Types of Mattresses
If it has been a while since you’ve shopped for a new mattress, you may notice several new types you’re not familiar with. Innerspring beds and box springs are no longer the only options available. With the growth of the mattress industry, consumers now have more advanced materials and technologies to choose from when looking for a better night’s sleep.
To help you determine which style is right for you, we outline the most common mattress types and what to look for as you shop.
Types of Mattresses
Each type of mattress is made up of different layers and materials that determine its firmness, support, and durability. Additionally, different manufacturing methods can change the way a material feels. That way, sleepers can find a suitable option for their needs in any mattress type.
Memory foam is a highly responsive foam that contours closely to the body when heat and pressure are applied. Most mattress materials leave small gaps between the body and the surface of the bed. However, memory foam hugs the body’s curves like a glove, so each area is supported and cushioned.
Memory foam is a polyurethane foam; however, unlike most traditional poly-foams, memory foam is denser and has more viscosity, which is why it’s often referred to as viscoelastic foam. Most poly-foams also have a slight bounce, but memory foam responds to pressure by contouring rather than springing back. This feature makes memory foam the perfect material for pain and pressure relief.
Types of Memory Foam
The quality of memory foam has evolved since its invention in the 1960s. Traditional memory foams often retain heat and have a strong chemical smell, called off-gassing. However, many mattress brands have corrected these issues and have created new versions of this innovative and comfortable material.
Plant-Based Memory Foam
Plant-based memory foams are created by replacing a portion of the petroleum-based oils with plant-based oils (castor oil). This process makes the mattress non-toxic and safer for us to rest on. Plus, plant-based memory foams have a natural breathability that won’t trap heat like traditional memory foam.
Gel Memory Foam
To combat the heat retention of standard memory foam, many manufacturers infuse their foam with gel microbeads. These beads pull heat and moisture away from the surface of the bed, so you sleeper cooler.
In addition to gel, some brands infuse their memory foam with minerals such as copper and graphite. Both of these materials are natural heat conductors, so body heat can quickly pass through them without warming up the bed.
Quality and Comfort
Memory foam is available in several different firmness options—from soft to firm. Therefore, these mattresses are versatile and suitable for most sleepers. However, when selecting a memory foam mattress, consider your body type and sleep position. Side sleepers and lightweight sleepers tend to be most comfortable on a soft to medium memory foam bed. Back sleepers and heavy sleepers typically prefer a medium-firm to firm memory foam mattress.
Natural latex foam feels similar to memory foam—it contours to the body and relieves pressure. However, because latex is derived from the sap of the Hevea Brasiliensis rubber tree, this material has a natural buoyancy. The elastic properties of latex keep sleepers lifted on the mattress rather than cradled. Natural latex foams are also durable, lasting up to 12 years in some cases.
Since rubber trees are not cut down during harvesting, this foam is sustainable and eco-friendly. Rubber trees are easily maintained without the use of pesticides, so it is easy to find certified organic options with latex. Natural latex is also hypoallergenic, antibacterial, and resistant to mold and mildew.
Types of Natural Latex
As you shop, you will come across two different types of latex. Both of these options are made with raw, natural latex, but the construction process varies with each type.
To produce Dunlop foam, liquid latex is whipping, poured into a mold, and vulcanized, or heated. As this foam settles, it tends to be dense near the bottom and lighter near the top.
Although Dunlop is often denser and heavier than Talalay foam, density should not be confused with firmness. Dunlop can be made to feel both soft and firm, depending on the manufacturing process. Due to the additives typically found in Talalay latex, Dunlop is the only variety that can be certified organic. However, not all Dunlop latex is organic.
Talalay is produced in much the same way as Dunlop. However, with Talalay foam, the mold is not completely filled with liquid latex. Space is left in the mold, and a vacuum is used to explain the liquid within the mold. Once the liquid expands, carbon dioxide is used to freeze the foam to give it a gel-like quality. Next, the material is heated, similar to Dunlop, to retain its shape.
Like Dunlop, Talalay latex can be made in both soft and firm varieties. In some cases, Talalay is made with polyurethane foam fillers to increase softness.
As its name suggests, synthetic latex is made by combining various synthetic materials to create a material that feels similar to natural latex. This foam is typically made with Styrene-Butadiene Rubber (SBR), a synthetic rubber material used in artificial outdoor areas such as playgrounds and sports fields.
SBR is considered safe for human contact, but this material can have a strong chemical odor. Off-gassing from SBR may cause skin, eye, and lung irritation. Also, synthetic latex doesn’t have the same buoyancy or durability as natural latex.
Some latex foams may be a blend of both natural latex and synthetic latex. This variety is typically 30 percent natural latex and 70 percent synthetic latex or polyurethane fillers. Like synthetic latex, blended types are less durable and do not have a bounce of Dunlop or Talalay.
Quality and Comfort
All four types of latex—natural Dunlop and Talalay latex, or synthetic and blended varieties—can be made in various firmness levels. The manufacturing process used can determine the feel of the foam. However, natural latex has an elastic quality that helps prevent sinkage. Synthetic types may not have this same ability.
Heavy sleepers often sink too far into a foam mattress, forcing the spine out of alignment with the shoulders and resulting in muscle tension. A latex mattress is perfect for keeping these sleepers lifted so their spine can rest in a safe, neutral position.
Since latex is hypoallergenic and resistant to mold, these beds work well for those with allergies and other sensitivities. However, they are not recommended for those with latex allergies.
If you are considering a latex mattress, be sure to select either natural Dunlop or Talalay varieties. These foams will have minimal off-gassing when brought into your home. Plus, they are softer, more buoyant, and last longer than synthetic or blended latex.
Hybrids are a combination of foam, often latex or memory foam, and a steel coil support system. Hybrid mattresses are designed to give sleepers the pressure point relief of foam and the bounce of a spring coil bed.
The support layer of a hybrid is typically higher quality than those used in traditional innerspring mattresses. Hybrid coils are often pocketed, which means they move independently of each other to provide adequate contouring. These coils also have less motion transfer, which is perfect for couples with different sleep schedules and lighter sleepers.
Quality and Comfort
Hybrid mattresses are available in a variety of firmness levels. These beds typically have a comfort layer of at least 2 to 3 inches of foam. Depending on the type of foam used, the mattress can be made to feel either medium-soft, medium, medium-firm, or firm.
Depending on your sleep style and body type, you can select a firmness that meets your needs. Since hybrids contour more effectively than innerspring beds, they are ideal for those who prefer the bounce that comes from metal coils, but also want the pressure relief of foam.
When shopping for a hybrid mattress, be sure the foam in the top layer is a high-quality memory foam or natural latex foam. One with a pocketed spring coil base will also be more comfortable and supportive.
Innerspring mattresses have a steel coil support base with a thin comfort layer made of either foam, cotton, or wool. Traditionally, these beds were paired with a box spring also made of spring coils. The two layers were designed to press against each other to absorb pressure from above.
However, box springs are no longer constructed this way. Newer versions are made of a rectangular wood frame covered in fabric. Box springs can be used to add height to the bed, but they no longer add support.
Types of Coil Springs
The type of springs used can affect the firmness of the mattress. Below, we outline the most common coil types.
- Bonnell: These coils are spiral-shaped and are thicker on the ends and thinner in the middle. Bonnells are designed this way to offer a balance of compression and firmness.
- Offset: Offset coils have an hourglass shape with a squared-off coil head. These coils are linked together to provide more uniformity. The edge of each coil is connected to a hinge that allows the coils to contour to the body.
- Continuous: A continuous coil base is formed from one single piece of wire. Each spring twisted from the wire has an s-curve construction that contracts when pressure is applied. This process is designed to make the coils more supportive since they are able to draw support from the surrounding springs.
- Pocketed: Pocketed coils are most commonly used in hybrid mattresses, but some innerspring may also feature these springs. Pocketed coils are individually wrapped and move independently of one another. This movement allows them to react differently to each area of the body—providing sleepers with more accurate contouring.
Wire Gauge and Coil Count
The gauge is the thickness of the coil in millimeters. However, the higher the measure, the thinner the coil. For example, those that measure 12mm are thick, while those that measure 18mm are the thinnest. Thick coils tend to have a firmer feel, while thinner coils are softer. In most cases, the coils will measure between 12mm and 15mm.
The coil count refers to the number of coils in the bed. This number typically ranges from 500 to 1,000 depending on the size of the bed. Twin size beds will have fewer coils, while king size mattresses will have more.
When shopping for a high-quality innerspring mattress, look at both the gauge of the wire springs and the count. You want a bed that has at least 500 low-gauge coils.
Quality and Comfort
Innerspring beds tend to be less expensive than latex or memory foam, and hybrid mattresses. However, these beds do not provide as much pressure relief or motion isolation as foam ones. Also, innerspring mattresses tend to break down quickly. Most only last around six years, while more advanced options such as latex, memory foam, and hybrid models can last around 8 to 12 years.
Innerspring beds are more breathable than most foam varieties. This is because there is space between the coils that allow air to flow more freely. However, over time, dust, dirt, and other contaminants can build up in the bed, causing allergies and nasal congestion.
In terms of firmness, innerspring beds typically have a firm feel no matter which type of coils it’s made with. This is because innerspring mattresses have a thinner comfort layer, which may cause sleepers to feel the hard coils beneath. This can be especially painful for side sleepers because springs can stick up into sensitive areas like the hips and shoulders.
A pillow top mattress is a type of innerspring bed with a layer of foam sewn to the top. This additional layer may relieve pressure points if it is at least 2 inches thick. However, it is often difficult to find the right balance of cushioning and support on an innerspring mattress.
An air bed is very different from the inflatable air mattress that you may use when you go camping. Air beds are much more technical. They contain a layer of air that can be inflated or deflated to adjust the mattress’s firmness. A water chamber supplies power to the monitor and users can change the feel of the bed using a remote control. This process gives sleepers the ability to customizable the comfort level to their specific needs.
Air beds can either be a hybrid or an all-foam model. The layer of air is typically placed beneath the surface of the bed or above the support layer.
Quality and Comfort
Air beds are a great choice if you prefer to adjust the firmness of your mattress each night. However, these beds tend to have a short lifespan. The airflow channels and motors frequently break, leaving you with costly repairs. Plus, continually adjusting the bed every night can become a nuisance. Air beds are also expensive. Therefore, when choosing an airbed, be sure it comes with a lengthy warranty that covers both the mattress and the air pump.
Waterbeds were a popular choice in the 70s and 80s, and many people still prefer them today. These beds consist of a water-filled bag or mattress placed inside a soft-sided bed frame that protects it from holes and punctures. Waterbeds contour closely to the body like foam and keep body weight evenly distributed so the spine can maintain a natural alignment.
Types of Waterbeds
Additional materials placed inside a waterbed mattress can change its comfort level.
- Free-Flow: There are no additional materials inside a free-flow waterbed. These beds tend to have the most motion transfer.
- Semi-Waveless: Built-in baffles control movement on a semi-waveless waterbed. This allows sleepers to enjoy the benefits of a waterbed with less motion during sleep.
- Waveless: This style has more baffles to prevent movement. On a waveless waterbed, sleepers will experience minimal motion transfer—similar to a standard mattress.
Quality and Comfort
Waterbeds tend to have a shorter lifespan. Small holes can create leaks in the mattress, which can be difficult to repair. If leakage becomes a constant issue, it can lead to mold and mildew inside the bed. These beds are also heavy, cumbersome, and must be drained when moving. Although waterbeds are comfortable, over time, the maintenance of these beds can become a hassle.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many types of mattresses are there?
Often, you’ll see four or five mattress types discussed—memory foam, latex, innerspring, hybrid, and sometimes adjustable air beds. Waterbeds are a lesser known type of mattress.
There are also subsets within these categories. For example, hybrid mattresses encompass memory foam hybrids, latex hybrids, and polyfoam hybrids.
How do you know if you need a firm or soft mattress?
Deciding between a firm or soft mattress is actually simple. The mattress firmness that is right for you will depend on your body type and preferred sleep position.
- Side Sleepers: When side sleeping, the hips, and shoulders bear the brunt of the body weight. A soft to medium comfort level will cushion the joints and prevent pressure points from forming near these sensitive areas.
- Back Sleepers: The torso often sinks when back sleeping. Therefore, back sleepers need a firmer mattress to keep the torso lifted so the spine can remain neutral. We recommended a medium to firm mattress for back sleepers.
- Stomach Sleepers: It is best to avoid stomach sleeping whenever possible. This position puts pressure on the back and neck by exaggerating the natural curve of the spine. However, if you can’t avoid this position, opt for a firm mattress that will keep the hips from sinking.
- Combination Sleepers: If you toss and turn during sleep, you need a balance of cushioning and support. We recommend a medium mattress since this firmness will prevent excessive sinking while also protecting against pressure points near the joints.
- Lightweight Sleepers (less than 130 pounds): Lightweight sleepers need a softer mattress to experience adequate contouring. We recommend a soft to medium comfort level.
- Average Weight Sleepers (130-230 pounds): A medium comfort level works well for those with average body weight.
- Heavy Sleepers (230 pounds or above): If you’re looking for the best mattress for heavy sleepers, you’ll want something firmer. These sleepers tend to sink more into the bed. If sinking is excessive, it can force the spine to bow, leading to pain and discomfort. A medium-firm to firm comfort level will cradle the joints and also keep sleepers lifted, so the spine remains neutral.
How much should I spend on a specific type of mattress?
The cost of a mattress depends on the style and the type of materials used.
- A high-quality memory foam mattress will cost between $1000 to $2000, while latex foam is a bit more experience, typically around $2000 and $2500.
- Latex foam that is certified organic tends to come with a higher price, about $3000.
- Hybrid mattresses vary depending on the type of foam used in the comfort layer. Those made with latex foam are often more expensive than those made with memory foam.
- Airbeds are the most expensive style; these beds tend to cost upwards of $3000. Innerspring beds are the least expensive type; they typically cost between $500 and $1000.
What type of mattress is best for side sleepers?
Conforming mattresses with a soft feel are often prized by side sleepers. We recommend memory foam, latex, and hybrid mattresses with soft to medium feels for side sleepers. Traditional innerspring mattresses aren’t the best choices for side sleepers because they tend to establish a firm surface, thanks to their minimal padding.
What type of mattress is best?
There is no one best type of mattress because everyone has different sleep needs and personal preferences. There’s also budget limitations to consider, as some types cost more than others.
Memory foam mattresses are popular because they’re available in various firmnesses and at relatively low prices. Latex mattresses are great for green shoppers. Hybrid and innerspring mattresses offer a bouncy, on top of the mattress feel.
What type of mattress is best for back pain?
Foam beds that molds to the body’s curves are often the best at relieving pressure that can build up into pain. Memory foam, latex, and hybrid beds are all excellent mattresses for back pain.
Research suggests a mattress for back pain should have a medium-firm feel. However, side sleepers may be happier with a medium feel mattress.
Selecting the best mattress type can set you up for a great night’s sleep. As you shop, be sure to keep your specific needs in mind. Mattresses are not one size fits all. What works for one person may not be right for you. Take your time and shop around. Also, be sure your new mattress comes with at least a 90-day sleep trial so you have time to test out the bed and make sure it’s right for you.