Mattresses: The Types and How To Shop For Them


What should you know if you are ready to “spring” for a new mattress? The first item of business is to understand the different types of mattresses.

We spend 1/3 of our lives sleeping, yet many of us don’t take the time to research or invest in a quality mattress. Instead, we choose a mattress that “is fine,” but often leads to back pain, stiff joints and restless nights of poor sleep. In order to choose a mattress thats right for you first need to know more about the the different types before buying one.

Mattress types


Innerspring mattresses are the most common type of mattress, consisting of a spring core surrounded by either foam or fibers. Many innerspring also have pillow-top layer, which adds more comfort.

There are three different kinds of construction for innerspring mattresses:

  • Open coil: The springs of open coil mattresses are shaped like an hourglass and are the most common innerspring mattress construction. Unfortunately, it also wears out more quickly.
  • Offset coils: This kind of mattress is similar to open coil, but it has a square head so the mattress contours to your body.
  • Individually-wrapped coil: In these innerspring mattresses each coil is individually wrapped within a fabric pocket. This makes it more durable than open and offset coils.
  • Continuous coil: This kind of coil is made from a single continuous wire, which is used to make several springs within the mattress. This disperses body weight across more than one spring, which allows them to hold shape longer. This makes also makes continuous coil mattresses the strongest and most durable of all innerspring mattresses.

Latex foam

latex mattress

Latex mattresses offer the conturing of memory foam with added support.

To put it simply, latex foam mattresses have a latex core instead of an innerspring core. Latex mattresses are derived from the sap of the rubber tree, which is then fitted into a mold, emulsified with water and air bubbles, heated, vulcanized and cooled into a solid. It is natural, renewable and sustainable, making it a choice by those trying to live “green.”

Latex mattresses also do not off-gas, or release fumes. These mattresses are known for being breathable, resilient, antimicrobial, dust mite resistant and hypoallergenic. Many people also find these mattresses to be a good alternative to memory foam because they are cooler and recover their shape more quickly.

There are cons to every mattress type, though. Latex mattresses are expensive. If you still want to reap the benefits of this mattress type, you can buy a latex foam topper for an innerspring mattress.

Memory Foam

A popular mattress type is memory foam. This mattress type is known for softening in response to your body temperature and contouring to your body. Commonly recommended by doctors, it is said to provide pressure relief to joints and your back.

Memory foam mattresses are also known to absorb movement well, as depicted by the ever popular commercial depicted a woman jumping on the bed without knocking over her wine glass a few feet away. This also means that the bed is denser and heavier than latex and innerspring mattresses.

Must dos when mattress shopping

Now that we’ve looked at the different mattress types, constructions and cons we can start looking at what you need to do when buying a mattress.

Establish a realistic budget

Before even deciding what type of mattress you want you need to set a budget for your mattress. And you need to do this before heading out the door. Once you’re in the showroom it’s too late. Salespeople are good at pointing out that– given the life expectancy of the product– you can afford anything. Can you really? Do your pocketbook a favor and figure out how much you can afford to spend before you step into the showroom.

In the case of innerspring: Pillowtop or plush top?

Pillowtop mattresses have down-filled layers that add softness to an underlying firm mattress. Pillowtop mattresses usually can’t be flipped periodically like most mattresses, and there is still debate about whether or not the pillowtop compresses and mats down (which may create permanent impressions and lumps).

An alternative to the pillow top mattress is the plush top mattress. Usually in these mattresses the manufacturer adds an extra layer of bedding to the surface of the mattress that, while soft, is more compressed than a pillowtop mattress.

Lay a good foundation


Every mattress, no matter what type, should have a box spring foundation.

The box spring is the foundation of your bed. Buy the box spring designed to give your mattress the proper support. Most mattresses are sold with either one or more box spring alternatives. Buy the highest quality box spring designed specifically for the mattress you’ve chosen. When purchasing a king size mattress you are usually better off with a two piece box spring (dual twin-size) for the added support. Some warranties are valid only if you purchase both mattress and box spring as a set.

Size your mattress right

Most of us don’t want to live with a wall-to-wall mattress. But, within reason, purchase the largest size bed practical for its application. Your 10-year-old probably doesn’t need a queen- or king-sized bed, but you and your spouse probably do. Remember, you’re going to be sleeping on this bed for a long time.

Get a quality bed frame

The frame is often an afterthought purchase. If you’re buying a queen-sized bed (or larger) make sure the frame has a center support. Center support is a must to prevent larger beds from sagging over time. Most manufacturers recommend at least six points of contact with the floor. Failure to comply with the manufacturer’s recommendation can void your warranty.

Test drive a mattress

If you’re visiting a showroom, try only a few at a time. The more mattresses you try out at a time the more you’re likely to become desensitized and confused, and you’re also more likely to be talked into a more expensive mattress.

Ultimately, we measure a bed’s comfort by how we feel when we wake up in the morning. But how can we test a mattress overnight? By sleeping on it.

Many hotel chains (Westin, Hilton, Marriott) feature their own beds manufactured by brands like Simmons, Serta, Jamison, etc. The Westin Heavenly Bed by Simmons features pocket coil construction and a pillow-top and it isolates your sleep partner’s movement nicely. The Cloud Nine Bed by Serta (Hilton & Hampton Inn) features conventional coil construction with a plush-top. Finally, Marriott in concert with Jamison Bedding offers the foam Marriott Bed. Made with poured polyurethane, it’s body conforming without being heat radiating. If you’re itching to try a Sleep Number Bed by Select Comfort, stay at a Radisson Hotel that offers Loyalty Club customers discount coupons for the purchase of a Select Comfort Bed.

Pay attention to the warranty

Succinctly, don’t depend on them. They are very difficult to exercise. Often the mere presence of a stain on the mattress voids it. Body indentations have to be inspected by a manufacturer’s representative and generally have to be cavernous to warrant a return. Additionally, warranties can be voided if you remove the mattress tag that states: “Do not remove under penalty of law.”

Successful returns are often accompanied by restocking fees, shipping fees, etc. In short, it can be very costly to return a bed you’re not happy with.

Bottom line

With so many choices confronting us, you’ll be amply rewarded by spending a little more time up front doing your homework on mattresses before you commit your money. You’ll be more likely to find the right bed for you; a bed that hopefully you’ll be sleeping in for years.

Editor’s note: If you have professional experience with mattresses, Viewpoints is recruiting experts in priority product categories to write for our blog. Check out this overview of the Viewpoints Category Expert Program, including qualifications, compensation and how to apply.

Amanda Bryant (56 Posts)

Amanda Bryant is a design professional with an interest and expertise in products for the home and office. She is founder and principal of HangItUp Chicago, a fine art rental business partnering exclusively with Chicago-area companies.