Buying a bed means making sense of a dizzying variety of materials, construction techniques and features — memory foam, innerspring, latex, pillow-top — the list goes on and on. What does it all mean?
Let's review some of your options in more depth. Here are the seven most common categories of mattresses available for purchase:
Long the standard of the mattress industry, representing over 80% of the market, innerspring mattresses are distinguished from other types of beds by their use of coil springs for support. On top of the coils, various types of upholstery lend the mattress its comfortable feel. See our Innerspring Mattress Guide for more information on how to distinguish one innerspring bed from another, including details on each component of the innerspring mattress.
Though relatively new, memory foam mattresses have been rapidly growing in prominence since the mid-'90's. Memory foam mattresses are distinguished by their delayed, form-fitting responsiveness, which creates the sensation that you are "melting" into the bed while it slowly forms itself to the shape of your body, leaving a delayed impression of your contours even after you get up. See our Memory Foam Mattress Guide and Memory Foam vs. Innerspring sections for more information on memory foam mattresses and how they compare to innerspring mattresses.
Believed by some to be the "next big thing" in the mattress industry, latex mattresses have been available for many decades but are currently experiencing a resurgence in popularity. Relative to memory foam, latex offers equivalent support and durability, but is less conforming and has a faster recovery time, making it less "hot" and easier to change positions. See our Latex Mattress Guide for more information on the different types of latex mattresses.
Once reserved for holidays and houseguests, today's high-end air beds look similar to innerspring mattresses but use air in lieu of coils. By adjusting the amount of air in the mattress, these mattresses can be configured to a precise level of desired firmness, or even different levels of firmness on each side of the mattress. Of course, if you are merely seeking a storable sleep accommodation for friends and relatives, you may be well served by a more basic, portable air mattress. See our Air Mattress Guide for more information on high-end air beds, and our Portable Air Mattress Guide for additional information on portable air beds.
Though waterbeds have declined in popularity since their peak in the 1970's, they continue to improve and retain a core following. Waterbeds are still distinguished by their use of liquid, rather than coils, for support. However, modern waterbeds, sometimes referred to as "hybrids," have experienced a series of upgrades and now tend to closely resemble innerspring mattresses in their padding and comfort layers. Altogether, these upgrades have addressed many of the drawbacks associated with previous generations of waterbeds, while maintaining many of the benefits. See our Waterbed Guide for more information on the evolution of the waterbed.
Adjustable beds are known for their ability to bend and elevate into upright or other positions. Naturally, their unique flexing characteristics have made adjustable beds very popular with back pain sufferers, as well as others who enjoy sitting upright in bed. Adjustable bed mattresses are available in a variety of materials, including innerspring, memory foam, and latex, as well as various combinations thereof. See our Adjustable Bed Guide for more information on the various features and benefits of adjustable beds.
Dual-purpose beds, of which sofa beds and futons are the most common, are distinguished by their ability to transform from a sitting surface to a sleeping surface, making them an ideal sleeping accommodation for guests. Due to their need to fold and collapse, futons and sofa beds require different types of mattresses with unique, flexible construction. Such mattresses are typically sold together with their respective frames to ensure that the units function properly.
Dissecting the traditional mattress