A typical mattress after the turn of the 20th century might be an innerspring with a comfort material like cotton. Needless to say, the innerspring has long been an original mattress style, tried and tested true, loved by many, it’s maintained its popularity since. Today, the innerspring is a versatile mattress, available in a wide range of models and styles, ranging from the starter mattress to options with ultra-premium additions like dual-coil, memory foam, and latex.
The original latex foam manufacturing process began in 1929, but it’s still a widely inaccessible mattress compared to the innerspring as well as other popular industry models. It’s a bed which carries the connotation of a top of the line luxury, and it has been therefore reserved for a small niche market willing to pay top dollar, until now.
For the average consumer these two materials can seem worlds apart, so below I work to untangle the stigma behind these two mattress styles, to offer any prospective shopper the bottom line, from the consumer point of view. We delve into the differences, the benefits, how to measure, and the similarities behind each style. Because we understand that any new mattress purchase is a big decision.
The latex mattress
Latex foam is an inherently green, completely allergy free material, and therefore it’s sought out by the eco-conscious consumer.
And aside from its organic and allergy-free qualities, latex foam is considered to be one of the most durable mattress materials on the market. The original method of latex production mentioned earlier, the Dunlop method, first brought latex foam into the market. However, latex foam took on new life when the Talalay brothers introduced a more modern and updated method of production, creating a more health conscious mattress, which helped increase exposure of the latex mattress.
The “Talalay latex” and “Dunlop latex” production methods
Talalay and Dunlop latex foam are consistent in that their final product is both a consistent, all latex foam, but it’s important to distinguish these two methods since what you’ll likely see in the retail world of latex are these two names but branded: “Dunlop Latex” and “Talalay Latex.”
The varying degree of quality of these two methods is also worth noting. Both latex foams are inherently healthier than any petroleum-based foam, but Talalay latex is considered a softer, more premium, and more eco-friendly mattress foam.
When we refer to “all latex,” we mean that the manufacturing process begins with the rubber tree. (This liquid rubber harvesting process is identical for Dunlop and Talalay.) The rubber tree is “tapped” instead of being cut down, and this brings about a sustainable relationship between latex production itself and the environment.
At the factory, the liquid rubber is whipped up into a foamy lather.
Production steps differ in each stage after the rubber sap is whipped into this foamy lather:
The Dunlop process: The liquid rubber is poured into an open steel mold so gravity can take over, evening out the solution. The sap’s natural sediments settle along the bottom, which ultimately gives Dunlop latex a firmer feel. When the final piece of foam latex is turned out, it is washed (typically just once) to remove residual proteins that contain allergens, and then it’s dried.
The Talalay process: The Talalay mold consists of an altogether different interior: filled with hundreds of steel rods. As the liquid rubber settles, these rods create a unique waffle look. The Talalay mold is then compressed into a vacuum seal and then flash frozen. Carbon Dioxide is added just before the compound is heated and cured. One of the more unique processes of Talalay production is how it passes through a 5-cycle wash to remove allergens, opposed to the Dunlop’s 1-cycle.
Comparing the final product:
Latex foam is known for its spring-like properties and can be thought of as “springing up” the overnight sleeper, so in essence, he or she is sleeping ‘on the mattress,’ as opposed to ‘in the mattress.’ All-latex or 100% latex is also the only material on the market that’s closest to completely organic.
The Talalay latex mattress has a more consistent cell structure than the Dunlop mattress, and so it has a softer feel to the touch. The Dunlop latex mattress isn’t vacuum sealed for equal disbursement, nor frozen, nor baked, and doesn’t pass through a 5-stage washing cycle. Dunlop is a firmer foam, and so it’s typically sold as the bottom, foundation layer. Talalay on the other hand, due to its softness, can be found as a top comfort layer, or, as you’ll find in the Zenhaven latex mattress, as a material that can carry the support and comfort for the entire latex bed.
The different types of latex
The methods described above have a natural 100% latex base tapped from the rubber tree. This weightless, elastic, springy latex foam is specific to Talalay and Dunlop latex.
Blended latex is a more affordable option, a combination of natural and synthetic latex (similar to the making of memory foam in that it’s mixed with a petroleum base). Because of this, it has diminished eco-friendly comforts.
Hybrid mattress: In this model, latex foam is added as a premium foam layer, and this is common in both innerspring and memory foam beds. Also, for those who want to experiment with latex without changing their mattress, a latex topper is an option some consumers prefer.
The structure and firmness of the innerspring mattress
The innerspring mattress is not chemically set like the latex foam manufacturing process, and simply revolves around the spring coil. The main quality distinguisher for the innerspring is the type of coil being used (referring to coil shape, gauge, and count), how this coil is layered (if there is more than one coil layer), as well as what type of material (s) (and thickness) has been added, known as the “comfort section.”
The different shapes of spring coil are as follows:
- Bonnell Coil – Hourglass shaped, and was the original spring coil, considered the most durable coil on the market.
- Bonnell / Open – This coil is hour-glass shaped and has a simple design. They are used in mattresses of various price points. Durability is often fair or better, but support is questionable, and motion isolation is below average.
- Offset – Offset coils are sometimes used in mid- to higher-priced mattresses. They are similar to Bonnell coils but have better spring action and support. Some variations have good motion isolation and noise control. The offset coil has an hourglass shape, but the top and bottom of the spring has been flattened.
- Continuous – This coil type is likely second to pocket coils in popularity and use. A continuous coil system consists of coil rows made of continuous wire that run head to toe. This coil is often present on low- to mid-priced mattresses. While it is durable because each coil gets support from ones next to it, the system tends to not be especially supportive or quiet. Also, because the system consists of one integrated piece, it tends to provide below average motion isolation making it a less-than-ideal choice for couples.
- Pocket – These are individual coils wrapped in fabric and are the most popular and widely used mattress coil type. They provide mostly consistent distribution of support and at least fair motion isolation. Pricier mattresses often feature a more advanced pocket coil design. Consumers seeking a highly “bouncy” mattress may want to avoid this coil.
- Marshall coil – Its coils are not connected, and instead, each coil acts on its own, set within a cushion-like fabric pocket. The marshall coil responds better to your unique body type because it can contour and conform one coil at a time around you.
An innerspring mattress is equally friendly to an active repertoire, but not silent. As you might assume, the springs provide bounce, and many couples have said that the bouncing helps them move into a rhythm. Although, this could create more effort, since you’re pushing down, and responding with force. If arthritis or consistent pain is a problem, the innerspring might not be an ideal choice. While the entire bed is a suitable surface, it isn’t as regarded as comfortable as a memory foam.
The firmness (or softness) of an innerspring mattress is determined by a few important pieces of information you can find listed within the innerspring mattress specifications you’re researching, comparing, or buying. Take note of the mattress “coil-gauge,” also referred to as the “coil density”.
The coil gauge is measured in quarter increments and moves in-between 12-15. Around 12 is currently the thickest gauge, and 15 is the thinnest.
A premium mattress coil will generally use a 14-gauge diameter of coil. And this number alone will testify to the strength of your coil, and therefore how your mattress will act under pressure (your pressure) and what kind of support you can expect, or if your new mattress will last two weeks or 10 years.
Coil count refers to the number of coils in the mattress. Most queen innerspring mattresses have a coil count of 450-900 with 725 being about average. Mattresses with a higher coil count are more expensive than mattresses with a lower count, all other things being equal.
Our research, however, shows little correlation between coil count and owner satisfaction or coil count and mattress longevity/durability overall.
Coil gauge is a measurement of how large the coil wire is in diameter. Mattress coil gauge often ranges from 12 to 15. The higher the gauge, the thinner the coil wire and the softer and springier the feel of the bed. Coil gauge in conjunction with the thickness and composition of the comfort layer largely determines the firmness level of a mattress.
The firmness of a traditional innerspring mattress (with no comfort layers) can be compared by using both the specific mattress coil gauge and coil count. When shopping for a premium innerspring, these beds can include multiple coil layers along with added luxury comfort layers like memory foam or latex.
The thicker the coil gauge (12), the fewer coils the mattress will likely have compared to the coil count of a 16-gauge innerspring mattress.
The coil gauge, coil-count, as well as thickness and composition of the comfort layer(s) will determine the overall firmness level of the mattress.
An average coil count (also referred to as the number of coils) ranges from 300-900 coils.
The comfort layer(s) refers to any other type of material like memory foam or latex that is added to the innerspring for extra support and comfort. Armed with the knowledge of how to calculate and compare your the firmness level of your innerspring mattress, you’ll be able to logically move through the endless mattress styles with some insight on how those figures can benefit you.
Measuring a premium innerspring mattress
To create a premium mattress style, different types of coil are combined over layers along with the added comfort extras. Our Saatva innerspring mattress can serve as a good example to briefly walk through the logic of how its firmness is measured.
Saatva uses a bonnell coil style, with its strong hourglass shape, and also encases each coil in foam as well as connecting them. The marshall coil and its individual foam encased coil layer make up our top layer. The result is a well designed and balanced “coil-on-coil” structure, offering natural orthopedic support (with a Chiropractic Seal of Approval),
Using the Saatva specifications, we see that the bottom layer uses the “connected hourglass shaped coil which is 7” thick, with a 13-gauge diameter.
The coil layer on top is part of the mattress “comfort system” and the “individually wrapped coil system” is 4” thick, thinner and therefore resulting in a softer feel at a 14.5-gauge diameter. These very firm and softer layers help to create an optimal balance. 884 foam encased coils to offset a thinner, softer comfort layer. 416 thicker, sturdier, connected coils to create a foundation of support.
The mattress is enhanced in the comfort system with a visco lumbar pad, soft foam, the euro pillow top as the upholstery ‘Inner Topper.’ The final luxury cover of organic cotton.
Feel the difference between innerspring mattresses and latex mattresses
Whether you pick an innerspring mattress or a latex mattress, pick a quality mattress
Measuring a latex mattress
The unit of measurement for latex foam is the ILD (Indentation Load Deflection) which tells you the foam density (cubic foot/weight). The rule of thought is that a high-density latex foam translates into better durability and a longer lifespan.
14-22 – Soft
23-29 – Medium
30-37 – Firm
38 + – Extra Firm
The average person seems to prefer an ILD of 25-35.
Comfort layer materials:
- Polyurethane (regular) foam – This material is widely used, and its purpose is to provide softness. Its durability tends to be questionable; those mattresses with a thick layer of regular polyurethane foam tend to have an above-average number of sagging/compression complaints. This foam can also off-gas, that is, release a chemical-like odor when it is new. A greater quantity/thickness of foam present on the mattress means a greater likelihood of noticeable and potentially bothersome off-gassing.
- Gel-infused polyurethane (regular) foam – This foam is used on a limited number of innerspring mattresses and usually in small quantity. The foam is infused with tiny gel beads – beads which are touted to allow the foam to sleep cooler longer than regular foam. The effectiveness and durability of this foam based on owner experiences is undetermined.
- Memory foam – This material is often present on innerspring-based mattresses – especially hybrid mattresses – and provides softness as well as a contouring and cradling effect. It can be useful in minimizing pressure points and, to a lesser extent, reducing motion transfer. In general, memory foam is more likely than regular foam to off gas. A greater quantity/thickness of memory foam present means a greater likelihood of noticeable and potentially bothersome off-gassing. Also, a mattress with memory foam, especially memory foam which is high density, is two to three times more likely to act as a heat trap than a mattress without memory foam.
- Gel-infused memory foam – It is increasingly common for mid- to higher-priced innerspring-based mattresses – especially hybrid mattresses – to have at least one layer of gel memory foam, that is, foam infused with tiny gel beads. This material is touted to sleep cool longer than regular memory foam, and it does tend to reduce heat trap complaints by about 30%. The amount of gel foam in a mattress also seems to be a factor. Beds with two inches or more of gel foam, particularly in the top of the mattress, tend to sleep cool longer than those beds with less than two inches.
- Graphene-infused or diamond particle-infused memory foam – A small number of innerspring mattresses use memory foam infused with tiny graphene or diamond particles – both conductors of heat. Their effectiveness, however, in reducing heat trap complaints is unknown at this time given their currently limited use.
- Latex – This material is not widely used. Its purpose is to provide pressure relief similar to that of memory foam. The latex used is often blended latex, that is, a combination of natural and synthetic latex. The durability of latex that is often used in innerspring mattresses is questionable as it can develop body impressions. The latex may also off-gas and act as a heat trap.
- Fiber – Polyester material or cotton is often used to provide softness. Durability tends to be highly questionable; those mattresses with a thick layer of fiber tend to have the most sagging/compression complaints from owners
Comparing the comfort levels of innerspring and latex foam
Comfort levels describe your preference of feel and range on a scale from soft to firm (hard). You can find a relatively uniform scale across brands, models, and styles in the industry, but it can be difficult to translate each brand’s description for their specific comfort level.
Beginning at the soft side, words like plush, plush soft describe a very soft mattress. Towards the medium level: luxury, luxury firm, luxury plush describe a universal appeal. This level is typically the most popular comfort level because it’s where most of the population falls into on a preference scale. Firm is generally an all-inclusive term.
The latex mattress follows this scale, but for the Zenhaven mattress, because each side of the mattress is a different comfort level, here we have combined the terminology to Luxury Plush and Gentle Firm.
The innerspring and latex foam differences
While both mattresses maintain a “springy” feel, the two beds (and every other bed in the industry, for that matter) sleeps a different way compared to latex. Latex foam allows the sleeper to enjoy a feeling of “weightlessness” because the springy foam pushes the sleeper almost on top of the mattress, where memory foam and innerspring sink in the sleeper at some level.
Talalay latex brings all natural, green-conscious shoppers into a hypoallergenic, sustainable, allergy-free mattress. Since Talalay latex foam is still relatively new, it’s still being introduced to the market, but it’s viewed as the premium, top-luxury mattress material, and as it enters more of the American market through online-based companies like Zenhaven by Saatva, the price around the industry will begin to become more competitive. All natural latex has a spring-like feel and while the innerspring (and every other mattress material) allow the sleeper to sleep ‘in the mattress’ the latex foam mattress is different.
- Latex foam conforms better than innerspring because of the composition of the material.
- Latex has the possibility to off-gas
- Latex holds up against the atmospheric forces longer, due to its flash-frozen/baked (and stabilized) composition.
- The latex foam mattress is silent
The innerspring wrapped coil responds and contours very well to your individual body type.
- Innerspring is noisier
- It’s preferred for romantic use
- Motion isolation can be limited.
- Less sinking in feel compared to memory foam mattresses
- Couple sleeping on the best mattress for their needs
- Try either Saatva’s luxury innerspring mattress or Zenhaven’s Talalay latex mattress risk-free
Take advantage of a risk-free trial
Ultimately, choosing a preference in style falls subjectively on a per-individual basis. So, it’s important to decide on a style that best meshes with you (and your partner’s) sleep style: whether a front, side, or back sleeper. The best way to be sure the switch in mattress style was the correct permanent one is by utilizing a friendly, hassle-free trial period like the Saatva innerspring 120-day trial.
It’s important to keep in mind your best mattress maintains your natural spinal alignment and supports the neck, hips, and mid and lower back. And depending on your sleep preferences, it needs to be optimal for your personal mixture of front, side, or back sleeping. Both innerspring and latex foam offer the right support and comfort for your needs.
The technological breakthrough for latex in manufacturing has changed the dynamic of latex foam, how latex is viewed within the luxury mattress industry, as well as just the general state of sleep health.