Standard Mattresses Buying Guide

A mattress can be a powerful thing. If you have a good one, your chances of sleeping soundly are excellent. A poor mattress that is old, lumpy, or not suited to your comfort preferences can make a good night's sleep a rare accomplishment. To better your odds, check out the different kinds of mattresses, starting with the old standby: the innerspring mattress.

Types of Standard Mattresses

Types of Standard Mattresses

With the bedding and mattress marketplace ever widening, there really is no longer a standard type of mattress. But most people still think of the covered coiled-spring or innerspring pad as the basic, original mattress type. Though still the most common mattress, the innerspring is appearing in fewer and fewer bedrooms as people opt for other types such as memory foam, which accounts for 20 percent of new mattress purchases, or hybrid versions that combine coils with foam layers. Here are the basic types of innerspring mattresses, which haven't changed much in the past several decades.


As the name suggests, inside an innerspring mattress are coils of wire that create springs. In a typical full-size mattress there are 300-350 coils. The number of coils doesn't matter as much as the thickness of the wire used to make those coils. Manufacturers offering "firm" mattresses are using heavier wire (12-13 gauge) to make springs with less give or bounce.


When a manufacturer calls a mattress "soft," it indicates the wire used to make the inner springs is thinner (14-16 gauge) and therefore more pliable. When you compress a spring made from thinner wire, it will have more give. In a mattress, this means the sleep surface will depress more deeply under your body weight.

Continuous Coils

Inside the chamber for the springs in a mattress labeled "continuous coil" is one wire that winds through each coil, meaning all the coils are connected. This can result in a firmer sleep surface. It also means that depressing one part of the mattress will affect other parts. A sleeper on one side of the bed, for example, will feel the depression when someone sits or lies down on the other side of the bed.

Pocketed Coils

In other types of innerspring mattresses, the springs are not made from one continuous wire but rather separate coiled strands of wire. They may even be individually "pocketed" in a thin fabric cover. Each spring can depress independently of the other, and this lessens the effect one sleeper feels when the other sleeper moves or shifts. However, all the springs are still contained in the same compartment inside the mattress.

Purchase Considerations

Purchase Considerations

There are many ways to customize a standard innerspring mattress. Read on for a list of them.


Atop the springs inside the mattress, there is a layer -- or many layers -- of padding. The padding may be made of cotton, wool, polyester, foam, or memory foam. The support the mattress gives you comes from the springs, but the feel of the mattress against your body differs from one type of padding to another. This is where it's critical to lie on and test out different types of mattresses to see what feels best. Generally, cotton and polyester padding are lofty and soft, but they compress the most quickly and may flatten sooner than other pads. Foam and memory foam pads are not as lofty (they have a very dense cushion), but they won't compress as quickly. Some mattresses combine the properties of many types of padding, stacking cotton on top of foam, for example.


The most common type of mattress topper is a pillow top. It's a separate chamber of cotton or polyester padding sewn to the top of the mattress. It offers cloudlike comfort on top of the firm innerspring mattress. The drawback to the pillow top is that you cannot flip the mattress as is recommended to alleviate dips and depressions that form over time. And once the padding inside the top layer has compressed, you cannot remove it to replace it.


Ticking is the industry term for the fabric used to cover a mattress. The fabric is cosmetic, but it also conceals the different chambers and layers inside the mattress. Look beyond the color and patterns, and choose fabric that is durable and strong and stitches that are even and tidy. You may want a slick ticking, which means bedding layers will slide on and off easily. Or you may want a matte-fabric ticking to hold those bedding layers in place. Your preference is key.

Box Springs

Innerspring mattresses are designed to be used with a box spring, a sturdy layer of support under the mattress. The box spring, as the name suggests, is a basic boxlike wood frame that is covered in fabric. Purchase it when you purchase the mattress, which is a good idea to prolong the life of your mattress and is often required for the warranty. It can come in different heights (standard is 9 inches, low-profile is 5 inches) to work with your type of bed. If you have concerns about fitting the box spring through doorways or around stairway corners, purchase one that comes in two parts.

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