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J0E's avatar

What are the differences between types of mattresses?

Asked by J0E (13136points) January 21st, 2011

I am in desperate need of a new mattress, the one I currently use is older than I am (22). I’ve been looking at the different types and wondering what qualities they have. Is a memory foam mattress better than a box spring? What type of mattress is good for bad backs? How much does the thickness matter? What the heck is a pillow top? What brands do you prefer?

A sleep deprived Jellie needs your help.

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16 Answers

marinelife's avatar

My last mattress purchase was a pillowtop, and I love it. It was firm on the inside and soft on the top.

Getting a good brand is important to comfort and lasting.

JLeslie's avatar

My preference is a spring mattress, where the coils are individual, and not a pillow top, or very little pillow top, and then I use a high quality mattress cover that has some cush in it.

Spring mattresses can be where all the springs are attached, so the bed kind of all moves when you lay down, rather than the springs being independent of each other and only sinking in where you lie down. If you share the bed, it will disturb the other person less also.

The box spring is what goes beneath the mattress, if you have a platform bed you likely don’t need a box spring. If you get a very thick mattress 16” or thicker, you might want a short box spring, usually 4” thinner than a standard, or you bed will be way off the ground. If you have low ceilings that can look odd, and if you are not very tall it is a pain to get in and out of bed, down right dangerous in my opinion.

I have slept on those dial a number beds, and was not very fond of it. Last time I bought a mattress I tried over and over again the foam mattresses, and could not get used it, altough some swear by them. They are rather expensive, and some say they are very hot to sleep on.

I recommend going to Macy’s they suually have a big selection. Lay down on the beds in your sleeping position.

Seelix's avatar

If you share your bed, I’d definitely suggest a pocket coil mattress so as not to disturb your partner by moving around. I’ve not slept on a memory foam mattress, but I’ve slept on a spring bed with a memory foam topper, and lemme tell ya – that was comfort. I have a bad back, so I need a firmer mattress, but that soft squishiness on top was just great.

J0E's avatar

@Seelix So firmer mattresses are better for your back?

Seelix's avatar

@J0E – As far as I’ve been told. It makes sense, I think – if your mattress isn’t firm enough, your back isn’t straight while you’re sleeping. I could be wrong, though – watch someone come and contradict me now that I’ve said that! :)

JLeslie's avatar

Many people with back trouble prefer a stiffer mattress. The real deal is support for your back, and everyone is different off course. When I had a back injury very soft mattress were counterproductive for sure. The heavier and lumpier someone is, the more they need some give to keep their spine straight. Like a woman with large hips sleeping on her side, needs to have her hip sink a little into the mattress to keep her spine straight, but at the same time, not sink so much she is back to crooked.

Aster's avatar

Cheap, soft mattresses – my favorite
Memory foam – popular but too hard for me I think they’re changing them.
SleepNumber – you’d better like these because after you set them up, if you don’t like them you have to figure out how to dismantle them and re-pack. Which we did.
Pillow top – these are tricky. I do not find them soft because I didn’t get the softest one in the entire blasted store. Think they’re soft? They aren’t when you get one home. So get a super soft one. I got a pretty expensive one. It was much softer in the store (floor model) and have covered it with 3” latex/memory foam. Should I have spent 2 grand?? I won’t but it I had it might have been much softer. I think people buy pillow tops to get a soft bed. No? If you want soft, get a cheapo bed and put a topper on it.
My parents needed SUPER SOFT beds. So what did they do? They bought 2 slabs of foam rubber with no covers. They just slapped sheets on top. Lasted forever. 6” thick.

jerv's avatar

Old-fashioned spring mattresses suck. Plain and simple. The only real attraction there is price.
Newer spring mattresses are better designed and better built, but tend to be a bit uncomfortable anyways.
Memory foam is comfortable, but in the long run it will mess you up; too little support. That, and they tend to cost too much.
Pillow-tops are a nice compromise. You get the support of a regular spring mattress but with more comfort. They are not as comfy as memory foam, but they won’t wreck your spine over time either. We got a decent Queen-sized one for under $300

I find the best for my tastes is a firmish 2-inch pillow top with a two-inch memory foam topper. That mix has enough give to be great to sleep on but firm enough to keep my back from hurting. The “Pillow” part of the mattress is a bit firm for my tastes but far better than a coil-spring in the ribs, while the topper by itself offers no support. Put them together though, and it works just awesome.

You really need to test a mattress out though. Don’t just take your hand and push it. Don’t be a pussy and gently lay on it either. Flop your ass down on it like your legs just got amputated and flop like a fish out of water. (This advice given to me by a mattress salesman!) What works for one person will not work for another.

@Aster The problems I have with that sort of mattress are my bony ass hitting the floor and the possibility of “drowning” as I sometimes sleep on my stomach. The latter is also another reason I do not go with a memory foam topper thicker than two inches.
Then again, you seem to have much different taste in beds than I do. I don’t like sleeping with my spine bent weirdly or my pelvis on the floor. Both of them tend to make me very sore in the morning; enough so that I am homicidally pain-ridden until at least lunch.

Aster's avatar

I don’t know why the squishy bed doesn’t hurt my back. If I’m going to have pain it’s my knees.
I can understand how a soft bed would hurt if you sleep on your stomach, though, which I’ve never done.

jerv's avatar

@Aster It might be a weight distribution thing. Or maybe I just have an odd spine. Regardless, too-soft mattresses mess me up.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

I used to sell mattresses for a living, so I know a little bit about them. However, that was 15 years ago, so my information is dated. Having qualified my information with those statements, here goes.

A mattress is simply springs with a cushion topping for comfort. You’re paying for the grade of the spring, the number of springs, and the quality of materials used in the cushion topping.

Mattresses that are nothing but memory foam are rubbish. You need the inner springs for support and durability. That said, it’s possible to get a mattress made of springs with a memory foam top. That might just be a mattress made in heaven.

I’m sorry that I do not have the source to post, but I remember very clearly that “Consumer Reports” did a study of mattresses in the mid-90s. When it came down to it, price mattered. If you shop at a reputable store and pay US$800–900 for a queen-sized set (mattress and box), then you will get a good quality mattress that should last you a good 15 years or longer. I don’t know what size you’re looking for, but when you shop, if you check the queen price that will guide you.

There are 2 numbers you should consider when shopping. They are the gage of the steel wire used to make the spring and the number of springs in a mattress. Both numbers should be as high as possible. Of course, I used to know the numbers by heart, but I’ve slept a few times since I was a mattresses salesman and have forgotten. I do remember this, however. Stearns and Foster brand was the top of the line in the mid-90s. If you can find a store that sells that brand and get that information from a salesperson, you’ll have what you need to know.

The firmness or softness of a mattress should come from the cushion topping and not from the springs. You want the springs to be as firm as possible for durability. Stearns and Foster mattresses in the mid-90s all used the same inner spring, and the only differences between styles was the cushion topping.

About the box, you can get a box spring, which is made of exactly what the name says, or you can get what’s called a European wood box. Or you can get a European style bed that has a flat wood base or a line of slats very close together, and then you don’t need a box at all. You just buy the mattress alone and plop it right on top of the bed. Suffice it to say, it’s normally cheaper to buy the mattress and box set with a metal frame to put them on, than it is to buy a mattress and a European style bed.

Continuing about the box, personally, I prefer the wood box to a box spring. There are two reasons. First, the wood box offers more support. Second, it lasts longer than the box spring.

While shopping you will notice 2 things. You will see that all mattresses are on sale all the time. The regular price is a draw. Never pay the regular price for an inner spring mattress and box set. You’ll also notice that no 2 mattress stores carry the same mattress even though they sell mattresses from the same company. The names are changed between stores even though the mattresses are identical to prevent easy price comparison. If you get the gage number and the spring number and the type of cushion topping, then you will be able to adequately compare the mattresses from different stores.

I hope what I’ve written here makes sense and is not confusing. To conclude, look for a mattress that has springs made of a sturdy gage wire with as many springs as possible and with a cushion top that is the type of comfort you desire either soft or firm. The style of box is completely up to you.

jerv's avatar

@hawaii_jake That is why I like pillowtops and memory foam toppers.
Just out of curiosity, what is your opinion of platform beds; those that use no box? You mention them, but either I am blind/dense or you were vague.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@jerv : Platform beds work exactly the same as having a wood box instead of a box spring. I used to have a platform bed and loved it. (Platform bed = European style bed) The platform bed either has a solid wood bottom like a water bed or it has many slats that you lay very close together.

When I was selling mattress sets, most people would come in and just want to buy the mattress to put on top of their old box spring. Our standard reply was 1 – it will nullify the mattress’s warranty and 2 – if you really one want to buy one piece, then get a new box spring instead of the mattress. A new mattress placed on an old box spring will very quickly begin to show the weaknesses of the old box spring.

That’s another reason I like the wood box or platform bed. I currently have a mattress on a wood box base. In 15 years when I need a new mattress, I won’t have to buy the set. I’ll only have to buy the mattress, which costs 75% of the set price and only the mattress company’s know why,

JLeslie's avatar

@jerv I have had a platform bet my entire married life and I love it. Especially because it is so low. I like being practically on the floor. I know some people like being very high up. I once pulled my back a little getting out of a bed that was a little too off the ground for me at a friends house. Just confirmed for me I never want a bed that high. Funny both my husband and have found we don’t sleep as well in tall beds.

My platform is old, so maybe this is not a problem anymore, but when I shop for a new mattress it is very difficult because my platform has a headboard that requires a mattress be <12” or it looks odd, and these days mattress are very thick, usually 16” or more. It’s annoying. If you are considering a platform bed, be aware this might be the case.

jerv's avatar

@hawaii_jake Judging by the relative weights, I think that the amount of raw material has something to do with it. That and the fact that they are simpler. Less material + less labor to produce = cheaper.

@JLeslie My platform is high enough to sleep under and then there is another ten inches of mattress. It is still low for me, but I am tall enough that most things are low. My wife likes a tall bed and she considers ours to be tall even though it barely comes to my knees.

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