Time to replace your old mattress but dread the thought of shopping for a new one? Trust me; I know exactly how you feel. Being in the market for a new sleeping solution can be both time-consuming and overwhelming as there are so many great options to pick from.
Luckily, you can make things much easier if you first choose between a foam mattress and a spring mattress, as these are the two main mattress types. To help you make an informed decision, I’ll cover the key strengths and weaknesses of both foam and spring mattresses, and then I’ll make the verdict.
What Is a Foam Mattress?
A foam mattress is an all-foam sleeping solution that’s become extremely popular, especially among online shoppers. Foam mattresses can be made of several foam materials, such as memory foam, polyfoam, and latex foam. They typically contain a few unique layers and are available in multiple price ranges, starting from several hundred dollars and going up to over $2,000.
Foam Mattress Types
Depending on the foam material(s) they are built with, foam-only mattresses can be:
Standard Memory Foam Mattresses
Standard or traditional memory foam beds are made of viscoelastic polyurethane foam, more commonly known as memory foam. To create memory foam, foam makers add various compounds and additives to polyurethane materials. The added ingredients increase the foam’s density and viscosity.
Gel Memory Foam Mattresses
As the name suggests, these memory foam mattresses contain a cooling gel that absorbs and draws heat away from the sleeper, providing a more pleasant sleeping temperature than regular memory foam models.
Open-Cell Memory Foam Mattresses
This memory foam mattress type also allows for cooler and more restful sleep. That’s so because open-cell memory foam is designed with holes in the cells, permitting constant airflow and preventing night sweats. These mattresses are great for the hot Australian summer months.
Plant-Based Memory Foam Mattresses
Plant-based memory foam replaces some of the petroleum products with plant-derived oils, making the mattress more eco-friendly, more breathable, and generally safer than traditional memory foam options.
As the name suggests, polyfoam mattresses are made of polyfoam or foam made from polyurethane. This popular mattress material is considered to be more springy and bouncy than memory foam. Mattress manufacturers use regular polyfoam in transition layers due to its softness, while the underlying support layer of many foam-only mattresses is made of high-density polyfoam due to its firmness.
Latex Foam Mattresses
100% latex mattresses are made of Dunlop and/or Talalay latex foam. Dunlop latex foam is named after the traditional latex foam manufacturing process - the Dunlop method. It’s generally more durable and firmer than its Talalay counterpart. That’s precisely why Dunlop latex foam is used for support cores.
On the other hand, Talalay latex foam is bouncier yet softer, which is why mattress makers use it in comfort layers. Since natural latex is a renewable and biodegradable resource, these mattresses are much more sustainable than polyurethane-based models.
Foam Mattress Pros and Cons
All-foam mattresses have many strengths. Some of the key ones are:
- They provide excellent body-contouring comfort (particularly memory foam models);
- They offer motion isolation;
- They provide good support;
- They offer great pressure relief; and
- They come as both budget-friendly and luxurious versions.
Unfortunately, foam-only sleeping solutions aren’t flawless. Some folks avoid them because:
- They tend to release an unpleasant chemical smell when first set up, also known as “off-gassing”;
- They are known to retain body heat, which makes them a bad choice for hot sleepers;
- They don’t have much bounce; and
- Luxury, feature-rich models tend to be costly.
What Is a Spring Mattress?
A spring (a.k.a. innerspring) mattress is a sleeping solution that features hundreds and sometimes thousands of metal coils for support, as well as several thin foam layers for comfort. The prices of spring mattresses range from several hundred dollars to more than $1,500.
Spring Mattress Types
Depending on the type of coils used in them, spring mattresses can be:
Bonnell Coil Mattresses
Bonnell coils are hourglass-shaped coils that were used in the first innerspring mattress. They are simple and cheap to make, which is why many spring mattress brands use them.
Pocket Spring Mattresses
Pocket springs are metal coils encased in individual fabric sleeves. Thanks to this design, pocket springs move independently from each other, which means they reduce both noise and partner disturbance. Since pocket springs are generally more expensive to make, they are usually found in higher-end spring and hybrid mattresses.
Offset Coil Mattresses
Offset coils are metal coils joined together with hinged wires, enabling them to flex under soft pressure. Offset coils offer firm support but tend to transfer motion, meaning they aren’t a good option for co-sleepers.
Continuous Coil Mattresses
Continuous coil mattresses feature one large wire twisted into thousands of coils. Although this coil design generates very firm support, continuous coils can’t shape themselves to your body because they’re all connected. This also means they can’t minimise motion transfer.
As you may have guessed, coil-on-coil mattresses feature two layers of coils for increased support and reduced bounce.
Spring Mattress Pros and Cons
The first innerspring mattress was invented in the 19th century. Two centuries later, spring mattresses are still going strong mainly because:
- They provide firm support and are more supportive than all-foam mattresses for heavy sleepers;
- They offer excellent airflow;
- They are highly responsive and provide a bit of bounce; and
- They are extremely affordable.
However, spring sleeping solutions have a number of weaknesses. Some of the most concerning ones are:
- They don’t minimise motion transfer as well as foam models;
- Coils produce noise, especially during sex; and
- They sag over time, particularly cheaper models.
Foam vs. Spring Mattress: The Verdict
As you may have already realised, there isn’t an obvious winner in the “foam vs. spring mattress” battle. Some folks can benefit greatly from foam-only mattresses, while others sleep best on spring models.
As you can see, it all comes down to your primary sleeping position and individual needs. Many side sleepers prefer all-foam beds over traditional spring mattresses because they mould your body's shape and relieve pressure in the hips and shoulders. On the other hand, hot sleepers and stomach sleepers tend to go with spring mattresses due to their ability to regulate body temperature and provide firm support.
If you think you can benefit from both spring and foam mattresses, you’ll be thrilled to learn that you can have the best of both worlds with a high-quality hybrid mattress. This multi-layered sleeping solution usually comes with individually pocketed coils and at least one foam layer, which makes it highly versatile.
The pocket spring system many hybrid mattresses come with optimises air circulation, minimises heat retention, and—most importantly—supports the entire body. The foam comfort layer, on the other hand, relieves pressure points. Although pretty much anyone can sleep well on a quality hybrid mattress, this sleeping solution is ideal for folks with bad backs and side sleepers.
Choosing a winner between spring and foam mattresses is practically impossible. The verdict will always depend on various factors, including your body weight and primary sleep position. The best mattress for you is the one that provides you with sufficient support and comfort for a night of good-quality sleep, regardless of the mattress type.