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Foam vs. Spring Mattresses

Choosing a new mattress involves many important considerations. How much is your budget? What size bed do you need? What type of mattress is best for you?

Often, a good place to start is to consider: Do you want an innerspring mattress or an all-foam mattress? Answering this question will significantly narrow down your field of choices, making it easier to select the right mattress for you.

Before you choose, it’s important to learn more about each mattress type. We’ll compare foam vs. spring mattresses here. We’ll cover everything from the average cost to differences in construction and performance between these two popular categories.

Foam Mattresses Innerspring Mattresses
Average Cost Average queen: $900 (prices range from $300 to $3,000+) Average queen: $700 (prices range from $300 to $1,500+)
Pros
  • Good motion isolation
  • Excellent conforming
  • Soft and supportive
  • Targeted pressure relief in problem areas
  • Great for side sleepers
  • Foam beds are available for virtually every budget
  • Many affordable models available
  • Firmer support than most all-foam beds
  • More suitable for heavier sleepers
  • Generally sleeps cooler than foam, due to improved airflow
  • Provides a responsive and somewhat bouncy feel
Cons
  • Some foams trap body heat, causing an uncomfortably warm temperature at night
  • Minimal bounce, as foam tends to sink under body weight
  • Heavier sleepers may find that foam beds do not provide adequate support
  • Many foams release unpleasant odors for the first few days after set-up
  • Motion transfer can be an issue
  • Some innerspring beds can be noisy when changing positions
  • Some models will sag over time
  • Durability varies, depending on both initial quality & the weight of the sleepers

Foam Mattresses

Foam mattresses are beds made with all foam materials, without the use of metal springs. Often, these beds use a blend of different materials, including memory foam, polyfoam, latex foam, and more.

Foam mattresses are a relatively new product on the mattress market. They were first made available in the 1990s and started to become well-known in the 2000s.

Today, foam mattresses are exceptionally popular. They are particularly common from online mattress retailers, as foam beds can easily be compressed for shipping.

Foam mattresses are available in virtually every budget category. Ultra-budget beds start at a couple hundred dollars going all the way up to luxury mattresses priced in the thousands.

Foam Mattress Construction

The construction of foam mattresses is relatively simple compared to innerspring beds. Some foam beds, and particularly the most budget-friendly models, feature a uniform design with a single layer of foam. However, the majority of foam mattresses feature multiple distinct layers with varying materials, densities, and intended purposes.

For example, a mattress may have a 6-inch support core made of high-density polyfoam, a 2-inch transition layer made of standard polyfoam, and a 3-inch comfort layer made of gel-infused, open-cell memory foam. Each layer in this example serves a distinct purpose. The firmer, high-density polyfoam provides the underlying support, both for the sleeper and the mattress itself. The transition layer provides a moderately firm feel that provides extra support where it is needed most. Lastly, the memory foam comfort layer provides a soft feel with good pressure relief, as well as a cooler sleeping experience due to the open-cell, gel-infused material. The term “foam mattress” generally refers to all-foam mattresses. In other words, these beds do not have any other type of material besides foams and a fabric cover. There is a separate category, known as hybrid mattresses, which combine layers of foam with traditional metal coils. We’ll discuss hybrid mattresses in more detail below.

Types of Foam

Polyurethane Foam
Also called “polyfoam,” polyurethane foam is an affordable and versatile material used in a wide range of modern foam mattresses. It’s significantly more springy than materials such as memory foam, making it a popular choice for support layers in all-foam beds. Polyfoam is also used more commonly in firmer foam beds, as well as in comfort layers in innerspring mattresses.

There are a couple major types of polyfoam:

  • Standard polyfoam, which is relatively soft and inexpensive. It conforms to the shape of the body somewhat loosely and is often used in comfort and transition layers.
  • High-density polyfoam, which is firmer and denser and usually used in support layers.

Polyfoam may be slightly modified in structure or infused with a number of materials to impact its performance.

Memory Foam
Memory foam is a more responsive material that is prized for its superior contouring properties. It’s made from a form of polyurethane, with added materials to increase its viscosity and density. The result is a foam that feels quite soft and responsive, but that still provides good underlying support. Memory foam gets its name from the material's tendency to contour closely to the shape of your body, retaining the shape for a few seconds after you get up. Memory foam was originally created by NASA for use in safety applications and was later adapted for commercial use.

There are a few types of memory foam:

  • Standard memory foam, which conforms closely to the shape of the body and helps relieve pressure points. Due to its responsiveness to heat and body-hugging conforming, this foam tends to trap heat against the body.
  • Open-cell memory foam, which is engineered for better airflow, features openings in individual foam cells that help the bed sleep cooler. This material tends to feel a bit softer than standard memory foam.
  • Gel memory foam, which has small gel beads embedded in it, is also designed for cooling. The gel infusion works to draw body heat away from the body before it can build up, helping to keep the mattress cooler.

Latex Foam
Latex foam is a unique material that’s produced from a natural plant extract. It’s bouncy, springy, and highly resilient, but it’s also quite expensive to produce. While it is technically a type of foam, latex beds are often considered in their own category, as they are significantly different from beds made with synthetic foam materials.

Most modern foam beds use a blend of these materials, often in distinct layers. So, you may see an all-foam mattress with layers of memory foam, polyfoam, and high-density polyfoam, or any other combination of foam materials.

Spring Mattresses

Spring mattresses, also known as innerspring beds, have been the most popular type of mattress for decades. Foam mattresses have seen a rise in popularity in recent years that has put them on par with innerspring beds, though innerspring mattresses remain a strong choice for many sleepers. The design of a spring mattress utilizes hundreds of small metal springs or coils, which are used to provide the underlying support for the mattress. The coils are generally topped with a relatively thin layer of foam or other plush material to improve comfort.

Spring mattresses are far more bouncy than all-foam beds. They also tend to provide firmer support, which is an important factor for heavier people, and anyone who prefers substantial support.

There is a lot of variation in innerspring mattresses, depending on their design and overall quality. Factors like the number of springs used, the coil gauge (wire thickness), and the comfort layers will all have a great impact on how an innerspring mattress feels. Likewise, spring mattresses are available in a wide variety of price-points, ranging from budget to luxury.

Spring Mattress Construction

Spring mattresses are typically constructed with a design that features:

  • A base layer, typically made of a thin foam or durable fabric
  • A support layer of metal coils
  • A thin comfort layer, typically made of foam or some other material

The basic design of an innerspring mattress relies heavily on the springs themselves. These coils provide the underlying structure of the mattress, as well as the firm and responsive support that these beds are known for. Thin layers of foam or plush material can help to provide some extra comfort, but typically the bulk of the mattress consists of the metal coils.

Factors such as the type of springs used, the gauge or thickness of the wire, and the type of comfort layers used will all influence the overall feel of the mattress. The number of coils will also influence comfort and responsiveness. Mattresses with a higher coil count (approximately 400+ in a queen) are often of a higher quality than lower coil count models. That being said, mattress shoppers should avoid the temptation to simply count coils as a sole gauge of quality, as there are many factors to consider.

Types of Springs

Bonnell Coils: Bonnell coils are the oldest and most traditional version of innerspring coil. They are inexpensive and relatively simple to produce, so many budget mattress brands still use them to this day. The Bonnell coil is a simple, hourglass-shaped spring that can be made with a variety of wire gauges, ranging from soft to firm.

Continuous Coils: As the name suggests, continuous coils are made with a single wire that makes up an entire row of coils. Each row is then attached to each other, forming the underlying support layer of the mattress. Continuous coils provide firm, rigorous support - but they have a limited ability to compress independently, and therefore are not as responsive as other coil designs.

Pocket Coils: Pocket coils (also known as pocketed coils) are a more advanced design that allows for better responsiveness and reduced noise. Pocket coils are individually wrapped in fabric, allowing them to move independently from the surrounding coils. This design is significantly more costly to implement, so pocketed coils are mostly used in higher-end mattresses.

Offset Coils: Offset coils are hourglass-shaped springs with a slightly different design from traditional Bonnell coils. Offset coils are joined together by wire in a way that allows them to provide a hinge-like response to pressure. The result is a bed with some ability to respond to the shape of your body, but with firmer underlying support.

What About Hybrids?

Hybrid beds are a relatively new concept, but their popularity has been soaring in recent years. Hybrid mattresses aim to take the positive qualities of metal coils and combine them with those of modern foam materials.

A hybrid bed will generally consist of a thick layer of coils (often pocketed coils), topped with a moderately thick layer of foam material. Memory foam and polyfoam are common choices for this comfort layer. Luxury hybrid mattresses often have several comfort layers of various materials.

Overall, hybrids are a very versatile category of mattress. They are suited to a wide range of sleepers, making them a good choice for couples with different sleep preferences.

Hybrids provide the firm underlying support that you’d expect from metal coils, a key characteristic for back and stomach sleepers. Meanwhile, a thicker foam comfort layer provides significant conforming, a factor which is particularly important for side sleepers.

The only real downside to hybrid beds is that they tend to be more expensive. Expect to spend hundreds of dollars more for a hybrid, compared to a foam or innerspring bed of a similar quality.

Which Mattress Type is Best For Me?

There is a lot to consider before choosing between spring vs foam mattresses. Here is a quick recap:

If you sleep on your side, you will likely enjoy foam beds more than spring mattresses. Many side sleepers find that, with innerspring beds, their shoulders sink into their mattress enough to feel compressed against metal springs. Foam mattresses, on the other hand, generally accommodate side sleepers very well.

If you sleep on your stomach, an innerspring bed will generally be a better fit, although you may also find a very firm foam mattress to be suitable. Stomach sleepers typically need very firm support, and many foam beds just don’t provide that.

If you sleep on your back, either mattress type could work well. We recommend that back sleepers avoid softer foam beds, but other than that, both innerspring and all-foam beds can be comfortable for those who sleep on their backs.

If you are heavier, an innerspring bed may be a better choice. Spring mattresses can provide more support and prevent the kind of sinkage that some people experience with all-foam beds. With that said, a firm or very firm all-foam mattress can still be suitable for heavier sleepers.

If you are on a tight budget, both innerspring beds and all-foam beds can be found at very affordable prices. The choice here boils down to whether or not you find foam beds or innerspring beds to be more comfortable.

If you sleep hot, choose either an innerspring bed or a foam bed with specific cooling features. Many foam materials tend to trap body heat, leading to an uncomfortable experience on warm nights. Innerspring beds have significantly better airflow, so they tend to sleep cooler. Advanced foams like open-cell foam and gel-infused memory foam can help to improve cooling, but generally speaking, innerspring beds will sleep significantly cooler than foam.

If you sleep with a partner and either of you wake easily, consider sticking to a foam mattress. Foam mattresses tend to isolate motion well, so you won’t notice your partner’s movements as much. Likewise, foam beds don’t make noise, unlike some squeakier innerspring models.

Lastly, remember this: Choosing the right bed for you involves much more than just choosing between foam and spring mattresses. You can find quality mattresses of both types that are comfortable and supportive.