"blind" DIY mattress purchase

Hello, and thanks Phoenix for the thorough education on all things mattress!

My husband and I are interested in purchasing a DIY latex bed. We live in Regina, SK (Canada) and were unable to actually test any mattresses with “known” construction specs, so we’re essentially buying “blind.” I’ve read just about everything on here (that my brain can process without going into “overload error”)and based on that information and our limited testing, I’m pretty sure we’d be best off with a differential construction, for e.g.: firmest possible 6" Dunlop core and around 3-4 inches of talalay comfort layer (2-3 inches firm or medium ILD with 1-2 inches of next softest ILD)? Any advice you could provide as to our “best bet” for layering would be greatly appreciated.

Our specs:
5’4" and 160 lbs, very curvy and broad shouldered, chronic lower back pain (sciatica) and mild arthritis, hip/knee pain, very sensitive sleeper (think princess and the pea)
5’10" and 150 lbs, lean and straight, “sleeps on anything”

Out of all the beds we tried, a super-firm Tempurpedic (almost like wood, and sounded like it when you knocked on it, too) and the firmest option of ZedBed provided the best spinal alignment for me (on everything else, my hips were sinking too low). Both were fine for my husband, too. Both had an initial comfort feel of “hard bed” but were strangely comfortable for pressure point testing, as well. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any salespeople inany stores in our area that could give us any meaningful information about the types/densities of the foams in their beds, so all we really “learned” is that we probably need the firmest possible of all options. I know neither of those beds are latex, however there are no stores here that carry latex beds for us to try - but we know we want a foam-only bed and want latex for its durability and peculiar supportive qualities (I also do not like the slow-response feel or heat retention of memory foam). I have slept on latex toppers and like the springier feel.

I gather it’s near-impossible to figure out what’s best for any individual’s sleeping surface without testing, but any comments you might have on our plan to go with a differential, medium over superfirm, would be greatly appreciated. Since we’re in Canada, I don’t think we’ll be able to get any free layer exchanges from US companies, so we’re really hoping to get it right, or close to right, on the first or second try.

Thanks in advance for your help!

Hi canadian,

You’re right that there are really too many unknowns, variables and personal preferences involved for anyone to be able to know the combination of layers that will work best for someone else with any certainty based on specs (either yours or a mattress) or “theory at a distance” … especially if you are more “sensitive” and without having any specific reference points of knowing your experience on similar mattresses (with known specs) that you have tested or slept on (see mattress firmness/comfort levels in post #2 here).

If you are attracted to the idea of designing and building your own mattress out of separate components and a separate cover then the first place I would start is by reading option 3 in post #15 here and the posts it links to so that you have realistic expectations and that you are comfortable with the learning curve, uncertainty, trial and error, or in some cases the higher costs that may be involved in the DIY process. While it can certainly be a rewarding project … the best approach to a DIY mattress is a “spirit of adventure” where what you learn and the satisfaction that comes from the process itself is more important than any cost savings you may realize (which may or may not happen).

I would also keep in mind that there is no specific definition of progressive or differential constructions and these are only generic concepts that may have little relevance on an individual basis and that neither one is nearly as important as whether a mattress is a good match for you in terms of PPP and to know this with any certainty you would either need to test a mattress in person or sleep on it regardless of whether it was closer to a more complex progressive design with multiple layers or a differential design with only two layers (or even a mattress that used a single layer of material).

If you do decide to go with a DIY approach then the most effective strategy would be to use a known reference point of a mattress with a known design that you have confirmed is a good match for you in terms of PPP and duplicate the type and blend, the thickness, and the firmness of each layer as closely as possible and use a very similar cover.

If that’s not possible then I would take a “bottom up” approach and work towards your ideal design one incremental step at a time because the choice of your support core will have a significant effect on the thickness and firmness of the comfort layers on top of it that will be suitable for you. Since you appear to prefer a firmer mattress you could start with just a 6" firm core (or even a medium/firm with your lighter weights) and then use your actual experience on the core alone along with post #2 here and the topper guidelines it links to as a reference point to help you decide on the thickness and firmness of the next layer you wish to add to your design. I would also tend to err on the side of firmness with each layer so that you don’t end up with a combination that is too soft for you which is much more difficult to “fix” without returning or exchanging a layer. You could then sleep on these two layers and once again use your actual sleeping experience to decide whether you needed an additional layer. Once you have the layers you are comfortable with then the final step would be to decide on and buy the type of cover that you would prefer and that tightly fits the thickness of your latex layers to finish your mattress.

I would also make sure that you have a good return/exchange policy on each of the layers you purchase to reduce the risk and cost of any mistakes you make so that you aren’t “stuck” with a layer that doesn’t work well for you. Without this you would be taking a more risky (or costly) approach.

Just in case you haven’t seen it … there are some options in post #4 here that may give you the chance to test some latex combinations locally that may be helpful.

Post #21 here also includes some of the better online sources I’m aware of that ship mattresses, toppers, or individual layers across Canada so you can check to see which of them sell individual layers that you are interested in and compare the costs and check to make sure that you are comfortable with the return or exchange policies for each of them as well.


Thanks, Phoenix! I’ve been reading your site for weeks and am still learning! Your “bottom - up” trial construction method makes so much sense if we do go with the DIY approach.

I want to note that I did notice a common theme in our “hunt” here - as we couldn’t find any latex options for independent/local companies, we next tried independent furniture stores and then department stores before big chains sleep centers. Based on a couple of dept store websites offering a very limited selection of non “S” beds - Sears carried Natura, The Bay had a couple of latex options as well as a couple of Marshalls - - however not one in our city had any of these beds available to test in their showrooms. One salesperson explained that since latex beds (and Marshalls coil beds) are higher quality and more expensive they consider them “high-end” and don’t bother to stock them except in the larger metropolitan centres. Incidentally, I’m not sure if others have experienced this, but when initially asking salespeople if they can provide the specs we would need to identify the construction and materials in any of their mattresses (ie. not just the spec sheets from the manufacturer) we did get some of those “eyes glaze over” reactions but also, we encountered some very defensive and even hostile reactions.

We did try to locate www.tmasc.ca/ but to our understanding they closed their Regina location a couple of years ago. We have considered one of their Sleepteks, to order online but of course we still wouldn’t be able to try one out. The Better Good, in Saskatoon, also carries Sleeptek but with a toddler, an infant that hates car rides and icy roads (and little sleep and a lot of back pain) it’s just not in our “value equation” right now to do a road trip, even for testing. In other words, we’re willing to make a costly mistake this time around (though of course we’re hoping to avoid that). Unfortunately, the www.sleepersmattress.com/ location in Regina has closed, as well (I believe to focus more on wholesale). They are still operating out of Saskatoon, but again, we just don’t have it in us right now to make that trip.

We had initially ruled out www.standardbedding.com/ because they don’t make any all-latex mattresses, however I did give them a call anyway because last night we were thinking we could try some HD foam, which they do have. I spoke with the owner and they are happy to special order materials for custom mattresses that they don’t normally stock, so we’ll pay them a visit tomorrow. They reiterated the same reasons for not keeping more latex materials in stock and/or commonly using them in their constructions - there just isn’t much call for it around here. They do have HD 2.5 lb polyfoam cores and some version of latex they use as comfort layers over their innerspring mattresses (he wasn’t sure of types/ ILDs over the phone and wasn’t in the store - since it’s a holiday - but assured me that he has and can provide specific densities, blends, processes for all materials). Also, I thought it was pretty cool that even though everything is closed today, he still answered the phone to tell me that they’re not open and even ask me what he might be able to help with. So, we’ll head there tomorrow to see what they have.

One thing I’m wondering, is it possible to test HD polyfoam beds with known construction, densities, etc. and then “translate” that into types/ILDs of latex in order to construct a similar support/PPP suitable end-product? Or is that just like apples and oranges?

Hi canadian,

Latex is one of the oldest materials in the industry and has been used for many decades (long before polyfoam and memory foam were even invented) but it’s much more difficult for a manufacturer to claim it as a “proprietary” material that is unique to their mattresses so the larger manufacturers that rely more on advertising that tries to differentiate their mattresses by using their own unique trade names or marketing terms for their materials rather than disclosing the actual type of material (so that consumers can’t make meaningful comparisons based on the materials inside the mattress) don’t use it as much as the smaller manufacturers that are more focused on making higher quality and better value mattresses and building their business with word of mouth and their local reputation. There are many of these smaller manufacturers across the country that make latex or latex hybrid mattresses in both smaller and larger communities but they aren’t as commonly available in the mainstream industry and in some communities that are dominated by major brands and larger chain stores they are much more difficult to find.

TMASC opened an affiliate store in Regina in May, 2013 but they changed it to a distribution hub last summer so they no longer have a showroom there so I removed them from the list. I also added the Better Good to the list since as you mentioned they they sell high quality latex mattresses made by SleepTek from their location in Saskatoon. Thanks for the heads up about both of these and for helping to keep the forum lists up to date … I appreciate it :slight_smile:

Unfortunately this is more the norm than the exception. As sad as it may be … most of the people who have spent an hour or two on this site will know more meaningful information about mattresses and the materials inside them than most of the salespeople in the mainstream industry. Most of them are only trained in the sales and marketing techniques about how to sell a mattress rather than the information that will help them educate their customers about the materials in their mattresses and some of these salespeople are often very uncomfortable when they are dealing with consumers who know more than they do or when their “marketing tactics” based on information that is often incomplete or misleading don’t work as well. In some cases they can even resort to belittling their customers or making comments like “only an engineer needs to know that” or “nobody ever asks that” or similar comments rather than acknowledging that they aren’t able to provide even the most basic information about the quality of the materials inside the mattresses they sell and looking like much less of an “expert” to their customers.

Unfortunately is would be too much of an “apples to oranges” comparison to make meaningful comparisons between them. Latex and polyfoam are very different materials with different properties and the specs for one don’t “translate” into equivalent specs for the other one. There are many “specs” that contribute to how a material feels and even ILD is tested differently for each one (see post #2 here) so even the same ILD in each material may not be the same softness/firmness.

In addition to this … there are many different types and blends of latex and each one has its own unique set of properties and specs. There is more about the different types and blends of latex in post #6 here.

Overall … I would tend to avoid trying to design a mattress based on just a few specs that are only part of a bigger picture (such as only ILD or layer thickness) because it can lead to some outcomes that can be very surprising when you actually sleep on it. Even the most knowledgeable mattress designers that have decades of experience on many types or materials and mattress designs are often surprised at the difference between what a mattress was “supposed” to feel like based on specs and how it actually feels when they actually test it in “real life”.