Mattresses explained

contract grade bed

Before buying a mattress, take a close look at the detailing: the fabric, side stitching, mattress build, the surface finish and then the base and then try and weigh up all these aspects at once.


There are three main fabrics used in mattress making:

  • Woven
    • These are usually featured on expensive mattresses, but watch out for low quality versions.
  • Stitchbond
    • The lowest grade of fabric.  Touch it and you’ll probably think it feels a little rough.  This type of fabric is often produced using a cheap looking design, on cheap mattresses, using coil springs.
  • Knitted
    • Often used on low to mid-range mattresses, but the quality of the knit can vary.

Side stitching

There are a couple of types:

  • Hand Side Stitched (HSS)
    • HSS takes a lot of time and skill.  It’s used to attach the side panel of the mattress to the pocket springs inside, so that the mattress offers a high level of support at the edges.
  • Machine Side Stitched (MSS)
    • MSS is designed to mimic the look of a HSS mattress, but doesn’t actually offer any added support.  So you should ignore descriptions saying anything along the lines of ‘Side stitching for extra edge support’.

So, how do you tell the two types apart? Press down on the edge and see if the side panel bulges out.  If it does, the chances are that you’re testing a MSS mattress.  If it doesn’t, it’s a HSS mattress.  Usually, two rows of HSS is used, but more expensive mattresses will use three, and really expensive ones may use four, but these extra rows are only there to help justify a high price.

Mattress type

  • Open spring / open coil
    • The support comes from metal coil springs that run from side to side, or from head to foot – the latter helps keep ‘roll-together’ to a minimum.  Often found on economy mattresses.
  • Pocket Spring
    • These use springs that are within individual ‘pockets’, pushing against the person’s body weight.  The advantage being that even if one person is considerably heavier than the other, they won’t roll together (unless they want to), as each spring supports the body on its own, and won’t spread the weight out to other parts of the bed.
  • Memory foam
    • Moulds to the shape of your body to provide support in any position.  Often a good option for those with back problems, as it keeps the spine in alignment.  Check out those with cooling technology – they are designed to keep you at the optimum temperature for sleeping.
  • Latex
    • Just like memory foam mattresses, these don’t use springs.  Instead, latex (made from sap from rubber trees) supports the occupant.  They’re very durable and supportive, as well as being hypoallergenic and anti-microbial.

Surface finish

The surface finish generally falls into one of three types:

  • Hand tufted
    • This method features buttons, pom poms, felt washers or woolen tufts, that help to keep the upholstery inside the mattress from shifting around.
    • But please note, even poor quality mattresses can be tufted. And expensive mattresses never have a quilted surface.
  • Pillow top and box
    • These are purely there to make it appear as if there’s a mattress topper placed on top of a regular mattress.  As the names suggest, a pillow top resembles a pillow and a box top is ‘boxy’.
    • Pillow tops should be avoided – it’s the sign of a cheap mattress that’s been made to look better than it actually is.  Almost always made in polyester, it can make the occupant unnaturally hot and it will soon become indented.  Not very long lasting and therefore not good value.
    • Box top mattresses usually feature latex or memory foam, but just as with pillow top mattresses, only one side of the mattress will benefit from the extra layer.
  • Quilting
    • This is done by an industrial sewing machine.  Quilting refers to the stitching the outside layer of fabric to a wadding underneath the surface fabric.  The wadding is often made from polyester, an inexpensive material that tends to be used in budget to mid-priced mattresses.
    • The quilting can be sewn in hundreds of different designs from Diamonds to circles and everything in between.  This makes it tough to determine one mattress from the another, even if they were actually made by the same manufacturer using the very same internal components.

The base

OK, so why’s an article about mattresses mentioning bases?  Well, the quality of the base can actually give you a guide to the quality of the mattress.  Mid-high end mattresses will often have a sprung edged divan/base.

Check out the castors/wheels.  Cheap looking wheels are a bad sign, high quality castors are a good omen.  Examine the material – if it’s a high end model, the top and sides will be upholstered to match each other.  Sometimes, just the top 6 inches around the edge is upholstered, or just the sides, with the top finished in inexpensive material.

When choosing a mattress, comfort, support and the price all become important factors – this guide should help you to select what’s best for you and your budget, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of the different mattress construction methods.