A shopper journeying through the internet will reveal countless websites claiming that they will share the revealed truth about the comfort, quality , and value of brand name mattresses. Google finds about 634,000 websites if you type in “Mattress Reviews”. Most of them appearing in the top listings seem to be owned by retailers or manufacturers seeking to drive business their way.
The only truth is that virtually everyone who publicly judges mattresses on the web has some kind of agenda that pre-determines the outcome. Claims of comfort or durability are always subjective and since they are unprovable can not be called true. Claims of value can only be slightly more objective, and then, only if they could compare two identical mattresses offered at different prices. Consumer Reports, the only consumer oriented and supported magazine, has made legitimate but failed efforts from time to time. Never the less they keep repeating the same failure because they have no credible science to work with. Their statistics are skewed by the fact that mattress makers are always a step ahead and profit from an ignorant customer so they supply different label names on the same quality mattress to every retailer.
Most Americans sleep on three basic types of mattresses; innerspring , and synthetic foam, and pneumatic, or some combination of all or any of them. 90% of North Americans still sleep on innerspring mattresses and usually pay much less than for “magic” alternate sleep. ( I will explain “magic further down in this essay}. Various synthetic or latex foams without innersprings are a distant second but gaining, and air mattresses are insignificant and deflating. The number of people who have ever bought a Sleep Number of similar twice would probably fit in a Smart Car. The waterbed fad is long over. Electrically adjustable beds with innerspring or foam mattresses are now becoming popular with aging baby boomers. These are provable facts, not opinions.
There have always been a small minority of counter-culture shoppers who choose alternate sleep-systems such as air, or water. They tend to be first-time buyers out to prove that their mother’s judgement is faulty. Many of the same people own gadgets that make their cars run further on a gallon of gas. Synthetic foams such as Tempur-Pedic have won over a large and increasing market share thanks to brilliant merchandising and and a few of their warmish products almost deliver on the comfort promises if their buyers are not bothered by the distinctive initial odor out-gassing. It annoys but has never been shown to actually do harm. TempurPedic is not better or worse than any other maker. They have a controversial foam product and the models with less of it, cost less,sag less, and smell less. Serta’s Gel i-Foam, Charles P Rogers proprietary foams, the foam in the Beautyrest Black and in all Aireloom offer variety of life expectancy but all out-gas much less than most. All Polyfoam out-gasses somewhat when new; the differences are how strongly and for what duration. Odor-free natural latex foams have always had a loyal knowing following, buy many are discouraged by the misconception of actual latex cost. Top quality gel latex makes an almost-forever mattress and has the least odor and the greatest comfort, especially when combined with very high quality innerspring units under the foam padding.
Hotel mattresses deserve special mention. A few that honor pre-war designs with modern materials are extremely good, but the fat and soft disposable mattresses sold by major hotel chains are fun for a few months and then, absence of both durability and usable warranties, makes for a “never-again” scenario. Department stores and Sleep Shop chain stores that peddle name hotel labels just reflect the fact that they are chasing short term profits instead of satisfied customers. Even in Simmons, Serta, or Sealy, has made the mattress, it is made of poorer ingredients which have short lives. I doubt, if, like the poor air mattress victim, if anyone has ever bought a second Hilton mattress. I am sorry to sound all doom and gloom, but if you have the patience to read through this article, you will learn that you can find high quality mattress at affordable prices. The power of knowledge can free you up from “let the buyer beware”
Coiled wire innerspring units are the heart and skeleton of most the innerspring mattresses sold in the United States. 93% of all innerspring mattresses have springs supplied by the Leggett and Platt company. There are a few smaller spring makers and even smaller importers. Leggett and Platt are a very successful component manufacturer of the springs, foams and textiles used by the furniture and automotive industry. Over many decades they have bought and absorbed most of their competition. This is the major reasons why most brand name mattresses have virtually identical specifications insides and outside.
Machinery to manufacture quality pocketed wire coils is very expensive and requires highly skilled labor.
A handful of long-established European mattress makers such as Hastens, Duxiana, VI-Spring, Carpe Diem, and Americans Charles P. Rogers established 1855, in the East,, and McCroskey Mattress in the West, established 1899, still prefer make their own and maintain control over quality and innovation. Charles P. Rogers, using recently developed computer guided machinery in their New Jersey workrooms has been able to get very close the holy grail, a mattress that feels luxurious but still provides healthful support. These two characteristics used to be mutually exclusive and have eluded the industry since its beginning. McCroskey with over a century of experience, has refined the original pocket coil on their trusty old machines to as good as the design can get. Not like the Rogers “PowerCore” but so much better than anything you will find in a name brand mattress at any price. The European luxury imports rely on exotic materials such as hair from butchered horses, more than innovative innersprings, with one outstanding exception. Scandinavian maker, Duxiana makes a very good sleep set that relies more on higher and more flexible coils than American name brands. Their beds tend to be very comfortable with average durability.
The construction of the innerspring unit, the thickness and metallurgy of the coil wire, the manner of tempering the wire, the number and height of the coils, the method of fastening them to each other, and the support built into the edges, can be tailored to provide a far wider range of comforts to mattresses when you make your own. Each mattress maker whether buy assembled components from L&P or they assembles from scratch all seek to make a desired “feel” and comfort life. The feel can be manipulated for a desired firmness with little or no cost difference but with major quality differences. The number of years, or sometimes months, that a mattress will provide comfort and support can not be faked using inexpensive materials.
Ultimately, the highest quality mattresses will have more coils with more wire in each coil than a pretend-good mattress. These long-life electrically tempered and indurated coils will be wrapped in soft textile pockets and fastened each to the other in a flexible mat that makes the core of the mattress. This mode of construction permits the mattress to have varying firmnesses in zones that can provide ideal support for any body. Opinions vary but the consensus believes that proper healthful support requires springs that are soft enough to yield under pressure points and firm enough to support the weight of the occupants without sagging in the middle. The “PowerCore” mentioned above is the pinnacle of this design.
The exterior of the mattress is made of woven or knitted fibers that form a sack to contain the springs, filling and insulation. Most one-sided mattresses use non-woven material which may wear out for the underside prematurely. Charles P. Rogers is the only exception I am aware of with woven or knitted material on all sides. Some knitted covers offer more flexibility than woven covers and can feel demonstrably superior on mattresses with soft surfaces. All woven or knitted covers permit free passage to air helping keep the interior of the mattress dry. Many mattresses have pillow tops which add a layer of soft padding. This padding can be any of many kinds of foams and/or fibers. Some mattresses have metal or plastic air vents on the sides to further enhance ventilation and lower the temperature of the sleep surface. These vents are mostly eye candy serving as selling points with little or no basis in fact.
Between the sleeper and the steel springs are multiple layers of textile, foams and fibers, each with a purpose.
Directly under the mattress cover material is a layer of textile that may or may not have chemical treatment and will stop an open flame from causing the mattress to combust as certified by the US CPSC. Some better mattresses use special flame retardant textiles treated only with natural boric acid that is considered perfectly safe.
Between the top of the springs and the flame retardant is a layer or layers of resilient padding known as the upholstery, and one layer of an insulating barrier to keep the padding and the springs separate. The padding can be virtually anything that will provide the cushioning and durability that the mattress designer is trying to achieve. The goal is to make a mattress that will provide years of healthful comfort with only insignificant permanent compression of the upholstery materials. High quality foams both synthetic and natural can often meet these needs better than traditional vegetable fibers. The foams can also permit more airflow to enhance the desired coolness of the sleep experience.
Many mattresses at all price ranges are padded with cotton fibers that have been compressed and felted. Historically, long before innersprings were invented there were two choices for an affluent mattress shopper. Cotton felt or animal hair. Hog and cattle hair being short was usually glued or sewn together into pads that were firm but relatively short lived. Horse mane and tail hair, a byproduct of the South American and Asian meat industry, were then and still are used in top end hand, faux-antique,luxury European mattresses. See above.
You don’t have to kill a horse to harvest the hair, but in reality, virtually all upholstery quality horse hair comes from Mongolian and Argentinian horses that were slaughtered for their meat and hair. When you pay thousands or tens of thousands for an ultra-luxury English or European mattress it has the hair of many dead horses as a main ingredient. Whether the horse is slaughtered on an Argentine estancia or the steppes of Mongolia, the hair destined for Europe makes its way to Switzerland where the animal waste is removed, especially from the tail, and the hair is steamed and hand braided which makes it springy and curly with little or no odor. There is no such commerce in the United States but it is legal to use imported horsehair in upholstery and mattresses if it has been sterilized and some makers still do.
Europeans who desire green products often choose to use natural latex from the sap of the rubber tree to cushion their mattresses. Some progressive old line American manufacturers now feature natural latex products. There are several ways to convert liquid tree sap to a durable clean spongy material and each has its backers, but it is difficult to get poor quality latex. Gel Latex and Gel Synthetic foams have recently made it into many mattresses. Some of it is actually cooler than ordinary foams, especially when it is blended in and not in pellet form The gel does not make the foam more resilient, but it can make it you more comfortable if you fault ordinary mattresses for holding heat.
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