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.