All about mattress upholstery

Mattress upholstery is the term used for all materials sitting on top of the spring unit to beneath the mattress fabric. The final layer of upholstery directly beneath the mattress fabric is termed the ‘primary layer’ or the ‘comfort layer’.

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

Mattress horse tail stuffing

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.  The descriptions state:

The descriptions state:

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.

Upholstery Breakdown Example: 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.

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.

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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

Note: The above are links which go into greater detail of each 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 component 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.

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

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

It’s time now for you to read the all about natural fibres post in order for you to understand what you are looking at.

Basically, Horsetail is the best component used in a mattress, then horsehair. These are known as support elements. Bonded Wool and Cotton is an insulating element. Blended Wool and Cotton is a Comfort element and used as a Primary Layer. Bamboo is also a comfort element. Wool is also a Comfort element. The Spring Protector pad is an insulating layer – directly used on top of the spring unit. All of this is explained in great detail in the mattress construction techniques article.

How long does it take to make a Mattress?

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!