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Putting the layers together - Overview


We have talked in previous sections about the role of the support and comfort layers and the different materials that can be used in each. In this section we will talk about the 3 main ways of putting them together and about the remaining layers that will not only complete your mattress but can have a significant effect on how it performs and feels.

Differential Construction:

This method uses thicker/softer comfort layers over firmer support layers. It is called "differential" because there is usually a big difference between the softness of the comfort layers and the firmness of the support layers. There is also a clear "split" between the roles of each layer as the comfort layers provide almost all of the pressure relief and supports the lumbar area and the support layer is focused on preventing the heavier parts of you from sinking in too far. While there may be a middle layer in this construction, it will be closer to the bottom layer in firmness as this construction is basically softer over firmer.

The main benefit of this construction is that it is easier to “get right”. Because the comfort layers are doing most of the work in filling in and supporting the “gaps” in the body, it is generally best to limit your comfort layer choices to materials that are more resilient to support the lumbar area and that also have the ability to shape themselves to the contour of your profile. Both of these qualities are important in the comfort layer of this type of construction. Because the support layers do not need to “help” the comfort layers with pressure relief, their ability to conform to your body profile is far less important and your choices in support layers are larger as almost any firm support layer is suitable for this construction.

A soft comfort layer over a firm or even extra firm support layer would be an example of this.

Progressive Construction:

In a progressive construction, the upper comfort layers are generally thinner and/or very soft and need to "borrow" from the support layers beneath to form a cradle and relieve pressure. These mattresses usually have several layers that become "progressively" firmer as you sink in deeper, and the difference between adjacent layers is smaller than with a differential construction. The layer below the comfort layer plays a dual role by helping the comfort layer with pressure relief/lumbar support and helping the bottom layer with spinal alignment. This can be done with either a middle transition layer or with the use of a support layer material which is softer and more conforming on the top and becomes firmer more quickly with deeper compression.

This method can be more difficult to get right but the results can be more accurate and individualized than a differential construction. Because the support layers are helping with pressure relief and lumbar support, any pressure relieving comfort material can be used including those that are less resilient such as memory foam or natural fibers. The choice of support layers however becomes more restricted since they require more specialized abilities beyond simple "firmness" such as the ability to be softer and conforming on top (with initial compression) and firmer underneath (with deeper compression).

A softer/thinner comfort layer over a medium middle layer and a firm bottom layer would be an example of this construction.


The body has 3 main areas where weight and the thickness of the profile can be very different. These are the pelvic or hip area which is often wider, especially in women, and almost always the heaviest area of the body; the lumbar area which is much thinner, lighter, and more recessed in most people; and the shoulder upper chest area which is lighter than the hips but often wider and larger, especially in men. The widely different needs of these three areas in more difficult circumstances such as unusual weight or body profiles are sometimes outside of the range of even the best materials using either differential or progressive constructions. In these cases zoning can be the answer to a perfect mattress.

Zoning uses different zones of material or firmness in different areas of a comfort or support layer such as a firmer zone under the hips to keep them from sinking down too far. It can also be quite complex and in many cases poorly understood by those who sell mattresses. Incorrect zoning schemes can do much more harm than good so it is usually a good idea to only use it when circumstances warrant. Different zoning schemes may use any type of comfort layers over any type of support layer depending on the type of zoning that is being used and the individual circumstances or difficulties that need to be addressed.

The most effective zoning schemes usually have either 2 or 3 zones in different "arrangements. More than this is of questionable benefit and often used to justify a more expensive mattress that may not even be an appropriate choice.


There are several other layers that are part of either some or all mattresses and are used to complete your mattress.These are ...

Quilting layer: Commonly used as a layer above the comfort layer. Usually made from foam or fibers and forms a separate but interconnected part of the comfort layer. It can affect breathability, temperature regulation, and pressure relief as well as overall feel and can also be used for fine tuning.

Ticking: This is the fabric that surrounds the mattress and it too can affect breathability, temperature regulation, and pressure relief as well as have a significant effect on the overall feel of the mattress.

Fire Barrier: This is used to prevent a mattress from bursting into flame and preventing "flashover" from either a smoldering heat source or with an open flame. The "open flame" regulation that all mattresses now need to comply with was added in 2007 to the first "smoldering heat source" regulation that was already in effect.

Insulator: This is a layer which is used over an innerspring to prevent the layers above it from shifting into the innerspring and is also used to alter the feel or response of the innerspring itself.

Each of these different methods of construction and additional layers are discussed in more detail in the pages of this section.

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Kristy93292 replied the topic: #2 23 Dec 2018 16:25
Hi, new here. Read much of your site. I am disappointed in price vs quality in mattresses (nice way of saying I am a cheapskate). I like the feel of latex (ruling memory foam out unless it is an underlayer somewhere-too hot and sinking feel) however sent synthetic latex mattress back because "pushback" so strong made hips hurt worse than ever had before. Decided to try a Dunlop 30ILD 3" topper,on innerspring which didn't work as I hoped. Took innerspring off frame, put the topper on boards with convoluted foam topper over it and my feather comforter folded in half. Over all felt supported but still feel much pushback in lumbar area (but less on boards and more pronounced when on innerspring. The innerspring alone let's my hips drop to low). So I ordered a 2" talalay 19ILD to put on top of 3" Dunlop 30ILD. I want to feel supported with some softness on top. I don't want the hip pain due to pushback. Considering adding featherbed topper also. Frankly I am exhausted(been searching for 6 months now) trying to find a comfortable fit without spending lots of $$$. I have an old innerspring I am considering harvesting springs from for base. But if the 2 pieces I have mentioned work (waiting to receive the talalay)is it necessary for a base? I would be ok with using my convoluted foam topper for added softness , thinking of placing between the latex? I am a back sleeper primarily some on my side. 5'5, 190lb female over 60 years old. Not share bed with a partner. Any suggestions on based? Layering? Or starting from scratch ? I can still return the toppers, mattress going back thurs.the brick and mortar stores have little in the way of body comfort at a price I would consider spending. Thanks for any in put your willing to give me.
Administrator TMU's Avatar
Administrator TMU replied the topic: #3 25 Dec 2018 07:55
Hi Krtisty93292,
Welcome to The Mattress Underground! You sure did pack a lot on info into a single, short post. We will try to unwind some of it and address your situation. As you probably know, your unique height/weight and body shape, as well as personal comfort preferences make finding the ideal mattress a real challenge. The design configurations that you have described are a very much trial and error. To some degree, starting from scratch makes sense, at least on paper before you start more trial and error though purchasing online. You can do this by deploying basic mattress design concepts for support and comfort.
Much of your post speaks to your views and attempts to use latex toppers to address the pressure point issues at your hips. You did not cite the type of base mattress you are returning, other than referring to it as an innerspring. It is very unlikely you will find a conventional inner spring mattress that will meet your support/comfort needs, regardless of how much and what type of latex you layer on top of it. A person with your unique needs will likely need either a pocketed coil or all latex base mattress system. Reading your confession of being a cheapskate, it would seem that a pocketed coil base mattress system is the ticket here as it will be much less expensive than all latex.
Based on your preference for latex over memory foam as the comfort layer material, a natural latex hybrid mattress system that uses a pocketed coil support system appears to be your best bet as the place to start. Finding a mattress company that will allow you to swap/exchange the latex layer will provide you with the ability to address your needs post-purchase if the comfort layerfirmness you choose initially turns out to not be your ideal. There are several trusted members on this site who have natural latex hybrid designs. Please let me know if you have further questions after investigating our members list. You can chat/call them to learn more if you find your questions are not being addressed with the information of their websites. Good luck!

TMU admin
Kristy93292 replied the topic: #4 28 Dec 2018 16:59
Thank you for your reply. The innerspring was a sealy med-firm,comfortable at first but as mentioned hips dipped and over all not feel fully supported. I returned the mattress. My bed is a Calif. King waterbed frame with boards as foundation. Bottom to top layers tried: 3" - 30ILD dunlop, 2" - 19ILD talalay, 1" blue swirl gel memory foam(was trying to avoid memory foam but needed more cushion, it flattens easily so not sure if more mental than actual help), 2" (maybe 3" measured from tip to tip) convaluted on both sides foam topper (don't know what kind of foam) . I like the feel of the firm support but it causes soreness. I layered foam over latex because the push back was still felt and that would give hip pain by morning. Being very sensitive to the push up effect of latex in my lumbar area, this configuration did't feel much pushback, but very heavy feeling when got up this morning and sore at pressure points(here is my princess and pea story, I can feel the seam where mattress glued, the bummer is I like sleeping in middle of the bed).SOoòo, after reading more on this forum,I changed configuration: bottom to top 3" 30ild dunlop, 2"(3"?)convoluted foam, 1" memory foam, flipped the 2" talalay over and placed on top. This proved substantially better than previous arrangment. Much less soreness, not feel push up effect, but seems might be sinking a little too much in hip area (not that anyone whats to know but losing weight might help,just can't do it over night to see)I am considering your recommendation of starting from scratch but hope I don't have to as lots of money at one time mainly because of mattress size. Suggestions on where to layer with what ( any matterial at this point) to achieve : support with without push up effect and a little softness. Thanks for your indulgence and any more insight you can give. Would getting an innerspring under the latex help (have my old bed that I can get springs out of for a base) . Whatever I do, the 3" Dunlop creates pushup in lumbar so if I can't get rid of that effect by it being in deeper layer then returning is my better option. Sorry for such long post.
Sensei's Avatar
Sensei replied the topic: #5 29 Dec 2018 11:46
Thanks for sharing the details of your configuration. It does not resemble a mattress design that has been used by established mattess manufacturers. Your mattress needs a support system, and the 30ILD Dunlop latex appears to serve that function. It is likely not the dunlop but the materials on top of it not providing an appropriate transition layer function that is causing your continued hip pain. The 2-3" of convoluted foam should be removed. Convoluting foam is a techinque used by some mattress manufacuturers to maintain profile, reduce cost and create a faux plushness (my opinion, of course ;) . Replacing it with a latex layer in the 24 ILD range will likely provide an effective transition between both the 30 ILD Dunlop base and the 19 ILD gel memory foam. Layering a mattress using the numbers in your note, a design of 30(bottom)/24/GelMF/19 will likely provide the best configuration of the materials you have (assuming you pitch the convo and replace it with 2 or 3" of 24 ILD Talalay. Yes, this does require you to buy a 24 ILD layer, but it will be less than a start-over.

Kristy93292 replied the topic: #6 29 Dec 2018 18:35
Thank you for suggestions, I may need to try the 24ild . The 19 is talalay. I have no problem giving up the foam. My goal is to feel fully supported with a little cushion. I'll see how next few days go. After last night I think the 24ild might make mattress to soft? I tried the following configuration with much better results. Using the items i have on hand,(It was suggested by SleepEZ), From bottom to top: 2" convoluted foam, 1" MF, 3" Dunlop (30ild), 2" talalay (19ild). Woke up feeling better than have in while. I will keep this arrangement of layers for now, progress! I do think I will need to increase suppotiveness , (trying to keep hips more level & not have any "pushup" effect in lumbar,which was not felt at all last night- this was huge problem before relayering). I have no problem with getting rid of MF & convoluted foam but they seem to be serving a purpose for now. Since the 30ild D. gives slight "pushup" in lumbar when i lay on it alone, it seems this ILD has a place in my configuration. How do I increase suppotiveness without losing progress I've made so far? Would using the 30 ILD dunlop as transition layer and getting 2"or 3" higher ILD for base increase more hip support ? get rid of all foam? Incorporate the 1" memory foam I have? Thanks for letting me hash out my thoughts and experience on you site, the info and suggestions are helping me sort through what has become a very long process.

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