The broad range of mattress types, also referred to as the mattress “engine”, is defined by the construction and materials used in the core or “guts” of the mattress.  This core is the key component responsible for necessary support.  Why are there so many types and what are the differences? We will explain the features and benefits of each.

Coil or Spring Mattress

There are two types of spring mattresses — the Innerspring and the Individually Wrapped Coil System. This is a mattress type that uses coiled steel at its foundation for body support. Both incorporate springs at the core of the unit to absorb the weight of a resting body. Proper spring support balances weight distribution and pushes back against the body to hold the spine in healthy alignment. Both types are measured by coil density, that is, the gauge and/or ply of the coil, or how many springs are in the mattress, which may or may not include the edge support. So, these numbers may be skewed.


An innerspring coil mattress, the oldest mattress construction, uses the classic “Bonnell” coils and has an hour-glass shaped design tied together with a steel helical coil. This construction transfers weight across the bed. It has a foam edge support for greater sleeping surface so you can sleep with legs and arms hanging off the mattress without feeling as though you are falling off. Soft upholstery layers encase spring support systems and provide insulation and cushioning. This is a more cost effective way of producing a mattress. However, this technique provides for a very “bouncy” mattress with overall support, instead of “specific” support.

Individually Wrapped Coils

An individual coil mattress has free-moving coils which are individually covered in a fabric sleeve, yet are attached to each other. Here weight is individually supported, and heavier body parts sink down while lighter parts receive “push back” to support the negative areas of the body, such as the lower back or lumbar area.

These are tempered to hold the coil shape so that they react to the force put upon them, looking somewhat like a slinky. The beauty is that they also work together, as a team, to support the entire body. The edge has a higher gauge steel to give more support and lift, which makes the bed last longer.

Non-Spring Mattress

Memory Foam

Memory foam is a high-density polyurethane known for its slow recovery time and its sensitivity to both body weight and temperature, giving it a delayed resiliency and allowing it to conform very closely to the shape of your body. This envelopment of the body reduces pressure points, because it molds to your specific body profile, like a hand in a glove. It is available in many depths and densities, as well as different levels of firmness. Because you are sleeping “in” the mattress, instead of “on” the mattress, it can be more difficult to switch positions. The plus side of this is that there is virtually no transfer of motion, that is, you will not feel or be affected by your sleeping partner’s movement.


Latex is a spongy material, with pressure relieving properties, much like a memory foam. The difference is that it has a much faster reaction time, making it somewhat more desirable and used in premium mattresses. Latex is produced in two ways: naturally from a rubber tree plant, or synthetically. There are two types of latex — Talalay and Dunlop. The first, talalay, has a uniform density and broad range of softness options. Liquid latex is whipped with air until it becomes wet foam, at which time it is poured into a mold, leaving room at the top. Once the mold is sealed, air is vacuumed out of the mold, causing latex particles to fan out evenly to all corners of the three-dimensional space inside the mold. The result is uniform particle density of the foam. The second, Dunlop, has a higher density with “progressive” compression characteristics. This is the result of not being vacuum-sealed, and thus the heaviest particles sink to the bottom. This is less costly and used mostly as a support layer, rather than a comfort layer.


A hybrid mattress combines an innerspring unit with memory foam and latex on the surface. The springs are relatively shorter — a 50/50 ratio with the foam — than in a typical innerspring mattress, which is two-thirds of the mattress height. The memory foam is typically flat with little tufting, and on the top surface, which is closest to the body. For those not fully committed to the “sinking” feeling of a memory foam, but desire the benefits of one, may opt for this type. The short coils contribute to a buoyancy effect, so the “sink” is not as severe. It may be considered the best of both benefits in the mattress world.


An air mattress has a core that is air-filled, with chambers rather than coils, for support. The firmness or softness can be customized by filling and releasing air through the chambers. Most air mattresses offer separate chambers on the left and right side of the mattress for couples who have different firmness and support preferences.