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 140 years and hasn’t changed much in the last 100.   The concept of making coils of tempered steel wire has given rise to hundreds of thousands of almost the same concept.  An innerspring unit covered with a strong insulating layer, topped with one or more layers of softer material for cushioning.   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).   In between there are a myriad of innerspring mattresses really not worth owning.    Mattresses with pocketed coils such as entire Charles  P. Rogers line and Simmons Beautyrest are examples of pocketed coil mattresses.    Sealy PosturePedic and Serta Perfect Sleeper innerspring mattresses are usually made with fewer and stiffer coils.

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 extremely high prices, Tempurpedic is the standard by which petroleum based synthetic foam mattresses can be judged.    Their claims are exaggerated, but in contrast with their cheap imitators far more subdued.   If you examined a piece of  foam under a microscope you would seen 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.  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 cheap foam to make the mattress thick.  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.  The competition, and I mean all the competition, only rarely does because the good stuff is very expensive.

Real Latex foam, a very good mattress stuffer, is making a comeback  as prices for the imitations keep creeping higher.   It is made only from the sap of the Hevea Sinensis, the Rubber Tree, and nothing else.  Good luck really finding it.  At prices higher than Tempurpedic some “organic” manufacturers  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 bag with chemical based urethane foam pads and two Chinese air pumps.   The whole production has to cost them around $100 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.

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 /


  • Marshall Coyle says:

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

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