February 2, 2017 - Marshall Coyle

WHY SHOULD YOU BUY A HYBRID/INNERSPRING/LATEX MATTRESS, BOXSPRINGS VS FOUNDATIONS, LATEX VS MEMORY FOAM

If you want a mattress with good and comfortable “live” conforming support, you need one with an innerspring unit under a layer or layers of naturally cool latex.   The combination of a good innerspring unit and appropriate foam padding is at the heart of all of the best mattresses made.  I just described a “hybrid” innerspring/foam mattress.  For the record, Mrs. Coyle and I sleep on a hybrid that is exclusively padded with naturally cool latex with layers of newly invented NANO comfort springs layered between the cushy latex layers. So far this appears to be the apex of all mattress design. Sort of the ultimate hybrid.  When designed and made properly, there are no better mattresses made than innerspring/hybrid/latex.  

Many hybrids have other padding materials besides latex. Latex, even the least costly latex that a mattress maker can find, is still much more costly than any kind of synthetic foam, be it memory foam or any other kind of synthetic. Latex is made from the bubbled sap of the rubber tree and it is a slow and labor-intensive process. Synthetic foams are made from petroleum/coal gas, or natural gas molecules, mixed with other petroleum based chemicals. When mixed it rises like a sponge cake and is allowed to cure. Curing can remove much but not all of the worst chemicals before these mattresses reach your bedroom, but they are never going to be completely safe. Some synthetics are made with up to 30% of the chemicals derived from plant oils. This sounds good, but is just for the sound bites. The mattresses are no worse and no better from a health standpoint. Latex is safe. Period

Hybrid mattresses with layers of some less costly synthetic foams can be almost as comfortable if the cheap foam is buried under a topmost two or three inches of nice naturally cool latex. If the cheaper foam is not of the “memory” variety there will be little or no outgassing.  What you sacrifice when you buy one that is not exclusively latex between the spring tops and your bottom is “comfort life”, the number of years that you can expect the mattress to provide as new or close-to-new comfort.  All padding sooner or later deteriorates or sags, but none ages more slowly or gracefully as latex.

All innerspring hybrids deserve a flat and strong foundation or a solid deck platform bed, preferably one that is lightly padded. You are hereby advised to keep your distance from “all-wood” foundations at any price. Some of the worst are allegedly “Amish” and I suspect that the people peddling this name have never met an Amish person.   These stick-built foundations, to a greedy maker, looks like an ingenious way of adding a bit to the profit by making use of scrap quality softwood that really should have gone to a wood recycler.  The customer can end up with a bunch of sticks that more often than not, fail, and do so in the middle of the night. Few to none of these scammy foundations look as good in person as they do in the retouched picture that entices you on the internet.

One sided, no flip mattresses are engineered to be used only on a flat rigid surface and will have a much shorter and unhappier life if you put it on a very flexible box spring.   These fat and comfort-capable one-sided mattresses can make you just as rested if you use your floor as a bed.  I am not suggesting that you do, but if you, for any reason important to you, you get a mattress before getting a bed, you can join the army of floor sleepers here in the USA, and the billions world wide. As bad or worse are the steel springs on legs pitched by Amazon/Wal-Mart/Sams/Overstock and many other Chinese import specialists. Whether you pay $49 or $249 for the identical bed at different stores, they are junk and thrown out money. Useless with a contemporary innerspring mattress because the spaces between the wires on the top deck are far too widely spaced. They are spaced widely enough to destroys the underside of the mattress. When the underside goes, the rest of the mattress follows. Because some mattresses are offered with these sub-par foundations, you cannot use price as a guide for quality.  If  you plan on using a foundation the best quality all have heavy wire grids supported by oddly bent wires under the cloth tops.  When you sit down on one it hardly moves at all.  These foundations are very durable and help prolong the comfort life of a new mattress.

Platform beds are flat places, very similar to a good hardwood floor, that will provide support and comfort when used under appropriate foam or one-sided never flip innerspring mattresses. Some platform beds with slats are not suitable for any innerspring and many all-foam mattresses.   You can identify them easily if you can touch the slats before buying.   The only platform beds that you can sensibly buy on the Internet have solid decks or with slats that are clearly described. The slats must be sturdy and not bendy in any way and the air space between them must be 2.75″ or less.Wide spacing greater than 2.75”, wider than the diameter of almost all pocketed coils inside the mattress, will soon break the best innerspring mattress. The coils will come out of the bottom and fall into the air spaces between widely spaced slats.  You can always improve a junky slatted platform by using a piece of “smooth-one-side”3/8” or ½” inch plywood under the mattress.  Smooth side towards the mattress bottom, rough side towards the slats to keep  the plywood from moving around. The very best platform deck is solid and may have light padding.  Buying any platform bed at any price, sight unseen that does not have good support under the mattress is looking for trouble.  Save yourself time and future heartache by shopping as the informed consumer you can now claim to be.   

If you have a good platform with a strong closed flat top or closely spaced sturdy slats, and you happen to own a two-sided mattress, you certainly can use it. You should not have to invest in a new one right away, especially if you are a member of gen x or gen y, not in your eighties like I am.  You will be missing some comfort, but the mattress will do fine for a few years. Then one day you will notice that it is sort of squashed and is no longer springy.

This essay is also about “Latex Foam”, a mostly natural sponge-like cushioning material used to fill durable and comfortable mattresses and upholstered furniture. Latex foam has been available for about 90 years. About 50 years longer than polyfoams. Until the year 2,000, give or take a year, almost all latex mattresses were sold with matching flexible coil box springs as two or three piece sets. No one would ever use a latex mattress on a foundation. Arguably, these well-matched sets offered sleep as good as it gets. Historically Goodyear, Firestone, and Goodrich in our part of the world supplied most. Europe had and still has a number of independent high quality foamers for the rest of the first world. There are no significant brand names in domestic latex today.

In the year 2,000, the Simmons Company, with sales in a deep slump, and often a technology leader, remade its entire line of innerspring mattresses with all of the padding on one side, never to be flipped again. This was the birth of the “no flip” mattress and the end, except for a tiny quantity, of flexible coil box springs. A properly designed no-flip mattress with as much padding on one side as were formerly to be found on “old fashioned” two sided mattresses, requires a smooth unyielding inflexible surface to rest on. Hard unyielding foundations are perfect for the job. When the new mattresses are used on old-fashioned box springs there are two negatives. The coil box spring does not provide sufficient support for the comfort and health of the sleepers, and the no-flip mattresses tend to rapidly deteriorate.

Nearly 100% of the industry followed Simmons lead within a year and two sided mattresses with matching box springs have nearly disappeared. As this switch was taking place, latex mattress makers were left with no substitute for coil box springs. And while a nice five or six inch slap of latex makes an excellent cushion even if used on a platform bed or a hardwood floor, it is far more comfortable when used on a flexible coil box spring. Hand made coil box springs, sometimes described as “hand-tied” are still available in small quantities with large price tags. Shifman in New Jersey, Kluft in California, Marshall in Toronto, and a few others offer these springs with the latest 19th century technology. A typical queen size box hand-tied box spring costs more than $3,000. Shifman packages a silly (not Sealy) combination with 10” of super firm latex with matching box spring for around $25,000.

All of the above meant the end of affordable latex sleep sets for about a decade. Then a brilliant small mattress maker devised a way to half fill a mattress with latex and the other half with a mattress innerspring unit. Several small companies are taking credit for this boon for all sleepers, who did it first is not as important as the benefits for consumers.   The product of combining an individually pocketed coil innerspring unit with copious layers of latex and strong edge supports is the hybrid/latex/innerspring mattress that arguably is the best that is being sold today. The highest rated traditional mattress in the 2017 Consumer Reports annual testing is a Charles P. Rogers Powercore Estate #5,000, a hybrid/latex/innerspring. We now sleep on a softer version than the one that CR tested and find it even more comfortable than the typical thick solid latex on coil box spring that was our choice when we could sleep on anything we liked during our years in the business. If the only reason that I can think of for anyone not sleeping on a good latex hybrid is cost, I suggest that you compromise elsewhere. While the best of the breed can cost you around $1,500 (Q), darn good, but the best of the best are to be had for around $1,000 (Q). For something that you are going to physically touch every night for fifteen years or more, you may want to pass up something less important that comes and goes in a flash.

There is almost no such thing as “bad” latex but there are choices. Latex foam is made from the sap of a tree that grows in tropical jungles in India and other parts of South Asia, Equatorial Africa, The Amazon basin in South America. All with a hot steamy climate and very low cost labor. Some of the sap is foamed locally in the jungle, but most is shipped in drums to the USA, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands where it is pumped full of air and baked like a cake. I have oversimplified the process, and in fact, there are two. One is called Talalay after the inventor, and the other Dunlop after the tire company that paid for the science.  

Both are good, but the Talalay has much more consistent bubble size and feels the same from batch to batch and from corner to corner. Dunlop bubbles are more irregular and the cell (bubbles) walls also vary more in thickness. Nevertheless, Dunlop has more tensile (resistance to tearing) strength. Because it is harder to tear it is valuable used as an uncovered mattress topper, and in thin layers used in transportation seats, as well as anywhere that the latex may be manhandled. Talalay is often used in sleeping pillows because it just feels nicer than Dunlop, but gives up a few of it’s long years if the cover is unzipped too often.

I am trying to keep the latex story simple but it gets more complicated by adding the word “synthetic”. Most mattresses sold in the USA contain blended latex. This matters when long life matters. Blended latex is at least 70% natural. The other <30% can be many things, but it is only plain and simple trusted polyfoam. Polyfoam is everywhere you look or touch from your sneaker soles to almost anything in your home that feels nice to the touch.   In mattresses it is considered completely safe and nearly as comfortable as foamed latex, it is only used by itself to make the absolutely cheapest mattresses. Or should be because it costs so little, but mattress makers have a way of using the cheapest ingredients for making a quick profit and worrying about reliability some other time. Polyfoam is good for a year or two at most when used alone. However, when it is mixed with natural latex, the creamy sponge will provide maximum comfort and support unchanging for decades, often generations.

Memory foam, a real chemical stew may look like nice naturally cool latex, but after the first hour trying to fall asleep, ignoring the chemical odor, and the increasing warmth, the sensation of lying in the sun on a warm wet beach is too much for many people. Most people who are unfamiliar with the comfort of foamed latex can get used to sleeping on anything including memory foam, but I have never ever heard of anyone buying their second memory foam mattress. Memory foam is sold with hundreds of trade names, and almost all of them use some variant of the word “cool”. This reminds me when I was growing up reading cigarette ads that always said something about “good health”. Tell a lie often enough and after a while it sounds true to too many people. The best-known maker, Tempur-Sealy, to their credit, simply calls it Tempur Material.   By sticking to foamed latex none of these chemical or comfort issues need to concern you.

A really big lie that hits far too many consumers in the pocketbook is the one told by the many companies that offer “Green Certified” mattresses and dozens of other necessities at highly inflated prices with absolutely no scientific justification for their claims. The worst of them just make an official looking logo or seal from a nonexistent testing organization. They mostly have beautiful websites that exude honesty. The Internet has only been used to sell “things” in quantity for about a generation and laws and regulations barely exist. If you are buying a mattress with latex foam content, the only one that you should think about twice is the newby making a big splash, Casper. Casper has managed to locate a foamer that makes 100% synthetic latex without any natural latex at all. No details of the chemicals or process are known publicly. I would be most skeptical before bringing one into my home. At least they do not make any “green” claims.

Naturally cool and clean latex foam is made in wide range of firmnesses. Most mattress makers for reasons like ease of inventory keeping usually pick only one. The best mattress makers, the ones that garner top ratings from Consumer Reports inventory as many as five or six densities, possibly more because some latex foams now come in “slow release” configuration. The best foamers in Europe, where the best foamed-latex comes from, have learned how to make some of their latex foam choices feel more like memory foam. With some searching you can find a “Memory” foam that is cool, odor free, and very durable. Finding it is not easy because it is new and costs the makers a bit more, but it is available. When you send in your mattress survey, mention your interest in the comments box and I will include it when I “virtually shop” for you. Another new type of foamed latex from Belgium is called “Pulse”. It is slightly bouncier than ordinary Talalay. With any good foamed latex, if you select the correct firmness, it will be both comfortable and cost less to own than any synthetic urethane foam. One latex mattress is going to last as long as three or four average polyfoam mattresses.  

By far the most commonly used mattress foam in North America is  “plastic”, a catchall word for any foam manufactured from long-chain polymeric molecules. Dow, DuPont, and Monsanto dominate the supply end of the industry. Most of these adaptable molecules are made from petroleum or ever-cheaper natural gas. Surprisingly, some is also made from coal. Hard to imagine the alchemists converting a black rock into creamy looking memory foam! Some memory foams have up to 30% of oil from soy and other plants added to placate the greenest of customers. This is not a harmless fraud. To a measurable degree using basic foods that the poorest of the poor rely on to stay alive, just to make “green” mattresses for deliberately fooling consumers is responsible for raising the price of food worldwide. When quantities of soy or corn are taken off the market for mattresses the poor are hurt the most.  People really do go hungry because they can’t afford to buy food.

These soy or corn memory foams are properly legally described as “urethane”, or “polyurethane” when described on the white “do not remove” components label that is sewn to every American-made mattress. To make it a bit more complicated, the same words can describe plain ordinary non-memory (forgetful foam?) polyfoam or urethane foam that often can be very useful in making mattresses of all quality The ad copywriters may call the plastic foam a lot of things, but a common denominator is that the “selling” words” are usually related to the word “cool”.  This is because “heat” is the most frequent consumer plaint for memory foam, right after “gassy”, or just “warm”.  With reasonable effort, it is possible to find memory foam that does not sink down as much as most, and becomes less hot and hard.   Just do not expect it at bargain prices and do not expect latex comfort from memory foam.

Molecular chemists can tailor the synthetic plastic foam to be hard or soft, durable or perishable, cheap or cheaper. They work tirelessly to make it sleep cool with very few good-enough outcomes. Whatever the mattress maker is willing to pay for will be willingly made in the DuPont (Better Living Through Chemistry) labs that then sell the gunk in 55-gallon drums to the foam factory.  Usually the way it works is that synthetic foam can be made in an almost infinite number of ‘feels”, “warmths”,”air circulation”, mold resistance, firmnesses, and, of course, costs. The absolute most desirable designer chemical foam still does not rise to the comfort or durability of latex. But it also does not cost the mattress maker nearly as much.

Many fine mattress makers have adopted some of the better quality synthetic foams and use them in medium and higher priced lines. A not for profit organization called CertiPur US undertakes to test and approve (or not) synthetic foams submitted to it by foamers and sometimes by mattress makers. A seal from them is your assurance that the synthetic foams are as safe as synthetic foam can be. You are not guaranteed that the foam is actually safe. Only that it conforms to requirements set by CertiPur themselves. There is no known safe level for formaldehyde.

Solid foam mattresses with no innersprings are incredibly more comfortable when used on a flexible support surface such as a coil box spring when you can find and afford one. Another more affordable choice is a European-made flexible slat base. Chinese made slatted wood under-mattress supports are bad news. Ikea sells them for < $100. Some others for a lot more, but they are all the same junk. An excellent real flexible wood slatted spring from Europe sells for $800 to $1,000 when you can find one. These steam-bent hardwood slats are really good under a nice solid latex mattress. Not quite as good as hybrid with springs in the mattress or a nice hand-tied box spring, but so much better than on a solid platform or foundation. Some high-end mattress makers, especially in California, are substituting Chinese junk slats for European quality and making a fortune on each, and an almost guaranteed angry customer. Junk is too kind a word.  

If you want good and comfortable mattress with “live” conforming support, you need springs inside the mattress.   The combination of a good innerspring unit and appropriate foam padding is at the heart of all of the best mattresses made.  I just described a “hybrid” innerspring/foam mattress.  For the record, Mrs. Coyle and I sleep on a hybrid that is exclusively padded with naturally cool latex with layers of newly invented NANO comfort coils layered between the cushy latex. So far this is the apex of all mattress design. Sort of the ultimate hybrid.  When designed and made properly, there are no better mattresses made than innerspring/hybrid/latex.  

Many hybrid innerspring mattresses have other materials besides latex. Latex, even the least costly latex that a mattress maker can find costs them more than  any kind of synthetic foam, be it memory foam or any other kind of synthetic. Latex is made from the bubbled sap of the rubber tree and it is a slow and labor-intensive process. Synthetic foams are plastics and are made from petroleum/coal gas, or natural gas molecules, mixed with other petroleum based chemicals. When mixed it rises like a sponge cake and is allowed to cure by just resting in large molds. Curing can remove many but not all of the worst chemicals before these mattresses reach your bedroom, but they are never going to be completely 100% safe. Some synthetics are made with up to 30% of their chemicals derived from plant oils. This sounds good, but is just for the sound bites. The mattresses are no worse and no better from a health standpoint. Latex is safe. Period

Hybrid mattresses with layers of some less costly synthetic foams can be almost as comfortable if the cheap foam is buried under a topmost two or three inches of nice naturally cool latex. If the cheaper foam is not of the “memory” variety there will be little or no outgassing.  What you sacrifice when you buy the one that is not exclusively latex between the spring tops and your bottom is “comfort life”, the number of years that you can expect the mattress to provide as new or close-to-new comfort.  All mattress padding sooner or later deteriorates or sags, (some call what I call ”a sag”, “a divot”. However no padding ages more slowly than latex.

All innerspring hybrids deserve a flat and strong foundation or a solid deck platform bed, preferably one that is lightly padded. You are hereby advised to keep your distance from “all-wood” foundations at most any price. Some of the worst are “Amish” and I suspect that those people peddling “Amish” have never met an Amish person.  These stick-built foundations, to a greedy maker, looks like an ingenious way of adding a bit to the profit by making use of scrap quality softwood that really should have gone to a wood recycler.  You, the customer can end up with a bunch of sticks that more often than not, fail, and do so in the middle of the night. Few to none look as good in person as they do in the retouched picture that entices you on the Internet.

As bad or worse are the steel springs on legs pitched by Amazon/Wal-Mart/Sam’s/Overstock and many other Chinese import specialists. Whether you pay $49 or $249 they are all the same junk and thrown out money. Useless with a contemporary innerspring mattress because the spaces between the wires on the top deck are far too widely spaced. This prematurely destroys the mattress. Because some mattresses are offered with these sub-par foundations, you cannot use price as a guide for quality.   If you shop for a foundation for your new or old mattress, the best quality available are those with heavy steel wire grids under the top covering. One company, the Leggett and Platt in Carthage, Mo, makes most wire grid foundations for the entire mattress industry. Mattress makers rarely make their own foundations.

Platform beds are flat places, very similar to a good hardwood floor, that will provide support and comfort when used under appropriate foam or one-sided innerspring mattresses.

Some platform beds are not suitable for any innerspring and many all-foam mattresses.   You can identify them easily if you can touch the slats before buying.   The only platform beds that you can sensibly buy on the Internet have solid decks. The very best has light padding on the deck.  Buying any platform bed at any price, sight unseen that does not have a solid base under the mattress is looking for trouble.  Save yourself time and future heartache by shopping as the informed consumer you can now claim to be.  If you must buy sight unseen find out if the slats are heavy and clear grained HARDWOOD and have no more than 2.75 inches airspace between them.  If so, the support will be almost as good as a platform with a solid base.   Wide spacing greater than 2.75”, wider than the diameter of almost all pocketed coils inside the mattress, will soon break the best innerspring mattress. The coils will come out of the bottom and fall into the air spaces between widely spaced slats.  You can always improve a junky slatted platform by using a piece of “smooth-one-side”3/8”” or ½” inch plywood under the mattress.  Smooth side towards the mattress bottom, rough side towards the slats to keep from moving around.

If you have a good platform with a strong closed flat top, and you happen to have a two-sided mattress, you certainly can use it. You should not have to invest in a new one right away, especially if you are a member of gen x or gen y, not in your eighties like I am.  You will be missing some comfort, but the mattress will do fine for a few years. Then one day you will notice that it is sort of squashed and is no longer springy.

One sided, no flip mattresses are engineered to be used only on a flat rigid surface and will have a much shorter and unhappier life if you put it on a very flexible box spring.   These fat and comfort-capable one-sided mattresses can make you just as rested if you use your floor as a bed.  I am not suggesting that you do, but if you, for any reason important to you, you get a mattress before getting a bed, you can join the army of floor sleepers here in the USA, and the billions world wide.

Misc Bed

Comments

  • How many inches of latex and what ILD of latex do you recommend over your springs?
    Thank you!!!!

  • Andre says:

    What are your thoughts on this one? Im in Australia so its dificult to go with your choices!
    It seems to be Latex over foam over coil.
    http://www.ozmattress.com.au/supra.html

    • Marshall Coyle says:

      Dear Andre,

      The OZ mattress looks pretty good to me from a quick look, but they do not have the foam specification on the site you sent. I think that from the picture, the foam is several different kinds. Hopefully, your guess that it is latex is true because you do not want to be sleeping on petrochemical foam.

      Marshall Coyle

  • Celeste Fox says:

    Please give me the name of the bed you and Mrs. Coyle sleep on & where it can be purchased. I don’t see this information on the website. My husband & I have purchased 4 different beds in the last 12 years – every one of these were terrible. My husband has muscular dystrophy with a lot of discomfort & I have back pain plus other aches & pains as a result of my 76 years of age. I have been searching for a bed but it is very difficult to find great information. I very much would appreciate your help.

    • Marshall Coyle says:

      I don’t publish the information because I don’t want people buying the same mattress just because it is the best possible choice for myself and Mrs. Coyle. I only recommend mattresses to people who take the free survey available at http://www.oldbedguy.com. We Coyle’s are in our upper 80’s one is average weight, one needs to stop eating so much. We also can afford any mattress that we like and I don’t like to put pressure on people who are of limited means. I look forward to receiving your survey and doing a virtual shopping tour for you.
      Marshall

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