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Mattresses: An A-to-Z Guide

That white rectangle you’re sleeping on looks deceptively simple, but start shopping for a new one, and you’ll quickly realize just how complicated mattress technology really is. To help you out, we’ve compiled a handy A-to-Z list of the most common mattress terms you’ll encounter so you can speak—and buy—with confidence.

All about mattresses: a handy A-to-Z glossary

Learn all about mattresses with our A-to-Z mattress glossary below.

image of adjustable foundation

Adjustable foundation

Bye-bye, box spring. Sales of adjustable foundations, which allow you to customize a bed to a variety of sleeping positions, are on the rise—up more than 200%, according to Consumer Reports. Modern versions are less like hospital beds and more like “pieces of furniture,” says Mary Helen Rogers, VP of marketing and communications for the Better Sleep Council, a consumer education group that represents the mattress and bedding industry. “The head comes up, the foot comes up, they vibrate, some have lighting and USB ports, some can even track your sleep.” (Here’s a closer look at the benefits of an adjustable base.)

image of box spring

Box spring

Also known as a foundation, this is the solid surface a mattress rests on. Originally, most had a system of springs or metal coils—hence the name—but that started changing about 15 years ago, when companies began using more rigid foundations, explains Jack Mitcham, owner and founder of MattressNerd.com. “Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find one with springs,” he says. (Read more about box springs and foundations, and how to choose the right one for your mattress.)

image of coil inside mattress

Coil count

Like thread counts for sheets, this number refers to the density of coils in an innerspring mattress and, along with the gauge (thickness) of the coil, is used as an indicator of a mattress’s quality. It used to be that the higher the coil count, the more supportive the mattress, but with advances in coil technology and design, that is no longer the case. In general, you probably don’t want to go any lower than 420 coils in a queen size mattress, Mitcham says. More importantly, look for individually pocketed coils rather than those that are tied together. Coils that can move independently are more comfortable and better at isolating motion from one side of the bed to the other. (Here’s how to choose the best innerspring mattress.)

image of double bed

Double bed

Another name for a full-size mattress, which measures approximately 54 inches by 75 inches. Despite the name, this size is really best for a single sleeper, or a couple with a small bedroom. It’s also a good choice for a child’s step-up mattress. (Check out these additional mattress tips for kids.)

image of edge support on mattress

Edge support

This applies chiefly to innerspring mattresses and refers to the sturdiness of the mattress’s outer perimeter. It’s especially important if you tend to sleep close to the edge of the bed or want to be able to sit comfortably to put on your socks. Lower quality mattresses may use a metal rod for extra strength, but foam encasement is preferable for even support across the entire mattress surface.

image of foam inside mattress

Foam

Most mattresses today include some kind of foam, either as the primary material or in combination with innersprings (see “hybrid,” below). Latex foam, made from the sap of the rubber tree, tends to be the most durable and responsive. Memory foam, also called viscoelastic foam, rebounds more slowly when compressed and is great for taking some of the stress off common sleep pressure points like your shoulders and hips. Different types of mattress foam contain different ingredients—including some you probably don’t want to sleep on. (Learn the key differences between latex and memory foam. )

image of gel inside mattress

Gel

Gel is often used in foam mattresses (which have a tendency to “sleep hot“) as a way to disperse body heat and keep the surface of the mattress feeling cooler, also for additional support. Gel can be mixed with memory foam or added as a separate layer. (See “temperature neutrality.”)

image of hybrid mattress

Hybrid

Refers to any mattress that combines a steel coil support system (see “innerspring”) with one or more types of foam. The combination of innerspring support with the pressure-relief and contouring ability of memory foam is what gives hybrids their best-of-both-worlds appeal. (Here’s a deep dive on hybrid mattresses.)

image of innerspring coil inside mattress

Innerspring

The most common type of mattress, composed of metal coils or springs covered by layers of padding and fabric. Spring systems vary greatly in wire thickness (gauge), coil count, and spring design. Individually wrapped coils, also called “pocketed” coils, are best at allowing a mattress to contour to your body and minimize motion from a sleeping partner, though they are typically more expensive than “continuous” coils, which move as a unit.

image of coil inside mattress being jumped on

Jumping

Definitely not recommended on any sleep surface, as it’s the quickest route to needing a new mattress.

image of king size mattress

King

Measuring 76 by 80 inches (the size of two twin beds pushed together), a king bed is a good choice for couples who require plenty of personal space. A variation is the California king, which is four inches longer but slightly narrower. (Get more mattress buying tips for couples.)

image of latex mattress

Latex

A type of foam that can be made from either plant- or petroleum-based materials. Natural latex is extremely durable, hypoallergenic, and combines some of the best qualities of other mattress types—it has the “springiness” of innerspring plus the contouring quality of memory foam. The only downside: Because of the labor required to harvest and process the material, natural latex tends to be more expensive than other mattress types. (See how a latex mattress is made.)
image of motion transfer on a mattress

Motion transfer

The amount of movement that is noticeable from one side of the bed to the other. Some materials are better at controlling motion than others. As a rule, memory foam is the best, innerspring is generally worst. But new styles of innerspring that use pocketed coils and/or memory foam in the top comfort layer (see “hybrid,” above) have dramatically improved performance on this front.

image of natural thistle flame barrier

Natural thistle

A plant-based fiber mesh, made primarily from wood pulp and bonded with a small amount of polyester. It creates a flame retardant barrier without the use of harmful chemicals. (This is what Saatva uses as our flame barrier in our classic innerspring mattress.) Flame retardants are a source of a lot the chemical nasties in mattresses, but natural materials like thistle and wool provide the same flame-resistance mandated by law without the potentially toxic chemicals. (Find out how eco-friendly your mattress is.)

image of organic symbol

Organic

Mattresses made with natural materials like wool, cotton, and latex do not off-gas potentially harmful chemicals, and may be appropriate if you are sensitive to chemicals or have severe allergies. Fully organic mattresses can be very costly—an alternative is eco-friendly components like recycled steel, plant-based natural thistle, and an organic cotton covering. (Learn more about organic mattresses here.)

image of mattress protector

Protector

Not to be confused with a mattress pad or topper, a protector is a thin, often waterproof cover for your mattress, and a worthwhile investment if you have pets or children that are likely to make a mess. A protector can help extend the life of your mattress by keeping it free from stains, moisture, and dust mites. (Not sure of the difference between a mattress protector, a pad, and a topper? We’ve got you covered.)

image of queen size mattress

Queen

The most popular mattress size, according to the Better Sleep Council. At 60 by 80 inches, a queen is ideal for couples (unless they really have a hard time sleeping together). Some manufacturers sell an “Olympic queen,” which is six inches wider than a standard queen, but it’s not very common, and you may have a hard time finding sheets that fit. (Here’s how to decide if a king vs. queen bed is right for you.)

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Rotation

Part of proper mattress maintenance. While very few mattresses these days are designed to be flipped over, it’s still a good idea to rotate a mattress head to foot every so often to ensure even wear. (At Saatva we recommend rotating after the first six months, and then once a year thereafter.)

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Support

Perhaps the most important thing a good mattress should offer. How to know if a mattress will properly support you? It’s all about your sleep style and body type. If you’re a side sleeper, a mattress that conforms to your shape will feel better, whereas stomach sleepers will benefit from a firmer mattress. If you’re a back sleeper, you can sleep comfortably on a variety of sleep surfaces, but it’s still important to look for a mattress that keeps your spine in alignment and has comfort layers that cushion areas like your tailbone. As far as body type goes, if you weigh more than average, you’ll want firmer support.

image of temperature symbol

Temperature neutrality

Being neither too hot nor too cold while sleeping can make a huge difference in the quality of sleep you’re getting. Mattresses can play a role in dispersing body heat and keeping the surface of your bed cool through the use of phase-change materials (see “gel,” above), which absorb heat, and thermal conductors that draw heat away. Innerspring mattresses, because they allow for a lot of airflow, sleep coolest among mattress types.

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Under warranty

Most mattresses come with a warranty, typically ranging in duration from five to 20 years. A mattress warranty can either be prorated or non-prorated. Under a prorated warranty, you’ll pay a specific percentage to replace your mattress or have it repaired. This percentage goes up incrementally over time. Under a non-prorated mattress, any repairs or replacements are covered for a set number of years (meaning you don’t have to pay anything during that period). Saatva offers a 15-year, non-prorated warranty for our classic innerspring mattress. A warranty can be voided if your mattress has stains or you’ve set up your bed on an improper foundation or frame.

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Value

The price range for mattresses is wide, and cheaper is not always better. But there is point of diminishing returns in value for your money, says Mitcham. “For most people, you’ll notice a definite difference in quality around the $1,000 to $1,500 price range for a queen,” he says. “Beyond that, it gets more difficult to tell the difference. You can pay $3,000 for a mattress, and it may only feel 10% better.” (Here’s a lowdown on mattress costs and a closer look at what to expect from a luxury mattress.)

image of white glove delivery image

White glove delivery

When your mattress is delivered right to your door, set up in your bedroom, and inspected. Saatva offers white glove delivery for all of our mattresses, as well as removal of your old mattress. On the other hand, beds-in-a-box are compressed, rolled into a duffel bag, and shipped to your home, so you have to do the setting up.

image of twin xl mattress

XL

A designation given to twin beds that are five inches longer than usual—80 inches vs. the standard 75. Twin XLs are great for growing kids, but they also have another advantage: When placed side by side in a frame, they form a king-size bed that can be set up for two different comfort preferences (say you like a firm mattress and your spouse prefers something with a bit more give). Better still, add an adjustable base and you can enjoy a totally customized sleep experience.

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Years

How many years a mattress will last depends on the material it’s made from. Innerspring mattresses don’t last as long as memory foam or latex mattresses. Memory foam mattresses usually last 10-15 years, while latex mattresses can last up to 20 years. (Here’s how to tell if you need a new mattress and how to make your old mattress last longer.)

image of zero gravity setting on mattress

Zero gravity position

A setting on some adjustable foundations that raises the head and feet to a “neutral” position that eliminates pressure on the lower back. Our Lineal adjustable base offers massage settings that make it a great option for post-athletic recovery when you need to relieve sore muscles.

Learn More About Saatva Mattresses




Saatva Classic Innerspring


Our flagship luxury mattress is expertly engineered with coil-on-coil construction for durability, a layer of memory foam for enhanced back support, and a cushiony Euro pillow top for extra comfort.


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Loom & Leaf Memory Foam


Premium memory foam, handcrafted in the U.S. with eco-friendly materials. Breathable organic cotton, cooling spinal gel, and layers of high-density support foam assure a cool, comfortable night’s sleep.


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Zenhaven Latex Mattress


100% Talalay latex responds to every curve for pressure-free support and responsive comfort. Talalay latex is supple, resilient, and durable, for the ultimate in elevated sleep. (It’s naturally hypoallergenic too.)


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Next, learn how to choose the right support for your mattress.