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How to buy a mattress

How do you get through all the marketing hype and discern the truth about different mattresses. Here is the inside story from a 30 year veteran of mattress manufacturing.

In 1871 Heinrich Westfall patented the first innerspring mattress. He saw that coil springs were used in seat cushions and decided to make a mattress from coil springs. Now Leggett & Platt makes about 93% of all the innerspring units used by American mattress manufacturers. It doesnít matter if you buy Sealy, Simmons, Serta, Spring Air, or an independent brand; the innerspring coil unit is probably made by Leggett & Platt.

The mattress manufacturer buys complete innerspring units that are fully compressed with 10 to 20 mattress units in a bale. He then unbales the units, adds layers of various padding, and upholsters the units.

The great firmness lie

Manufacturers wanted to differentiate their mattress and they could use more coils or heavier wire, either or both of which make the mattress firmer. The total weight of steel used in a mattress determines the cost since steel is ultimately bought by the pound. So we were told that firmer is better.

 Coil Counts and Wire Gauges

Coil counts reflect the number of coils used in a full size mattress with a 252 and a 312 being basic standards. There are many variations with 600 and 800 and more coils per mattress. Wire gauges used to make the coils can be 12, 14, 16, 18, and higher with half gauges in between. The lower the gauge number the thicker the wire. Thus a mattress with 12 gauge wire coils will be firmer than one of the same coil count with 14 guage wire. Or more coils of the same gauge wire will be firmer.

Innerspring unit types

Bonel coils are double cone coils that are round on the ends; Offset coils have a flat part crimped on the ends supposedly to allow them to move more independently. Pocketed coils are straight coils that are not double coned shaped. Continuous coils are straight coils where the innerspring unit is made from one continuous piece of wire without clipping the wire to form individual coils. Then most have a border wire for edge support and to give a straight edge to upholster. Some add gimmicks to increase border strength for a firmer sitting edge, but this reduces effective sleeping area because the edges become too firm. Mattresses used to have 5-turn coils that are about 5 inches thick. With todayís thicker mattresses some now use 7 turn coils to achieve more thickness rather than add more expensive padding.

Itís all Hype

What does all this mean? It really all means nothing. Todayís high-speed equipment can produce any configuration of innerspring unit at about the same cost. The only difference is the pounds of steel used in the mattress unit. More steel means a firmer mattress and a marginal greater cost. The mattress industry makes more profit on firmer mattresses and they tell you firmer is better. A coil spring can only respond to downward pressure with an equally opposing force. Even zoning a mattress with firmer coils in the middle does not balance the pressures on a human body very well. They still create pressure points on the body. What you really want if a softer more conforming mattress. If you choose an innerspring you should look for the thinner wire gauges and rely on feel to choose something that is not too firm.

Padding on top of the spring unit

Here is where the real difference in mattress comes in. Manufacturers use a combination of cotton batting, polyester fiber, and polyurethane foam. Look for the most padding you can get for the greatest comfort. Donít be fooled by Convoluted or ĎEgg-crateí foam. This is formed by feeding a piece of foam through a compression-cutting machine where the rollers have bumps on them that create the hills and valleys. Feed in a 3 inch thick piece of foam and get out two 2Ē to 2.5Ē inch thick pieces of foam. Four to five inches of foam from three inches, saves costs. But there is an advantage when used as a top layer; the fingers sticking up are softer than the solid part below. Some convoluted pieces have patterns or zones that really donít mean much. Cotton batting is the cheapest material for itís height but it compresses and packs down quickly not regaining its loft. Polyester fiber is good for surface softness and breatheability but it too tends to pack down rather quickly. Polyurethane foam is the best choice for durable padding. The higher the density, the better the quality and durability. Generally you want something better than 1.2 pounds per cubic foot density. Todayís mattresses are almost foam mattresses except they use a core of steel springs to take up air space because this is cheaper than the same amount of foam.

Pillowtops and Ticking

These are strictly cosmetic features. Pillowtops add an extra labor step and give the illusion of having thicker padding. Most tickings are durable enough but manufacturers make them beautiful to differentiate the bed and help them sell better. Donít be fooled by this. It makes no difference if extra padding is quilted into the ticking to make it plush looking, or placed in the pillowtop, or placed on top of the springs. In the end the bed is covered with a mattress pad, sheets, and bedspread.

Why innersprings wear out

Itís usually not that the springs wear out. It is that the springs cut into the padding, and the padding pushes down into the springs. When this happens you can lie on the bed and feel every spring. Steel is hard. Who wants to sleep on steel when there are better alternatives to innerspring mattresses?

Alternative Sleep Surfaces

With the technology we have today why do most of us still sleep on coils springs that were intended for seat cushions, and adapted to an innerspring mattress that was invented in 1871? In some countries innersprings are only 15% of the market. Alternatives include Air, Water, Latex, Polyurethane Foam, Visco-Elastic, and Lever-Support. Air or Water are good beds. They require a little more maintenance as they can leak or electro-mechanical air pumps can break down. Latex beds were invented in the early 50ís and are still a good choice as they are more comfortable and durable than innersprings. They have a natural story even though they are largely made from synthetic rubber. But they do tend to get brittle and crumble after an extended period. But look for one that is softer as many manufacturers are still fixated on firm is better. Polyurethane Foam was invented in the late 50ís and largely replaced Latex. Polyurethane is used in many applications for its durability such as in floor finishes. Polyurethane Foam has come a long way in the last fifty years and now includes a new variant called Visco-Elastic. Visco can mold to and comfort the body in a way that other materials canít. Finally a company called Strobel has a patent on a Lever Support System.

Lever Support System

Strobelís patented Lever Support System creates a mattress that is both soft and comfortable yet firm and supportive at the same time. The Lever Support System is a series of flat spring wires that work like a teeter-totter so that when a heavier part of the body such as the hips or shoulders depress one end of the Levers, the other ends actually push up to give support to recessed areas such as the small of the back. The result is that the bed conforms to any body or position giving even all over support.


Strobelís line of Supple-Pedic mattress includes three models with varying thickness of a proprietary formulation of Visco-Elastic they call Polyfilax. All Supple-Pedics include the patented Lever Support System. With the combination of Lever Support and Polyfilax the company claims to achieve the lowest body pressures and best back support of any mattress. Strobel has clinical studies that show 90% less tossing and turning, and Clinically Proven Better Sleep with their mattress. They also have numerous M.D.ís and Chiropractors who strongly recommend the bed.

Other Features

Strobelís Supple-Pedic has a removable cover that is dry-cleanable and some machine washable in cold water. The bed also features a layer system where each layer can be aired and dried if it gets wet or the components can be individually replaced if damaged. These features can reduce maintenance costs by not requiring the entire mattress to be replaced.

30 year mattress life?

Strobelís Supple-Pedic mattress has endured a 30 year simulated use roller test. If the typical innerspring is replaced every three to five years, Strobelís bed might last fifteen to thirty years. That would be a significant cost savings.

New Technology Now Available

As with everything today there is new technology in the mattress market that you should consider. For more information on Supple-Pedic visit  or call 866-Strobel.

Now we have a national flame proof mattress law that requires a lot of toxic and cancer causing chemical in beds to pass the test. We recommend a prescription bed free of toxic chemicals.