Online Mattress Shopping Terminology
With so many options, shopping for a mattress online can quickly become overwhelming if you don’t know what you’re looking for. To narrow down your search and make the process as simple as possible, you should identify what characteristics you want in your new mattress before you start browsing.
A great way to find your perfect fit is to get to know mattress industry terminology and identify which factors and features are most important to you. With a clear understanding of the most commonly-used terms, you’ll fly through product descriptions and reviews. You’ll be able to tell right away if a mattress has the specifications you need to get quality sleep.
To help shoppers pinpoint the qualities they want in a mattress, we’ve compiled a list of terms that mattress brands and reviewers use to describe and assess different models. Reviewing these terms before your browse will give you the know-how and confidence to order a mattress online without having to try it first.
First off, you need to determine the mattress size that suits your sleep needs and space limitations. See the chart below to compare standard mattress sizes, or check out our Mattress Size Guide for more information.
Mattress Dimensions Chart
1,456 sq. in
1,456 sq. in
2,812 sq. in
3,040 sq. in
3,975 sq. in
4,320 sq. in
4,800 sq. in
4,500 sq. in
6,048 sq. in
6,080 sq. in
6,080 sq. in
6,080 sq. in
7,840 sq. in
11,664 sq. in
Next, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the core mattress support qualities that sleepers need for healthy sleep and the comfort preferences you can choose from. When you explore and compare your options, you should consider the following criteria.
Firmness Level (Feel)
A mattress’s firmness level or feel refers to how soft or hard the surface feels. While softer mattresses compress under pressure, firmer mattresses maintain their shape. The firmness you need from your mattress depends on our sleep position, weight, and personal preferences, which you can learn all about in our Mattress Firmness Guide.
Mattress brands typically rate each mattress model’s firmness level on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the firmest. According to our most recent survey, most adults own a medium to medium-firm mattress, around a 5 to 7 on the firmness scale.
Some mattresses sleep cooler than others. In general, cooling refers to a mattress’s ability to dissipate heat, drawing it away from your body and expelling it from the mattress. On the opposite end of the spectrum, mattresses that sleep hot trap body heat and humidity within.
Breathable mattresses have good ventilation, allowing cool air to flow in and hot air to flow out. Highly breathable mattresses stay cool, dry, and fresh, as they don’t trap heat, moisture, or odors within. Breathability is also critical to keeping your mattress clear of bacteria and mold.
Support and Spinal Alignment
To understand mattress support systems, you first need to know what healthy sleep looks like.
To stabilize your body and avoid soreness and pain, you need a mattress that keeps your spine properly aligned. Your back needs to remain straight as you sleep, without your shoulders and hips dipping in or jutting away from your mattress, causing your spine to curve.
A mattress with the right amount of support for your body type and sleep position will maintain this alignment for the entire night and the full lifespan of the bed. Typically, metal coils or dense foam layers provide the bulk of a mattress’s support.
A contouring mattress surface molds to your body and readjusts based on your movement and weight distribution. In general, softer mattresses contour more than firmer models. While gentle contouring cushions your bones and joints, a mattress that contours too deeply can jeopardize your spinal alignment by allowing sinkage.
A high-quality mattress should redistribute your body weight evenly, reducing the peak pressure you feel around the heaviest parts of your body. Pressure relief refers to the stress taken off at these sensitive pressure points, including your shoulders, back, and hips.
Responsive mattresses react to your body’s movements. Responsiveness describes how quickly the mattress surface and underlying layers react to pressure and pressure removal.
A mattress with excellent motion isolation contains the impact of pressure or pressure removal. In other words, if you readjust on your side of the mattress, your partner won’t feel a disruption on the other.
Zoned or Targeted Support
Mattresses with zoned or targeted support provide extra support where sleepers need it most. Zoned support often refers to groups of coils with tighter tensioning or a lower gauge to provide more resistance in high-pressure areas. For example, a mattress may feature an enhanced lumbar support zone.
If a mattress has ample edge support, the perimeter will support your body weight, letting you sit or sleep comfortably on the edge of the bed.
Durable mattresses withstand wear, tear, and sagging, maintaining their integrity and support.
Mattress Types and Materials
While every mattress model is different, mattresses made with the same materials have many core characteristics in common. For example, foam mattresses excel in contouring, and innerspring and hybrid mattresses tend to have the best edge support. Our Mattress Material Guide explores these differences in detail, but we cover the basics below.
Innerspring mattresses get their structure and support from a layer of metal springs. This layer may consist of one continuous coil or a series of “pocketed” springs individually wrapped in fabric. Coil mattresses feature a comfort layer on top, often a pillow topper or sheet of foam.
All-foam mattresses typically consist of numerous foam sheets stacked on top of one another. While budget models include only one or two layers, higher-end foam mattresses have many, often with unique properties.
Most foam mattresses use polyurethane foam (polyfoam), viscoelastic polyurethane foam (memory foam), or latex foam. All of these materials offer contouring and cushioning, giving all-foam mattresses their adaptable feel. We explore each material’s advantages and disadvantages below:
Viscoelastic Polyurethane Foam (Memory Foam)
Memory foam is known for its deep cushioning and moldability. The “memory” foam moniker reflects its delayed response to pressure removal—if you shift positions, the foam maintains its shape for about 5 to 10 seconds, gradually refracting back to its original shape.
Unlike other polyurethane foams (polyfoams), memory foam gets its flexibility from chemical additives. Viscoelastic chemicals are heat-sensitive, meaning they respond to your body’s warmth. The foam softens when exposed to heat, making it more pliable. While some sleepers enjoy how closely memory foam contours, others dislike the “sinking” feeling it creates.
Because viscoelastic chemicals trap heat, memory foam tends to sleep hot. Many brands infuse their memory foam with coolants like gel, graphite, or copper to improve temperature control. However, we recommend a temperature-neutral alternative like AirFoam™ or natural latex for hot sleepers.
Polyurethane Foam (Polyfoam)
Polyurethane foams are similar to memory foam, but they don’t include viscoelastic chemicals. In turn, polyfoams don’t soften with heat, and they respond to pressure and pressure removal quicker than memory foam. Many sleepers find polyfoam blends more supportive than memory foam because they don’t conform too deep, which may misalign the spine.
AirFoam™ is Nolah’s proprietary polyfoam formula. It’s 100 percent temperature neutral, highly breathable, provides four times better pressure relief than memory foam, and is up to 300 percent more durable. You'll find it in the Nolah Original and Nolah Signature.
When shopping for a new mattress, you’ll come across both natural and synthetic latex options. While natural latex comes from rubber trees, synthetic latex comes from a lab. We highly recommend sticking to natural latex foam, as it’s better for the environment, more durable, sleeps cooler, and offers better pressure relief.
Natural latex foam derives from the sap-like latex serum tapped from rubber trees. The serum is frothed, set into molds, and baked, creating a highly-durable foam with a responsive bounce. Varied methods of filling and setting the molds result in different types of natural latex foam, such as Talalay and Dunlop latex, which you can learn more about here.
Both Talalay and Dunlop latex are temperature-neutral, breathable, and hypoallergenic, so they keep fresh and stay cool year-round. They offer gentle contouring, bouncing back immediately when you change positions or shift your weight. Natural latex mattresses also provide exceptional pressure relief and support, making them a good fit for all sleeper types. Nolah offers two mattresses with natural latex, the Nolah Natural and Nolah Nurture for kids.
Hybrid mattresses combine the two mattress types described above. On top, they feature foam comfort layers that provide contouring, pressure relief, and responsiveness. For heavy-duty support, they feature a coil layer underneath. Hybrid mattresses tend to be higher-end and use the latest technology, often featuring zoned support coils and enhanced edge support. Click here to learn about Nolah's luxury hybrid, the Nolah Evolution.
Services, Terms, and Conditions
Last but not least, shoppers should get to know the terminology mattress brands use to describe their free or add-on services and benefits. As you search for mattresses online, look for these common offerings.
Mattress Manufacturer’s Warranty
Standard mattress warranties cover manufacturing errors and flaws. If you receive a faulty product, you can file a warranty claim and receive a repair or replacement at no cost to you. Leading mattress brands usually offer at least a 10-year warranty. At Nolah, every mattress purchase includes lifetime coverage.
Accident protection plans cover damage caused by the consumer. If you stain, rip, or otherwise damage your mattress, the accident protection plan provider will cover the costs of repair or replacement. Accident protection plans typically cost extra—they’re not included with purchase like standard warranties.
With a sleep trial, you can try your new mattress from the comfort of your own home. If you don’t like it, you can return it within a set window for a full refund. At Nolah, our sleep trial lasts 120 nights.
White Glove Delivery and Mattress Removal Services
Many mattress brands offer white-glove delivery and set-up service, meaning a local shipping logistics company will unbox and set up your mattress for you. They may also remove your old mattress and donate it or dispose of it properly. While most online mattress brands offer free shipping, they typically charge extra for white-glove delivery and mattress removal.
Shop Nolah Mattresses Now
That’s it! With a basic knowledge of these terms, mattress types, and service offerings, you’re ready to buy a mattress online with confidence. To get started, check out our Mattress Comparison Page and explore Nolah’s premium mattress models.
Don’t forget to check our offers page for any current deals, including discounts on our mattress accessories, bases, and bedding.
Disclaimer: Nolah does not provide medical advice. All resources on the Nolah blog, including this article, are informational only and do not replace professional medical counsel. Talk to your doctor about any health, mental health, or sleep-related issues.
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