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Glossary of bed terms

When you are buying a new bed there are so many things to think about, such as:

  • What size do I want?
  • What style would I like?
  • How much do I want to spend?

We spend a third of our time in our beds, so you'll want to make the right choice. But when faced with tufting and quilting, open coils and pocket springs, does it all become too much?

Don't despair! To help you through the buying process Furniture123 have put together this easy glossary of terms you may encounter. Armed with this knowledge you will be able to make an informed choice! If you need further information about any of these terms, please don't hesitate to contact our Customer Services team who are always happy to help you.

Continuous springs

Instead of using individual, linked springs, the continuous spring unit is made from a single length of wire 'knitted' into a series of interwoven springs which usually run up and down the bed and are linked vertically rather than horizontally. Generally speaking, the gauge of wires used is softer and the size of the 'coils' smaller, giving a higher spring count and a more responsive feel. Many continuous spring constructions are marketed under specific brand names, generally in the mid-to-upper price bands.

Diamond stitching/Deep quilting

Used on the top and bottom of a mattress to create a smooth, firm, flat finish. As the cover and layers of fillings are stitched together before being attached around the spring unit, the amount of fillings used is limited. Nowadays, more imaginative designs can emulate the higher loft of micro quilting, but do not go right to the edge of the mattress top.


This type of bed consists of a mattress on top of a supportive base. The base is made of a wooden or metal frame upholstered to match the mattress cover. The top of the base unit can be a solid 'platform' or 'sprung edge', which alters the feel of the bed. (Please see these terms individually for further explanation.) Divans are available in a range of sizes and most have the option of drawers, which are built into the base. These drawers do not affect the stability or comfort of the base and provide convenient under bed storage.


Foam mattresses are often frowned upon for being cheap but modern versions are made from layers of different densities of material that impart the required degree of comfort and support. These days, all foams used in beds must be combustion modified to meet stringent fire safety regulations. Polyurethane foams are the most common and versatile, with performance and price varying according to density and quality.


This describes the feel of a mattress when you lie on it. If you want a softer feel try a medium firmness or a soft mattress. If you want a harder feel try an orthopaedic mattress.

Firm edge divan base

The spring system on a firm edge base is contained within a surrounding timber frame, which gives the base a firmer feel. Firm edge bases are usually supplied with legs and castors.


A Japanese invention consisting of a firm unsprung sleeping surface made from layers of cotton wadding, which moulds itself to the shape of the sleeper. All our futons come as sofa beds with convertible frames of wood or metal. Futons need good ventilation and lots of turning if they are to remain effective. Their life expectancy is generally shorter than a conventional bed and they are ideal for occasional use.


This refers to the thickness of wire used to make the springs in a mattress. Changing this, the number of coils and the density of springs will all alter the feel and firmness of the support. For reference, the lower the number, the firmer the mattress. 13.5 gauge is a thinner wire and gives you a medium firm feel, but is softer than 12 gauge which is used in firmer or so-called orthopaedic mattresses.

Hand finished/stitched

See Side stitching

Hand tufting

See Tufting

High loft

See Micro/Multi quilting


This refers to mattresses that may help to reduce the symptoms of asthma and allergies. Some use fillings that are less likely to harbour bacteria, dust mites and mould, whilst others have a treated cover which is impermeable to them. Also see 'anti-microbial' and 'self-cleaning'.

Latex foam

Most foam mattresses are made from layers of different densities of material that impart the required degree of comfort and support. These days, all foams used in beds must be combustion modified to meet stringent fire safety regulations. Latex is a premium quality material known for its distinctive resilient feel and durability and is available in range of comfort options. These mattresses are often anti-microbial and offer benefits to many allergy sufferers.

Medium firmness

This describes the feel of a mattress when you are laid on it. If you want a softer feel try a soft mattress. If you want a harder feel try a firm/orthopaedic mattress.

Memory foam

See Viscoelastic foam.

Mesh base

This is a mattress support system sometimes used on bed frames. It features a mesh grid made from metal, which may be flexible or rigid, and has the benefit of allowing your mattress to breathe. Beds bigger than a single may also have an additional support bar across the middle of the bed. This gives extra stability to the bedstead and your mattress.

Micro/Multi quilting

A distinctive, raised pattern effect on the top and bottom of a mattress. This is created by stitching the ticking to backing materials on multi-needle machines, many of which can now be programmed to produce innovative designs and effects, each unique to their manufacturer. Varying the type and quality of fillings and backing material can create puffier, 'high-loft' versions.

No turn

It is recommended that you rotate your mattress and turn it over it every 2-3 months to keep it in tiptop condition. However, with a large and often heavy mattress this can be a bit of a struggle! Many manufacturers now offer a new generation of 'No Turn' mattresses, usually those made with an interior spring unit and topped with foam, latex or memory foam. These mattresses have one sleep surface only and therefore do not require 'flipping over'. (Remember to always follow each individual manufacturer's advice on their particular mattresses.)

Offset springs

This term is refers to a mattress spring unit that uses layers of smaller springs, typically two or three, for additional performance characteristics.

Open coil/springs

The most widely used option, from budget through to mid-price range beds; also known as the Bonnell spring. Rows of hourglass shaped springs are connected top and bottom by a spiral wire, known as a helical wire. The edge of round rod edge. Most units are heat-treated or tempered for improved tensile strength and durability. There are at least 288 open springs in a 135cm/4ft 6in mattress; and 325 in a 150cm/5ft one - but variations may have more springs.


A mattress described as 'Orthopaedic' is usually the firmest mattress in a manufacturer's range. This may be of benefit to some people by improving posture, although it does not mean a back specialist has recommended it. Personal preference is just as important as is comfortable support, and if you suffer from a bad back, an ultra firm mattress may not actually be advisable.

Padded top divan base

These are the same as the platform top divans with a wooden sided frame combined with a rigid, unsprung panel at the top. They also have a layer of padding on the top of the base, which slightly softens the feel. If you prefer a softer base a sprung edge divan base option may be more suitable.

Pillow top

This refers to an extra layer of cushioning on the sleeping surface of a mattress. This is the softest mattress that still provides support. These mattresses are quite often deeper than the norm so they might need deeper base sheets.

Platform top divan base

Platform or solid top divans consist of a wooden sided frame combined with a rigid, unsprung panel at the top. Often used with firmer mattresses on so-called 'orthopaedic' beds, it is also a cheaper option, using fewer materials and less labour. A platform top divan provides a firm foundation for your mattress, if you prefer something slightly softer a 'sprung edge divan base' option may be more suitable.

Pocket sprung

Pocket springs are rows of smaller diameter, lightweight (15-18g) springs of varying shapes and sizes, each housed separately in a fabric pocket, which slightly compresses the spring and imparts springiness. The rows of springs are clipped, tied or bonded together. Pocket springs allow for more flexible response to compression, giving a higher degree of individual body support both in terms of contouring to body shape and for couples sharing a bed. As with all spring units, there are varying support options and many qualities. Although they are now much more widely available, pocket springs are generally to be found only in mid to upper price bands. The most expensive and luxurious are often hand-finished products employing the most exclusive materials.

Pressure points

One definition for 'pressure points' describes it as "any of several points on the body where the pulse can be felt and where pressure on an underlying artery will control bleeding from that artery at a more distal point". What this means in bed terms is that when we relax in bed extra weight is placed on the pressure points and this can effect blood flow round the body, which in turn can cause discomfort and exacerbate existing ailments such as back pain. The main pressure points of the human body are located in the neck, shoulder, abdomen, low back, knee, middle leg and ankle. A comfortable and properly supportive bed will spread weight across the whole surface area, rather than being concentrated under your body, and therefore relieve pressure on these sensitive areas.


This is the technique of stitching used to attach the mattress ticking (its outside cover) to the layers of fillings underneath. Please see 'Diamond stitching/Deep quilting' and 'Micro/Multi quilting' for more information in these popular quilting methods.

Reflex foam

This is a high-density foam used in some mattresses. It has a high elasticity level that offers superb cushioning.


Self-cleaning mattresses are made of revolutionary fibres with a unique slow-diffusion mechanism that prevents dust mite allergens and delivers anti-microbial effect. These anti-allergenic properties create a fresh and healthy place to sleep and provide constant and continuous protection for the life of the product.

Side stitching

This refers to the way the side of a mattress is finished and there are two techniques. Traditional, hand stitching is a lengthy, highly skilled process, involving passing a needle and thread right through the fillings to the horizontal surfaces of the mattress for additional strength and stability. It is most commonly used on top quality pocket spring mattresses. Non hand side stitching provides a similar visual effect and benefits, but the side panels have only been attached to the spring, not right through the filling. Some quilted panels are designed to look like side stitching.

Slatted base

This is the most common mattress support system used on bed frames. It features wooden slats, usually made of pine, which are fixed within the frame. This system has the benefit of allowing air to move below your mattress and therefore lets it breathe. A bed bigger than a single will also have a support bar down the middle of the bed. This gives extra stability to the bedstead and your mattress. If the slats on your bed are more than 6cm apart most manufacturers advise that you place a layer of cardboard or thin wood on top of the slats to prolong the life of the mattress. Slats provide a very solid base for your mattress. If you would prefer something slightly softer there are many bedsteads available with 'sprung slats'.


This describes the feel of a mattress when you are laid on it. If you want a harder feel try a medium firmness, firm or orthopaedic mattress.

Solid top divan base

See Platform top divan base

Spiral tufting

See Tufting

Sprung edge divan base

The name 'sprung edge' can be misleading as these divans actually feature a complete spring unit mounted across the whole base on a wooden or metal frame. It is better to think that the springs come right to the edge, or that they give edge to edge support. The spring units can vary from being quite pliable to virtually rigid. Considered the most luxurious option, they provide even support across the whole mattress, with no hard edges. The spring unit acts as a giant shock absorber and increases the mattress durability. A sprung edge divan provides a softer foundation for your mattress, if you prefer something slightly firmer a 'platform top' option may be more suitable.

Sprung slats

Slats are the most common type of mattress support system used on bedsteads, and sprung slats are the next step. A base with sprung slats features curved wooden slats, usually made of beech, which sit within the frame. The natural bounce in the slats means they will adjust to your profile where you exert the most pressure. A bed bigger than a single will have a double spring unit, one on each side, supported by a central rail. This eliminates roll together and ensures you will not be disturbed if your partner gets out of bed in the middle of the night! In some more expensive models it is also possible to adjust the tension of the slats to get the 'feel' that works best for you. If you prefer a firmer base, a bedstead with a traditional, fixed 'Slatted base' may be more suitable.


Ticking is the old name for the tightly woven fabric used to contain the feathers, straw, heather and other natural fillings which once comprised a mattress. The term has stuck although the mattress construction has changed dramatically. Nevertheless the ticking is not just there for the aesthetic appeal of its colour and design: it also needs to be tough and tear resistant; and in some cases water-resistant. The best quality ticking is made from woven cloth, which may be quite plain or have complex designs. Various fibres could be used from soft, glossy viscose or matt cottons to the cheaper, man-made polypropylenes and polyesters. There are also some high quality, cotton-rich double knitted tickings around with a distinctly European contemporary feel to them. At the budget end of the market are stitchbonds, a series of compact fibres (usually rayon) stitched together; and thermal bonds, where fibres are joined by a combination of heat and pressure - generally only used on divan base tops. Cheaper knits usually stretchy and featuring more vibrant colours and patterns, are also available.


This is a process used to secure the fillings of a mattress and there are two ways of doing it. Hand tufting is commonly associated with pocket spring beds and involves passing a series of tapes right through the mattress at regular intervals. These are secured on each side by tags or washers made of plastic, felt or wool, depending on the quality. Tufting puts the mattress under tension but prevents the loose fillings usually used in pocket spring mattresses from being dislodged. Hand tufting has become associated with a quality product but the surface effect is uneven. Choose a 'micro-quilted' option if you prefer a smoother surface. A modern alternative is spiral tufting, where the mattress core, fabric and fillings are machine sewn together, to create the effect of a handtufted bed.

Vacuum packed

This is a process used with some foam mattresses. As they have no springs these mattresses are highly flexible, allowing them to be rolled, compressed and vacuum packed for delivery. This means your mattress arrives free from contamination, can be easily moved to the room of your choice and will be in use within minutes.

Viscoelastic foam

Most foam are made from layers of different densities of material that impart the required degree of comfort and support. These days, all foams used in beds must be combustion modified to meet stringent fire safety regulations. Viscoelastic or 'memory' foam as it is also known is a premium quality, high-density material and the latest addition to the foam mattress family. This revolutionary material was originally developed by NASA to absorb G-forces on astronauts in the spacecraft and therefore protect their bodies. This foam softens when introduced to body heat and moulds to the body's natural sleeping position to give the optimum support. Weight is spread across the whole mattress, which avoids pressure on any one point, and gives a feeling of almost weightless sleep. The foam then recovers its original state when the weight is removed.

Zip and Link

Many larger sized divans and mattresses are available with a 'zip and link' option. If you request this then rather than receiving one large divan/mattress it will come in two pieces. Each of these will be roughly the same size as a single mattress (depending on the size you have ordered) and they then zip together to create one large divan/mattress. Sometimes it is also possible to combine different levels of matress firmness.

We gratefully acknowledge the help of The Sleep Council in producing this article.

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