Every mattress needs some kind of inner strength in order to support those sleeping on it. In case of innerspring mattresses, this need is met with the core of high-density steel coils.
Invented by Berliner Heinrich Westphal in 1871 and patented in the United States in 1890, the innerspring has ruled the American market since the 1930s. This dominance is now no longer a given. These days, spring mattresses are having to roll over a little and make room for the new bedfellows: the foam, latex, and hybrid mattresses that are often bought online. Still, there are several good reasons why the traditional coil mattresses persist in American households.
The popularity of coils
One reason for the ubiquity of coiled mattresses is that they are most often affordable. Second, spring mattresses are still widely available, claiming 90 percent of the mattress industry sales. Third, manufactures have made attempts in some models to mitigate the dreaded bounce transfer from one partner to another and to hush the squeaky noise issues. Fourth, the newer generations of spring mattresses offer a range of firmness and comfort options. With innovations such as luxuriously cushioned tops and pocketed coils, today’s innerspring might just spring back from underneath the newer competition’s pressure.
If so, it will still be challenge. Various kinks persist in many models of the innerspring, and the majority of owners do report fair to low levels of satisfaction with it. The paradox of the innerspring is that while it is the most popular mattress type sold today, it is also the most disliked one.
A key complaint about the coil mattress is the sagging. How can something literally made of steel have such poor durability record? Because of it intricate composition, consisting of many moving parts and different types of materials, the spring is particularly susceptible to the wear-and-tear caused by compression. The so-called coil fatigue occurs in places where the mattress tends to bear the most weight, often in the middle.
Types of innerspring mattresses
Modeled after 19th-century buggy seats’ springs, the Bonnell coil is the oldest type of the innerspring core, and it is still the most common. It is made from hourglass-shaped tempered-steel springs with round, knotted heads. Tempered steel is one that had been treated by heat and thus made more durable. The coils are linked together to form a bouncy mat. At the edges, sturdier support clips prevent the mattress from collapsing under people sitting on the edge of the bed. This type of core is used in affordable to mid-priced models.
The feel of the Bonnell bed is bouncy. This means that when one person on it shifts, her sleeping partner might wake up. On the plus side, users often report the bounce helpful during sex.
The offset coil, also made of tempered steel, is composed of either straight barrels with offset, squared heads that are not knotted or hourglass-shaped coils with square heads that are either knotted or unknotted. This type of core appears in premium quality mattresses, with the offset knotted hourglass-shaped coils showing up in luxury brands.
The offset tends to offer better support and the pricier models can provide less motion transfer.
Made from one string of wire that forms organically joined coils, the continuous core uses less steel because it has a lower gauge of wire and turns within a coil, but it has a high coil count.
Those who use this mattress may not complain about the price, but the continuous coil is the poorest rated by users, who often report that their bedtime activities can be overheard in another room and that the continuous springs provide little motion isolation.
The pocketed innerspring, also known as the Marshall coil, is a core in which each straight-barrel and unknotted coil is encased in fabric. Sometimes it is made with non-tempered steel, which results in lower resilience.
The most favored core among innerspring mattress users, the encased coil is best at mitigating the usual cons of the innerspring–noise and motion transfer. This translates into this particular type of mattress being less liked when it comes to intimate activities that benefit from bouncing.
Eager to sell mattresses, salespeople have been known to disseminate some myths involving the coil mattress. When shopping for a mattress, watch out for these three fallacies.
Myth #1: Higher coil counts mean a better mattress.
This myth is akin to the claim that the higher the thread count in cotton sheets, the greater the comfort. In both this case and when it comes to mattress coils this is true, but only to a point.
According to Larry Thomas of Furniture Today, the correlation of the number of coils with comfort is overrated. To a certain point, the greater the number of coils, the more comfortable it gets: one coils is of course much worse to sleep on than one thousand. But, counsels the National Sleep Foundation, “if the number of coils is over 390, then you’re not likely to notice the difference, so don’t bother paying extra.” Presumably, the NSF is speaking here about a queen. Consumer Reports recommends a higher coil count: “The better innerspring mattresses we’ve tested had 600 to 1,000 coils,” the report notes.
The number of coils matters less than what the coils are made from and what their gauge is. The non-tempered steel is less durable than the steel that was heated to a high temperature during the process of tempering. The lower the gauge, the firmer the mattress. And a very high coil count won’t make up for thin gauge.
Myth #2: A firmer mattress gives you better support.
People who suffer from back pain and people who are heavier need more support from mattresses. As a result, salespeople often steer them away from foam mattresses and toward the coiled ones.
And yet, a firm mattress can be too firm. Firm mattresses, especially those without a fiber pillow top or a layer of foam, can aggravate pressure points. A study published in the medical journal The Lancet found that medium-firm mattresses were superior to firm ones. Mattresses of medium firmness improved pain and disability among patients with chronic nonspecific lower back pain. If you really like a firm mattress, one solution is to buy it and, should it end up bothering your pressure points, invest in a good memory-foam topper.
Myth #3: The innerspring is history.
In the last decade, foam and latex competitors have risen against the innerspring. While the jury is still out on whether they will manage to usurp the coil manufacturers’ market dominance, they pose a real threat because the traditional innerspring is both the most prevalent and the least liked type of mattress among American consumers. Only 63 percent of purchasers are satisfied with it, compared with the 81 percent of satisfied foam mattress owners and the 80 percent of satisfied latex mattress owners.
Still, the spring mattress is not necessarily outdated. The manufacturers of the coil mattress are adapting. Whether by sowing on plush pillowtops (layers of foam, wool, or cotton) or by incorporating coils as part of mattress-in-a-box hybrids, the coil mattresses are still with us and are unlikely to surrender much of their share of the market.
Questions to ask when buying an innerspring mattress
- Is the coil steel tempered?
Tempered steel is more resilient.
- How many coils does it have?
Past 600 coils, a high number is often just a gimmick.
- What is the coil gauge of this mattress?
Coil gauge can provide an indication about how the mattress will feel and how long it will last. Coil gauge measures the diameter of the coil wire. On average, the number is between 12 and 16. Counterintuitively, the higher the number, the thinner the coil wire. The lower the gauge, the thicker the wire.
Since the thicker wires tend to take longer to wear out, the lower the gauge the more durability one can expect. The lower gauge, however, does not provide as much give or spring as the higher gauge coil. As a result, the lower gauge is also associated with a firmer mattress. Heavier people may want to consider the lower gauge.
- What is the top layer?
All coil mattresses have some sort of cushioning on top. Models with more than two inches of foam on top are considered hybrids. If there is a layer of foam, does it include cooling gel? If not, ask the salesperson whether the mattress offers other provisions for temperature regulation.
- How thick is the top layer?
In tests performed by Consumer Reports, hybrid coil mattresses needed at least several inches of foam on top to significantly improve comfort.
- Are the coils pocketed or offset?
Individually encased coils, and, to a lesser extent, offset coils tend to work against motion transfer from partner to partner and reduce noise. The Bonnell and continuous coils are the worst offenders when it comes to motion isolation, which can lead to the sleeping partner to wake up when the other tosses and turns. Customers seeking the bounce, on the other hand, should stay away from the pocketed coil.
- What’s the length and type of warranty?
The first month of sleeping on a mattress usually provides enough information. There is no need to spend extra money on warranty longer than a year. Another reason to refuse being sold a long-term warranty is that the fine print often invalidates warranties on accounts of improper foundation or frame and soiling. Removing the law tags also renders the insurance useless.
What kind of sleeper is best suited for an innerspring mattress?
- People needing firmer support
The coils are a reliable way to provide firmness, so customers seeking firmer mattresses, and a variety of firmness options, tend to prefer these mattresses. A properly cushioned medium-firm or firm innerspring can be a good option for some back pain sufferers and heavier people (those weighing over 250 pounds).
- The budget-conscious customers
Although some premium coil mattresses can be expensive at between $1,000 and $4,000, the innersprings tend to be affordable, especially those using Bonnells. A customer can expect to get a quality mattress for between $600 and $1,000. The aggregate mattress review site Sleep Like The Dead sets the average price of the innerspring at $1,000.
- Aficionados of bouncy sex
When it comes to the innerspring, one person’s sleep-disturbing motion transfer is another person’s sexy bump. As many as 74 percent of spring mattress owners said that the spring mattresses were best for sex. The reasons for this have to do with reported ease of movement on the mattress, the edge support that is often missing from foam mattresses, and the bounciness that the springs provide.
- Stomach sleepers
Doctors caution against sleeping on the stomach because it throws the spine out of alignment. But, if you just can’t shake this habit, the firmer spring mattress might be your friend, especially if you put a flat pillow under your belly and hips.
Who should stay away from innersprings?
- People who need more cushioning
If you sleep on your side or suffer from back pain, your bones and spine might appreciate a little more give. A memory foam or a hybrid (maybe even one including coils) is best for you.
- People who value privacy and discretion
If you do not want the mother-in-law or children in the adjacent room to hear squeaking brought on by tossing and turning or intimate encounters, consider the memory foam, latex, or a hybrid mattress.
- Bed sharers whose sleep is easily disturbed
Couples who are fond of the innerspring can carefully pick the pocketed or offset coil models, which subdue the motion transfer. Better yet, they could choose a hybrid or memory foam.
- Lightweight people
Persons weighing 130 or fewer pounds often find that even the memory foam mattresses or hybrids are buoyant enough to support them.
Our Favorite Innerspring Mattresses of 2017
Please check out our review methodology before reading below. Our overall favorite innerspring mattress of 2017 is the Saatva Luxury Firm Mattress.
The Saatva Luxury Firm gets high marks in almost all categories and excels when it comes to materials and quality construction. Several key features make the Saatva our top innerspring mattress:
- Multi-layered coils: unlike many innerspring mattresses, the Saatva uses two separate sets of coils. The bottom layer is made up of stainless steel coils, while the top layer is composed of individually-wrapped, foam-encased coils. This is designed to provide strong support and durability.
- Foam cushioning: the mattress includes targeted foam support to improve performance. This includes a small foam layer for lumbar support as well as foam to boost edge support.
- Varying firmness levels: while most sleepers will prefer the Luxury Firm model, which falls right into the middle of the firmness range, Saatva offers models that are considerably more and less firm.
- Extended sleep trial: Saatva offers a 120 day sleep trial — among the longest in the industry — during which the mattress can be returned at no charge.
- Euro-style pillow top: extra comfort cushioning contributes to a plusher feel, and this material is sewn in underneath the mattress cover to provide a more uniform look and feel.
- Quality customer experience: Saatva has strong ratings from the Better Business Bureau and has a reputation for excellent customer service.
- Made in the USA: the mattress is built in the USA, and almost all of the mattress components are manufactured domestically as well.
Potential concerns for the Saatva mattress:
- Shipping cost: because this mattress cannot be compressed to be shipped as a “bed in a box,” Saatva charges for shipping (usually $99). This shipping charge is not refunded if the mattress is returned; however, the delivery fee includes both shipping and mattress set-up.
- Mattress size and weight: with all of its components, the Saatva is a large mattress. The Luxury Firm model is 14.5 inches tall, which may require extra deep-pocketed sheets. In addition, the queen-size mattress weighs over 110 pounds. Though it has handles, it may be unwieldy to move.
Honorable Mention for Best Innerspring Mattress
- Charles P. Rogers Powercore Estate: this well-regarded line of higher-end innerspring mattresses offers several firmness options based on the size of a latex comfort layer.
- Denver Mattress Doctor’s Choice: this line offers a number of well-constructed, no-frills innerspring mattresses at an affordable price point.
Innerspring Mattress Resources
Reputable websites evaluating coil mattresses
- This Consumer Reports mattress buying guide
It includes comparison of various types of mattresses, sales tricks to avoid (“don’t get bullied into buying a box spring” gets it right, but the claim that “tryouts aren’t usually and option” with mattresses bought online seems outdated), tips about restocking fees, and common claims that haven’t held up in CR tests.
This website is the nexus of “quality manufacturers,” “knowledgeable retailers,” and “educated consumers.” It offers detailed information about a variety of mattresses, including the coil type, as well as a participant forum.
- The “Innerspring Mattress Reviews, Ratings, and Comparisons” page at sleeplikethedead.com
It rates coil mattresses as a group and compares them to other groups of mattresses in categories that include owner satisfaction, offgassing, heat generation, noise, warranties, and others. The page also rates and compares various brands. Based on aggregated data, it delineates what sets spring mattresses apart from the other types (bounce and limited conforming ability). It discusses in depth things like coil types and owner satisfaction.
A general overview of mattress types, including the innerspring type, that takes as its goal a good night’s rest.
- A study in The Lancet.
The peer-reviewed study established that for those with back pain, the medium-firm mattress is preferred over firm.
Threads include detailed questions and answers regarding the performance of various mattress types. Use the Search box to enter a specific query about a specific type of coil mattress and you are likely to find helpful advice.
Crowdsourced and unmediated by manufacturers or websites with vested interest in keeping their advertisers happy, this forum is for anyone with questions about mattresses. The link above selects threads having to do with spring mattresses only.
Enter the make and/or brand of the mattress you are considering buying and the website will do a search of all complaints against the companies and flaws reported to the site by owners.
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