Are Innersprings Good or Bad?

In this video tutorial, I’ll answer the question “Are innersprings good or bad?”  This seems to be one of the more common questions I get asked and I think it has to do with the growing popularity of spring-free mattresses, as well as people sometimes having a “less than desirable” experience on an old, cheaply made innerspring mattress.

Maybe it it started to sag within a short time or they’ve had a mattress that started squeaking after a while and they come to the conclusion that spring mattresses are “bad.”  Maybe they get fed up and decide that the next bed they’re gonna buy is going to be a memory foam mattress or an air mattress.  Of course, they’ll hear various memory foam and airbed manufacturers refer to inner springs as “old fashioned” which can lead to the erroneous conclusion that foam or air is somehow “better” or more durable than steel.

On the other hand, many people swear by their spring mattress and won’t sleep on anything else.  So how do we explain the difference in experiences?

Just like anything else, there are low quality and high quality innerspring mattresses.  Something to keep in mind is that the best mattresses in the world – the kind that typically only the 1% can afford – are all made with innersprings.

There’s actually huge variation in quality with steel spring beds.  They can range from the bare minimum required to assemble a barely usable sleeping surface to an absolutely sublime experience that can literally make you want to take a nap the very moment you lie down.

There’s also a lot of variation in “feel” with different springs because springs can be made to feel very firm or so soft and pliable that they don’t feel like they’re even there.  This can be accomplished by increasing or decreasing the gauge (thickness) of the wire, as well as from the overall design of the coil.

So when people run into issues with their innerspring bed, there’s usually two main reasons for them not living up to their expectations.

1. Sleeping on low quality or cheaply made mattresses that were designed to give retailers high turnover instead of actually being made to last and help people sleep well.

2. The second most common cause for an innerspring mattress sagging prematurely is from not using a mattress protector.  If you buy a steel spring mattress, it’s essential that you protect it with a protector from the very beginning.

Most people are surprised to find that if you were to strip down an old mattress to the coils, you would see that the springs are typically in perfect shape.  It’s the top layers of cheap polyurethane foam and fibers that have compressed.  But why?  Why haven’t the springs compressed after 5, 10, 15 years of use?

Simple answer is because springs are made from steel, and it takes a lot to wear down steel.1

“Steel is strong.”
– Captain Obvious

But there’s more to it than just the fact that steel is strong.  It has to do with how body weight is distributed over the mattress.

Just as a street performer can safely lie down on a bed of nails, when lying down on a mattress there’s a wide area applied to the springs underneath, which means less overall pressure.2  Your total weight is evenly distributed across the bed, and steel springs are strong, so it makes sense that it would take quite some time before they showed substantial wear.  But cheap foams and fibers on the other hand don’t have the same durability and can’t withstand weight and moisture like steel can, so they tend to break down much quicker.

Innersprings have been around for a very long time.  Believe it or not we’ve had all the technology we’ve ever needed to make high quality, extremely comfortable mattresses that can last 40 years or more since the early 1900’s.3

In 1985, a UK based company called Vi-Spring got a hold of one of their mattresses made in 1911 from a family in Sussex.  It was made with pocketed springs, horsehair and cotton — that’s it!  74 years later they opened it up and found that despite some expected wear and tear, it was still comfortable and supportive.4

I’ve met many people who told me they’ve had their current mattress for 20 or 30 years and they told me it was still comfortable.  The only reason they were shopping for a new bed was because they thought they were supposed to.  It used to be very common for people to keep their beds for 20+ years.

So then why would you want an innerspring mattress in the first place?

So, there’s 3 main components that a mattress should give you at night.  Support, comfort and durability.  And the biggest argument for springs is that they offer all three, including comfort.

But what is support anyway and how do springs give support?

Imagine yourself standing straight up with a string attached to the top of your head pulling you into perfect posture.  Your spine will naturally end up in an s-shaped curvature.5  Now rotate yourself 90 degrees.  That’s more or less how you want your spine to be when lying down in bed.  Support can be defined as the upward force that “props” the body into an anatomically correct alignment, simultaneously pushing up to fill in the gaps along your body and releasing under the heavier parts.  That’s what a good quality innerspring system will do.

The reason why springs do that has to do with a principle of physics that states that “a spring will push back with the same level of force applied to it.”6  This results in straight line deflection which is harder to achieve with basic flexible polyurethane foam.7  So essentially by lying down on an inner spring mattress, your body weight is triggering the springs to “push up” along the body to keep you in alignment, and that’s how springs give support.

Innerspring mattresses also tend to offer greater breathability, although that does depend on how much and what kind of layering is on the surface.  According to one study, innerspring mattresses dissipate heat approximately 28% better than air or foam surfaces.8  This is because an innerspring system has a lot of space for airflow within the center of the mattress.

Questions or Comments?  Post them below!

References

1.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steel
2.  http://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/arts/circus-arts/bed-of-nails.htm
3.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshall_coil
4.  Chris Robinson, “The Vi-Spring Story: Over a century of Luxurious Sleep”
5.  http://umm.edu/programs/spine/health/guides/anatomy-and-function
6.  https://www.khanacademy.org/science/physics/work-and-energy/hookes-law/v/intro-to-springs-and-hooke-s-law
7.  In Touch, Volume 1, Number 3, September 1991 (http://www.pfa.org/intouch/index.html)
8.  Kansas State University, Institute of Environmental Research