Smart Shopping: Glossary of Common Mattress Terms

Shopping for a new mattress can be tricky since most of us are not familiar with all the meanings of common terms used by mattress brands and retailers. But, getting knowing the details and marketing lingo is important to ensure you get the best deal, and the best bed. Keep the following reference at hand for a quick resource.

Guide to Mattress Terminology

Adjustable base: This is a supporting structure used underneath a mattress that allows the upper and lower portions to be raised or elevated. They were originally used in hospitals, but have been redesigned for home use.

Adjustable bed: This term refers to the combination of the adjustable base and mattress or mattresses if dual or split style is chosen.

Air flow: This term is often used with memory foam mattresses, which have a tendency to retain heat with certain cell structures. Open cell and plant-based memory foams allow significantly more air flow than closed cell and chemical based types. It helps eliminate the concern of sleeping too hot.

Allergens: Dust mites, pet dander, fumes from synthetic materials, dust and various other compounds which contribute to allergies and related breathing problems such as asthma.

Antimicrobial or anti-microbial: This term is used to describe foam or other surfaces that discourage the growth of unhealthy microorganisms.

Articulate: This term means parts that are able to move independently, such as the head and foot portions of an adjustable base.

Baffles: These are separating layers used in waterbed bladder construction to help eliminate waves and create more uniform, comfortable support. This can be accomplished using separate chambers or layers of fiber.

Bamboo: This term may be used in combination with organic, fiber, fabric, bedding and sheets. It is a natural grass that is a renewable resource and used to create luxurious organic sheets and bedding.

Bed: Common reference to a bed general includes the entire assembly, mattress, foundation (box springs), frame and even headboard, but may also refer to simply the mattress and box spring.

Bed frame: Support under the foundation and mattress including legs, steel and wood are commonly used. A large bed will often have center supports. These may be adjustable.

Bedding: Mattress covers, mattress pads, sheets, pillowcases, blankets, bedspreads and comforters are all referred to as bedding. The term can be used to refer to one or all of these.

Bio-based: This refers to products which are comprised of a percentage of naturally renewable materials such as bamboo, wool, cotton, etc.

Bladder: Some mattresses are created from a vinyl/rubber bladder which holds either water or air.

Blended Latex: Mattresses can be created using blends of synthetic and natural latex. They often contain a 70/30 blend, always check labels.

Body impressions: The contour of the body may be created in the mattress with the compression of pillowtop and foam materials, making it less comfortable.

Bottoming out:  Feeling the underlying layer through a memory foam or other topper which is not thick enough or dense enough.

Boxspring: The foundation piece used in most innerspring mattress sets. Supports the above mattress. Boxsprings with non-solid tops are typically not used with specialty mattresses.

Buoyancy: This refers to the resiliency of a mattress, and how it makes you feel like you are sleeping without much gravitational pull.

California King size: This is a king sized mattress that is longer and narrower than traditional king size, it is 72 inches wide and 84 inches long, making it suitable for people who are taller. Also the standard waterbed king size.

Cell structure: Latex and memory foam feature air pockets or cells that compress to provide a comfortable surface. Plant based cell structure tends to be larger, allowing more support and airflow.

Certified Organic and Certified Organic Mattress: Certified organic products created for bedding such as cotton are grown according to exacting standards and receive third party certification. Mattresses can be constructed using organic materials, but have multiple labeling requirements.

Coils: Traditional innerspring mattresses contained metal coils encased in a metal and material frame to provide support. Various shapes of coils have been created in hopes of creating a comfortable and supportive structure.

Comfort: A subjective term used to describe how the contouring and support of a mattress feel when lying on them for an extended period of time. It can be increased using multiple layers of foam in different densities with a thick memory foam on top.

Conform: This refers to the way memory foam molds itself around the body, allowing full support of pressure points as well as areas which would normally not be supported including the waist. It hugs and conforms to the curves of the body to provide support.

Contouring effect: Memory foam mattresses and latex mattresses provide contouring which provides support along the length of the body, allowing the spine to decompress into its natural position.

Convoluted foam: This is the familiar egg-carton foam used in some mattress toppers and mattress layers.

Core: A memory foam or combination memory foam/latex mattress can be created using an inner core of one type wrapped or covered with the other. Combinations of natural latex and synthetic may be labeled as simply latex. Memory foam typically has a denser poly foam core, while latex can have either a poly or latex core.

Crown: This refers to a mattress which is slightly higher in the middle than on the sides.

Density: The term Density refers to how much one cubic foot of the foam weighs and may be considered as method to determine memory foam quality. Mattresses comprised of weights between 3 and 5.3 pounds are preferred by most people. The denser the foam is the firmer support it will provide.

Double bed: This size is the same as a full size mattress, 54 inches by 74 inches.

Dunlop Method: This is the method originally developed in the late 1920’s to create natural latex mattresses. It involves pouring frothed latex liquid into molds, heating it to set, then rinsing and curing. Dunlop latex is the most common on the market and often less expensive since it requires fewer resources to produce. Both Dunlop and Talalay rate similarly on overall owner satisfaction.

Durability: Everything eventually wears out with age and use. Durability refers to the length of time a mattress, particularly memory foam and latex foam, will last and continue to provide adequate support.

Dust mites: Dust mites live in traditional mattresses and other upholstered items in our homes. They and their feces are considered one of the main allergy triggers. Memory foam and latex mattresses are considered resistant to them, particularly in combination with a zippered protective cover.

Eco-friendly: This term is used to refer to methods of creating and disposing of items including mattresses and bedding which will not harm the environment. Primarily these will be constructed of natural materials such as latex, cotton, bamboo and wool. They are also healthier in the home as they do not release danger chemicals.

Electric bed: This refers to an adjustable base/bed that is operated via motors rather than the original Gatch bed which was manual. Most adjustable beds used in the home are electric and feature remote controls making it a breeze to set them to the perfect height.

Fiber: Organic fibers from various plants are used to create organic sheets and other bedding. Fibers can also be used in waterbeds to reduce motion.

Fire retardant: Mattresses are constructed according to strict manufacturing regulations which require a degree of fire retardancy for safety. This term refers to the products used for that purpose.

Firmness: In essence this term refers to how hard or soft a mattress feels when lying on it, although the support and resiliency are actually part of the whole picture. A medium-firm mattress is one of the most popular, particularly for people who suffer from back pain.

Flipping: Turning a mattress over and rotating it may help alleviate compression; however it is not recommended for memory foam or pillowtops due to the way they are constructed.

Foam: This is a catch-all term that can be used to describe the cellular material founf in memory foam, latex, or poly foam. Since it is so commonly used, comparison shoppers need to be wary and ask questions related to the type of foam used in the mattresses they are shopping for.

Foundation: The supporting structure beneath the mattress, can be a platform or box spring among others. Typically foundation refers to a support piece with a solid top, typically used for specialty mattresses like foam.

Full size: This is a bed size, also referred to as a double bed with dimensions of 54×74 inches. May also be found in Full XL or Long, with a length of 80″.

Gel-foam: An additive used with some memory foams, in which gel or gel beads are added to the foam during manufacturing.

Hand: This term refers to how something feels to the hand; it is used often used with memory foam and fabrics to describe smoothness, coolness, or softness.

Hardness loss: Refers to the durability of memory foam and how it softens.

Hardsided waterbed: A traditional waterbed style that utilizes a high-edged wood frame and vinyl water bladder, with or without baffles.

Hypoallergenic: In general this term refers to products that are less likely to create an allergic reaction in most people than similar products would.

ILD (Indention Load Deflection): This refers to the weight required to compress foam. This measure allows us to compare firmness for latex and memory foam mattresses.

Innerspring mattress: The most common type of mattress over the past century, which features coils or springs topped with layers of fabric, batting and foam.

King Size: The largest standard bed size available 76 inches wide by 80 inches long. It can be created in a dual/split style, featuring two separate mattresses each 38×80 inches that work well for adjustable beds or couples who prefer different levels of firmness. May also be called Eastern King.

Latex:  Latex is created from sap collected from the rubber tree, making it resilient and buoyant, the ideal sleeping surface. It can also come from synthetic, lab created sources or a blend of the two.

Latex foam: The foam created from liquid latex using either the Dunlop or Talalay methods, to create a latex mattress. Can be ma

Liner: A sealed vinyl layer used with waterbeds for leakage protection.

Low-profile foundation: Mattresses are available in a variety of thicknesses. To counter this added height a low-profile foundation will be thinner than average so the overall bed is of standard height. These also provide a sleeker appearance in some modern bed furniture.

Mattress: The top piece of a bed, designed to provide support and comfort while sleeping.

Memory foam: Memory foam is a special type of polyurethane foam developed to evenly distribute weight and provide support for the body’s natural alignment. It molds to sleepers then returns to its original shape, providing resiliency and pressure point relief. Memory foam quality varies greatly, and several different types are available, including visco, plant-based, gel-infused, and more.

Natural Latex: Natural latex is produced using rubber tree sap that is collected using eco-friendly practices from sustainable sources. It is resistant to dust mites, mold and considered anti-bacterial and hypoallergenic. A product can be labeled as natural without being 100% natural, so look for mattresses that specifically state 100% natural latex.

Off-gassing: New foams, glues, paints, and other products release gasses into the air for a short period of time after they are brought into the home due to chemicals called VOCs. Studies are mixed regarding the effects of various VOCs, but those that are concerned or sensitive to the odors may opt for natural mattresses and products.

Organic: This term requires that plants or animals be raised according to strict procedures, limiting pesticides and other dangerous compounds. The USDA regulates what products are able to carry this label, and typically a product must be certified by a recognized body to advertise as organic.

Organic Mattress: These are ideal for everyone, particularly children, expecting mothers and anyone suffering from chronic illnesses.Very few mattresses are truly organic, and are typically limited to latex, cotton or wool stuffed, and some vinyls. Many may feature organic covers or components however.

PBDEs: These have been used in mattresses and other products as flame retardants for years. New regulations have limited the types which can be used; however they have only recently gone into effect and several scandals came to light regarding their use in imported products.

Pillows: Pillows have traditionally been made of feathers or cotton, and more recently fiber poly-fill and foams. Improvements include memory foam which is resistant to dust mites, eliminating these allergens from surfaces near your face where they would cause the most problem.

Pincore: Tube-like cylindrical holes which are bored into a latex mattress to add comfort, or as part of the manufacturing process. Can be used to affect firmness and support.

Polyurethane or Urethane Foam: This is the traditional type of foam that is constructed from petroleum-based products rather than plant or bio-based products. It has a smaller cell structure and consumers often complain of sleeping hot. Manufacturers use a variety of techniques and materials to create these foams.

Pressure points: Areas of the skin and body which receive the most weight during sleep, typically hips, shoulders, and heels. People who are confined to bed may eventually acquire pressure sores in these areas. Memory foam and latex significantly reduce pressure points and increase circulation compared with spring beds.

Prorated Warranty: Most mattress warranties will have a time period wherein everything is covered 100%. After that expires, items will be covered at a percentage basis for a set number of years. For example, a 10 year limited warranty might have 5 years full coverage and 5 years prorated. Read and understand your warranty when shopping.

Pure Latex: This can be a tricky term as it refers to an item which is made entirely of latex, however it can be synthetic, natural or any combination of the two.

Queen mattress: The queen sized mattress is 60×80 inches and like the king size can be found in a dual or split model to fit adjustable beds or individual preferences. It’s the most popular size of all mattresses as it fits in smaller rooms than a king. California Queen or Waterbed Queen mattresses measure 60″x84″. Some RV’s and specialty beds may use shorter mattresses.

Recovery time: This term is used to describe the length of time it takes for memory foam to return to its uncompressed state after having weight placed on it.

Renewable: Organic mattresses and bedding that use renewable resources come from materials the regenerate naturally or are sustainably harvested, such as bamboo, latex, and some cotton, wood, and wool.  This is opposed to non-renewable resources like petroleum or materials harvested in an unsustainable fashion.

Resiliency: Materials such as latex and memory foam strive to return to their natural state, making them more buoyant and resilient to weight. They provide a springiness (ability to bounce back) which provides support.

Sagging: Some mattress construction styles lend themselves to sagging more than others. Edges or portions of the entire bed may dip and lose their support.

Semi-waveless mattress: Waterbed mattresses use fiberfill and baffles to create a variety of wave-reduced motion. This is one of the most popular as it limits motion transfer without feeling too hard.

Set: Every type of mattress will provide the best support with a particular type of foundation. The two pieces together are referred to as a set.

Single bed: This is the same size as a twin mattress 38-39×75 inches, also available in XL which adds length (38×80).

Support: This is one of the primary qualities that makes a mattress both beneficial and comfortable. The resiliency, buoyancy and contouring/conforming ability of a mattress type will determine the amount of support it provides to the back, neck and spine, and how well it supports alignment.

Synthetic: Synthetic products are the exact opposite of those made using natural products. They are composed of chemicals, rather than natural, eco-friendly methods.

Synthetic Latex: Due to a shortage of natural latex during wartime, synthetic variations were developed. It later found its way into household products such as mattresses, although it lacks the health benefits, durability, longevity and comfort integral to natural latex.

Talalay Method: The Talalay method for creating latex mattresses adds vacuum-pressurized molds and flash freezing to the Dunlop method. The idea is to create a more controllable and consistent product. Talalay latex is generally more expensive since it requires more additives and energy resources. Both Dunlop and Talalay rate similarly on overall owner satisfaction.

Twin Size: a twin size mattress is the standard for children’s beds, measuring 38-39″ x 75″. Twin XL or Long mattresses are more common for adults and dorms, measuring 80″ long, while Twin XXL beds measure 84″ long.

Visco-elastic foam: This term refers to a type of memory foam and its properties of temperature sensitivity, where the foam softens with heat.

VOCs: Volatile Organic Compounds are released into the air from petroleum based products such as polyurethane and synthetic materials. Many of these are considered hazardous to breathe.

Warranty: The warranty protects consumers against poor quality products and will likely be a lifetime limited warranty when purchasing a mattress. They vary substantially by manufacturer and should be thoroughly read and understood prior to purchase. It is recommended to purchase a mattress offering at least a 20-year warranty.

Have another mattress term you’d like explained?

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