Mattress inventions range from innersprings to fiber fillings to heat-sensitive chemical foams to vinyl shells pumped with air.
Conventional mattress types
There are five main categories of mattresses manufactured today:
Innerspring Mattresses comprise the vast majority of mattresses made today. The mattresses that you see advertised for $299 for a Queen size up to those that go for $5000-$10,000 and more usually have some sort of innerspring. Manufacturers can vary the number of springs, the gauge of the coil; they can wrap the coils. All of these techniques will affect how the mattress feels and its longevity. Innerspring technology is over 100 years old and was a big improvement over mattresses made in the 1800’s. The three S’s—Sealy, Simmons, and Serta, are regarded as the “big three” in bedding.
Air Mattresses are made with bladders filled with air. You can pump them up as much as you like to make them softer or firmer. Some people love the flexibility; others don’t like dealing with the pumps and gaskets. And the warranties on these beds do not normally cover the pumps. People tell us they are sometimes noisy. Select Comfort, Comfortaire, and Nautilus are big in this industry.
Waterbeds are beds that use bladders filled with water. Waterbeds were huge in the 1970s, but problems with the size, weight, and heaters, have reduced their prominence in the past 15 years. Before waterbeds, mattresses were all made to be firm. Apparently the mattress industry sold the public on the concept that firmer was better because they could make something firm and give it a long warranty. (Just to be clear, firmer is not better. If firmer were better, concrete would be best.)
Foam Mattresses can be made of any of three main types of foam—polyurethane foam, memory foam, and latex. Polyurethane foam is the least expensive and is found in most futons and less expensive mattresses. It is also used as a base in most memory foam mattresses and is blended with latex in some latex mattresses. Memory foam has become very popular in recent years. Tempur-Pedic is the big name in memory foam, and many copies have followed.
Fiber Mattresses are usually made with garneted or carded fibers of cotton, wool, polyester, or some alternative material such as horsehair. This type of mattress evolved out of the futon industry. Fiber mattresses can feel good in a showroom, but their loft is maintained by air. As a result, they quickly compress, and will usually take a body impression in less than a year.