Mattress type significantly impacts just about every aspect of your bed, from its feel to its temperature to its contouring to its responsiveness. That means you need to know exactly what you’re getting into when you choose a bed.
There are four common mattress types: innerspring mattresses, memory foam, latex, and hybrids. There are also two less popular constructions: air mattresses and water beds. Below, we’ll talk about the pros and cons of each and give you some tips on how to decide which is right for you.
Innerspring mattresses are a combination of a coil support core with a thinner comfort layer. Most of the time, innerspring mattresses come with an open coil support layer. This means the springs inside the support layer aren’t encased in anything, and they’re wired together.
More rarely, coil mattresses come with a pocketed coil support layer. This means the coils are all independent of one another and encased in their own fabric or foam pocket. Pocket coils are more common in hybrid mattresses, but you may run across an innerspring with them on occasion.
Most of the time, spring mattresses come with a thinner comfort layer. Their top layer usually consists of one to two inches of plush material like cotton, foam, wool, fiberfill, and more. Innerspring mattresses with a pillow top are prevalent. This is an extra layer of padding sewn on top of the comfort layer for added cushion. Pillow tops can come on other mattress types, but they’re way more typical on innerspring beds.
Innerspring mattresses have a few things going for them. One of their best features is they’re typically the lightest mattress. This means you can pair them with box springs. It also means you won’t be breaking your back if you move a lot.
Innerspring mattresses also have a more “traditional” feel because they bounce a lot. Younger people who grew up sleeping on foam may find this responsiveness too much, but older people used to a lot of bounce will likely want to keep that feel.
Hot sleepers will also appreciate the innerspring’s breathability. Open coil systems are the most breathable support layer. That makes innerspring mattresses one of the most cooling mattress types.
Innerspring mattresses are also great for those shopping on a budget. As an older sleep technology, they can be produced cheaply. That means you won’t have to break the bank for a high-quality innerspring mattress.
One of the biggest issues with innerspring mattresses is their lack of durability. Open coils tend to lose tension and wear out faster than other support layers. This means innerspring mattresses will not last as long as other mattresses. They sometimes wear out in as few as six or seven years.
Contouring is also a problem with innerspring mattresses. They cannot take your shape the way foams can. Thus, they can feel like they’re sagging rather than adapting. This means their support is not up to the level of other mattresses, which may cause back or joint pain.
Noise can be a problem with innerspring mattresses. Open coils can squeak or creak as they grind against each other. Pocketed coils don’t rub against one another because they’re each in their own envelope.
The bounce of an innerspring can be both a pro and a con. Some people like this responsiveness. Others think innerspring mattresses feel more like a trampoline than a bed. If you like motion isolation, innerspring mattresses aren’t for you.
Memory foam is a specific type of polyurethane foam, meaning it comes from petroleum products. It was originally designed for the aerospace industry to be a cushioning material for high-G flights. It didn’t take long for the bedding industry to take note of this contouring and supportive material.
Memory foam mattresses typically come in two to four layers. The comfort layer will be the most breathable and contouring to cushion you while you sleep. The transition layer typically adds bounce and protection from pressure caused by the firm support layer. The support layer is the firmest foam, and it should also be the thickest layer of your mattress.
Memory foam has lots of advantages. One of the best things about memory foam is its contouring ability. Memory foam mattresses can alter their shape to fit yours perfectly. They can follow the curve of your body to cushion your pressure points and support your spine all at once.
Memory foam is also great at eliminating motion transfer. Couples who don’t want to disturb their respective partners will appreciate how motion isolating memory foam is.
Memory foam is also reasonably affordable. While memory foam mattresses aren’t as cost-effective as innerspring mattresses, they’re downright cheap when compared to latex and hybrid mattresses. If you’re looking for a foam mattress on a budget, memory foam could be up your alley.
Some people don’t like the fact that memory foam is synthetic. Memory foam goes through an energy and chemically intensive manufacturing process that can create a lot of toxic waste. Memory foam that isn’t Certi-PurUS certified may also be high in potentially harmful chemicals.
One of memory foam’s most well-known problems is its heat retention. Traditional memory foam traps body heat. While gel infusions, microbeads, open-cell construction, and other developments have cooled memory foam off, it’s still not as breathable as latex.
Another of memory foam’s significant issues is its lack of responsiveness. It can take memory foam forever to bounce back to its original shape. Side sleepers and back sleepers who don’t move around a lot may not mind this. But combo sleepers who switch sleep positions throughout the night probably won’t like it.
Latex foam is a natural product whipped from rubber tree sap. Latex mattresses are all-foam. And just like memory foam, they come in several layers that get firmer the closer you get to the bottom of the mattress.
There are two different types of natural latex foam: Dunlop and Talalay. Both of these come from the same raw sap. The difference lies in how they’re processed. Talalay is lighter and springier but less durable and pure. Dunlop is heavier and denser but more durable and purer. Dunlop can be certified organic, while Talalay cannot.
Beware of synthetic latex mattresses made of Styrene-Butadiene Rubber (SBR) foam. SBR foam mattresses purport to feel like natural latex. But they’re not durable, supportive, or pure. They’re cheap and shoddy imitations of natural latex mattresses and should be avoided.
If you want an all-natural mattress, latex is close to your only option. Memory foam is a synthetic material, and hybrids and innerspring mattresses contain coils. Latex mattresses, however, can be made of almost 100 percent natural materials and have virtually no toxic processing chemicals. This is especially true if your latex mattress is certified organic.
Latex mattresses are also one of the most eco-friendly mattresses you can get. Latex processing doesn’t create a lot of toxic waste, and it doesn’t require as much energy as other types of mattresses. Latex foam is also recyclable and biodegradable, meaning your mattress won’t spend eternity not decaying in a landfill.
Many people also love the feel of latex. Latex is naturally cooling without gel or other additives. It’s also very responsive, able to bounce back into place as soon as you change positions. That makes latex a lot better for combo sleepers who like to move around at night.
Another great thing about latex is its durability. A high-quality latex mattress can outlast any other type of mattress, sometimes by a long shot. The most durable Dunlop latex mattresses can last over three decades.
Though latex makes an excellent mattress material, it does come with a few drawbacks. Expense is one big concern with latex. Though hybrids are typically the most expensive mattress type on average, latex can give hybrids a run for their money when it comes to cost. Organic latex’s price tag may even edge out that of some hybrids.
Another problem with latex is it’s cumbersome, especially Dunlop latex. This can be a problem if you move frequently. It can also cause issues with rotating or flipping larger sizes like kings and queens.
Memory foam may also be a better option for people who want lots of contouring. Latex’s buoyancy means it tends to hold its shape. That means it’s more resistant to contouring than memory foam. Side sleepers or petite sleepers may prefer the deeper compression of memory foam.
Hybrids combine the best features of several different mattress types. They have the steel coil support system of an innerspring mattress and at least two inches of foam on top. In recent years, hybrid mattresses have become a popular choice because they offer the feel of foam and the breathability of coils.
Unlike traditional innerspring mattresses, which primarily come with open coil networks, hybrids always have pocketed coils. Pocketed coils still have some bounce and allow for the free flow of air. But they’re more durable, more flexible, and more supportive than open coil systems.
Also, unlike innerspring mattresses, hybrids have a thick comfort layer made of one to many layers of foam. The softest comfort foam goes in the top layer to offer contouring and pressure relief. Then, you may have one or two additional layers for cooling or transition to the coil core. Hybrids should also have a base foam layer for sag protection.
A hybrid can come with many types of foam. While memory foam is the most common, it’s also possible to get a latex foam hybrid, serene foam hybrid, and more. Keep in mind that the advantages and drawbacks of memory foam or latex mattresses may apply to latex or memory foam hybrids as well.
Hybrids are the ideal solution to a lot of problems in other beds. Their pocketed coil support cores are still bouncy and allow for air circulation. That means hybrids have less motion transfer than traditional coil mattresses without sacrificing responsiveness and breathability like foam mattresses often do.
A hybrid’s coils can move independently of one another. Combine that flexibility with contouring foam, and you’ve got one adaptable mattress. Plus, hybrids’ foam top layers offer excellent pressure relief. And their metal coils offer tons of lift. That means hybrids can provide ideal support no matter your sleep style.
Hybrids can also be among the most cooling mattresses. If you get a hybrid with a latex or gel memory foam comfort layer, the coils keep air flowing underneath your body while the foam diffuses heat away from you. This can make certain hybrids as cooling as innerspring mattresses.
Hybrids are also fairly durable. While they won’t outlast pure latex mattresses, their pocketed coil support systems won’t lose tension as fast as innerspring coil systems will. That means hybrids will survive longer than innerspring mattresses by a long shot. They may also out-endure some memory foam mattresses.
Hybrids have similar cons to latex mattresses: they’re heavy and expensive. Hybrids usually don’t weigh quite as much as latex mattresses. But they’re typically a bit heavier than memory foam and a whole lot heavier than traditional spring beds.
On average, hybrids are also the most expensive of all the various mattress types. Hybrids are costly to manufacture because they have so many different components. That expense gets passed to the consumer when they purchase the final product. This may put hybrids out of your price range if you’re shopping on a budget.
Air beds are pretty much what their name suggests: beds filled with air. They’re typically intended as a temporary solution—like for houseguests. Most of the time, air mattresses are rubber, PVC, or vinyl. Air is forced through a valve to inflate and deflate the bed, allowing you to decide how firm you want your mattress to be.
When used as intended, air mattresses can be highly comfortable. They’re lightweight and easily stowed away, meaning you can whip them out when you need them and put them away when you don’t.
Air mattresses also allow you to decide how firm you want your bed by adding or subtracting air. That means they can accommodate guests with different preferences.
Air mattresses are usually not intended for nightly use. They’re not very contouring or supportive. That means long-term use of an air mattress can lead to back pain and interrupted sleep, among other issues.
Air beds also aren’t very durable. Even higher-end ones tend to develop slow air leaks over time. Not to mention how vulnerable these beds are to damage and popping.
Like the air bed, the water bed lives up to its name. Water beds are vinyl mattresses full of water. Old-school water beds used to just have one big bladder for water. Newer water beds have many different water chambers to reduce internal waves and minimize damage in the event of a leak.
One of the best things about water beds is many of them come with the option to heat the water internally. This can be a massive help to people suffering from back pain or joint pain.
The pressure relief offered by a water bed can also help patients with pain issues. The first water beds were created as medical devices to help prevent bedsores and other pressure injuries in bed-ridden patients.
Water beds are also hypoallergenic for most people, as sensitivities to vinyl or water are incredibly rare.
One of the biggest dangers of water beds is leakage. These are pretty much the only beds that pose a significant danger to your other property if they break. Slow leaks might take days for you to discover, and fast leaks can flood the bedroom before you can stop them.
Water beds also don’t feel ideal to many people. They offer excellent pressure relief, but they don’t have much support. They also transfer tons of motion, which can be irritating to people sharing a bed.
With a little research, finding the right bed can be a piece of cake:
- If you want a mattress with contouring and cushioning, memory foam may be up your alley.
- If you want some bounce and airflow, innerspring mattresses may be your new bed.
- If you want all-natural comfort, latex may be for you.
- If you want a combination of benefits, a hybrid might just be your key to a good night’s sleep.
Frequently Asked Questions
Typically, innerspring mattresses stay the coolest. Open coil systems offer the most airflow. And the thinner comfort layers in innerspring mattresses don’t trap much heat. Hybrids are another cooling option if you want a little more support and contouring than innerspring mattresses provide. Just make sure you’re getting cooling foams like latex or gel-infused memory foam.
That depends on your mattress’s material. You may have to replace innerspring mattresses in as few as 6 years, and they usually don’t last more than 10. Memory foam and hybrid mattresses typically last between one and two decades. Latex mattresses are the most durable. They’re usually able to endure a minimum of 20 years.
There really isn’t one “best” mattress type. It just depends on what you’re looking for in a mattress. However, one mattress type is generally best to avoid, and that’s the innerspring type.
Innerspring mattresses don’t offer a lot of contouring. As a result, they don’t last long and their support can feel saggy and uneven. Many newer sleep technologies go above and beyond what innerspring mattresses offer, so it may be best to consider upgrading from this century-old invention.
Firmness needs depend mostly on your sleep style. Side sleepers need softer beds because they need extra cushioning in the hips and shoulders. Combo sleepers and back sleepers need middle-of-the-road firmness because they need a mix of softness and support. Stomach sleepers need the most firmness to keep their hips lifted onto the sleeping surface, preventing lower back pain.
If you want the contouring of memory foam and the coolness and responsiveness of coils, you can have both with a memory foam hybrid. A hybrid’s coil support layer offers just the right amount of motion isolation and responsiveness. And the memory foam in a hybrid’s comfort layer is just as adaptable as that of a memory foam mattress.