Buying a mattress isn’t like it used to be. You not only need to decide on your budget and the right level of firmness for you, but with memory foam seemingly ever increasing in popularity, you’ve now got to choose between foam, springs, or a combination of the two.
On top of that, a shift to online shopping means that you’re unlikely to be able to try the full range of options in person, with popular bed-in-a-box brands such as Emma and Otty being sold almost exclusively online. The upside, however, is that these new-age mattresses invariably come with some kind of money-back guarantee.
In an effort to make the mattress market a little less confusing for consumers, we’ve put together this guide to help you understand the differences between springs and foam, so you can make a well-informed buying decision.
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How to choose the best mattress type: Springs vs foam
Springs: Pros and cons
“Sprung” mattresses is a blanket (sorry!) term that encompasses a range of different designs. Pocket sprung mattresses are the most popular, in which the springs are sewn into fabric pockets. These stop you feeling the movement of whomever you share a bed with much better than cheaper open coil and continuous coil mattresses, which are made up of springs (or in the case of continuous coil, of one single looped wire) held together by a wire frame.
Unless you really can’t afford anything else, we’d recommend steering clear of open coil and continuous coil mattresses because they’re inferior to pocket sprung mattresses by nature.
Pros: A good sprung mattress should deliver plenty of support but their real trump card is the fact that they do a better job at keeping you cool than foam-based mattresses. Indeed, if you hate the enveloped, marshmallow feeling that you sometimes get from a foam mattress, a sprung mattress with natural upholstery is a great alternative.
Because they typically have natural comfort layers, traditional pocket sprung mattresses also use less plastic than memory foam, so there is some argument in favour of sprung mattresses over foam as far as the environment is concerned (though most mattresses can be recycled).
Cons: With the exception of much pricier models, sprung mattresses often won’t feel as luxurious as their memory foam counterparts. Their natural fillings, which can include hemp, wool and cotton, don’t conform to the body in the way foam does or isolate the movements of whomever you share a bed with quite so well. These fillings are also more susceptible to body impressions over time, which can leave your mattress’ surface feeling uneven.
Memory foam: Pros and cons
Memory foam is a dense visco-elastic foam, in which the primary ingredient is polyurethane plastic (though other chemicals are used in the manufacturing process). Many all-foam mattresses are made up from different layers of foam. The Emma Original, for instance, has a top “Airgocell” foam layer, a middle memory foam later, and a thick foundation layer made from HRX foam.
Pros: One of the defining qualities of memory foam is its ability to mould to the shape of your body. It does this by reacting to body heat and softening accordingly. This can help relieve pressure and can help with spinal alignment. Memory foam’s ability to isolate movement is also beneficial for couples who move about in bed a lot.
Compared to springs, memory foam mattresses are less susceptible to body impressions which can cause a mattress to lose its original shape. However, memory foam can still soften and sag over time.
Cons: Since memory foam retains heat, a common drawback is that foam mattresses can become uncomfortably warm, particularly for those who are already prone to feeling hot in bed. They can also give off a plasticky chemical odour to begin with. However, while this smell isn’t pleasant, it is harmless and will go away in time.
Another key criticism of foam mattresses is that they don’t deliver much in the way of bounce. What’s more, once you’ve sunk into a foam mattress, it can feel more difficult to turn over than on a sprung mattress.
What about hybrid mattresses?
Hybrid mattresses claim to offer the best of both worlds, using a combination of springs and foam to strike the perfect balance between comfort and support. There are plenty of hybrid mattresses available, but it’s worth considering that some use springs as a comfort layer, where others use them as a support layer.
Simba, for example, uses small titanium “Aerocoil” springs in the upper layers of its Hybrid, whereas Eve uses full-sized pocket springs to deliver a supportive foundation in its Lighter Hybrid.
Springs vs foam: Verdict
Sprung and memory foam mattresses each have their respective merits and drawbacks. Based on the pros and cons outlined above, you should be able to make an informed buying decision, taking your own personal preference into account.
Those who get too hot at night should steer clear of foam mattresses in general, while those who are regularly disturbed by a partner’s movement may find that only foam offers the level of isolation that they need. Otherwise, most people should be happy on the best mattresses of either variety.
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The best foam mattresses to buy
Emma Original: Best memory foam mattress for couples
Price: From £429 | Buy now from Emma
A superbly versatile mattress, the Emma Original offers comfort and support regardless of whether you prefer to lie on your back, side or front. It’s for this reason that, in our best mattress roundup, we recommended the Emma Original as a great option for couples who might be struggling to find a compromise in terms of firmness.
Read our full review of the Emma Original
Also consider: Eve Original
For those who prefer a firmer feel, consider the Eve Original. Noticeably firmer than most of its all-foam rivals, it’s a supportive and comfortable mattress that’s particularly well suited to a sprung-slatted base.
Buy now from Eve
Nectar mattress: Best mattress for a generous trial period
Price: From £469 | Buy now from NectarGo to Source