Spring vs Foam Mattresses

spring coils, memory foam and latex foam

Spring Beds vs Foam Beds

There are many different types of mattresses but the main two we tend to see on the market are spring vs foam beds. In this article, we’re talking about beds that either have springs in their support layer, or foam in their core layers. 

Springs were first used in beds around the late 1800s, so the vast majority of us have mostly slept in beds with innersprings. Foams are much newer to the market, and have really only been used commonly in beds to make up the core layer in the last twenty to thirty years. Foams have definitely opened up a whole new world for sleepers – but what’s best for you? 

Remember that choosing the best mattress for you is about finding the best mattress “system” for your body within your budget. And the core layer of a bed is an integral part of this system. So read on to be prepared.

Spring Mattresses

What is a Spring Mattress?

The core is made of springs, or coils, that support the sleeper. Innerspring mattresses are durable, springy, and comfortable. People of different weights can sleep on this mattress and the springs will conform to the shape of the sleeper’s body.  

Types of Spring Mattresses

The main types of innerspring mattresses you’ll see are the Bonnell Spring and the Pocket Spring. The Bonnell Spring is more old-school (though not as old school as the continuous spring – a few words about the continuous spring later) than the Pocket Spring, but both do have their advantages and disadvantages compared with each other. For more details about these two types, check out this article

You may be wondering why I haven’t given much mention to continuous springs. The continuous spring system is rows of springs where each row is made up of one single wire. Depending on the thickness (or gauge) of the wire it can be supportive, but as each “spring” is made up of the same piece of wire and the one next to it, there is very little responsiveness, pressure point support, and motion isolation compared to other types of spring mattresses. Generally this type of mattress is quite cheap and lower in quality. If budget is an issue, my recommendation would be to save a little more for a Bonnell Spring, as you’ll get more quality for your buck. 

How are Spring Mattresses usually constructed?

In a Bonnell Spring mattress, the coils in the Bonnell mattress are interconnected and are shaped like hourglasses so that the springs are narrower in the middle. The ends of each coil is “pigtail” wrapped around itself so that it doesn’t scratch through any other layers, then the coils are in turn attached to very tightly “pigtailed” wires which connect them all.

In a Pocket Spring mattress, each spring stands alone and is enclosed in cotton pockets to keep the springs from entangling or catching on anything. Because they are not connected to each other, they move independently. The pockets of material that house the springs are glued or sewn to the adjacent pockets, but the springs themselves can move singly.

For both types of spring mattresses, once the coil structures have been made, they are surrounded on the top and bottom by comfort layers (which may include thin layers of cotton or wool padding, or perhaps foam), then it’s all encased around the sides, and stitched up to make the final product. 

Foam Mattresses

What is a Foam Mattress?

What makes a foam? What do bubbles foaming in your bath, and your kitchen sponge have in common that makes them a foam? The answer is air bubbles. It’s air bubbles that make a foam light and airy, soft and conforming, while the structure of the foam itself in the kitchen sponge is still strong enough to do its job compared to a solid brick of material. That’s what you’re looking at in a foam mattress, regardless of what kind of foam it is. Whether the air bubbles are formed chemically or by pressure, it’s the air bubbles that allow your body to sink into the mattress, while the foam material conforms to your body and supports you. 

Types of Foam Mattresses

There are three main types of foams – polyfoam, latex foam, and memory foam. Different manufacturers may give their foams fancy proprietary names, and in the vast majority of cases these particular foams are simply their own formula of polyfoam. If it’s latex or memory foam, the manufacturer will specifically say so. To understand the difference between the three, this article will have the answers you seek

How are Foam Mattresses usually constructed?

Most foam mattresses on the market today will be made up of at least two layers of foam. Each layer may be various types of polyfoam, latex or memory, or a combination. The layers should be designed to work together to contour around your body while also holding it up, and in doing so distribute your weight evenly to relieve any pressure points. The upper most layer or two will generally contour more (so you’ll often see memory foam in this layer rather than the core), while usually the core layers will be latex or polyfoam. 

Spring Bed vs Foam Bed Comparison Chart

Spring Mattress – Pro

Spring Mattress – Con

Springs bounce. In beds, bounce means responsiveness. You won’t get stuck in one position all night.In Bonnell Spring mattresses in particular, the springs will transfer much more motion than foam mattresses would. So if you sleep with a partner who tosses and turns all night, this bed might keep you up. 
You also don’t just want to sink into your bed. You want it to support you, to hold up your weight (to the right degree). For back or stomach sleepers, or for heavier sleepers, this is one big advantage of springs over foams. Foam beds are silent. Springs can squeak, particularly as the mattress ages, or if it is of a lower quality. 
Springs are by nature hollow. This means there is airflow throughout the mattress, so your body heat will disperse through the night. Springs don’t conform to your body as much as foams do, so this may mean that it will give you less pressure point relief. Some manufacturers will make up for this by using different zones in their bed so that the coils in each zone correspond with the needs for each part of your body. 
Springs don’t smell. Though the comfort layers of an innerspring bed may still off-gas, less foam in the bed means less off-gassing.  
Spring beds have better edge support by nature. Manufacturers of foam beds need to specifically factor edge support into their designs, and often it still doesn’t measure up to the edge support of spring beds.  
Foam Mattress – ProFoam Mattress – Con
Foam beds are excellent in terms of motion isolation. Very few innerspring mattresses can compete with a foam bed in this regard, so it’s recommended for couples who toss and turn a lot through the night. As foam is a block with small air bubbles throughout, there isn’t a whole lot of air circulation going through the mattress. For people who sleep hot, or find the Australian summer nights unbearably sticky, this is something to really think about. 
Foams, particularly memory foam, are incredible at conforming to your body shape, which targets any pressure points and relieves these areas while being soft and supportive. While the foam is great for motion isolation because of its lack of bounce, this same unbounciness can leave sleepers feeling stuck in one position as it’s harder to move out of the impression of your body once you’ve sunk in. 
Because of how soft and conforming foam is, side sleepers will usually find them more comfortable as their shoulders can really go deep inside the foam. For heavier sleepers, back or stomach sleepers, foam beds may not give enough support compared to the innerspring beds. 
 Foam beds, even high quality ones, will offgas for a period of time. It’s not a nice smell, and you may have health concerns over breathing these gases in. 

Certification

The Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS) is the international standard for organic latex. For the latex product to achieve the GOLS certification, at least 95% of the product must be certified organic raw material. This means the rubber tree plantations themselves must be organic (no pesticides, etc) and other materials, such as curing agents, also need to reach this standard. GOLS also sets allowed limits for harmful substances and emissions, and allowed percentage limits for polymer and filler (namely, plastics). Unfortunately, it doesn’t look as though many Australian mattress companies use GOLS. 

CertiPUR-US, which is more commonly used in Australia than GOLS, is a health standard certification for all foams. It checks that the foam is low in volatile organic compounds, or VOCs (this is what off-gassing is), has no dangerous heavy metals including mercury and lead, and has not had formaldehyde and certain other chemicals used in its creation. 

There aren’t any specific certifications for coils in innerspring mattresses. Most coils are generally made of steel. Sometimes, the coils aren’t made of just steel wire, but a combination of steel, manganese and carbon. This alloy is very strong, but as stated earlier, the comfort layers generally wear out a long time before the coils do. Regardless, these metals don’t emit harmful gases, so safety standards for coils aren’t that relevant. 

However, innerspring and foam mattresses use other textiles for the comfort layers and covers as well, so you will find that some mattresses have certain certifications for these materials. Textile products that meet the international OEKO-TEX Standard 100 certification requirements are free of substances that harm people’s health. There are also standards such as GECA, that indicate the products bearing this label are more environmentally friendly, and healthier for humans. Not all Australian beds will have these standards, but those that do can give you that peace of mind. 

Hybrid Mattresses

For the indecisive, there are hybrid mattresses which use innersprings (usually pocket springs). They combine the responsiveness and ventilation of the springs, with the contouring and comfort of foams. If the hybrid is a pocket spring mattress, then that combined with the foam layers will minimise any motion transfer if you sleep with a partner. 

So what distinguishes a hybrid mattress from an innerspring mattress? It comes down to how foam is used in the comfort layer of the bed. Traditional innerspring mattresses probably have a thin layer of quilting, foam, or cotton padding so that you’re not sleeping directly on springs. Modern hybrid mattresses however intentionally use characteristics of different types of foam to optimise the mattress as a whole sleeping system. For instance, taking advantage of memory foam to allow you to sink into the bed, or of latex foam to provide more support. The foam isn’t there just to cushion the springs; they serve a critical purpose in the way the bed contours around your body, how far you sink into the bed, and how it feels overall. 

Simply put, not all innerspring mattresses are hybrid mattresses, but all hybrid mattresses are innerspring mattresses. 

The drawback though is that hybrids can be a bit pricier – arguably fair if you’re looking for the “best of both worlds”. That and they’re usually heavier too, but how much of a factor that is in your decision will vary from individual to individual. 

Hybrid mattresses can be an excellent choice – but don’t choose a bed just because it’s a hybrid. As you can tell, each different design will make every hybrid mattress very different from each other, so the pros and cons for each will not be the same. 

Final Thoughts

Different people will of course have different preferences. Personally, I’m a spring girl simply because I move so much in my sleep, and foam feels a little too enveloping for me throughout the night. That said, that cushioning feeling of sinking into a foam bed is hard to beat! 

At Time to Sleep HQ, we’ve reviewed a number of hybrid mattresses – check out our thoughts here

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