Shopping for a new mattress is always a tough task, but it can be even more difficult if you don’t understand the important terminology and descriptors of each mattress.
The following is a list of key mattress shopping terms, product attributes, descriptions, and other definitions that will help you make an informed decision. The list is sorted into categories (not alphabetically).
Not seeing the term you’re looking for? Send me a note via my contact form. I’d love to answer your question and add it to this list!
Mattress Construction & Materials
Pillow top – a type of mattress in which a padded layer of pillow-type or other soft material is encased in a covering and that is sewn or otherwise affixed to the top cover on the mattress. These mattresses are sometimes called “plush”.
Euro-style pillow top – similar to a traditional pillow top in feel, a euro-style pillow top is a type of mattress that has an added layer of pillow-type or other soft material stuffed under the primary cover of the mattress. It differs from a traditional pillow top mattress, which has a secondary casing sewn onto the top of the mattress. Euro-style pillow toppers include the pillow stuffing within the existing cover, giving the mattress a sleeker aesthetic. Examples:
Hybrid mattress – a type of mattress that uses varying materials. The aim of most hybrid mattresses is to maximize certain positive attributes of the materials, while minimizing other negative attributes. These mattresses can be constructed of a wide variety of materials. Most commonly they are built from a combination of latex foam, memory foam, polyfoam, support foam, other patented foam, pocketed coils, traditional springs, or pillow tops. Examples:
Memory foam – a common type of foam used in a litany of mattresses. Memory foam is primarily known for its exceptional support, pressure relief, and hug-like sensation around the sleeper. Some memory foams also have issues with heat retention, causing them to absorb and retain heat, which can lead to an uncomfortable sleeping experience. Slower responsiveness is also a negative issue in some mattresses. Advanced memory foams have largely solved the problem of responsiveness and heat retention. It’s important to note that not all memory foams are created equal. Memory foam is a broad term that includes a wide range of foams of varying quality and feature sets. Examples:
Latex foam – latex is primarily available in two types, Dunlop and Talalay. Latex is available in a variety of firmness levels. Latex has a consistent feel and firmness level (provided the type, thickness, and firmness level is the same). Latex is known for its great bounce, cooling properties, and responsiveness. Examples:
Avena foam – Avena is a patented foam. It has many of the same properties as latex, including great bounce, cooling properties, and responsiveness. However, Avena has improved durability over latex. Examples:
Dunlop latex – latex manufacturing technique where the ingredient blend is mixed, poured into a mold, and baked. Has superior durability to Talalay latex. Slightly firmer feel on the bottom side of the latex foam due to a settling of the material during the molding process.
Talalay latex – latex manufacturing technique where the ingredient blend is mixed, injected into a mold, and vacuum sealed. Talalay is flash-frozen. This creates a more consistent feel and firmness from top to bottom (prevents the settling that occurs with Dunlop latex). The flash-frozen latex is baked to complete the manufacturing process.
Natural latex – natural latex is made from the rubber tree. The sap from the tree is harvested and manufactured into foam.
Synthetic latex – most common type of latex. Synthetic latex has chemical properties similar to that of natural latex. It is manufactured from SBR (styrene butadiene rubber).
Support foam – a basic type of high density foam that’s commonly used as the foundational base of a foam mattress. May also be used as part of a hybrid mattress.
Convoluted support foam – a more advanced support foam that is processed through a machine of rotating metal teeth. These teeth create a columnar-type system within the foam. This improves cooling, breathability, and deep compression support within the foam. Examples:
IDF (Indentation Deflection Force) – used to determine the firmness level of foam. A standard size block of foam is placed within an indenter machine. The IDF rating is measured after achieving 25% indentation with the identer machine. Lower scores equate greater softness, higher scores equate greater hardness.
ILD (Indentation Load Deflection) –used to determine the firmness level of the foam. A standard size block of foam is placed within an identer machine. The ILD rating is measured after achieving 25% indentation with the identer machine. Ex. if a foam has a rating of 15, this means that it will take fifteen pounds of pressure to cause a 25% indentation on the mattress. Lower scores equate greater softness, higher scores equate greater hardness.
Off Gassing – the process that some foam mattresses can go through at the conclusion of the manufacturing process. This final step generally occurs in-home after the mattress has been unboxed. During this process gasses producing strong odors can be released. The smell generally lasts no longer than 7 days and should not be noticeable after that time. Allow your mattress to off-gas in another room or outside if possible. Healthier and higher quality mattresses generally do not have an off gassing period.
Coil-on-Coil – a luxury type of innerspring mattress construction. Coil-on-coil mattress contain two layers of coils on top of each other. Typically one layer is a higher coil count and is the comfort layer and the second layer will be lower coil count and act as more of a support layer. The layer of coils improves comfort, support, and the luxury feel of the mattress. Examples:
Pocketed Coils – these types of coils are individually wrapped and encased within foam. This reduces noise and improves mattress contouring and comfort.
Wrapped Coils – wrapped coils typically indicate the coils are wrapped within foam (see “Pocketed Coils”). However, they may be wrapped with another material.
Fire sock – a thin piece of material that wraps the core of the mattress (sits between the mattress and the mattress cover). It is designed to melt in the event of a fire, smothering the flames. Typically made out of sand and wood pulp or other materials.
Support – a subjective measure how the mattress keeps your spine in alignment. A mattress with good support will keep your spinal structure in perfect alignment. Support is not the same as firmness. A firm mattress does not indicate that it has good support any more than a soft mattress indicates that a mattress does not offer good support. Ideal support will provide this spinal alignment without creating undo pressure points on the sleeper.
Hug / Sinkage – how the mattress wraps and contours to your body. A mattress with a high degree of hug will allow the sleeper to sink into the mattress, contouring to the unique shape of the sleeper. A mattress with very little hug / sinkage will keep the sleeper floating more on top of the surface layer.
Responsiveness – how quickly the mattress adjusts to changes in pressure. This is most relevant for foam mattresses, which allow the sleeper to sink into the mattress. A mattress with a quick response time will rapidly change to adjustments in pressure and sleeping positions. A mattress with a slow response time will stay indented longer and more slowly change its shape. Slower response times were a major problem with earlier generations of memory foam. Most newer foams have better response time.
Bounce – the degree to which the mattress responds to pressure and transfers energy back in the direction that pressure was applied. Responsiveness and bounce are closely related. Generally a mattress with high response will also have a higher degree of bounce. Traditional coil mattresses have a high degree of bounce because they transfer energy back through a strong an immediate recoil effect that builds up through pressure. Memory foam mattresses usually have a lower degree of bounce because they absorb energy instead of returning it.
Motion transfer – how much energy is transferred from one portion of the mattress to another. Particularly important for couples who share a bed. A mattress with low motion transfer will minimize the movements of one sleeper’s movements or change in position, preventing a disturbance of the other sleeper.
Deep Compression Support – a subjective measure of how the mattress performs when under heavier pressures. Mattresses with better deep compression support generally are thicker and have better / more transitional layers (either coils, foam, or other materials). Deep compression support is particularly important for larger sleepers.
Mattress Service & Delivery
Trial Period – common practice for most online mattress direct-to-consumer companies. A trial period generally indicates that you can sleep test the mattress in your home for the period of the trial. If you decide you do not like the mattress within the trial period you may request a 100% money back refund. Verify with the manufacturer / store on the terms of the trial period.
Comfort Guarantee – common guarantee for most retail mattress stories. A comfort guarantee generally indicates that you my exchange the mattress for another mattress of equal or lesser value if you decide that mattress doesn’t work for you during the duration of the comfort guarantee. Typically it does not allow for refunds. Verify with the manufacturer / store on the terms of the comfort guarantee.
Boxed delivery – delivery service in which the mattress is delivered in a medium size box via standard mail services (FedEx, UPS, USPS, etc.). The mattress is compressed, rolled, and packed with heavy duty plastic. This type of packing does not harm the mattress and is typically only available for foam mattresses.
White glove delivery – delivery service in which the mattress is delivered, typically by 2 men, who will deliver the mattress to your home and set it up on your bed frame. Many times, they will also remove your old mattress (sometimes for an extra charge).
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