August 2021

How are mattresses made; bed fillings & upholstery guide

Mattress upholstery is the term used for all materials sitting on top of the spring unit to beneath the mattress fabric. Many retailers completely avoid giving you the key details you really need when buying a new bed. The final layer of upholstery directly beneath the mattress fabric is termed the 'primary layer’ or the 'comfort layer’. It's often confused with spring tension so this article will help explain the important differences.

Like mattress spring units, there are literally hundreds of combinations and types of mattress upholstery but all will be based on just a handful of components. Once you understand the basics of mattress comfort and upholstery you will be able to identify at a glance everything you need to know.

Mattress horse tail stuffing
Knowing exactly what is in a mattress allows you to check out its suitability and if it is worth the asking price

This mattress guide will take you step by step to understand what’s inside your mattress. Allowing you to be able to choose a far better mattress than if you simply pick a new bed at random!

What is mattress upholstery?

Mattress upholstery consists of the layers that sit upon the support unit of a mattress. In a pocket spring mattress, these are usually fibre layers which are either man-made or synthetic.

The higher the GSM (gram per square meter) and natural fibre percentage the better quality the mattress.

In a memory foam mattress, this upholstery simply consists of more layers of foam as seen in the Eve, Simba and Casper style mattresses making them one-sided so you can’t turn them. The key to mattress upholstery is knowing exactly what the fibre is and how much of it you get in a mattress. This is the one thing that nearly all mattress retailers want to keep hidden. Read on to find out more.

Knowing the GSM of the mattress allows you to compare models
Knowing the GSM of the mattress allows you to compare models
Natural fibres are longer lasting and more breathable than foam or synthetic fibres
Natural fibres are longer lasting and more breathable than foam or synthetic fibres

What’s inside a mattress?

Knowing what is inside your mattress is essential when buying a new bed. If you don’t really know whats inside a new mattress then you really are just guessing when it comes to buying a new bed. By understanding the details of exactly what’s inside you can then compare mattresses to find the best quality and value. Each mattress will follow the same construction method”

  1. Support Unit – Usually sprung like a pocket spring bed or a foam layer
  2. Insulation layer between the support and the comfort layers
  3. Upholstery layers which provide the mattress main comfort (ie soft, medium or firm feel)
The Soft Artisan Luxury Mattress from John Ryan By Design
By understanding how your mattress is made you can choose a far better night sleep!

We think it is always best to give a real-life example to put all of this into perspective. Say for instance you have seen three mattress descriptions describing the upholstery elements within a particular mattress. Let’s take three retail descriptions.

Mattress 1: Sumptuous layers of the finest natural materials, including cotton, lambs wool, hand teased horsehair & mohair, cashmere & silk give this bed an amazing feel.

Mattress 2: The mattress benefits from premium natural fillings, cashmere, silk, cotton and lambs wool layers.

Mattress 3: Cushioned by generous layers of soft wool & cotton, polyester & cotton, pure English wool & silk

On the face of it these ‘sound’ absolutely amazing! Obviously, there are no weights attached to any of these so you don’t know how much wool, for example, is being used. Is it one ounce or one kilo? Don’t think for one moment that just because you paid in excess of a thousand pounds for a mattress it has to be a significant amount. Read here for more about GSM.

The sad truth is that these descriptions are meaningless without the amount.

Natural Fibre Mattress Scams & Tricks

Did you know that ‘contains’ natural fibre can mean just 3%?

We have an upholstery specification from a manufacturer that wanted a material to be used within a mattress that contains horsehair, mohair, silk & wool. On the mattress description, the specification lists all these components in a similar fashion as to the examples above. However, as you analyse the breakdown on the upholstery specification it shows that from an overall upholstery weight of 1200 gsm the horsehair content is 5% / the mohair Content is also 5%.  The wool content is 10% and the silk content is 3%.

Obviously, when this is broken down by weight you find these superior natural fibres (which they are) consist of just 60 gsm horsehair / 60 gsm mohair / 120 gsm Wool and 36 gsm Silk. The remaining 924 gsm is just plain and simple polyester.

This, may we point out is not an isolated case. It happens more often than you realise. The most shocking part of this is that it is completely legal to do so.  Totally immoral and unethical but completely legal. This why you need to know the exact GSM and blend of fibres to ensure its 100% natural.

If the mattress descriptions above had GSM weights attached to the component parts, you would be in no doubt whatsoever where your money was going and precisely on what. The sad thing is that most manufacturers do not disclose this information to you or anyone else.  They rely on your ignorance to be swayed purely and solely by descriptive pronouns and luxurious terminology.
Mattress retailers rely on your ignorance; to be swayed purely and solely by descriptive pronouns and luxurious terminology.
The depth, GSM and blends of fibres are all vital clues as to what your money is paying for. So make sure you ask the seller.

Now you know what can and does happen, it is up to you to ensure it does not happen to you! Most manufacturers are taking the mick and you should feel no shame or embarrassment in questioning them to ensure you are getting exactly what you are paying for.

Up until now, you didn’t know what questions to ask or even fully understand the potential worth or validity of the answers you could be given. If you read through the following notes on upholstery it will all become clear and make sense.

Mattress upholstery falls into five categories

1. Polyester
2. Foam
3. Latex
4. Hybrids
5. Natural Fibres

The above are links that go into greater detail of each mattress material. For now, we are just looking at these components in general but please take the time to read further on the aspects that will be of interest to you.

Looking at the list, you can take it for granted that these will form the scale of quality associated with all mattresses. Polyester is the cheapest range of components found mainly within the lower end of all products and natural fibres will only be found in all high-end products. The word to keep in mind is ‘significantly’.

Looking at the mattress examples above, they ‘do’ contain natural fibres but they do not contain them in any significant amount as to be beneficial to the overall quality of the mattress. The giveaway to this assumption is the reasoning that if the upholstery was of a significant amount you most certainly would have been told.

Horsehair is a high end fibre for support and resilience
Horsehair is a high end fibre for support and resilience
Mohair is an excellent insulator on top of a spring unit
Mohair is an excellent insulator on top of a spring unit

To carry on from our post on how to compile a mattress comparison we have the basic information we need of our upholstery layers within our four final considerations. These were basically wool, horsehair, cotton. All within the top end of upholstery layers. We also have the ‘combined upholstery weight‘ of each of three of these models. What we need to do now is to see how this overall weight is broken down by component.

Step one: Make a list of all the fibre details of each mattress

The first thing to do is to break down further each component. This will give you an indication if you are being shortchanged on quality materials. Time to draw up another table: What we have done here is to arrange the components in the order they are used within the mattress from the spring unit upwards to the final layer.

MaterialJohn Ryan Artisan LuxuryVi-Spring Bedstead RealmVi-Spring Baronet Superb
Bonded Wool & Cotton013501000
Horse Hair120001200**
Horse Tail120000
Blended wool and cotton12009001200
Total GSM4600gsm3250gsm3400gsm

Other:  Spring Protector Pad (*Assume 500gsm)
** No actual weight was given (Contact Retailer). Assume now it’s 1200 gsm

Step two: Work out the value of each fibre based on the price

It’s time now for you to work out the value of the above mattresses. Using the table below alongside our mattress natural fibres post in order for you to understand what you are looking at. Alternatively, feel free to get in touch with our team to save yourself all this hard work!

Upholstery LayerFibre TypeHow it will feel?Price Point
White FibreSyntheticSoft/MediumCheap
Recycled Fibre / Eco FibreSyntheticMediumCheap
Memory FoamSyntheticMedium/FirmMid Price
Igel / Hybrid FoamSyntheticMedium/FirmMid Price
PolycottonSynthetic/Natural BlendSoft/MediumMid Price
LinenSynthetic/Natural BlendMediumMid Price
Wool (Pure)NaturalSoft/MediumHigh-End
Cotton (Pure)NaturalSoftHigh-End
Latex (100% Natural)NaturalMedium/FirmHigh-End
Coarse CashmereNaturalFirmHigh-End
BambooNaturalSuper SoftExpensive / Exclusive
Horsetail NaturalFirmExpensive / Exclusive
AlpacaNaturalSoftExpensive / Exclusive
Cashmere (Pure)NaturalSoftExpensive / Exclusive
VicunaNaturalSuper SoftExpensive / Exclusive

How long does it take to make a Mattress?

John Ryan side stiched mattress
Did you know our Artisan range take 13 hours each to hand make?

Every mattress will be different from some of the cheaper models taking less than an hour to manufacture all the way up to 13 plus hours for an Artisan mattress. If you want to see more detail on how luxury mattresses are made then we have a detailed article showing the traditional steps our Artisan range go through.

And there we have it: Our Artisan Luxury is now worthy of full consideration against the Vi-Spring Baronet Superb. Your considerations now should include a series of thoughts as to which of these is best for your requirements. These will involve understanding the actual makeup of each mattress. How these layers are used in conjunction with each other and the overall quality issue of each component.

Take the wool component as an example.  There are various types of wool used. British fleece wool, Shetland Isle fleece wool, blended British fleece wool and so on.  Shetland Isle fleece wool is rare and expensive but does it have such a significant difference in overall comfort level as to say blended British fleece wool as to warrant an additional cost?  At this stage you will be just nit-picking, weighing up the pros & cons and quite rightly so.  Now it’s time to dig into the relevant details!

How to choose the perfect mattress

So we have gone into real detail about understanding what’s inside your potential new mattress. So now its time to compare it against other mattresses you have been looking at. This is how you work out which mattress is the perfect fit for you. It also allows you to see which mattresses are offering you better value for your budget! We provide an example below as to how to undertake a side by side mattress comparison.

How to compare mattress upholstery
Know your GSM

We’ve identified the sketchy practices and descriptions used by mattress retails to get you to part with your money without really knowing what you’re buying. Comparing mattresses requires you to collect the following data:

  • Spring/Support details such as spring counts, wire gauges and such
  • Upholstery detail such as GSM, Blends, Fibre types
  • Mattress detailing (Ie finishing touches such as side stitching)

Reputable retailers and manufacturers like Vispring amongst others will be able to tell you the exact GSM and upholstery blends within their mattresses. They will also be able to specifically tell you the spring type, gauge and tension preferences for your weight range.

By knowing all of this detail you can accurately compare mattresses based on your requirements and budget. This also means that you’re not just ‘guessing’ when choosing a mattress meaning less risk and sleepless nights.

If you’re struggling to find out exactly what’s in a mattress you’ve been looking at why not get in touch with our small friendly team. We’ve compared thousands of mattresses over the years to help customers and can save you time.

Artisan Bespoke 004 Vi Spring Regal Superb
1 1200gsm Blended British Fleece Wool and Cotton 900gsm Blended real Shetland Isle Fleece Wool and Cotton
2 Hairproof Cambric Cover Hairproof Cambric Cover
3 200gsm Soft Bamboo NA
4 1200gsm Pure Horsetail 1200gsm long stranded Horsetail blended with British Fleece Wool
5 1000gsm Bonded British Fleece Wool and Cotton 1000gsm Bonded British Fleece Wool and Cotton
6 1600 Calico encased Pocket Springs [ 49mm ] [1.28mm] 1720 Calico encased Pocket Springs [48mm ] [1.28mm]
Total GSM: 3600 3100
Rated Excellent Trustpilot
Compare mattresses by the GSM

Whilst it is shocking to see that some ‘Natural fibre’ mattresses only contain 3% actual Natural Fibre it does demonstrate just what you’re up against when searching for a new mattress. You now know that unless you can see the amounts within the mattress the fluffy descriptions must be taken with a large pinch of salt.

Next time you’re looking at a mattress ask whats exactly inside it. If the retailer tells you then you can make an informed decision about its value or suitability. If they don’t then walk away.

Don't you deserve a mattress tailored just for you?
Our small friendly team can help you choose a mattress specifically tailored to your needs. With our 60 Day Love it or Return it Guarantee its completely risk-free.

We’re here to help

  • We are the mattress experts! Ask us anything about any mattress by any manufacturer for honest advice and support.

We are here to help
Why not give our small team a call?
0161 437 4419
Find out why we're the most trusted bed retailer
Based on 2000+ reviews Trustpilot

Ask us a question.

There are over 6000 questions and answers submitted by you on all questions about mattresses and bed problems. Enter a keyword such as Vi Spring, John Lewis beds, bad back or Memory Foam and see if your question has already been answered.

You can filter popular questions by the categories below. If you can’t find an answer, ask a new question below. We aim to respond to all questions within one working day.

Ask a question
Start typing your question below:
John Lewis and Staples Mattresses Reviewed
132563 views 2 answers arrow
Simba mattress and Eve rave reviews?
63051 views 1 answer arrow
Are sprung slats better than rigid slats?
41976 views 2 answers arrow
Problems with I-Gel mattress from Bensons
33925 views 2 answers arrow
No results
Load More Questions