August 28, 2011 - Marshall Coyle

How Can Steel Be Softer Than Air?

When the air is compressed in an air mattress, it is can be as hard as wet sand.  When steel is made into a pocketed coil spring it can be as soft as a dandelion seed. 

The innerspring mattress has been around for almost 150 years and didn’t change all that  much until the current decade.  Individual coils packaged in small cloth bags known as “pocketed” coils have dominated the quality end of innersprings.  Below these most comfortable springs are springs with the coils wired together.  The least good and the cheapest are called Bonnell.  Bonnel springs can be quite sturdy but they do not conform in any way to the shape of the people sleeping on them.  Each spring is tightly wired to the other springs nearest to it.  Bonnell coils are found in the lowest price mattresses with one exception.  The Saatva so-called luxury mattress uses Bonnel springs underneath layers of foam and softer coils.  Pocketed coils are almost ubiquitous in luxury mattresses. Not all are equal but few are bad and some are wonderful.

Mattresses with pocketed coils such as the entire Charles  P. Rogers line and all Simmons Beautyrest are examples of pocketed coil mattresses.    Sealy PosturePedic and Serta Perfect Sleeper innerspring mattresses are usually made with fewer and stiffer coils with constructions such as “continuous coil” for Serta that makes the entire mattress from one piece of wire, and   various “offset” coil constructions with coils that flex in two directions but lack the independence of pocketed coils in original Posturepedics.  Since Tempurpedic has taken control of Sealy, about two years ago, some Posturepedics are being made with pocketed coils much like most Beautyrests.  And, if you are trying to follow me, some newish Beautyrests at the topmost prices in a line called “Black”, Simmons is using two different kinds of pocketed coils working together. This works to provide enhanced comfort. The “Black” Beautyrest line IMO is the only Beautyrest worth owning, it is so superior to the rest of their disappointing lineup.  It can feel soft on the surface and have excellent support. Most soft surface mattresses will sag under even minimal weight.

An extremely high quality mattress will have no more than 1,000 coils in a 60X80 queen size.   A piece of junk will have fewer than 400.  Within this range a mattress can vary from super hard to super soft depending on the amount of steel actually used, and the top layers of cushioning.   Mattresses with fewer coils usually have thicker and heavier wire.  This mattress tends to conform poorly to the sleeper’s body.  Mattresses with many coils made of lighter and thinner wire can completely conform while providing proper support to the weightiest sleeper(s).   Two developments in the past five years are making a large difference in both mattress comfort and mattress durability.

The first improvement is to the basic pocketed coil.  It is an entirely new coil from Charles P. Rogers  with some proprietary details as yet under wraps.  Each coil is 150% taller than standard coils such as found in a Beautyrest. Rogers has added more tempered spring steel than if they were just making the spring taller. Each inch of coil has less work to do than ordinary coils removing pressure to as close to zero as possible.  Another important difference is that the coils are taller than the cloth pockets so that they are always under compression. Most mattresses fifty years ago had tightly knotted  laces penetrating them from both sides making the characteristic dozens of small depressions on the mattress. The laces kept the natural fibers padding the coils from shifting and also put the coils under compression.  Mattress makers started using quilted tops and bottoms on mattresses most of the time around 1975-80 ending the practice of tufting.  And starting a half century of mattresses looking better than they really are and failing ever sooner.   A few expensive and very expensive mattresses such as Kluft, Aireloom, and Shifman, still feature hand tufting.  This adds years of life to their mattresses and the visual “appeal” of the dents where the tufts go. Starting three or four years ago, Charles P. Rogers started selling the first of their newly invented Powercore mattresses.  These Powercore are upholstered only with extra durable naturally cool latex.  This best-of-class padding combined with the super strong and flexible Powercore innersprings have been awarded all sorts of top ratings by Consumer Reports and others.  I think that despite huge price differences between it and the so-called luxury marketplace, the Estate Powercore line is quite simply the best mattress currently on the market.  Their NANO2 is the best Powercore for most body types.  With 5,000 other new NANO comfort springs made in-house layered between lush latex, the mattress is soft enough for anyone and with the Powercore underneath the padding, it is more than flexible and supportive enough for people with BMI numbers from around 18 to 40.

Many mattresses on the market today are made without springs.  The best selling brand is Tempurpedic heat sensitive 100% chemical memory foam.  In my opinion, if you want a foam mattress and don’t mind paying high prices, Tempurpedic is the standard by which petroleum based synthetic foam mattresses can be judged.  There are possible health issues as people are claiming that formaldehyde in Tempur Material has made them ill enough to sue. The case is moving glacially through the Federal court system.   Tempurpedic comfort claims may be exaggerated, but in contrast with their cheap imitators far more subdued.   If you examined a piece of chemical foam under a microscope you would see millions of bubbles.  The walls of the bubbles are solid material and can be thick and strong, or thin and weak.  A consumer can tell the difference without a microscope by the weight of the foam or just squeezing it.  It is measured in board feet density.  A board foot, 12X12X1 inch can weigh as little as a pound and as much as six pounds.  The extra weight is the extra strength and durability.   Foam mattresses usually have the best stuff in a top layer cemented on to a cheaper synthetic foam to make the mattress thicker.  Coming up with the right proportions between cardboard-like support foam and soft top memory foam is something that Tempurpedic gets right most of the time. Their new TempurFlex line has thin wire coils molded in and has been getting some good press.   The competition, and I mean all the competition, only rarely does because the good stuff is very expensive.  In any case, before you buy any chemical foam, find essays right on this website about health issues.

Real Latex foam, a very good mattress stuffer, is making a comeback.    It is made only from the sap of the Hevea Sinensis, the Rubber Tree, and nothing else. No Chemicals.   Good luck really finding it.  Some “organic” manufacturers  cashing in on people’s fears, are blending the pure and good latex with soy oil, Tea Tree oil, and many other adulterants.  They then often add fine powdered heavy minerals to the mixture to bring up the weight.  Sort of like watering a ham.

Mattresses filled with air and priced as if they weren’t empty bags are the ultimate mattress scam.   The best known one,  Sleep Number, sells you two  camping mattresses in a big cloth bag stuffed with chemical based urethane foam pads over the airbags, and two NOISY Chinese air pumps underneath.   The whole production has to cost them around $100-$175 at most before  they tack on the TV, Internet, Newspaper, and Magazine advertising.   They try to get Tempurpedic prices but have to discount very sharply to sell any. It is hard to imagine anyone ever buying one a second time.   Real people, not the actors in the commercials, are rarely comfortable at any number.   If you dial it up for hard, you have a the equivalent of hard hammock sagging in the middle because there is no support in the middle like a foam or innerspring mattress.  If you dial it down for soft, you get a soft sagging hammock.  People rarely like to admit their mistakes but the anonymity of the Internet has thousands of negative reviews.

Stick with pocketed coil innerspring made by a reputable manufacturer, or if the Tempurpedic advertising has convinced you to buy a chemical mattress, you can be comfortable and have good back support. Tempur-Sealy (new name) has started adding coils to some numbers under the name “Tempur-Flex”.   Same old controversial foam, but a chance for it to be less uncomfortable after a few hours with the foam getting harder and hotter.  Never the less, if you fall for the Tempur-Sealy beautiful advertising,   use your new mattress in a well ventilated bedroom.  Best with open windows.

Marshall Coyle

Bed Buying Tips / Bedding / Estate Powercore / Mattresses / Old-Bed-Guy "charles p rogers" Shifman / cottton felt / mattress / sleep number / tempurpedic /


  • AR says:

    Good evening !! I have a bad back and was recently injured. I have been sleeping on the floor and after speaking with my doctor found out that the 4400 dollar tenperpedic my husband and I purchased is making my back worse. Lo and behold, while searching for a new mattress I found your blog. I am stunned about the tenperpedic and wonder if this is what is making me not able
    To breath and giving my hubby his allergies. I wish I could rerun it or get some money back. We are both in law enforcement and need a new mattress. He is 6’4, 250 lbs and I have a bad back. We live in Cali, can u recommend a mattress?!?!?

    • Marshall Coyle says:

      dear AR,
      I am sorry to hear that you that you were recently injured. I am not qualified to tell you whether or not the Tempur-Pedic is making you ill. You may want to contact the lawyer mentioned in the stories and posts in this old bed guy blog that deal with the class-action lawsuit against Tempur-Pedic by people who claim that they were made ill by their Tempur-Pedic products. The case is still in court and will probably go for years, but it is there for you to take advantage of if you want.

      it is easier for you to get a recommendation from me then to solve your medical problems. Although I will never recommend a mattress that has any kind of outgassing or noxious chemicals. There are too many chemical free latex innerspring hybrid mattresses available for me to have to recommend something like memory foam. to get this recommendation, which is a very personal recommendation one-on-one, would you have to do is fill out a survey like all the other people do. Survey = recommendation. No survey = no recommendation

      Marshall Coyle

  • Roger L. Mc Danold says:

    Took your advice about latex hybrids and bought a Charles P Rogers Estate 9000. I have some arthritis in my back and legs as well as nerve damage from the bends (retired Navy Diver). Haven’t seen the chiropractor since I started sleeping on this mattress and I am pain free to a degree I can’t believe when I get out of bed. I sleep soundly, wake up in the position I went to sleep in and the quality of rest is unequivocal in my opinion. I had a sleep number for one day and took it back.
    I’d freely recommend this mattress to anyone. This is my third mattress in two years and this is where I should have been on the financial stress alone. This is less than the other two put together.
    Thank you for the information that you provided. This mattress is phenomenal. No negatives about it whatsoever. Absolutely NO off gassing.

    Roger L. Mac Danold USN (ret.)

    • Marshall Coyle says:

      Dear Roger,

      I am very pleased that the third time was lucky. I would prefer to think that people make their own luck. This is something that I have preached to my children and their children. I do not recall having given you the specific advice that you refer to but possibly you actually took the time to work through my hard-to-read needing editing blog.
      I have no doubt that your military experience and training and having to wade through military-speak bulletins have stood you well this time in researching mattresses. Especially if you found the Estate 9000 on your own after reading my blog, and the maker’s informative website.

      Marshall Coyle

      As happy as I am that you are finally comfortable, I would caution my other readers, especially the ones fortunate enough to pick up on my recommendation for good latex hybrid innerspring mattresses, to either write to me to help narrow down the choices, or order on the phone. Let the mattress maker know your needs and ask for a recommendation. Do not just order on the net without talking. The companies that I recommend all have knowledgeable sales staff. Not like a sleep shop or department store. The Powercore mattress that you selected is made in five flavors, three are the all latex and tend to be somewhat firmer than the other two with their layered combinations of high grade memory foams and natural cotton. I also expect a large number of new latex innerspring hybrids to be out in the market place this spring as the major brands have been showing them at wholesale shows. None will have the benefit of a Powercore innerspring, but for the shopper that is unwilling to buy long distance, even if it means compromising on quality, the addition of Serta, Sealy, and Simmons to the roster of latex/innerspring hybrid makers will make it easier for me to recommend a local purchase.

      You will have no need for buyer’s remorse. The first of these new breeds has already appeared as a Beautyrest selling for four times what you paid. However, models only twice as costly will be rolling out in the near future.

  • Hello-I found a twin metal bed spring made by Foster Bros Mfg of Utica NY-it is a “Fostoria”. Can you tell me how old it is and why did they stop making beds this way-I LOVE sleeping on them.

    • Marshall Coyle says:

      Your spring can not be newer than 1942, but might be as much as fifty years older. Foster ceased production when the government took all the steel production for armaments, leaving none for bedsprings and similar. If you want the same feel in a new bed, you will have to find a real box spring, not a foundation. A real box spring is made with coils fastened to cross slats and tied together to form a flexible support. 99.9% of what passes for box springs today including ALL national brands, are foundations made with anything from stiff cardboard over wood, to a matrix of unyielding steel wires. Both feel like a platform bed, and with a purpose built platform mattress, can be quite comfortable. You can also find a used old fashioned spring and carefully spray it with the most toxic bed bug spray you can buy, and then re-finish it with a can or two of aluminum spray paint. They rarely wear out, but you may appreciate the softness of an old well broken in spring. The store selling them should pay you for taking it off their hands as their is virtually no market for this product.

  • Marshall Coyle says:

    Steel can be softer than air but not thinner. Thanks for your comment.
    Marshall Coyle

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