Mattress buying guide

Mattress buying guide

How to choose a mattress

Bed Buyers’ Guide

Mattresses may look similar, but the differences within are vast.

This guide gives a brief overview of some of the main options when deciding what is the best type of mattress for you.

From the outside

The first thing you’ll notice about a mattress is its cover – known in the trade as ‘ticking’.

Manufacturers spend a lot of time choosing attractive colours and designs so their mattresses will look good – but remember that 99% of the time it will be covered up with bed clothes!

The ticking is not just there for its good looks: it also needs to be tough and tear resistant. Better quality cloths are woven or knitted in high quality viscose or cotton yarns. Cheaper cloths in polyester or polypropylene are often printed. At the budget end of the market are bonded or stitch-bond fabrics and some cheaper knits.

Ticking with special qualities is now also increasingly being used by mattress manufacturers.

Some of the options include anti-dust mite/anti allergy, anti-bacterial, anti-microbial, anti-static, breathable, water resistant, stain resistant, highly absorbent, naturally fire retardant etc.

But one of the most popular options are tickings that offer effective thermal regulation through moisture wicking and evaporation technology. There are now quite a few companies offering performance fabrics that move perspiration away from the body and through the fabric where it can evaporate quickly allowing you to feel cooler and more comfortable.

Quilting or tufting mattresses
Mattress Quilting


Quilting is a decorative effect attaching the outer fabric to the surface fillings; these mattresses tend to have a smoother, flatter surface than tufted mattresses.

Mattress Tufting


Where tapes are passed right through the mattress at regular intervals and secured each side by tags or washers – prevents loose fillings from being dislodged.

Mattress side stitching

Side Stitching

The side panels of some higher quality mattresses, particularly traditionally pocket spring mattresses, are hand side stitched which helps to keep the mattress in better shape for longer.

Spring interior mattresses

Spring interior mattresses

The majority of mattresses in the UK have spring interiors, which provide the ‘core’ support. 

Changing the spring construction, thickness (gauge) of the wire, the number of coils, height of each spring and the quantity alters the tension, feel and weight distribution properties of each mattress.

Spring interior mattresses can be ‘zoned’ – across the middle to give extra support for heavier hips and shoulders; half and half, to provide different tensions on each side of the bed; or round the edge of the mattress to give it extra rigidity.

Different tensions can be achieved within the same mattress. Some units also allow the user to adjust the mattress tension themselves.

Open coil or open sprung mattress

Most widely used option, also known as the Bonnell spring.

Springs are arranged in rows and connected to one another, top and bottom, by a spiral helical wire with an outer rod strengthening the perimeter.

There are usually a minimum of 325 coils in a 5ft/150cm size – but some mattresses may have more.

Come in a choice of tensions, starting from a very firm 12.5 gauge wire.

Priced from budget to mid range.

Open coil or open sprung mattress
Continuous spring mattress

Continuous spring mattress

The continuous spring unit is made from a single length of wire ‘knitted’ into a series of interwoven springs which usually run up and down the bed and are linked vertically rather than horizontally.

The gauge of wires used is softer and the size of the ‘coils’ smaller than open coil, giving a higher spring count and a more responsive feel.

Priced in the mid market.

Pocket spring mattress
Small, softer springs that work independently from each other

Conforms and adjusts to body contours.

Helps eliminate roll together.

Spring counts typically vary from 600-800 up to 2,500 but can go up to 3 or even 4,000. Like other types they are made in a range of tensions.

Often more expensive and used mainly in higher quality products.

Better quality pocket springs are encased in calico pockets, hand nested in a honeycomb pattern and centre tied with linen cord.

Less expensive pocket springs are encased in fibretex or stitchbond fabrics and are lightly glued together in linear rows.

Pocket Spring Mattress
Mini spring mattress

Mini spring mattress

A relatively new development in springs is the extra low profile, mini spring – which can have a height under 3cm (1in). These units offer an alternative to more traditional fillings in providing a highly resilient comfort layer.

They can also be stacked together to form a very soft, high spring count mattress core.

Spring mattress fillings

Interior sprung mattresses use a wide variety of fillings to create different properties and comfort options, as well as affecting price. Fillings are chosen for their resilience, durability, flexibility and ability to absorb body moisture. In cheaper mattresses, fillings usually come in compact pads; in better quality models, layers of loose fillings in greater volumes are often preferred.

Cotton: Often used near the surface for its soft feel and its ability to breathe, and to absorb moisture.

Polyester: A synthetic material with good recovery properties

Silk, cashmere, mohair and other fine, natural fibres: Used for additional luxury and insulation properties.

Hair: Highly resilient fibre, often described as “nature’s spring”. Available in pads or loose for high luxury.

Coir fibre pads: Made from coconut fibre are generally used next to the spring to insulate and prevent the spring being felt or penetrating. Alternatives include compressed wool or synthetic pads.

Foam: Different types of foam are used for their cushioning effect. They include latex, polyurethane and visco-elastic (memory foam). Explanations of these different types of foam can be found below.

Wool: Naturally resilient fibre, creating a luxurious feel with good fire retardancy properties, it is also breathable.

Spring mattress fillings

Non-Sprung Mattresses

Foam mattress

Most foam mattresses are made from layers of different densities of foam. By varying their density and depth, it’s possible to achieve different levels of comfort and support. They are particularly suitable for use with slatted bases and adjustable beds.

Other types of mattress

There are three other main types of Non sprung Mattresses; Gel, Floatation & Futons

Latex foam mattress

A premium quality material derived from the sap of the rubber tree.

Has a distinctive, resilient feel, is very durable and has anti-microbial properties that offer benefits to many allergy sufferers.

Its natural elasticity means it recovers its shape immediately when pressure is removed.

It also has very good point elasticity resulting in even distribution of pressure for independent support.

Latex foam mattress
Memory Foam Mattress
Visco elastic/memory foam mattress
Responds to individual shape and pressure.

Has good pressure relieving properties.

Available in a variety of qualities and densities.

Polyurethane (Pu) foam mattress
A synthetic, petroleum based foam with performance and price varying according to density and quality.

It is widely used and very versatile

PU Foam Mattress
Gel Mattress
Gel mattress
A new filling that is taking the bed market by storm.

Can be combined with other materials eg foam.

Ground-breaking technology known for its cooling thermo regulating properties.

Delivers benefits such as breathability, pressure relief and body support.

Flotation beds
Support is determined by the amount of water used and the level of motion can also be varied.

Known for their pressure free support and also good for allergy sufferers.

Variable temperature heaters keep the bed warm and cosy.

Floatation Mattress
futon mattress
Made from layers of cotton or fibre wadding, which moulds itself to the shape of the body.

In Japan they are used on the floor with a mat underneath and rolled away during the day.

In the UK, they are more often sold as budget priced sofa beds with slatted convertible frames.

Watch our video guides

Pocket Springs Explained

Coil Springs Explained
Latex Foam v Memory Foam
Signs your mattress needs replacing

Next section

Bed bases explained