When it comes to choosing a new mattress, two of the most popular options are foam and cotton. But which one is right for you? This comprehensive guide examines the key differences between foam and cotton mattresses to help you decide.
Foam and cotton mattresses have distinct advantages and disadvantages:
- Excellent pressure relief and contouring
- Minimal motion transfer
- Wide range of firmness options
- Long lifespan (8-10 years)
- Can sleep hot
- Some off-gassing
- Sinks and cradles sleepers
- Breathable and cooling
- Minimal off-gassing
- Responsive and bouncy
- Classic mattress feel
- Less pressure relief
- More motion transfer
- Lower lifespan (5-7 years)
- Prone to sagging
Keep reading to learn more about how foam and cotton mattresses compare in terms of materials, firmness, pressure relief, motion transfer, durability, maintenance, cost, and more.
The materials used in a mattress affect its feel, support, breathability, and much more. Here’s an overview of key materials in foam and cotton mattresses.
Foam Mattress Materials
Foam mattresses are constructed using various types of foam:
- Memory foam – Viscoelastic foam that conforms closely to the body for pressure relief. Provides a “hugging” feel.
- Polyfoam – More responsive and bouncier than memory foam. Provides a balance of contouring and support.
- Latex foam – Derived from rubber trees. Provides buoyant, responsive support. Naturally cooling.
- Gel foam – Infused with gel microbeads to help regulate temperature.
Foam layers provide cushioning and minimize pressure points. Many foam beds also include high-density polyfoam transitional layers for added support.
Cotton Mattress Materials
Cotton mattresses contain:
- Cotton batting – Breathable, moisture-wicking cotton fibers provide a cool, airy feel. Quilted into the mattress top.
- Innersprings – Steel coils provide bounce and support. Different gauges and coil designs impact feel.
- Foam layers – Polyfoam provides cushioning atop innerspring. Memory foam was added for pressure relief.
The combination of breathable cotton, bouncy coils, and contouring foam makes for a responsive, well-rounded cotton mattress.
Firmness and Feel
When shopping for a new bed, firmness and overall feel are key considerations. Here’s how foam and cotton compare:
Foam Mattress Firmness
Most foam mattresses rate around medium or medium-firm on the 1-10 firmness scale. However, many models are available in multiple firmness options.
Factors influencing foam mattress firmness include:
- Foam density – Higher-density foams are firmer and more supportive
- Foam type – Memory foam is softer than latex or polyfoam
- Layering – Plush comfort layers make a bed softer overall
By adjusting these factors, foam beds can be tailored from soft (3/10) to ultra-firm (8/10).
Cotton Mattress Firmness
The majority of innerspring and hybrid mattresses rate around medium-firm (6-7/10). However, some models come in multiple firmness levels.
What affects cotton mattress firmness?
- Coil gauge – Lower gauge coils are thicker and stiffer
- Coil design – Different coil shapes impact support and feel
- Comfort layers – Thicker foam layers make a bed softer
Overall, cotton mattresses have a more universally comfortable medium-firm feel sought by most sleepers.
Foam vs. Cotton Feel
In terms of sleeping feel, foam, and cotton differ quite a bit:
- Deep contouring and hug
- Slow response to pressure
- Resistance but not pushback
- Moderate ease of repositioning
- Light, breathable cushioning
- Bouncy, springy response
- Provides pushback when compressed
- Very easy repositioning
Which feel you prefer depends on your sleeping position and preferences. We’ll cover how foam and cotton accommodate different sleep positions next.
Pressure Relief and Support
Pressure relief and support are crucial for spinal alignment and reducing aches and pains. Here’s how foam and cotton beds compare in these areas:
Foam Mattress Pressure Relief
All types of foam gently conform to the body to cushion pressure points like the shoulders, hips, and back. Key benefits:
- Memory foam excels at minimizing pressure due to deep contouring
- Latex provides gentle support with moderate contouring
- Polyfoam cushions pressure points while preventing excessive sinkage
By cocooning the body in comfort layers, foam mattresses reduce pressure buildup exceptionally well.
Cotton Mattress Pressure Relief
Cotton mattresses provide pressure relief through:
- Quilted cotton covers for initial cushioning
- Polyfoam comfort layers over the coils
- Memory foam in the top layers of some models
However, cotton beds don’t contour as closely around pressure points compared to all-foam mattresses. The responsive coils bring you back to the surface rather than letting you sink in deeply.
Foam Mattress Support
While initial comfort is a strength, foam beds vary in their supportiveness:
- Memory foam lacks resilience, allowing heavier areas to sink in too deeply
- Polyfoam is more supportive thanks to its buoyancy and responsiveness
- Latex delivers the most balanced comfort and support due to its rubbery elasticity
Zoned transitional polyfoams and ergonomic layering optimize spinal alignment on foam beds.
Cotton Mattress Support
Innerspring and hybrid mattresses excel at providing supportive pushback:
- Steel coils compress where needed and then spring back into shape
- Thicker-gauge coils prevent sinkage around the edges
- Stable coil units minimize motion transfer across the bed
- Reinforced edges improve support when getting in and out of bed
The dynamic response of cotton beds keeps sleepers lifted and properly supported all night long.
Motion Isolation and Transfer
For couples, minimizing motion transfer across the bed is key for undisturbed rest. Here’s how foam and cotton mattresses compare:
Foam Mattress Motion Isolation
Foam excels at absorbing motion before it travels across the bed’s surface, making it ideal for light sleepers.
- Memory foam performs the best due to its high density and viscosity when compressed
- Polyfoam also reduces motion transfer but is moderately bouncier
- Latex minimizes motion transfer fairly well despite its buoyancy
Overall, all-foam mattresses isolate motion exceptionally well for undisturbed sleep.
Cotton Mattress Motion Transfer
Due to the interconnectivity of steel coils, innerspring mattresses are prone to more motion transfer:
- Coils transfer movement across the bed as they compress and recoil
- Quilted covers and foam comfort layers help dampen transfer slightly
- Continuous coils reduce transfer better than individually pocketed coils
For the least motion transfer, cotton mattresses with foam comfort layers help, but generally can’t match all-foam beds.
Proper temperature regulation allows you to sleep cool and comfortable all night long. Here are some key temperature differences:
Foam Mattress Temperature
Foam mattresses pose some potential downsides for temperature regulation:
- Closed-cell foams can retain heat around the body
- Memory foam is prone to sleeping hot for some
- Gel- and graphite-infused foams offer cooling benefits
However, new formulations like open-cell foams and copper conductivity boost airflow and cooling.
Cotton Mattress Temperature
The breathable materials in cotton mattresses help maintain a comfortable sleep climate:
- Cotton naturally absorbs moisture and allows airflow
- Coil cores promote air circulation within the mattress
- Natural fibers like wool and silk also help regulate temperature
Overall, cotton beds sleep cooler for those concerned about heat retention, especially in warmer climates.
Responsiveness and Bounce
Responsiveness refers to how quickly a mattress reacts to applied pressure, while bounce creates lift and springiness.
Foam Mattress Responsiveness
Foam mattresses differ in their responsiveness:
- Memory foam slowly conforms to the body with minimal bounce
- Latex offers more responsiveness and light buoyancy
- Polyfoam provides moderate conforming with some bounce
Many foam beds feature responsive comfort layers over firmer support foams for a balanced feel.
Cotton Mattress Bounce
Innerspring and hybrid mattresses offer the most bounce and responsiveness:
- Coil cores compress and then spring back instantly when pressure is applied
- Offset or pocketed coils maximize bounce and responsiveness
- Natural fibers like wool and cotton also add lift
Those who like the feel of a traditional spring mattress appreciate the superior bounce of cotton beds.
Proper edge support allows you to sleep close to the sides without the bed collapsing. Here’s how the two mattress types compare:
Foam Mattress Edge Support
All-foam mattresses are prone to excessive sinkage and softness around the perimeter:
- Softer foam comfort layers compress more easily at the edges
- Foams lack the internal structure to keep edges reinforced
Reinforced edges and zoned transitional layers help, but foam beds still lag in edge support.
Cotton Mattress Edge Support
The internal coil system provides consistent edge support on cotton mattresses:
- Coil cores are inherently more stable on the edges
- Thicker coil gauges around the perimeter minimize sinkage
- Reinforced edges through extra padding also help
Hybrids and innerspring outperform foam beds for sleepers needing ample edge support.
Ease of Movement
Being able to change positions easily on a mattress helps ensure restful, uninterrupted sleep.
Foam Mattress Movement
Deep contouring foam encourages a “stuck in the mattress” feeling at times:
- Memory foam conforming makes changing positions harder
- Polyfoam offers more ease of repositioning
- Latex resists body impressions better for easier movement
To improve responsiveness, some foam beds add latex layers or zonally-targeted support systems.
Cotton Mattress Movement
The dynamic nature of interior coils makes changing positions easier on cotton mattresses:
- Innersprings recoil instantly as you move to another area
- Added foam layers still allow moderate conforming and mobility
- Zoned support designs facilitate movement in certain models
Overall, the buoyant responsiveness of cotton surfaces makes repositioning effortless.
For sexually active couples, responsiveness, bounce, ease of movement, and edge support all contribute to better mattresses for sex.
Foam Mattresses for Sex
The conforming properties of foam can detract from mattresses being optimal for sex:
- Memory foam lacks responsiveness and makes movement harder
- Moderate-density polyfoam balances contouring with responsiveness
- Latex foam provides light buoyancy, bounce, and mobility
To improve intimacy, firmer and more responsive foam or hybrids often work best.
Cotton Mattresses for Sex
The springiness of cotton beds helps sleeping partners:
- Innersprings generate bounce and facilitate mobility
- Stable edges allow full use of the mattress surface
- Quick responsiveness makes moving and changing positions easier
Taken together, these attributes make cotton mattresses highly suitable for sex compared to foam.
Durability and Lifespan
You want your new mattress to provide many years of comfortable sleep before needing replacement.
Foam Mattress Durability
High-quality foam mattresses typically last 7-10 years, though materials impact durability:
- Polyfoam lasts longer than softer memory or latex foam
- Higher-density foam resists impressions better over time
- Reinforced edges prevent premature breakdown
Rotating your foam mattress every 6 months helps prevent uneven wear as well.
Cotton Mattress Durability
On average, expect a high-end innerspring or hybrid mattress to last 6-8 years with proper care. Factors influencing lifespan include:
- Coil gauge – Lower gauge coils last longer
- Coil design – Continual coils last longer than individual pocketed
- Natural fibers – Components like cotton and wool keep resilience
Flipping or rotating cotton beds every 3-6 months helps prevent sagging and improves durability.
Off-Gassing and Smell
Off-gassing refers to the initial smell of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in new mattresses.
Foam Mattress Off-Gassing
Foam mattresses are prone to more noticeable off-gassing odors:
- Polyfoam emits the most VOCs and smell
- Plant-based foams like latex have minimal to no odor
- Memory foam releases moderate VOC emissions
Allowing your foam mattress to fully air out before use gets rid of any smells.
Cotton Mattress Off-Gassing
Cotton, wool, and other natural fibers produce little to no off-gassing odor:
- Organic cotton and wool have no VOC emissions
- Coils don’t emit VOCs either
- Most smells come from glues in the mattress construction
Overall, cotton mattresses have less of that “new mattress smell” compared to synthetic foam beds.
Maintenance, Protection, and Care
Proper maintenance and care help your mattress last longer. Here are some key points on caring for foam and cotton beds:
Caring for a Foam Mattress
- Use a mattress protector to shield from spills and stains
- Rotate foam mattresses every 6 months to reduce wear
- Vacuum to remove dust and debris from the surface
- Spot clean stains with an enzyme-based foam cleaner
- Avoid excessive moisture that could lead to mold or mildew
Caring for a Cotton Mattress
- Protect with a waterproof mattress protector
- Rotate or flip cotton beds every 3-6 months
- Vacuum surface regularly using an upholstery attachment
- Spot-treat stains immediately with a mild detergent
- Allow moisture to fully air dry to prevent mold growth
- Re-tighten loose innerspring coils to maintain support
Consult your manufacturer’s care guidelines for any special maintenance needed.
Choosing Between Foam and Cotton
When deciding between foam vs cotton mattresses, consider your sleeping needs and bedroom environment:
Benefits of an All-Foam Mattress
All-foam mattresses are best for:
- Light or average-weight side sleepers
- People seeking pressure relief and contouring
- Couples needing top-notch motion isolation
- Hot sleepers wanting advanced cooling technology
Benefits of a Cotton Innerspring/Hybrid Mattress
Cotton, coil, and hybrid mattresses are preferable for:
- Those who enjoy a traditional innerspring feel
- People who sleep hot on all-foam beds
- Heavier individuals needing robust support
- Couples wanting ease of movement and sexual activity
- People who change positions often at night
The Bottom Line
When weighing foam vs. cotton mattresses, there’s no universally best option. The right mattress comes down to your body type, sleep habits, needs for support and pressure relief, and mattress budget. Carefully assess your unique situation to choose between conforming foam beds or supportive cotton mattresses.