How A Foam Mattress Is Made

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How Is Memory Foam Made?

Memory Foam Developed by NASA

The very first memory foam material was developed by NASA in the 1970s. Their intention was to try to improve seat cushioning and crash protection for airline pilots and passengers. Memory foam has widespread commercial applications, in addition to the popular mattresses and pillows you are familiar with today.

Anybody who has gone shopping for a bed, a new pillow, or even a new bicycle seat or mouse pad wrist rest in the last two decades will have encountered memory foam. This new material has been applied to a huge range of uses since its introduction to the US in 1991—from revolutionary medical uses to gimmicky new product designs. But what is it, who came up with it, and how does it work?

Though it is a relatively recent phenomenon in the US, memory foam has been around in various forms since the midpoint of the century—the first work on the polyurethane polymers that go into memory foam was actually begun in 1937 by Otto Bayer and his coworkers In 1965 the nursing staff at Lankenau Hospital tested “inert polyurethane porous foam” pads for use as bedding material, and found that they prevented “decubitus ulcers” (also known as pressure ulcers, sustained by patients who spend long amounts of time lying down), and found them to be hypoallergenic and resistant to bacteria (Kraus 1965). In the 1960s, NASA did work on materials that would serve as better cushions, and would also keep astronauts comfortable and protected from the extreme g-forces of lift off. It was then that memory foam as we know it came into being.

Memory Foam vs. Polyurethane Foam

Memory foam starts its life as polyurethane foam—a material first manufactured in the 1950s by adding water, halocarbons, or hydrocarbons to a polyurethane mix. Depending on the chemicals added and the way it is processed, polyurethane can form anything from car parts to spray liner, or in this case, one of the most comfortable sleeping surfaces the world has ever seen.

In the modern production of memory foam, a polyol is mixed with a diisocyanate and water. The foam rises like bread, with an open cell structure that helps give it its unique ability to spring back slowly from pressure. The introduction of gases into the initial solution creates a bubble matrix; vary the application of chemicals, and the size of the bubbles changes. A more open cell structure will have more give, and allow more airflow through the material.

Memory Foam Firmness

The firmness of memory foam is rated by the IFD (Indention Force Deflection), also known as ILD (Indentation Load Deflection) measuring the force in pounds required to make a 25% indentation in a 4 inch thick foam square. Also important in measuring the “softness” of a foam is the density. Foam densities range from 1-7 lbs, but a good-quality foam will usually be at least 4 and usually 5 lbs. A foam with a high density, but low ILD may still feel firm when compressed, especially in a lower room temperature. The density together with the IFD/ILD and the resilience will determine the softness, firmness, and life-span of the foam. Foam that is lower density will more readily conform to pressure, whereas higher density foam (usually 5-lb. or above) molds itself to contours when warmed by body heat.

Major production of memory foam did not begin until NASA released it into the public domain in the 1980s.Fagerdala World Foamstook up the challenge of producing this somewhat difficult product, and in 1991 produced the “Tempur-Pedic Swedish Mattress.” Today numerous companies around the world produce visco-elastic memory foam, which gives consumers increased variety and price range. Unfortunately, it also increases the risk of purchasing cheaply-made foams that may deteriorate over time. Not all memory foam is made equal, as many of the overseas manufacturers work at reducing the cost of memory foam by adding in other “filler” type ingredients that reduce the quality and potentially add toxicity to the formulation. The real problem with overseas foam is the lack of quality standards that have been created in the United States.

How Latex and Memory Foam Mattresses Are Made

There are a couple of reasons why you might be interested to read what I have on this section of my website. The first is that you have a natural curiosity about how the products you buy are made, and considering you’ll be spending up to one third of your life on a mattress, I can’t blame you for wanting to know.

The second reason might be because you’re concerned over how eco-friendly a mattress is, and again, I can’t blame you. After all, we’re constantly told how we should treat our planet better and the dangers that certain materials can pose to our health.

So, no matter what the reason I thought it would be a good idea to let you know how latex and foam mattresses are made. Of course, if you’re familiar with latex you may think this is the most natural substance a mattress can be made from, and you would be right since the raw material is drawn directly from the rubber tree.

However, if you are erring on the side of a latex mattress do be careful of the actual amount it contains because manufacturers use three different forms: 100% natural, 85% natural and 15% synthetic and finally 20% natural and 80% synthetic. Of course, the more natural a latex mattress is the more expensive it will be.

In respect of memory foam mattresses, the materials used are synthetic and this is one of the reasons why I come across so many complaints about the “outgas” odor many of them give off when they’re brand new. Whilst this can be a little worrying, if you’re careful to look for the CertiPUR-US certificate this will guarantee that your mattress is gentle on the environment and isn’t bad for your health.

If you’re interested in finding out about the whole process, why not have a little peek at the short video I have included below?

What’s in a Mattress Anyway? Peeling Back the Layers of Quality Sleep

Have you ever wondered what a mattress is made of? Or how memory foam is made? Or the difference between a quilted mattress vs. spring mattress? As your mom always said, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

When considering your mattress options, you may wonder what’s going on beneath the fabric that makes it feel like you’re sleeping on clouds. Below is a thorough overview of the various materials that go into making a mattress so the next time you walk into a mattress store you can tell the salesperson exactly what you’re looking for, down to the foam type! The following materials found in many different types of mattresses are some of the key ingredients to a good night’s sleep.

The Most Common Materials In All Mattresses

A soft, movement-absorbing material that helps with temperature regulation and pressure point relief. Some common types of foam include memory foam, gel memory foam, polyurethane foam, and viscoelastic foam (also known as "rebounded foam").

Polyester Batting

Used as a filling in pillowtop mattresses and mattress covers.

Can be found in some mattresses for extra padding and temperature regulation.

Cotton

A breathable material used both inside and outside of the mattress.

Adhesives

Used in mattresses to bond layers, materials and seams together for the perfect fit. Quilting is often used in combination with adhesives to further strengthen the bond between layers.

Flame Retardants

Found in all mattresses sold in the United States due to flammability laws for fire resistance.

Steel Coils

Either formed as open coils or individually wrapped coils (also called pocketed coils), these are a key structural component that establish firm support at the base of the mattress.

Now that you know the most common mattress materials, let’s get more specific about what goes into the three most popular mattress types: innerspring, memory foam, and hybrid mattresses.

What is a Memory Foam Mattress made of?

These mattresses are known for lush layers of memory foam and polyurethane material which conform to your body. A newer addition to the memory foam family is gel memory foam which acts as a phase changing material (PCM).

On a spectrum from hard to soft, specialty foam layers work together to relieve pressure points from your joints and balance your body temperature. These layers conform to your body shape and absorb movement so you sleep undisturbed.

Memory Foam Mattress Cover Materials

Covers used on memory foam mattresses are typically stretch knit covers that allow you to settle comfortably into the foam. With the cover working its magic on top, higher density foams are used as the core layer of the bed to provide support. These beds do not have coils in them! This benefit is great for those who prefer to settle into the mattress with less of a bounce factor because the firmer core layer of foam helps provide a balanced support system.

What is this high-density foam core made of exactly? They are usually made of polyurethane, but can sometimes be made of more natural materials like soy-based foams or latex.

Since they don’t have coils, memory foam mattresses don’t need a foam encasement for edge support to hold the bed together. Some foam mattresses have firmer foam near the edge of the bed, but this is not necessary for support since the high-density foam offers even support throughout.

What is an Innerspring Mattress made of?

Innerspring mattresses come in two different systems: open coil or individually pocketed springs. The outer quilting is typically made of traditional cotton fabric blends that give each mattress a unique look, fitted with steel coil springs for a firm base support.

It’s important to remember that the number of coils doesn’t always amount to the same level of comfort from one mattress to the next, but plays a role in reducing motion transfer and offering support.

Each manufacturer uses different designs and support techniques to achieve this result, often including layers of polyurethane foam and filling inside the mattress. However, more luxurious innerspring mattresses will use other kinds of foam, including memory foam, gel memory foam and latex materials.

Innerspring Mattress Cover Materials

Cover materials can range from polyester to cotton or stretch knit, each one specifically designed to be soft and breathable. Fun fact: the tighter the cover, the firmer the bed will feel.

When you wake up and get ready for the day, edge support materials are important — especially if you prefer to put your shoes on while sitting at the edge of the bed! These materials range from thick metal rods to foam inserts and encasements. The more edge support you have, the more sleep (and sitting!) surface available.

What is a Hybrid Mattress made of?

Hybrid beds are among the latest and greatest options on the market for better sleep thanks to the many unique benefits hybrid mattresses offer. Specifically, they combine a 50/50 ratio of individually wrapped coils with memory foam to offer the best of both.

The coils offer support, while memory foam and gel memory foam layers conform to posture and regulate body temperature. Cotton fabric blends are added to protect the bed. You get the best of both mattress types above in the hybrid, plus personalized materials that are going to work together to help you get a good night’s sleep.

Hybrid Mattress Cover Materials

Hybrids tend to have a more elastic mattress cover so as not to interfere with the conforming benefits of the memory foam layers. Further enhancements to hybrid collections showcase foam encasements, made from high-density foam, which supports the edges of the mattress.

Knowing the basic building blocks of your mattress can help you ensure that your next bed has all your favorite ingredients for good night’s sleep.

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How Mattresses Are Made

This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation

Mattress construction from the inside-out

If reading about mattress construction sounds like a real, ahem, snooze, know this: The way a mattress is made determines how it feels. And how a mattress feels may be the difference between a fitful night and peaceful slumber!

The Big Picture

Two basic types of mattress make up the vast majority of the market: They’re called innerspring and memory foam. Made of steel coils, innerspring is, by far, the most common type. Memory foam, on the other hand, is made from polyurethane or latex foam, and is very dense foam. Memory foam is usually more expensive than innerspring.

Inside an Innerspring Mattress

Coils determine how much support (suspension versus springiness) the mattress will give. Manufacturers may use different types of coil shapes and structures, as well as different amounts of spacing and patterns to affect comfort. The next layer, top padding, isusually made from polyurethane foam. The outer layer (or ticking) is the material bound to the top padding with stitching. The way that ticking and top padding are attached influences the mattress’s overall feel. Large, wide patterns will create a cushioned feel, which smaller patterns feel tighter and firmer. Generally, the more coils an innerspring mattress contains, the more comfortable it’s bound to be—but if the number of coils is over 390, then you’re not likely to notice the difference, so don’t bother paying extra.

Inside a Memory Foam Mattress

Especially attractive to people with chronic pain conditions, memory foam mattresses consist of, essentially, very dense foam. When you lie on a foam mattress, your body heat softens the material, allowing it to “mold” to your body. One big advantage: In bigger beds, a memory foam mattress won’t shift as much as an innerspring when one partner turns or moves. So if you’re often disturbed by your partner’s tossing and turning in the middle of the night, it might be time to invest in a memory foam mattress. But one con: Because these mattresses mold to your body, they can absorb a lot of heat and make you feel hotter while you sleep. Some people also complain that they have a chemical smell.

Mattress

Background

From the available evidence, it seems fairly certain that the concept of the mattress originated during prehistoric times. By lying on piles of leaves, straw, and animal skins, early humans were able to sleep more comfortably and more soundly than they could have on hard surfaces. As greater numbers of people left a nomadic, hunting existence for a settled, agrarian lifestyle, primitive furnishings, including the bed, began to develop.

To a large extent the development of the mattress is closely linked with that of the bed. In many ancient societies, the bed was considered the most important piece of furniture in the household; often, it provided a central gathering place for dining and relaxing as well as sleeping. Over the centuries, bed frames became more elaborate for those who could afford luxury; however, mattresses themselves remained unsophisticated—and uncomfortable. Until the twentieth century, they generally consisted of lumpy pads filled with horse hair, cotton, or rags. Poorer people relied onticks—fabric sacks stuffed with straw, corn cobs, or other crop debris. In addition to offering an inconsistent texture, such primitive mattresses were difficult to clean—and they generally started out dirty, stuffed as they were with agricultural debris that often entered the pad or ticking with soil and insects. However, they offered one concrete advantage: made at home from cast-off farm goods, they were cheap. Even late in the nineteenth century when small local manufacturers began to produce mattresses commercially, the items remained inexpensive because early mattress makers continued to rely on extremely inexpensive stuffing (usually, unusable fabric remnants discarded by second-hand tailors).

Mattresses with stabilizing interior springs, probably the single most significant advance in mattress design, were first developed during the mid-1800s. By placing a set of uniform springs inside layers of upholstery, mattress manufacturers could imbue their product with a firm, resilient, and uniform texture. However, because so-called innerspring mattresses were expensive to manufacture, only luxury ships and hotels that could pass the cost along to their affluent patrons purchased them initially. It was not until after World War I that innerspring mattresses were mass-produced by Zalmon Simmons, Jr., the president of a company that had theretofore produced bedsteads. Despite the fact that Simmons asked 40 dollars—more than twice the cost of the finest horse hair mattress available at that time—for his innerspring mattress in 1926, his products proved so comfortable that millions of Americans purchased them.

To render potential customers more willing to spend what must have struck many as a small fortune on his innerspring mattress, Simmons promoted the advantages of a good night’s sleep. The effectiveness of this marketing strategy has only increased over the years, as subsequent research has confirmed that abundant, high-quality sleep constitutes a fundamental component of good health. Today’s sophisticated mattresses improve sleeping comfort in several ways. First, through a variety of enhanced innerspring designs, modern mattresses distribute the weight of the body over a broad area; this also helps to prevent differential wear on the mattress. In addition, mattresses offer surfaces of appropriate softness and flexibility to help keep the spine in its naturally curved position. However, contemporary mattress manufacturers carefully avoid excessively soft surfaces that would distort the position of the sleeper’s spine, resulting in discomfort or even pain.

Presently, the consumer demand for mattresses is fairly consistent. In 1990, approximately 16 million mattresses were sold in the United States. Together with foundations, mattresses accounted for about $4 billion in retail sales. With the exception of a few large companies, most mattress manufacturers are fairly small, community-based operations. Of the approximately 825 mattress factories across the United States, most are still owned and operated by the founding families.

Design

Today, most mattresses are manufactured according to standard sizes. This standardization was initiated by the industry to resolve any dimensional discrepancies that might occur between companies that manufacture beds and companies that make mattresses. The sizes include the twin bed, 39 inches wide and 74 inches long; the double bed, 54 inches wide and 74 inches long; the queen bed, 60 inches wide and 80 inches long; and the king bed, 78 inches wide and 80 inches long.

The "core" of a typical mattress is the innerspring unit, a series of wire coils that are attached to one another with additional wire. The upholstery layers are affixed to the innerspring: the first, called theinsulator,is fitted directly onto the innerspring and prevents the next layer, thecushioning,from molding to the coils. While the insulator is fairly standard, the number of cushioning layers can vary widely in number, ranging from two to eight layers and from 1/4 inch to 2 inches (.63 to 5 centimeters) in thickness. Moving outward, the next component is theflanges,connecting panels that are attached to the mattress’s quilted cover with large, round staples calledhogs rings.The top, bottom, and side panels of the mattress are stitched together with border tape.

While a wide variety of springs are designed to accommodate special needs and situations, the four most commonly used coils are theBonnell,theOffset,theContinuous,and thePocket System.The Bonnell springs are hourglass-shaped and knotted at both ends. The Offset design is similarly hourglass-shaped, but its top and bottom are flattened to facilitate a hinging action between the coils. The Continuous innerspring consists of one extremely long strand of steel wire configured into S-shaped units. Finally, in the Pocket System, each coil is encased in a fabric casing that also connects it to neighboring coil-casing units.

A typical mattress contains between 250 and 1,000 coil springs, and mattresses that use fewer coils normally require a heavier gauge of wire. It is not uncommon for an innerspring unit to require as much as 2,000 linear feet (610 meters) of steel wire. The individual coils can be joined in several ways. One common method is to use helicals—corkscrew-shaped wires that run along the top and bottom of the springs, lacing the coils together. Rigid border wires are sometimes attached around the perimeters to stabilize the unit.

Most manufacturers also produce foundation mattresses or boxsprings that lie directly beneath the mattress, resting on the frame of the bed. One of the most common types of box spring foundations uses a spiked coil configuration, in which the springs are narrow at the bottom but spiral to a wider diameter at the top. While a spring system provides the most common type of boxspring support, torsion bars are also sometimes used. Other foundation mattresses contain no springs at all but consist of a built-up wooden frame.

Raw Materials

Mattresses are presently made of many materials, both natural and synthetic. The innerspring, helical, and boxspring components are made from wire; the boxspring wire is usually of a heavier gauge than that used in the innerspring. The insulator consists of semi-rigid netting or wire mesh, and the cushioning layers can comprise a number of different materials including natural fiber, polyurethane foam, and polyester. The flanges are made of fabric, and the hogs rings of metal. Top, bottom, and side panels consist of a durable fabric cover quilted over a backing of foam or fiber, and the binding

The Manufacturing
Process

Building mattress layers

  • 1 Most mattress manufacturers subcontract the production of the innerspring unit to an outside firm that specializes in making springs. Once the completed spring unit is received and inspected, the workers manually apply the insulator. Next, they apply the cushioning layers that will determine the feel and comfort of the final product.
  • 2 While the mattress is being "built up" in one part of the plant, the decorative cover that will serve as the exterior for the top, bottom and sides is being made in another part. Usually this cover is made on a giant quilting machine, which controls a multitude of needles that stitch the cover to a layer of backing material. The stitching chosen serves both useful and ornamental purposes, as it must prevent the mattress cover from slipping or creeping over the layers of cushioning in addition to creating a visually pleasing exterior.
  • 3 Once the fabric is quilted, it is cut into panels that will fit the top and bottom of the mattress. The side panels are often cut from this same composite or made separately on a border machine. If side handles or vents are to be added, they are attached to the side panels before these are applied to the mattress.

Attaching the flanges

  • 4 Specially modified sewing machines are used to attach the flanges to the top and bottom panels, and the hogs rings are stapled to the flanges. Everything is now ready for the closing operation, during which the hogs rings will be secured to the innerspring unit.

Completing the mattress

  • 5 The closing operation is of one of the most highly skilled and critical procedures in the entire process. It is done with a movable sewing head that is mounted on a track. Tape edge operators manually feed the top, bottom, and side panels and a heavy duty binding tape into the sewing machine as it moves around the mattress. As this combination of materials is fed into the machine, the operators uses their skill to feed the proper amount of each material into the machine to produce a professionally tailored product.
  • 6 Some of the highest quality mattresses may also feature a pillowtop, a panel filled with soft upholstery and attached to the top and bottom panels of the mattress for a more luxurious feel and appearance. Prequilted, the pillowtop is then taped to the mattress.

Boxsprings

  • 7 If the desired boxspring has a spiked coil design, it is made by stapling the bottom of each coil to a flat wooden frame. A wire grid is then placed on top of the springs and, once aligned, manually locked to them. A thin layer of upholstery is applied to the top. If the desired boxspring contains no springs,

Inspection, labeling, and packing

  • 8 Once the units are complete, they are inspected for quality. If every thing is in order, they are labeled with the content and the contingent "do not remove" tag, required by law to ensure the consumer that the contents are properly represented in the labeling. The finished product is then transported to the packing area. Here it is inserted by hand or by automated machinery into protective plastic or paper covers. Additional information about the warranty, safety, and care of the product is also included in the packaging.

Quality Control

During the manufacturing phase most quality control procedures are carried out by sight. The majority of manufacturers implement inspections at critical points in the production process: after receiving the innerspring, before the closing, and before packing.

Fire is a very real danger with all conventional mattresses, and the industry and the federal government have long sought ways to limit that danger. Since 1973, manufacturers selling in the United States have been required by law to make mattresses that resist ignition by cigarettes. In 1987, the industry voluntarily began to include tags on mattresses that warn consumers of potential fire hazards.

The Future

In recent years a great deal of research has been done on the relationship between effective sleep and the sleeping environment. Since comfort and sleep are to a great extent subjective, it is often difficult to quantify the results of such studies. However, many of the larger companies continue to spend a considerable amount of money on research, especially on the design of the innerspring. In these studies quality and comfort are key considerations.

While traditional innerspring construction continues to account for the lion’s share of the mattresses produced in this country, both the water bed and the air mattress are gaining in popularity. While these unique designs require many different skills and production technologies, the growing demand for them over the last 20 years indicates a significant new trend.

Where To Learn More

Associations

American Innerspring Manufacturers, 1918 North Parkway, Memphis, Tennessee, 38112.

International Sleep Products Association, 333 Commerce St., Alexandria, Virginia, 22314.

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