside. Innerspring mattresses are bouncy and dissipate heat well. All innerspring mattresses need to have a pillow top of some kind, as lying directly on steel springs isn’t a good idea.
As steel takes longer to break down than newer synthetic compounds, innerspring mattresses tend to be more durable than foam mattresses. There are four kinds of innerspring mattresses: coil-on-coil, pocketed coil, micro-coil, and zoned coil springs.
Memory foam is specifically designed to conform to anyone or anything that presses into it. It’s a temperature-sensitive polyurethane compound. Lying on memory foam can feel like lying on clay molded against you. It has moderate durability and high comfort, but can be challenging to roll around in.
Latex foam is an elastic, synthetic material. It’s more bouncy and less “huggy” than memory foam, and it gets high marks from people who use their mattresses for sexy times. Natural latex is harvested from rubber trees instead of being made in a laboratory, and generally lasts longer and feels more evenly pressured against a body.
Polyurethane foam is a mattress material that isn’t compounded with anything else; it’s memory foam’s cheaper sibling. It can still hug the body and be pressure sensitive, but the extra compounds in memory foam make it more durable and last longer. On the other hand, poly foam mattresses are inexpensive, and many people find them comfortable.
A coil-in-coil innerspring mattress is an update to a Marshall design mattress. In this design, each coil is individually wrapped, rather than being connected to a large steel matrix. This makes it so that the movement of one spring doesn’t affect other springs, which means a person can roll or bounce on one half of a bed, and someone on the other half won’t be able to feel it.
Having two of these individually wrapped coils connected to one another makes coil-in-coil mattresses better able to conform to the contours of a person’s body while still providing underlying support. Unfortunately, this system causes a lot of wear and tear on mattress tops.
Much like coil-in-coil mattresses, pocket coil designs also do not connect every coil to a large steel frame. Instead, the individual coils can react to movement and let you press them down individually, with different weights, relieving the pressure points on your body.
Microcoils are springs that are much smaller than innersprings. They’re usually only 1-2 inches high, and they’re made of light wire. A mattress with many, lightweight microcoils in the upholstery feels smoother and softer, even without a pillow top, and each microcoil pocket reacts to the body individually.
If a mattress has zoned coils, it means that different kinds of coils– be they hourglass-shaped steel coils, lightweight microcoils, or pocket coils– are incorporated into one mattress. Generally, microcoils will be placed in zones near where a typical sleeper’s shoulders or hips would be, while stronger hourglass coils are on the sides. However, this isn’t always the case.
Sometimes mattress coils are zoned in layers, with the upper, upholstery layer using microcoils for comfort, and a lower layer using a steel frame matrix and hourglass coils for stability. The idea is to make a mattress that is both comfortable and long-lasting.
Understanding Coil count and gauge
When you’re looking at mattresses that use springs, you’re going to hear a lot about the coil count and the gauge of the mattress. Coil count is how many coils there are per square foot of mattress.
A higher coil count could mean more individuation of spring response– that’s the thing mentioned earlier, where springs on one side of a bed respond to movement while those on the other side don’t, which is great for a shared bed. It’s also usually good for comfort, although there are more reliable guides when it comes to how comfortable the mattress feels. Ideally, a high coil count means your mattress is more stable and durable too.
Gauge comes into play when you’re looking at coil thickness. Lower gauge coils are thicker. Higher gauge coils are thinner, making them more comfortable but less durable. A good compromise might be to put a mattress with high gauge coils on a box spring with thick, low-gauge coils. There are plenty of options, of course.