If you’ve ever been shopping for a mattress, whether in a bed showroom or via the internet, you will know just how overwhelming it can be to try and make sense of the options available to you.
You’ll come across phrases you’ve never heard before and mattress sizes and materials that you never knew existed, which can make the buying process frustrating, especially if you simply want to buy a basic mattress.
We’re here to simplify things for you, which is why we’ve put together this guide which covers every type of mattress ever produced as well as their advantages and disadvantages and whether they might be right for you.
What Types of Mattress Are Available?
The spring filled mattress is the original mattress type and has been the most popular and most commonly sold throughout much of its existence. You might remember those squeaky mattresses you used to jump up and down on as a child – the modern innerspring mattress is simply an evolution of that technology.
They work by providing compression when subjected to weight and it is this compression which is designed to provide enough support whilst also being comfortable and compliant enough.
But not every innerspring mattress is made equally, and there are several different subtypes within this category.
Continuous coil mattresses are the cheapest and most basic type available. They consist of a series of interlinked steel springs which form a continuous base across the length and width of the mattress.
We don’t recommend this type of mattress unless you are on a very tight budget as the level of support they provide isn’t as good as other types of spring mattress.
The Bonnell coil has been around for almost as long as the innerspring mattress. They’re a type of hourglass shaped continuous coil which provides better support and are therefore a mid-range option for spring mattresses.
Similar to the Bonnell coil, offset coils form an hourglass shape but feature a flatted top and bottom surface. This creates a hinge like mechanism which results in better compliance and conformity to the shape of your body.
Pocketed (Encased) Coils
Finally, the pocketed coil is the best type of innerspring mattress you can buy, and this is down to the fact that each coil is installed into its own individual recess. This gives them the ability to be compressed individually, providing far more control than any other type of innerspring mattress.
Also known as Marshall coils or encased coils, these mattresses are a great purchase if you prefer the feel of springs to foam or other mattress materials.
The number of springs contained within a mattress is a good indicator of its quality. The more springs the better so we always suggest looking for at least 400 coils in a queen size mattress and 450 or more coils in king size mattresses.
Memory Foam Mattresses
Memory foam is a term that many of us are familiar with, with these mattresses also being very popular and becoming more so in recent years. Memory foam itself is also used in pillows, mattress toppers, blankets, cushions, seats and even other types of furniture.
It is basically a type of foam that is given its unique properties through the use of chemical additives, which change the structure of the foam and give it that spongy, goo like feeling that we’re familiar with.
When used in mattresses, it provides the sensation of slowing sinking into the bed whilst being cradled and supported while you sleep.
The most significant benefits of memory foam mattresses include:
- Better spinal alignment
- Better motion isolation
- Better pressure point relief
- Resistance against dust mites and other allergens
Not all foam is equal, which is why we suggest paying close attention to the density of the foam used. This will allow you to fine tune how soft or firm and thus supportive your new mattress is.
It might be worth looking for a mattress that can be flipped over for further customization as some products in the category are created with a firm side and a soft side.
One important point to be mindful of is that cheaper memory foam will often produce an unpleasant odor when new. This odor will dissipate with time but can come as a shock to people new to this material.
More expensive memory foam doesn’t contain the same chemicals, so this becomes less of an issue the more you spend.
You might have seen this term referenced when mattress shopping and wondered what it means. It applies to memory foam mattresses and means that they have been infused with a gel like substance.
The idea is that this gel provides a way for memory foam to better regulate its temperature. A common complaint is that memory foam retains a lot of heat and can become uncomfortable to sleep on.
Gel simply provides a cooler mattress which should translate into a better night sleep.
Polyurethane Foam Mattresses
Polyfoam can best be described as a basic foam which doesn’t posses any special properties. Each mattress manufacturer will select their own custom foam blend which means that polyfoam will often differ in terms of performance across different products.
It’s a synthetic material which is cheap to produce which means that it provides a cheaper solution to memory foam. If the thought of petroleum based synthetic materials put you off, be sure to look for the CertiPUR-US certification which is a guarantee that the material is safe and produced in an environmentally friendly way.
As with memory foam, be sure to look for a density specification to ensure that you’re getting the level of support and comfort level that you require. Denser foam will also be more durable and last longer than foam with a lower density rating.
Hybrid mattresses are a fantastic middle ground which combine the use of both springs and foam to create a mattress that most people will find comfortable.
The base of the mattress will contain springs with a layer (or several) of foam sitting on top. There are many different ways to construct a hybrid mattress, with some using polyfoam and some using memory foam. Some will use a basic coil system, and some will use pocketed coils to provide a superior product.
The trick is in finding your preferred setup which is going to give you the support you need. In our experience, pocketed coils at the bottom with gel infused memory foam on top offers a great solution.
There has been a shift with some consumers to more natural, organic materials and this is what the latex mattress provides. Make sure to look for natural latex made from rubber rather than synthetic latex if this is important to you.
In terms of performance, latex isn’t as compliant as memory foam which means that it provides a much firmer sleeping surface without the sinking in feeling. This translates into more support which could be a good thing if you prefer to sleep on your back or if you sleep in several positions and are a combo sleeper.
Latex also retains less heat and is much bouncier, making it a great alternative to memory foam and innerspring mattresses.
There are two main types of latex used in bedding products, each with their own properties.
This manufacturing process involves a single pour of latex into a large mold. The result is a mattress then is firmer on the bottom and soft on the top.
Talalay latex adds an additional step to the process which involves sucking all of the air out of the mold once the latex has been poured. The result is a more compliant and consistent material.
Organic mattresses can be constructed from any material designated as environmentally friendly. This includes materials such as natural rubber latex, wool, organic cotton and even recycled steel coils. Bamboo mattresses are also a great option with many benefits.
The benefits to consumers are that these mattresses are stripped of all chemicals and toxins and are perfect for those who suffer from certain allergens that are triggered by volatile organic compounds.
Pillowtop or Euro Top mattresses were very popular at one point and still are in some parts of the world. They consist of a pillowed top layer which looks and feels like a duvet and are supposed to be an alternative to memory foam.
The top layer can come with many enhanced properties such as ventilation, improved breathability, better bounce or enhanced comfort. This layer will usually be made from cotton, foam and sometimes wool.
Our favorite pillowtop mattress made it into our luxury mattress guide.
The folding mattress is designed to be portable which is why they can be folded along a hinge when not in use. The position and number of hinges provided vary between each mattress, but we always suggest looking for one that can be folded into three sections. This makes it far easier to transport them when not in use.
The other difference you will notice is in the thickness of each mattress. The thicker they are, the softer and more comfortable they will be, but the downsides then become increased weight and less portability. Thinner mattresses can often be preferable because of this.
An adjustable bed is any bed that can be electronically controlled via a remote control, allowing you to adjust and tailor the position of the bed to your preferences.
This means it is possible to incline the mattress as well as switch on other modes such as massage or vibrate for the relief of aches and pains.
This type of bed was originally intended for those with reduced mobility or problems with their sciatica who find sleeping horizontally painful or difficult.
If you like reading or watching TV in bed, an adjustable one may also be desirable. Just bear in mind that they are more expensive than any other type of bed and do require maintenance to keep the mechanical parts in working order.
Airbed technology has come on considerably over the years, providing a high-quality alternative to other types of mattress, especially if you need to transport them often. They’re also suitable for use as an RV mattress.
Rather than the inflatable plastic mattresses you might be thinking of, airbeds are constructed from a foam filling in addition to an inflatable inner cushion which provides a very comfortable sleeping surface. This makes the air mattress a great alternative to regular beds.
Many of the better airbeds can also be adjusted on each side, providing a custom sleeping experience if two people will be sleeping on the bed at the same time. And as a final bonus, airbeds are resistant to sagging over time.
An air mattress for camping for example can even be used in the home when you have guests over.
The water bed was incredibly popular at one point when the only real alternative was innerspring mattresses. They were designed as a way to treat bed sores and other ailments when no other suitable types of bed were available.
As the technology improved, it allowed users to customize the behavior of the water within the mattress to their preferences, in turn providing a unique experience for anyone sleeping in one. You could either set the chambers up as free flowing or instead choose to restrict the flow within a single chamber.
Waterbeds fell out of fashion as they are time consuming to setup and difficult to move around once full of water. They are still available at some retailers but tend to be quite expensive.
Hopefully you now feel confident enough to walk into a bed showroom and try out a few mattresses in person. Likewise, if you prefer to buy online, you can now look for your preferred mattress type and narrow down your choice on that basis.