AskDefine | Define mattress

Dictionary Definition

mattress n : a large thick pad filled with resilient material and often incorporating coiled springs, used as a bed or part of a bed

User Contributed Dictionary



From Middle English materas < Old French < Arabic (máʈraħ) (place where something is thrown) < (ʈáraħa), to throw.


  1. A pad often of soft cushiony material for sleeping on. Usually a mattress has an inner section of coiled springs for support surrounded with a foam pad or another pad made of cushioning material then topped with a cloth outer cover.


a pad often of soft cushiony material for sleeping on

See also

Extensive Definition

A mattress is a mat or pad, usually placed atop a bed, upon which to sleep or lie.
The word mattress is derived from Arabic words meaning "to throw" and "place where something is thrown" or "mat, cushion." During the Crusades, Europeans adopted the Arabic method of sleeping on cushions thrown on the floor, and the word materas eventually descended into Middle English through the Romance languages.
Though a mattress may be placed directly on the floor, it is usually placed atop a platform (such as a bed or a metal spring foundation) to be further from the ground. Historically, mattresses have been filled with a variety of natural materials, including straw and feathers. Modern mattresses usually contain either an innerspring core or materials such as latex, viscoelastic, or other polyurethane-type foams. Mattresses may also be filled with air or water, or a variety of natural fibres, such as in futons.


  • Neolithic period: The mattress and bed are invented. Beds are raised off the ground to avoid drafts, dirt, and pests. The first mattress probably consists of a pile of leaves, grass, or possibly straw, with animal skins over it.
  • 3600 B.C.: Beds made of goatskins filled with water are used in Persia.
  • 3400 B.C.: Egyptians sleep on palm boughs heaped in the corners of their homes.
  • 200 B.C.: Mattresses in Ancient Rome consist of bags of cloth stuffed with reeds, hay, or wool; the wealthy use feather stuffing.
  • 15th century: During the Renaissance, mattresses are made of pea shucks, straw, or sometimes feathers, stuffed into coarse ticks, and covered with velvets, brocades, or silks.
  • 16th and 17th centuries: Mattresses are stuffed with straw or down and placed atop a bed consisting of a timber frame with support latticeworks of rope or leather.
  • Early 18th century: Mattresses are stuffed with cotton or wool.
  • Mid 18th century: Mattress covers begin to be made of quality linen or cotton. The mattress cane box is shaped or bordered, and fillings include natural fibers such as coconut fibre, cotton, wool, and horsehair. The mattress is tufted or buttoned to attach the stuffing to the cover and the edges are stitched.
  • 1857: The steel coil spring is invented and is first patented for use in chair seats.
  • 1865: The first coil spring construction for bedding is patented.
  • 1871: The German Heinrich Westphal invents the inner spring mattress. He later died in poverty, never having profited from his invention.
  • 1873: Sir James Paget presents a waterbed designed by Neil Arnott to St. Bartholomew's Hospital as a treatment and prevention of pressure ulcers.
  • 1885: J.P. Leggett patents improvements to the steel coil bedspring. His innovative method of coupling the springs and attaching them to wooden bed slats launched a successful partnership with C.B. Platt, which eventually became Leggett & Platt, Inc.
  • 1895: A few waterbeds, which resemble large hot water bottles, are sold via mail order by the British store Harrod’s.
  • Late 19th century: The box-spring is invented, making mattresses less lumpy.
  • 1900: James Marshall of Simmons Bedding Company invents the pocket coil mattress
  • 1906: Sealy Mattress Company forms after buying all patents and knowledge from a local inventor.
  • 1929: The most expensive mattresses are constructed of latex rubber and are produced by Dunlopillow.
  • 1930s: Innerspring mattresses and upholstered foundations become widely used, and artificial fillers become common. Pocket spring mattresses, which consist of individual springs sewn into linked fabric bags, are introduced.
  • 1931: Orders' Mattress is established in South Carolina
  • 1940s: The futon is introduced in North America.
  • 1950: Sealy introduced the Posturepedic mattress designed in conjunction with Orthopedic surgeons.
  • 1950s: Foam rubber mattresses and pillows are available for purchase.
  • 1958: The Simmons Company introduces the Queen size and King size mattress.
  • 1960s: The modern waterbed is introduced and gains its first widespread use with the invention of vinyl. Adjustable beds gain popularity.
  • 1970s: NASA invents material that later becomes known as memory foam.
  • 1971: Selther is established in Mexico City.
  • 1980s: Air mattresses constructed of Vulcanized Rubber or vinyl are introduced.
  • 1981: Comfortaire invents the air bed mattress with remote control.
  • 1987: Select Comfort creator of the Sleep Number is introduced in North America.
  • 1992: Tempur-Pedic introduces a mattress made from memory foam.
  • 2003: Zero Gravity Bed introduces changeable and replaceable components in their adjustable mattresses.
  • 2005: Selther introduces in Mexico, Latin America and the US a mattress made from dispersion chambers and latex foam known as Flotek.
  • 2007: Park Place Corporation invents a aroma therapy mattress infused with lavender.

Mattress dimensions

Most mattresses have a thickness from 6 to 18 inches (15 to 46 cm).

Components of an innerspring mattress

A common innerspring mattress consists of three components: the spring core, the foundation, and the upholstery layers.

Spring mattress core

The core of the mattress supports the sleeper’s body. Modern spring mattress cores, often called "innersprings," are made up of steel coil springs, or "coils."
The gauge of the coils is another factor which determines firmness and support. Coils are measured in quarter increments. The lower the number, the thicker the spring. In general, higher-quality mattress coils have a 14-gauge (1.63 mm) diameter. Coils of 14 to 15.5-gauge (1.63 to 1.37 mm) give more easily under pressure, while a 12.5-gauge (1.94 mm) coil, the thickest typically available, feels quite firm.
Connections between the coils help the mattress retain its shape. Most coils are connected by interconnecting wires; pocketed coils are not connected, but the pockets preserve the mattress shape.
There are four different types of mattress coils:
  • Bonnell coils are the oldest and most common. First adapted from buggy seat springs of the 19th century, they are still prevalent in less expensive mattresses. Bonnell coils are hourglass-shaped, and the ends of the wire are knotted or wrapped around the top and bottom circular portion of the coil and self-tied.
  • Marshall coils, also called "pocketed coils," are each wrapped in a fabric encasement and usually are tempered, or in the case of the Simmons Beautyrest carbon magnesium is added. Some manufacturers pre-compress these coils, which makes the mattress firmer and allows for motion separation between the sides of the bed.
  • Offset coils are designed to hinge, thus conforming to body shape. They are very sturdy, stable innersprings that provide great support.
  • Continuous coils Or Mira-coils, Work by a hinging effect, similar to that of offset coils. In a basic sense a continuous coil is simply that, one continuous coil in and up and down fashion forming one row (usually from head to toe) of what appear to be individual coils. The advantages of how firm a support the continuous coil provides it is somewhat tempered with the 'noise' associated from a typical mira coil unit.

Air mattresses

Air mattresses use one or more air chambers instead of springs to provide support. Quality and price can range from inexpensive ones used occasionally for camping, all the way up to high-end luxury beds. Air mattresses designed for typical bedroom use cost about the same as inner-spring mattresses with comparable features.
Several companies currently produce adjustable firmness air mattresses. In 1981, Comfortaire began manufacturing and marketing air mattresses that looked conventional but allowed users to adjust the firmness. Select Comfort patented a variant and began marketing them in 1987.
Adjustable air mattresses come in a variety of models from basic, no-frills ones that measure about 7" in height, to high-profile, 15" tall hybrids that contain several types of foam, pillow tops, and digital pumps with memory, for individual pressure settings.
Air bladder construction varies from a simple polyethylene bag to internally baffled, multiple chambers of latex (vulcanized rubber) with bonded cotton exteriors. Mattresses have a layer of foam above the air chambers for added cushioning. The air chambers, top and sidewall foam all sit inside a removable two piece cover that looks like the outside of a standard innerspring mattress. These high-end luxury Air Beds are also known as soft sided Air Beds.
Medical versions of these adjustable firmness mattresses have even greater control mechanisms which include features like frequently changing pressure to prevent bed sores.

Foam mattresses

Foam mattresses use shape-conforming latex or viscoelastic memory foam rather than springs to provide support. Mattresses manufactured using memory foam or latex are generally hypoallergenic. Since foam varies in quality, prices can vary widely. Most name brand mattress manufacturers offer a line of memory foam mattresses.


There are three main types of foundations.
  • Box-springs consist of a rigid frame which contains extra-heavy-duty springs. This type of foundation contributes to softer support and a bouncier mattress. Because box-springs can cause mattresses to sag, many manufacturers add high-density block foam underneath the coils or provide a rigid foundation instead.
  • Traditional wood foundations are usually made of soft woods, such as pine, or hard woods, such as poplar. They usually consist of seven or eight support slats covered with cardboard or beaverboard. This type of foundation, called a zero deflection unit or an "Ortho Box" in the bed industry, increases the feeling of firmness and stability.
  • Grid foundations are a combination of steel and wood.

Upholstery layers

Upholstery layers cover the mattress and provide cushioning and comfort. Some manufacturers call the mattress core the "support layer" and the upholstery layer the "comfort layer." The upholstery layer consists of three parts: the insulator, the middle upholstery, and the quilt.
The insulator separates the mattress core from the middle upholstery. It is usually made of fiber or mesh and is intended to keep the middle upholstery in place.
The middle upholstery comprises all the material between the insulator and the quilt. It is usually made from materials which are intended to provide comfort to the sleeper, including regular foam, viscoelastic foam, felt, polyester fibers, cotton fibers, convoluted (“egg-crate”) foam, and non-woven fiber pads.
The quilt is the top layer of the mattress. Made of light foam or fibers stitched to the underside of the ticking, it provides a soft surface texture to the mattress and can be found in varying degrees of firmness. The protective fabric cover which encases the mattress is called ticking. It is usually made to match the foundation and comes in a wide variety of colors and styles. Most ticking is made of synthetic fibers like polyester, or acrylic; or of natural materials such as latex, cotton, silk, and wool.


Many parameters determine mattress quality. Laboratory test methods have been established for some of these parameters, such as pressure distribution, skin microclimate, hygiene, edge support, and long-term stability. Many of these have been developed by Dr. Duncan Bain, working on behalf of the UK's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.
Other parameters, such as firmness, are more specific to the sleeper. In general, firm mattresses are recommended for stomach and some back sleepers, soft mattresses are recommended for side sleepers, and medium mattresses are recommended for the majority of back sleepers. Some brands offer mattresses with one softer side and one firmer side, or with adjustable firmness levels, to accommodate sleepers who share a bed.

Mattresses in hospitals

"Not all the anti-decubitus mattresses really succeed in reducing the interface pressure. The foam and gel mattresses have no or limited pressure reducing qualities. The polyether mattress and especially the polyurethane slow foam mattress reduce pressure best and are preferable in the prevention of pressure ulcers on an operating table. None of the mattresses tested reduced the pressure sufficiently in lateral position."

Maintenance and care

A quality innerspring mattress should last between 10 and 15 years before it needs to be replaced. Memory foam and latex models should last between 15 and 20 years depending on the manufacturer and the quality of the bedding. This is an approximation, as many different things may factor into the lifespan one may expect to receive from their mattress.
Mattresses should be placed atop a firm base to prevent sagging. Mattresses should be rotated approximately once every three months to ensure even wear; in addition, two sided mattresses should be turned over (flipped) twice per year. Folding and bending of the mattress should be avoided if possible, as should heavy wear in one spot and excessive weight on the handles. Mattresses should not be soaked, lest mildew develop inside the upholstery; instead, they can be cleaned with a vacuum or with mild surface cleanser and a slightly damp cloth. Mattress Protectors help prevent stains and soiling of the ticking.
Once a mattress no longer feels supportive and instead seems to contribute to body pain or stiffness, it should be replaced. Some symptoms of a broken or worn out mattress include springs which can be felt poking through the upholstery layer, visible permanent sagging or deformity, lumpiness, and excessive squeaking.


mattress in Czech: Matrace
mattress in Danish: Madras
mattress in German: Matratze
mattress in Esperanto: Matraco
mattress in Spanish: Colchón
mattress in Basque: Lastaira
mattress in French: Matelas
mattress in Hindi: गद्दा
mattress in Italian: Materasso
mattress in Dutch: Matras
mattress in Norwegian: Madrass
mattress in Polish: Materac
mattress in Portuguese: Colchão
mattress in Russian: Матрац
mattress in Sicilian: Matarazzu
mattress in Swedish: Madrass
mattress in Tamil: மெத்தை
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