With the myriad of choices on the market today, choosing the right mattress is often a daunting task. But we can make it easier for you by identifying your sleep needs and matching them against various mattress types.
Foam and spring mattresses are two of the most popular categories in the mattress market. Each has its own set of pros and cons, depending on the materials used in their construction.
Each also has further subcategories that can easily confuse an average sleeper who just wants to get a nice comfy bed to sleep in peacefully. That’s why we’ve compiled this in-depth foam vs spring mattress guide, and by the end of this blog, you’ll know exactly which mattress type suits you the best.
So without much further ado, let’s dive straight into the nitty-gritty of foam vs spring mattresses.
Famous for their traditional feel, spring mattresses are one of the simplest and most affordable beds on the market. The first steel coils were developed in 1857. But, it wasn’t until 1871 when German inventor Heinrich Westphal used steel coils in a bed to make the world’s first innerspring mattress.
Over the years, the latest technologies and innovative designs have evolved innerspring mattresses into luxury products.
With their innate responsiveness, spring mattresses provide spinal alignment, bounce, and support loved by every sleeper type. The luxury innerspring mattresses on the market today offer a near-perfect balance between comfort and support.
Typically, a spring mattress has three basic components, namely:
Although the basics of an innerspring mattress remain the same, the coil system types vary. The mattress quality, comfort, support, price, and many other features depend on the coil system used in that mattress.
Here are a few popular coil types found in mattresses nowadays.
Bonnell and Offset coils are almost similar in their shape and properties. Both are hourglass-shaped coils with the center thinner than the edges. The only difference is that coils have hexagonal ends, so they lace together better than Bonnell coils.
Due to their hourglass shape, these coils compress on slight pressure and offer enhanced bounce and resilient support.
The flexible pushback force holds your weight well and effectively relieves aching joints, sore muscles, and troubled back. So, if you suffer from backache problems, then these coils are the best, especially the coils.
Bonnell coils are better at motion control. However, both coils are not as efficient as foam at motion isolation due to the integrated structure. However, spring mattresses stay cool even in the hottest weather due to the vast empty spaces between the coils.
Although the durability of these coils depends on their wire gauge, Offset coils form a more durable structure. Frank Karr developed the coils in the early 1900s, and this is why they are also known as Karr coils.
Leggett & Platt introduced continuous coils under the name of Miracoil in the mid-1980s. A continuous coil unit has head-to-toe rows of s-shaped coils, providing consistent and stable support.
Each row is made of many coils twisted out of a single continuous wire. The rows are inter-connected with each other through a helical hinge for flexibility. Some mattresses have continuous coils lengthwise as well as crosswise. This increases wire density, making these mattresses suitable for heavy sleepers.
Its firm, uplifting support works well for back and stomach sleepers. The continuous coil system is more durable, offers better support, and transfers relatively fewer motion disturbances compared to Bonnell and Offset coils. Since a thick wire runs along the mattress perimeter, edge support in continuous coil mattresses is quite good.
However, motion disturbance is still enough to wake you up when your partner, kid, or pet moves in bed. Most average and high-end innerspring mattresses use continuous coil systems in their construction.
Pocketed coils, also known as Marshall coils, were invented by James Marshall in 1899. These spring units became popular only in the late 20th century after their mass production became possible.
A fabric cover encases each coil separately. These pocketed coils are not connected to each other so that they can move independently. That’s why the mattress effectively isolates movement and ensures undisturbed sleep even when you share your bed.
On top of that, pocketed coils also offer enhanced contouring comparable to memory foam. These coils conform to your body curves for targeted support. They distribute your weight evenly, and each body part gets the comfort and support it requires.
Most luxury innerspring mattresses and hybrid beds use pocketed coils in their support core. Some of these mattresses also offer zoned support due to different gauge coils in different sections. It further ensures pressure relief and spinal alignment, irrespective of your sleep position or body type.
Pocketed coils offer little support at the edges, but most manufacturers use reinforcements such as edge foams to make mattress perimeter secure.
Although spring mattresses dominated the mattress market for their affordability and resilience, they lack contoured support and cushioned comfort. That’s why many people today prefer foam mattresses so they can enjoy exquisite pressure relief and perfect spinal alignment.
It wasn’t until the 20th century when that foam was used as a leading mattress material. In the latter half of the 21st century, foam mattresses experienced sudden growth with the introduction of visco-elastic foams.
A typical foam mattress usually has the following construction design:
There are various types of foams, each with its own features, benefits, price, and other pros and cons. Let’s have a look at three major foam types.
Polyurethane or polyfoam is the most common foam in the mattress industry. Its widespread use began in the late 1950s as an alternative to natural fiber fillings, such as cotton and wool.
It is a man-made material derived from petroleum, made by combining two chemicals polyol (a complex form of alcohol) and isocyanates.
Polyurethane is manufactured in three different grades and densities, which affect its performance, quality, and durability. Since the material is highly affordable and easy to compress, therefore it is commonly used in bed-in-a-box mattresses.
It efficiently conforms to body curves for pressure-relieving comfort but not as much as pocketed coils or memory foam. However, unlike memory foams, it’s quick to respond and efficiently retains its original shape back.
Being a foam mattress, it isolates motion better than typical innerspring mattresses, unless they have pocketed coils. Being a highly resilient and sturdy foam, polyfoam is usually used in support core of foam mattresses. Its variations are also used as base foam in spring mattresses.
In the mid-1960s, NASA invented memory foam or viscoelastic foam as a shock-absorber for astronauts. At first, it was used in airplane seats, until in the 1990s Tempur-Pedic started using memory foam in its mattresses.
Engineer Charles Yost created memory foam as a highly conforming material. It is manufactured in the same way as polyfoam but requires a few additional chemicals to bring out its unique qualities.
Memory foam reacts to temperature and body weight. As a result, it contours your body curves for maximum conformity and pressure relief. It means you enjoy healthy spinal alignment and even weight distribution in all sleep positions.
Its dense structure effectively isolates movement for an undisturbed snooze. At the same time, the tightly packed cells make it a hypoallergenic material that resists dust mites invasion and saves you from allergies.
The mattress comes in various densities and firmness levels to support all sleeper profiles. However, people often complain of heat retention on a memory foam mattress, making it unsuitable for hot sleepers. Body heat also softens it up, causing excessive sinkage and stuck-in feel.
However, manufacturers use innovative ways to counter these issues. They produce open-cell memory foam with a porous structure to promote airflow. Gel, copper, and other cooling agents are infused into the memory foam to keep it cool and supportive.
Researcher chemist E.A. Murphy and Eric Owen used whipped latex to produce foam in 1929. But it was in the 1940s that the latex foams were commercially used in furniture and mattresses.
The milk or sap of rubber trees is whipped to frothy foam, which is then poured into a mold for creating latex beds. Since latex is a natural material, it is quite popular among eco-conscious sleepers.
Being naturally hypoallergenic and chemical-free, it ensures you get a clean and allergy-free sleep surface for you and your family.
This healthy material comes with an array of benefits such as its durability, buoyancy, and comfort. Latex mattresses effectively conform to your body curves to relieve aching joints and muscles.
Although latex is slightly firmer compared to any other foam, it still offers adequate pressure relief irrespective of your sleep position. Being inherently cool, latex is ideal for hot sleepers too.
There are two types of natural latex foams, Dunlop latex, and Talalay latex. They have many subtle differences, but in a nutshell, Dunlop is denser and firmer, so it’s best for back and combo sleepers. At the same time, Talalay is airy and flexible and offers excellent pressure-relief for side and stomach sleepers.
Your choice of mattress type affects sleep quality profoundly. Proper support and comfort are crucial for a well-rested night. Only finding out the right type of mattress offers you the chance to enjoy all the benefits of sound sleep.
That’s why we’ve spared no details in this foam and spring mattress comparison so you can easily identify the most suitable choice for you.
Before we go over how you can match these differences to your sleep needs, here’s a comparison table for quick reference.
Best for side and combo sleepers
Ideal for back and stomach sleepers
Works well for average weight and petite individuals
Suitable for heavy and average weight body types
Softer and cushioned comfort
Firm and resilient comfort
Excellent conformity with pinpoint pressure-relief
Lacks conformity and offers average pressure-relief
Heat impacts the feel and sleep temperature
The heat has little effect on the feel and sleep temperature
Most foams are too dense to allow free airflow
Huge empty spaces allow free airflow
Petroleum-based foams may off-gas
Most foams maintain excellent spinal alignment
Good for back support and backache relief
Effectively isolate motion
Allows motion transfer
Long-lasting and durable
Difficult to maintain
Easier to maintain
Not everyone sleeps in the same way. Some sleep on their back while others sleep on their stomach or sides most of the time. Due to this, the feel and support of the mattress for each sleeper type are different.
The mattress material impacts the comfort you get in each sleeping position. Therefore, not every mattress is the right fit for you.
A spring mattress is a popular option for back sleepers because it supports your spinal curve. The mattress relieves back pain by reducing the pressure on key areas.
The spring mattress also offers the quick response required by combo sleepers to change positions easily without disturbing the sleep.
Side and stomach sleepers prefer foam mattresses because they conform well to body curves. Your shoulders and hips can sink as much as required, while the flank and thighs are supported enough to maintain perfect spinal alignment.
Similarly, stomach sleepers enjoy their rest on firmer foams because it offers them the balanced sinkage and support they require. However, they should avoid softer foams and memory foam that can compress their chest and make breathing difficult.
Another factor that affects your mattress choice is your weight or general body type. Certain mattresses work well if you are heavier. Others are designed only to provide sufficient support if you are average or lightweight.
A spring mattress is ideal if you are on the heavier side. That’s because the springs allow the mattress to maintain its shape under pressure and offer a lot of pushback support. Average and heavyset persons find spring mattresses more comfortable than lightweight individuals who risk developing pressure points.
Heavier persons find foam mattresses less supportive and risk sinking uncomfortably into the mattress. However, average and lightweight persons prefer foam mattresses for their cushioned support and hugging feel. The support offered by foam beds is just enough for these individuals.
The firmness levels of spring and foam mattresses are quite different owing to the huge differences in their designs and materials. Medium-firm is the best firmness or comfort level to choose when you are on the fence about what is best for you.
Spring mattresses are firmer by nature than their foam counterparts. That is partially due to the flexibility of the springs to bounce back under pressure. They also provide more support but offer comparatively little contouring. So the medium-firm of springs is usually a little firmer than the medium-firm in foams.
Foam mattresses are usually on the softer side and offer you the best contouring you can imagine. That’s why they are typically considered more comfortable than spring mattresses. Due to their give, foam mattresses also offer relatively less support, but newer innovative foams are also quite supportive.
A mattress must offer even weight distribution and pain-relief, irrespective of your sleep position and mattress firmness level. That’s why testing a mattress in-person for any discomfort and pressure formation is crucially important.
The coils are notorious for forming pressure points in some sleeper types due to its push back and uneven weight distribution. You can feel excessive pressure on your shoulders, hips, and knees due to poor spinal alignment in certain positions. That’s why you might want to avoid spring mattresses if you suffer from joint pain.
A foam mattress distributes your weight evenly because it contours your body and fills the gaps along your curves. It cradles your pressure points and takes stress off of your joints. So, if you have arthritis, fibromyalgia, and other muscle and bone pain issues, opt for foam mattresses.
There is a big difference in the temperature sensitivities of foam and spring mattresses. The weather outside and the room temperature inside can change the way your mattress feels. This feature is especially important if the region you live in gets extreme temperatures.
The spring mattress is known for its temperature neutrality. So when you sleep in the bed, your body heat won’t affect how your mattress feels because a) heat doesn’t change the way coils feel, and b) the amount of air circulation through the coils keeps your sleep temperature down.
Memory foam softens as it heats up and hardens on cooling. So when it comes in contact with your body heat, it melts under you and hugs you for deep comfort. But they also make you sleep hot; however, today mattress manufacturers use many techniques to keep mattresses cool. Latex is naturally cool and temperature neutral like springs.
When a mattress retains heat, it makes it impossible for you to sleep, especially if you’re naturally a hot sleeper. About 79% of the population thinks sleep temperature is an important factor for getting a good night’s rest.
A spring mattress provides plenty of ventilation due to the large empty spaces between coils. As the air moves, it takes the heat away from the mattress surface and keeps your body temperature cool. Even if your mattress has a thick top foam, you’ll sleep relatively cool on an innerspring mattress.
Regular foam mattresses allow no free air passage. So heat has no way to escape, and hence your body temperature increases. Convoluted foams allow airflow through layers of foam but decrease mattress lifespan. On the contrary, ventilated and copper-infused foams draw heat away from your body and allow hot sleepers to enjoy a cool sleep on foam beds.
If you have a sensitive nose or are concerned about toxic off-gassing, there’s a vast difference between how foam and spring mattresses smell.
Spring mattresses don’t rely on heavy chemicals during their production. The bulk of the material is steel, which doesn’t give off any smell. The odor or off-gassing from thin foams is negligible and rapidly carried away from you by the enhanced airflow.
Foams except latex are based on petroleum derivatives and hence have a mild to a strong odor depending on the materials used. However, the smell fades away in a couple of days, and many governing bodies ensure the off-gassing is within safe limits.
A lousy mattress can make your backache, or it can exacerbate your old aches and pains. So, it makes sense to buy a mattress that keeps your spine aligned properly and relieves your back pain.
Spring mattresses are usually good at relieving back pain, especially the ones with pocketed coils. Other spring units may offer uneven support and increase the pain. Commonly, spring mattresses offer the best spinal alignment for back and stomach sleepers as they require firm support.
Foam mattresses alleviate back pain because layers of foam offer continuous support and do an excellent job of maintaining healthy spinal alignment. As foams cushion your spinal arch, they release pressure off your back and keep it pain-free. However, some foams can also make you sink into the mattress uncomfortably and cause or increase your back pain.
Motion isolation is an essential factor when you plan to share your bed with a partner, pets, or kids. A bed good at preventing motion transfer keeps your partner undisturbed when you move in sleep or get in and out of bed.
While a spring mattress is good for you, if you change sleep positions often, it lacks motion isolation and will disturb your partner’s sleep. If motion isolation is vital to you, look for a mattress with individual or pocketed coils that limit motion transfer.
The motion does not transfer as easily on a foam mattress as it does on a spring one. The foam absorbs movements well and is the best choice for bed-sharing couples, pet owners, families that share the bed with kids, especially if one of you is a light sleeper.
Durability is the general amount of pressure a mattress can take before it starts to sag or otherwise wears out. Therefore, the strength of a mattress is directly related to how long it is likely to last.
You might think a spring mattress has a long lifespan since metal does not wear out easily. However, coils tend to break or lose flexibility due to excessive weight and bounce. A typical spring mattress lasts from three to six or seven years, depending upon its quality and the way you use it.
It is common for a foam mattress to outlast a spring mattress. Foam mattresses do not break down easily, especially if they have a high-density foam core. Usually, foam mattresses last nearly eight years and more if maintained properly.
Maintenance may not be the first thing on your mind when it comes to mattresses, but it does make a difference. If you maintain your mattress well, you can extend its life.
Spring mattresses wear out quickly if not cared properly. Don’t bend or fold the spring mattress as it will break its coils. Rotate the mattress every six weeks to reduce the chances of sagging.
Foam mattresses vary greatly in terms of their maintenance needs. Therefore, you need to check the instructions provided by the manufacturer to determine how often to flip or rotate it. In general, foam mattresses need more maintenance. For instance, avoid putting foam beds in the Sun. Similarly, in the case of spills, the foams will take longer to dry and can get severely damaged, decreasing the lifespan of your mattress.
When buying a mattress, affordability is obviously a concern. Prices vary, sometimes widely, between brands and different mattress types. However, it is possible to obtain a mattress for under $1,000, especially if you count in free delivery offered by most brands today.
If your biggest concern is your budget, a traditional innerspring mattress is often the least expensive. However, you must be prepared to increase your budget if you want a luxury innerspring mattress like Winkbed with innovative features and cushioned comfort.
Often, foam mattresses cost more than spring ones owing to their comfort, durability, and use of high-tech construction technologies. However, simple foam mattresses are sometimes available at much lower rates. Latex mattresses are usually costlier because of natural materials and numerous health and environmental benefits.
Memory foam is the most sought after foam mattress type due to its hugging feel and pressure-relief. Memory foam and spring are two entirely different materials but may share a few common properties. Each has its own pros and cons, so you carefully need to pick the one that best suits you.
Memory foam is a petroleum-based synthetic material, while spring mattresses usually feature steel coils made from natural metals. Various chemicals are used in the production of memory foam and may off-gas, unlike spring mattresses that are completely odorless.
High-quality spring units usually carry low wire gauge, which means thicker and stronger coils. Due to this, the spring mattresses offer enhanced support and an increased lifespan. Similarly, high-density memory foam mattresses also last long.
Memory foam is notorious for trapping heat and making you feel sweaty and suffocated due to sinkage and hug. This makes memory foam mattresses unsuitable for hot sleepers. On the other hand, spring mattresses keep your body temperature down due to enhanced airflow through the coils.
Sleepers love memory foam for its hugging feel that cushions your key pressure points such as hips, shoulders, and neck to relieve pain. Its excellent conformity makes memory foam ideal for side sleepers. In comparison, spring mattresses lack conformed support and may cause pressure formation among petite sleepers.
The inter-connected coil structure in spring mattresses leads to stable edge support. The structural integrity along its perimeter makes spring mattress safe for the elderly and kids. Memory foam mattresses lack edge support because it compresses quickly under pressure and takes a little while to return back to its original shape.
Latex foam is one of the most expensive mattress materials in the industry. Known for their antibacterial and organic properties, latex mattresses are the preferred choice for eco-conscious sleepers. But they also share a few common features with the more affordable spring mattresses.
Spring and latex both are free of chemicals and toxic odors. Therefore, both the materials are eco-friendly and non-toxic. Latex may dissipate its own new rubber smell, which waves off within a few hours.
Latex is a flexible material, much like coils ,so it doesn’t sink too much when pressure is applied. Both are resilient and offer firmer support, so they push you back up when your weight applies pressure on them. Therefore, both latex and spring mattresses are ideal for back and stomach sleepers.
Latex is a naturally cool material due to enhanced airflow, thanks to its porous structure. Similarly, spring mattresses also have huge empty spaces between coils. Subsequently, there’s continuous air circulation that keeps the sleep surface cool and fresh.
Spring mattresses usually have a much shorter lifespan compared to latex foams. Springs break down or lose flexibility with use, while latex foams are thick and dense and do not break down easily. However, the heavy layers can tear if you mishandle them. A high-quality latex mattress can last you anywhere from 20 years to a lifetime.
Compared to spring units, latex foams are much better at motion isolation. They are perfect for couples who prefer a responsive mattress but weary of the partner disturbances. On the other hand, spring mattresses are responsive but do not isolate motion except pocketed coils.
Since latex mattresses use natural and organic materials, they come with a higher price tag. Latex beds also offer a wide variety of benefits such as antibacterial and antifungal properties, cool sleep, resilient support, and long-lasting comfort. This makes latex mattresses great value for money.
If you think none of the above two mattress types are suitable for you. You want hugging support, cooling comfort, a little bounce, but with a peaceful snooze… then try hybrid mattresses.
They are the latest fad in the mattress world. During the 21st century, our lifestyle experienced a complete transformation, which also revolutionized our sleep needs.
This led to the development of hybrid mattresses. Typical hybrids consist of an innerspring support core topped by one or many different types of foams for comfort. Commonly, memory foam or latex is used with pocketed coils in premium quality hybrid beds.
As a result, you get to enjoy the best of both worlds. Together, the foam and coils provide a balance between pressure-relieving comfort and resilient support. They are designed for those who seek the support of innerspring but need the comfort of foam as well.
Hybrids give you a cushioned support to relieve pressure points and maintain spinal alignment, irrespective of your sleep position. Heavyweight sleepers prefer hybrids for their reinforced support and durable construction. These mattresses rarely sag, and with proper care and maintenance, they can last you more than ten years.
The hybrid mattresses also offer cool sleep due to the free airflow through the coils. Due to the use of pocketed coils and thick foam layers, motion disturbance is negligible with just the right bounce for active bed-sharing couples. Most hybrids have stable edge support due to a reinforced mattress perimeter, making it ideal for the elderly and kids.
Although hybrid beds are relatively expensive, they offer great value for money.
Balanced comfort and support
Difficult to maintain
Excellent motion isolation
Suitable for couples, elderly and kids
Great value for money
Over the years, foam and spring mattresses evolved to meet our ever-changing sleep needs. We hope this spring vs. foam mattress guide will help you decide the mattress type best suitable for you. However, you can find hundreds of foam and spring mattresses on the market today, with each claiming excellence over the others.
So, the next step would be to focus on your budget and sleep preferences and pin down a handful of mattresses that fulfill that criteria. Then you can use our mattress comparison tool to analyze your choices side-by-side to reach a final decision. Good luck with your mattress hunt!
Dustin is the lead content creator at SleePare. With a degree in Computer Science and extensive experience reviewing mattresses, curating comparisons and advising on "best of" guides, he's truly a mattress technology expert.
Dustin has perfected this method by personally testing over 200 different mattresses, so he's not only able to discern the overall value of a specific bed, but to assign its value to different types of sleepers.
Along with creating honest and straightforward mattress features, Dustin enjoys creating pieces aimed at helping people get their best sleep ever.
When he's not creating helpful content, Dustin enjoys jogging, fishing, hunting and playing video games in and around his Virginia home.