There are enough mattress types out there to make you dizzy. There’s innerspring, memory foam, and then there’s a mix known as the hybrid mattress; there are waterbeds but also air beds. But then, which one to use if you sleep hot and which if you have back pain? To simplify the whole thing, I made two types of classifications – by mattress materials/construction and by mattress purpose.
Mattress Types Classified by Materials and Construction
The Most Common Mattress Types
- Innerspring mattresses (open coil, pocketed coil)
- Foam mattresses (latex, memory foam, gel-infused foam, polyfoam, high-resilience foam)
- Hybrid mattresses
Innerspring mattresses have a steel coil support system and comfort layer(s) on top. Pocketed coil mattresses contain individually wrapped coils while open coils are held together by metal wires.
A pocketed coil mattress is more difficult to produce and just by looking at this picture you can probably tell that it’s also more expensive and durable.
If the coils in your innerspring mattress are open, they are either bonnell coils, offset coils, or continuous coils.
Bonnell coils are narrow in the middle and wide at the top and bottom. If you cut open your grandpa’s bed, you’ll probably find bonnell coils because they are the oldest ones. They are also the least expensive.
Offset coils have flat parts of the wire at the top and bottom. This allows them to get better attached to the rest of the system. They are more comfortable than bonnell coils and offer better body contouring. These coils are a part of the more expensive mattresses.
Don’t be surprised by the look of a continuous coil. It’s like that because it is just a part of a really long (continuous) wire that goes all the way to the end of its row. Each row is made of a single wire and the rows are interconnected. This makes for stable support.
Coil count and gauge are two important details. Coil number typically varies from 250 to 1000. More coils in a mattress mean better support. Gauge refers to the coil thickness. A lower gauge number means that the mattress has thick coils which make a mattress feel firm. A higher gauge number can be found in thinner coils and that gives a mattress a less springy and softer feel. Coil gauge number averages between 12 and 15.
Foam mattresses are either made of a single large slab of foam (cheaper ones), or they consist of several foam layers of different types and densities to provide better support and feel. Our favorite memory foam mattress is Amerisleep AS5.
There are six most common types of foam and you should know a bit about each of them. All foam materials except real rubber-tree latex foam are made of crude oil derivatives (petrochemicals).
Polyurethane foam is the lowest quality foam mattress. A polyurethane foam mattress is cheap and it won’t last for a long time. You’re likely to notice visible body impressions soon. All mattresses develop them, but they should either be barely noticeable or not noticeable at all. Polyurethane foam probably has the worst off-gassing.
Memory foam was developed by NASA for aircraft cushions but it has later found its use in our daily lives. It’s also made of polyurethane but has some additives that make it “viscoelastic”. It’s also called low-resistance polyurethane foam. Memory foam is highly dense and soft. This is why it offers a unique feel – the foam contours well around the body as you sink into the mattress. When you get out of the bed, the memory foam will slowly get back to its original shape. Memory foam mattresses last around ten years but they trap body heat and are not the best choice for a lot of people. An all-memory foam mattress would not give you proper support. It is commonly used only as a top layer.
Gel-infused memory foam is foam combined with tiny pieces of gel. The gel is supposed to fix the body heat accumulation problem that memory foam mattresses have. It draws the heat away and helps with the cooling effect. This foam usually has a bluish color. Mattress toppers are sometimes made of a single piece of gel foam.
High-resilience foam or HR foam is denser and unlike memory foam, it assumes its original form much faster. Since it’s quite firm, foam mattresses usually have it as a support layer in the middle of a mattress.
Latex foam can either be made of natural rubber or synthetic materials (petrochemicals again). A natural latex mattress is one of the most durable mattresses with the longest lifespan. Latex mattresses offer great support, responsiveness, and they don’t trap heat. But don’t be deceived – most manufacturers will say they offer natural latex mattresses but they actually offer a mix of rubber tree foam and synthetic latex. If you’re looking for organic options, look for 100% organic natural foam rather than a 50%-50% (or another ratio) mix with synthetic latex. Synthetic latex beds are also popular, but not as durable and are much less expensive. They mimic the feel of real latex, but they don’t feel as springy and supportive.
Pay attention to these specifics of your foam mattress – foam density and mattress construction.
Foam density is how much a cubic foot of foam weighs. High-density foam is less flexible but it lasts longer. Low foam density is between 2-4 pounds, medium 4.1-5.5, and high density is over 5.5 pounds.
Mattress construction refers to the foam layers on the inside. There’s usually a base layer that is made of firmer foam at the bottom, then a support layer that lies in the middle of a mattress, and at the top is a comfort layer.
A hybrid mattress features a combination of construction materials. Most hybrid mattresses have a coil system/pocketed coils and foam layers (memory, gel, or latex, for example). A good example of a hybrid mattress is Dreamcloud.
Some have top layers of cotton, wool, or polyester.
Most hybrids have a construction like this: At the very bottom is a foam base that offers structural support, then comes a layer of coils, and then on top is a layer of foam, usually around 2 or more inches thick.
The coil layer provides an air chamber that takes in the heat and allows it to circulate. Hybrids with a coil system help cool down the sleeper.
Hybrid mattresses offer better support and more orthopedic benefits than all-foam mattresses. They are also more comfortable, durable, and have better motion isolation than innerspring mattresses.
Less Common Mattress Types
- Air beds
- Organic mattresses
- Futon mattresses and sofa beds
Waterbeds are vinyl mattresses that are filled with water. The water itself gives support to the sleeper. Water mattresses were extremely popular in the ’80s and by the ’90s, people realized that these heavy beds aren’t that worth it. They require maintenance like no other mattress – adding water conditioner, fixing leaks, draining and refilling the bed, and they can make a huge mess if they break. For this reason, they are prohibited by many rental agreements. You can still buy a waterbed today. They are sometimes recommended to patients who suffer from back pain, paralytic conditions (or are bedridden for a long time) to prevent bedsores.
Air beds use an air chamber as a support core that gives them shape and firmness. Using more air makes an air bed firm and deflating it a bit creates a softer feel. Air beds have pumps that are controlled on the bed itself or by a smartphone app, so it’s really easy to adjust them. If two partners share an air bed of a full size or larger, each one of them is able to adjust their side separately. This is because almost all air mattresses have two chambers individually filled with air. Natural Form Refresh is the best example of an airbed.
Organic mattresses don’t have a specific construction type, they just have to meet some standards of organic production. However, we identify them as a separate type because most manufacturers that make them offer them as such. Normally, organic mattresses have to meet the certifications, like the Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS) or Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). Most of the organic mattresses are made of organic latex – it’s really easy to produce an organic mattress with materials taken directly from a tree. Other foam types are made with chemicals that can’t be certified as organic. Avocado is a popular organic mattress brand.
Futons and sofa beds both feature a thin mattress, usually made of foam. They may be a good choice for people who are up to 150 lbs, but heavier sleepers will surely feel the frame bars below the mattress. Both types of beds can also be used as a couch, so they are a good choice if you live in a tiny apartment or are on a strict budget.
Mattress Types Classified by Purpose
- Orthopedic mattresses
- Adjustable beds
- Foldable mattresses
- Flippable mattresses
- Travel mattresses
Orthopedic mattresses offer firm support. They specifically target joints and the spine. Orthopedic mattresses help correct the spine alignment, assume a healthy posture, and offer pain relief. They can be constructed with open or pocketed coils, memory, foam, gel foam, or other materials.
Adjustable beds can raise the head or legs and some can adjust both – head and legs. These are necessary for some medical conditions which require a raised position but can also be used for relaxing activities like reading or watching TV. An adjustable bed normally has a base that’s adjustable and may come with a special mattress. Some adjustable beds may allow the use of any mattress, but this has to be confirmed by the manufacturer.
Foldable mattresses or folding mattresses consist of three or four cushion-like pieces that are held together by a piece of fabric. If you’re not using it, you can just fold, or rather stack the parts on top of each other, and put it away. They are usually made of foam and aren’t thick.
Flippable mattresses are made to be used on both sides. They can be made of any material and some flippable mattresses have a great feature – one side is firmer and the other is softer, so sleepers can switch up the feel every once in a while. After all, flipping a mattress every year or two prolongs its life. Layla is a brand that is known for making flippable mattresses.
Travel mattresses are made to be carried around easily. An air mattress, unlike an air bed, isn’t made for prolonged use. It’s designed to offer a temporary solution. Some travel mattresses are made of foam and can be folded to save space.
What are Pillow-top and Euro-top Mattresses?
Both pillow-top mattresses and Euro-top mattresses have an additional soft layer stitched on top of a mattress. They only differ in how this layer was stitched and what the final product looks like.
Pillow-top mattresses have an indentation at the edges of a mattress and you can really tell that something was added on top. The Euro-tops (European-style pillow-top mattresses) don’t have any such indentations and look like a single unified mattress.
A pillow top on either mattress type can be filled with foam, wool, or fiberfill. It feels much softer but also warmer than a typical innerspring, for example.
Pillow and Euro-top mattresses can be innerspring, hybrid, or foam.
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