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Innerspring Basics

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closup of springs

The innerspring bed has been around since the turn of the 20th century.

The heart of the mattress is the innerspring itself. It gives the mattress its name and is the central substratum of the mattress. There are many shapes of coils and they can be made from different gauge wire.

Probably the most important thing to know is that more coils does not necessarily mean a longer lasting bed. When an innerspring bed fails it is usually because the foundation (box springs) has failed and left a deep sag in the middle of the bed, or the padding gives out.


Cut-away of spring unit


Border Rod
Insulation Padding
Middle Padding including corrugated type
Top padding
Ticking (covering)

The close-up view in the above picture shows the individual coils. Around the outside at the top and bottom is the "border rod". The individual springs are tied to the border rod using smaller coils of wire that hold it all together and provide additional support from side to side.

There are three basic types of padding:

  • Top
  • Middle
  • Insulation

The top padding supplies the comfort portion of the padding. This padding is important because of wear. We have seen where a dogs digging action on a mattress will break this padding layer down fast and prematurely ruin the bed.

The middle padding provides extra padding and helps to spread the body weight more evenly. There may be several layers of foam in the middle of different types. Often convoluted foam is used.

The Insulation padding is closest to the springs and prevents you from feeling the springs. It is usually coco matting or rag bond. Often a screen or other barrier material is used to protect the insulation layer from the springs. This is important and where many less expensive beds break down.


Many mattresses have handles on the sides. These are not intended to support the full weight of the mattress since few handles are wire tied to the springs any more. They usually go through the outer layer of the mattress and have some type of clip attached. Warranties rarely cover a ripped handle.


Also known optionally as box springs. These can be a box shaped set of springs with a matching cover, a wooden frame or even a metal frame with matching cover. On the one hand, box springs can make an innerspring mattress seem softer, they often cause failure. Many early queen and king sized bed frames had inadequate bracing and allowed the beds to sag. It is preferable in the king size to specify two foundation units, rather than one.


Ticking is the term used for the outside cover. Most ticking in high end beds use a high thread count, less expensive ticking will use inexpensive cotton with printed designs.

The amount of padding and the stitching also help determine comfort level. There are three types of tops, TT or tight top, which is standard. There is pillowtop, and there is pseudo pillowtop.

Tight Top:

Tight top image


Pillowtop image

The pillowtop is generally a more luxurious top, than the tight top. It may be softer too.

The pillowtop shown immediately above was made using Tack & Jump stitching. Tack & Jump provides the most luxurious top because the padding is not tightly stitched down in a pattern. The stitching is done in spots as you can see. Tack & Jump beds often last longer because the padding survives longer.

Body Impressions

Body impressions in a new mattress indicate that the upholstery layers are doing their job and conforming to your body. Body impressions in most older mattresses should be avoided.

After a while, innerspring mattresses can take on permanent body impressions from your body. Because of the difference in size of two sleepers and because of the different imprints of the body at the top, middle and bottom of the bed, permanent impressions can occur over time. To limit or prevent this as much as possible, the mattress should be rotated or turned every three months. See the diagrams below.

Turning after three months

Rotating the mattress

Turn the mattress 180 degrees so that the head is now at the foot of the bed. This will equalize the impressions on the mattress, much like rotating the tires on a car will equalize wear.

Rotating Over - after another three months

Flipping the mattress

After another three months have passed, its time to rotate the mattress side-to-side. Lift up on one side of the mattress and continue lifting and sliding the mattress until it is turned over all the way. The left side now is on the right and the right is on the left. The mattress is also turned upside down.

It is recommended that two people rotate the mattress because of the weight. If your ceiling is in the way, you may have to turn the mattress and then rotate it from the side rather than end-to-end..