Specialty foam / Memory foam mattresses
Foam mattresses are becoming much more popular, and they tend to get higher customer satisfaction ratings than innerspring mattresses (though they might not be what you’re used to). There are two major types of specialty foam, and a foam bed will usually have at least one of them, if not both. There is latex, and memory foam.
Memory foam is probably the most recognized type of foam in bedding. It is a slower-response foam (meaning it takes time to return to its normal position). This has the benefit of not causing pressure to the body. Memory foam is perhaps the best pressure-relieving material that is used in beds today.
Memory foam is often mixed with a type of gel to add additional support and to help keep a more neutral surface temperature. Older styles of memory foam (and cheaper Chinese memory foams) tend to retain heat. Most modern memory foam mattresses don’t have this issue.
Latex foam is the other type of common specialty foam. It tends to be more supportive than memory foam, a lot more durable (I personally have a latex pillow that has been in the same good condition for the past 6 years), it responds a lot more quickly than memory foam, and naturally keeps a more neutral temperature without relying on gel. However, it does not relieve pressure as well as memory foam does, and isn’t as good at separating motion. (Here is a more detailed look at latex foam)
Most of the time, these types of foam will be put on a base of what’s called “poly foam,” which is just a high density, resilient support foam. It’s not really designed for comfort, but it will hold the mattress up. Some lower-end mattresses are only made of poly foam, and these tend to feel harder.
Most of the new direct-to-consumer mattresses are foam mattresses because they’re more easily compressed for shipping. This can be an inexpensive way to try out a foam mattress if you’ve been curious about them. (Take my online mattress quiz and select the “foam” option when it comes up to see which one I recommend for you.)
The last thing to be careful of with specialty foam is to be wary of foams made in China. They tend to be lower quality and won’t hold up as long as many foams made in America or Europe. I made this mistake with my first mattress shortly after joining the industry. My mattress felt amazing for the first 6 months but quickly lost both its comfort and support.
Innerspring / Hybrid mattresses
Most mattresses you’re likely to run into are the “innerspring” type. They have metal coils inside of the mattress with foams and fibers on the top.
The lower priced mattresses tend to use the older style coil in which they’re all tied together. The hourglass-shaped ones are called “Bonnell” coils, but other manufacturers have stronger variations on that type (like the “offset” coil and the “continuous” coil). These are generally a little less expensive than the individually wrapped coil, but don’t contour as well and transfer more motion.
On the left are Sealy “classic” coils that are all tied together. On the right are the higher end individually wrapped coils.
The better innerspring mattresses will use individually wrapped coils. This type of coil allows the mattress to contour to your body from the coil level, which gives better support and causes less pressure. Additionally, wrapped coils are better at separating motion from side to side on the bed. So if one person bounces around or changes positions, the partner will not feel it as much. The downside? They’re usually more expensive.
The foams above the coils will have varying densities. You can get a mattress with firmer foams on the top or softer foams on the top. Some will be in the style of a “pillowtop” (which means the manufacturer sewed an extra cord around the side of the mattress to indicate it has a good amount of foam).
Don’t pay too much attention to the exact title of the mattress. One company’s “cushion firm” might be similar to another company’s “luxury firm” or even a “plush.” Just spend some time on each mattress and check for comfort and support, regardless of what the mattress is called or whether or not it’s technically a “pillowtop.”
What about coil count?
You may hear people talk about “coil counts.” There is a reason I’ve written this much and haven’t really mentioned them until now. They’re generally not important, as long as you’re not getting the least-expensive mattress. There are too many variables to consider to compare coil counts in one mattress to another. Type of coil, gauge (thickness) of the coil, the number of turns, whether or not its doubled up on the inside, etc. One mattress might have 1,000 coils, and another will have 900, but the 900 coil mattress might have a lot more steel in the coils overall.
The one thing I can say is to avoid is any mattress that has 420 or fewer Bonnell coils in a queen size. Those are only suitable for guest rooms, and they’re barely good for that. If the number is above that, you’re probably fine.
How much to spend on a mattress
Many people who I talk to have no idea what a mattress is supposed to cost. They hear specials on the TV along the lines of “pillowtop mattresses, queen size sets for only $299!” and they assume that it’s for a good quality every night use bed, and there are options even less than that.
The mattress industry does itself a disservice by advertising like this because that’s usually the absolute rock bottom as far as price and quality go.
So how much should I spend on a mattress? You can find a mattress and boxspring set (in a queen size) for as low as $200 all the way up to as high as you want to spend. For example, a Tempurpedic Grand Bed with a motorized base can run you almost 10,000 dollars, and that isn’t even the most expensive mattress. So how much should you spend?
I’ll give a breakdown of what you can expect at each price range. This will vary by retailer and by region. If you live in the northeast, the prices will be towards the higher end, if you are in the middle of nowhere, the prices might be a little less. Additionally, these prices are for a queen sized mattress and box spring sets. Subtract ~100-300 for the boxspring, or multiply by ~50% for a king. (Note: These are what I consider the “real” prices for the mattresses when they’re on sale. Retail prices might be much higher)
$0-200: This is probably a used mattress from Craigslist. Eww.
$200-400: These are your basic guest room mattresses. Expect to see those 420 coil Bonnell units I warned you about earlier. These may or may not have a pillowtop, and will have a 1 to 5-year warranty (click here for information about mattress warranties). Can be used by an adult for every night use in a pinch, or if you’re on a really tight budget, but you don’t get much in the way of comfort or support.
$400-600: These range from some of the nicer guest room mattresses to maybe the bare minimum for every night use by an adult. You will either get nicer foams on the top than the cheaper ones, or stronger coils, but not usually both. The ones with a 10 year or more warranty will usually have no pressure-relieving foams up top at all, while the ones that have some nice layers of foam will probably still be using the 420 coil Bonnell unit. These tend to be good for college students on a budget.
$600-1000: These are about the average range for every night use mattresses. These are where a lot of your Sealy Posturepedic and Simmons Beautyrest lives. You will get the better coil systems and advanced foams for coil mattresses. This is also the price range that the lowest priced memory foams start appearing. The direct-to-consumer mattresses I mentioned elsewhere in this article generally fall somewhere around this price range. If you find a memory foam mattress for significantly less than $600, you should be very skeptical.
$1000-1500: These mattresses will be the entry level of the luxury mattress. The coil systems might be a little more advanced, or they’ll use thicker layers of the specialty foams. The foam mattresses will be a bit thicker, and you start getting into the big name brand memory foam models.
$1500-2500: Mattresses at this price range will have just about everything you could hope for in a mattress. You’ll get the thickest layers of the best foams, strong coil systems, and longer warranties. Many of your Tempurpedics live in this price range. If you’re spending $2,000 on a mattress, you’re very likely to be getting a great one. Warranties tend to be longer here too, ranging from 10-25 years.
$2500-5000: There’s honestly not much you can add to a mattress to get to this price range. The best Tempurpedics reach this range, and some of the most expensive Stearns and Foster luxury mattresses come up this high as well. You might start hearing about materials such as “New Zealand wool” and “Mongolian horse hair.” Only spend this much on a mattress if the ones at the lower tiers don’t keep you in proper alignment or relieve pressure as well and you have the money to spend.
$5000+: I’ve only ever tried one mattress in this range, a Duxiana, and it did not feel as good as mattresses for 80% less money. There’s only so much you can add to a mattress before it’s counterproductive. If you’re considering spending $5000 on a mattress, make sure it supports you and is more comfortable than the cheaper ones. Don’t just buy it because it’s expensive. If you really want to spend $5000 on your sleep set, your money would be better spent on accessories like an adjustable base for the mattress. I’d take a $3000 mattress with a $2000 adjustable base over a $5000 mattress any day.