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June 2020

Mattress cover fabrics: which is the best mattress cover?

There are a number of fabric choices and brands that you will encounter during your journey to find your new perfect mattress. Materials ranging from heat-reducing to space-age infrared materials claiming to disperse heat elsewhere. This is in part due to the issue that some people find memory foam gets warm during the night. But how can you tell you mattress cover fabrics apart? Well, this article will tell you everything you need to know about mattress covers.

Updated 2020: There will be a big push to pay extra for branded materials to try and reduce this heat issue such as Coolmax and Outlast fabrics. Then there’s all the different colours, textures and labels stitched into them. It can become mightily confusing trying to choose a new mattress. This article will give you far more detail about the role of fabrics in mattress covers than the brands will tell you. So you can decide whether paying extra really is worth it. We aim to give you the basics to make deciding on your new mattress that little bit easier.

artisan bespoke 003 mattress
Avoid cheap polyester covers and opt for a Viscose Damask instead. View our range of breathable mattresses here.

It’s hard to know how much attention to pay to a mattress cover when choosing a new bed. It may be reassuring to know that all mattress covers serve two main purposes. The first is comfort for the user and the second is protection from the sleeper. Let’s look in at more detail

What is the purpose of a mattress cover?

This is the first detail we need to address when it comes to choosing a new mattress. All mattress brands out there will be putting their best foot forward when trying to sell a bed. Sadly that’s usually achieved with fancy looking, quilted and often completely synthetic covers. Using luxury terms and branding of ‘the latest innovative fabric technology’. However, the main problem is that so much emphasis is put on the cover that the contents of your mattress which provide 95% of the support and comfort are totally overlooked.

John Ryan By Design fabric up close
Understanding every component of what’s inside your new mattress is essential. We detail what to look for in a mattress cover so you can then focus on what’s inside the mattress where the majority of your budget should be spent.

1.  Comfort

The mattress cover is used as a comfort layer to prevent a sleeper from sleeping directly on top of the foam. Memory foam mattresses usually have a zip on cover that can be removed, unlike traditional pocket sprung mattresses that have a permanent cover which houses the fillings, spring units, and toppings. If you didn’t have the cover you would be sleeping directly on top of the foam which has a somewhat rubbery feel to it, like using a foam cushion without a cover on a sofa would feel slightly odd. The cover helps give the mattress a soft and smooth feel.

2.  Protection

Mattress covers are there to protect the mattress from wear, tear, perspiration, stains and other marks. The fabric cover directly takes the strain that a sleeper may throw at it and not the surface of the foam itself. We must stress though that this protection is the last form of defence; ideally, a mattress protector on top of your topper should be used to prevent damage to the mattress and topper. Given that mattress protection is not the fabrics primary purpose we would recommend you focus your criteria on the comfort factor.

Covers provide comfort for the sleeper
Covers provide comfort for the sleeper
Covers need to provide protection against sweat and bodily fluids
Covers need to provide protection against sweat and bodily fluids

Mattress Cover Fabric Types & GSM (Grams per square meter)

The depth and grams per square meter (GSM) of the fabric will enable you to assess its quality and density. Opting for a higher GSM fabric usually results in a thicker and higher quality fabric than a lower GSM count. Quite simply there is more of the fabrics material in each square meter the higher the GSM. Lower GSMs such as 100g will soon flatten and will soon stop providing that additional comfort layer.  100g more often than not feels thin and is slightly transparent. So when out looking at mattresses in retail stores a quick unzip of the mattress cover will enable you to feel the depth and quality.  You can always ask the store though most of the time they probably won’t even know the GSM!

Whilst mattress covers can come in a whole range of materials from cotton, cashmere, Latex and wool, the majority of Memory foam covers are polyester based. Now you may wonder why such a simple synthetic fibre is used so let us review the properties of polyester.

There are 2 main types of mattress cover:

Quilted covers are nearly always synthetic and made of polyester
Quilted covers are nearly always synthetic and made of polyester
Natural viscose covers are more breathable and durable
Natural viscose covers are more breathable and durable

The best Mattress Cover Type is Viscose Damask

When looking for a quality breathable mattress the best option for its cover is a Viscose Damask. This plant-based material is breathable, is woven into a soft touch yet resilient fabric. It doesn’t retain heat like polyester and it will last far longer unlike quilted fabrics which can stretch, bobble or sag in a matter of months. When looking for a mattress the description should detail what cover fabric is used. You want to be looking for a Viscose Damask. Any other description such as ‘Luxury White Fibre’ or ‘Hypoallergenic mattress covers’ will all be polyester-based which you want to avoid unless you’re looking for an entry-level mattress.

Close up of Artisan mattress with tufting
We use a Viscose Damask in our Artisan Range. Click to view what you should expect from your mattress cover.

Polyester mattress covers explained

Polyester shouldn’t be completely written off in your search for a new mattress. In fact in mattresses under £1,000 you’re probably not going to get a Viscose damask. Polyester is incredibly useful in entry to midpoint mattress manufacture and is far better than some of the zip on cheap synthetic covers.

  • Incredibly durable and strong
  • Can be dry cleaned and machine washed at high temperatures without shrinking or warping.
  • Quick-drying and moisture repelling
  • Returns to its original shape very quickly

Are natural fibres 100% natural? Natural fibres are usually the preferred choice in the mattress industry and a high quality mattress can often be seen to contain high GSM natural components. That said a number of stretch natural fibres only contain a mere 4% natural fibre with the majority still being polyester.

Mattress protector on a mattress
Polyester mattress covers are fine at a price point. If you’re spending £1000 upwards though you should expect a quality Damask instead.

In traditional mattresses, natural materials are always preferable because the construction method of traditional mattresses relies on these fillings to form part of the core mattress. They form layers above the pocket springs and help keep the mattress plush, breathable and keep its shape.

Is the natural fabric really fully natural?

A number of retailers will claim that covers are cotton or cashmere, but upon further inspection looking at the breakdown of the fabric, there is only a tiny proportion of these natural fibres in the mix. In reality, you’re buying a synthetic polyester-based fabric that contains some elements of cotton, cashmere or such. Sometimes this is as low as 4% or 6%. Confusing huh?! There’s more on upholstery here.

Heat-reduction fabrics

Whilst Outlast and Coolmax are a high wicking fabric which can help remove some of the heat issues in memory foam. We have already discussed the heat issue and how we recommend varying the tog of your duvet or alternatively choosing a hybrid foam instead of memory foam. We think this is a more practical solution than using mattress fabrics to try and remove heat issues. You also need to consider that if you are following the correct mattress maintenance and care you will already have a topper, protector and bedding on top of your mattress.

So ask yourself how a mattress fabric cover is going to benefit you if you have a number of other materials sitting on top of it? Is it worth the extra cost for heat-reduction benefits if it’s buried under other layers?

What mattress cover fabric does John Ryan By Design use?

All our Artisan and Latex models use our John Ryan white viscose damask which has our insignia stitched into it. The Origins range uses a number of different finishes all which can be found in their product listings.

Artisan15000013 2
Plant-Based & Chemical Free John Ryan Damask
Our recommendation

What we believe that you would be better off putting your money into other components of the mattress or high-quality bed linen rather than an ineffective mattress cover.

Need more help or a tailored mattress recommendation? Get in touch with our small team of mattress experts on 0161 437 4419.

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