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 a Conservative’s heart.  When steel is made into a pocketed coil spring it can be as soft as Congress’ budget predictions. 

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 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 rapidly disappearing.   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.   I am currently researching where to find a genuine latex mattress and will post the findings here as soon as I do.

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 urethane foam pads and two Chinese air pumps.   The whole production has to cost them around $50 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.   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, but use it in a well ventilated bedroom.

Marshall Coyle

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


  • [...] championed our beds and linens in our pages, as he did recently in two posts entitled “How Can Steel Be Thinner Than Air?” and “Is Thicker Better?” both of which are chock full of his expert [...]

  • 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 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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

eight + 4 =

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>