Spring Beds – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

By Scott Braddam


A recent poll on our main website, Beds.org, showed that about 38% of our readers prefer a spring bed over all other types. While I definitely prefer a memory foam bed, obviously some people like springs better. So how do you know what to look for in a spring bed?

Personally, I am a very analytical person. I need to know what makes things tick. For that reason, I have developed a standard approach for evaluating almost anything I buy, from snacks to a house or a car. I always break the subject down into easy-to-swallow parts, and give each part a rating in my head, based on what I feel is the most important. I can apply this pattern to almost anything, including mattresses.

When considering a spring mattress, I look first at construction. Comfort is nothing without longevity. I want to know about what the springs are made of and how they are arranged. The first thing I like to examine is the spring gauge. Gauge is another word for diameter when measuring a spring. We are interested in the diameter of the steel wire used to make the spring, not the diameter of the coil formed with the wire, so to help keep the two separate, we use a different name for the wire diameter. The gauge of a spring uses a low number to signify a thick wire, and a high number to signify a thin wire. A 10 gauge wire is substantially thicker than a 20 gauge wire. When you coil this wire to make a spring, the thicker wire will last longer and reduce the likelihood of breaking down over time.

Next, I look at the spring layout. I will leave this in simple terms since there are so many options available here. The two primary types of bed springs are individually pocketed coils and what I refer to as spring networks. Individually pocketed coils are single springs which live inside of a pocket, exactly as the name suggests. Individual springs typically will not show the same longevity of a spring network using the same gauge springs, since each spring acts on its own and does not get assistance in bearing the load applied from nearby springs. The pockets which hold each spring are usually sewn together, but the springs themselves are not connected to each other. Generally this type of spring shows a great reduction in transferred motion over a spring network.

Spring networks have each spring connected to a platform at the top and bottom. The top and bottom platforms are also wire or spring steel. This is more durable in the long run since each spring uses the resistance of the springs next to it to handle the weight applied. The downside of this network is that you won’t see your weight being distributed quite as well as individually pocketed coils and that any movement on the bed is transferred easily to the entire mattress.

Now I consider what type of comfort layers the bed has. The comfort layers are generally what will determine the feel of the bed. Most manufacturers use the same spring base for a whole series of mattresses, and simply adjust the type and amount of comfort padding to create a new mattress feel. More padding and softer padding will obviously create a softer mattress. Some beds may have an 18 inch overall profile, but use a 6 inch spring. This does not really mean that there are 12 inches of padding. If the mattress is a double-top design (meant to be flipped over periodically) then you will split the padding thickness between the two sides of the mattress. Using a pillowtop or euro-top design also adds a little bulk. What you may actually see in this case is a 6 inch spring base, then 5 inches of padding on each side of the mattress. The remaining 2 inches will be absorbed by the material used to encase the comfort layers, such as the quilted cover. There is no doubt that a mattress with 5 inches of padding will be a soft bed overall, unless it is specifically designed to be both thick (for aesthetic reasons) and firm. In these padding layers you might see batting (loose-fill cotton or wool, typically quilted in a mattress cover), polyurethane foam, memory foam, latex foam, or other trademark-named foams (SealyFoam for example).

Of course there are other important factors, like price, warranty, return period, and so forth. I feel it is very important to know all about how to return, exchange, and replace a bad bed before I buy it. I always recommend (well, preach is more like it) that you do the same. It is much easier to learn about it in advance rather than to swear about it after a problem arises. In my experience, a good spring bed will have a 10-20 year warranty period. The sleep trial can be different on the same model of bed sold at different outlets, as this depends more on the retailer than the manufacturer. A good sleep trial will be 30-90 days.

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This entry was originally posted on Tuesday, June 8th, 2010 at 7:25 pm and is filed under beds, mattresses.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 5th, 2014 at 4:07 AM and is filed under beds, mattresses . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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