Putting the layers together - zoning

An Introduction to Zoned Construction

An Introduction to Zoned Construction

This third method of construction uses different materials or levels of firmness in different parts or “zones” of a mattress support layer. It is also a way of combining comfort (spinal alignment) in a single layer similar to a progressive construction. While it is often used in more “difficult” circumstances, some zoning schemes are poorly thought out in manufacturing or poorly understood by the person selling them and “suggested” when they are not appropriate. In these cases they they can do more harm than good. Some zoning schemes are also so similar in ILD or firmness between zones that they are not as effective as a higher quality material without zoning. While zoning when done correctly can be very beneficial, it is also the subject of some misinformation and deceptive sales practices which are used to sell mattresses. If you choose a zoned mattress, 2 or 3 zones are generally the most important, and more than this can have questionable benefits and can sometimes lead to the purchase of an inappropriate and very uncomfortable mattress.

Why are some mattresses zoned?

The reason for zoning is because of the difference in weight, thickness/thinness, and surface area of three main areas of the body that are the most difficult to accommodate. The first of these is the hip/pelvic area which carries the greatest amount of weight and has the greatest density, no matter what type of body you have, and often has a wider profile (especially in women). The second is the waist/lumbar area which is often lighter and thinner and has a lower density. The third is the shoulder/chest area. The shoulders are narrower and have less surface area (on the side) and will sink in more easily until they reach the torso which is often wider than the hips but lighter and lower density. Dealing with these 3 areas in all the different sleeping positions and differences in body profiles and the difficulties associated with balancing them in terms of pressure relief and alignment is the reason that zoning is sometimes used in more difficult or extreme body weights or profiles. It is appropriate and can be very helpful when a progressive or differential method of construction cannot accommodate the circumstances.

The various mattress zoning options:

Three-zone mattresses with a firmer layer in the middle under the lumbar and pelvis and 2 softer zones above and below this.

This is most commonly used to help correct alignment and is the most common type of zoning you will see. It uses “normal” ILD’s in a support layer with the exception of a firmer layer in the middle. It is most useful when everything is fine in terms of pressure relief and support in all areas of the body except the hips are sinking in too deeply. This is usually a body profile with thinner and relatively heavier hips. This can be very beneficial since the hip area is the heaviest of the body and if they are thinner and the support layers are soft enough to allow the wider shoulders to sink down into alignment, then the hips in turn may easily sink down too far for correct alignment. Men in particular with wider shoulders and chests than hips may do well with this. Those with wider hips but more normal weight will likely not do well with this zoning scheme as their hips need to sink down further in proportion to the shoulder to accommodate their width and help with alignment.

This type of zoning is used to give better support to the lumbar and pelvic area.

Multi-zone mattresses with a softer layer under the hips and shoulders and a firmer layer under the lumbar.

This is what we call "reverse zoning because the areas of softness and firmness have been reversed. This type of zoning is most appropriate for those who need to sink in more deeply with their hips and shoulders so that a firmer layer (or zone) underneath the recessed lumbar curve can “move up” and be in firmer contact with the lumbar area which is not getting enough support and tending to “collapse”. This can either be because someone is too light and not sinking in deeply enough to their comfort layer leaving “air” or “non-resilient foam” under the lumbar or because someone carries a great deal of excess weight around their middle and particularly on their back this weight is tending to collapse the lumbar and cause misalignment. While in these two cases where other solutions do not work this zoning scheme can be beneficial, it is often sold to someone who will not benefit from it and in these cases it can cause discomfort of the lumbar area.

This type of zoning is used to give better support to the area under the lumbar curve.

Two-zone mattresses with a softer upper zone from the lower ribcage upwards and a firmer lower zone from the same point down to the bottom of the mattress.

This type of zoning is perhaps the least used. Because they have a smaller surface area than the hips, the shoulders will often sink in easily until the wider chest area comes in contact with the mattress comfort layer. At this point the chest which has more surface area than the hips and is also lighter will stop sinking if the comfort layer is not soft enough to allow it to sink in. This can lead to either alignment problems if the upper body is being supported in a position that is too high and out of alignment or pressure issues if the upper body and shoulder cradle is not deep enough. This can also lead to the lumbar gap not being filled in firmly enough to support the lumbar, upper back issues if the alignment there is not correct, or neck issues if it is out of alignment from the shoulder area being too high. By using a softer layer from the lower rib cage area to the top of the mattress, these problems can be solved. This would be of particular benefit for those with larger shoulders or chests that are bigger or wider than normal in relation to the hips. This type of zoning is often used in both the comfort layer and/or a middle layer immediately below it unlike the other two which are more commonly, although not always, used in the lower layers.

This type of zoning is used for pressure relief in the upper body and to help with upper body alignment.

One other “zoning” option that is sometimes used in a mattress support core are firmer coils or firmer foam around the edges to prevent “roll off” and to make them firmer for those who often sit on the edge of a mattress. In the case of some coil constructions, it is also done to keep the coils together and in also in the case of some specially constructed innersprings which are made to be used on an adjustable bed and do not have a thicker wire (called a border rod) around the edges so they can bend. High-quality foam support cores such as latex do not need firmer foam around the edges and it can actually be a disadvantage as the edge foam will wear out long before the latex and can lead to “collapsible” edges and sagging over time. Otherwise this type of “zoning” would be based on preference.

Because zoning can be complex and may not be necessary at all, it should be approached with caution, especially if it is possible to accomplish the pressure relief and alignment you need without it. Zoning schemes that use more than 3 zones may also be less effective in some cases because the zoning differences are sometimes less than the natural differences across the surface of the layer (especially in the case of zoned foam layers) or the zones may not “fit” the specific body type or sleeping style of the person on the mattress. In some cases they can also be a justification for higher prices than necessary. In the end … how well a mattress provides the pressure relief and neutral alignment you need in all your sleeping positions in your “real life” experience is a more important guideline than any “theoretical” benefits of a zoned design even though a zoned design can certainly be useful in the right circumstances and in a design that “matches” the needs and preferences of the person that would be sleeping on it.

I am looking to add a 2 inch zoned Dunlop topper under my 2 inches talalay and above 6 inches dunlop core. My hope is that this would allow my shoulders to sink in just a touch more and relieve some pressure, which is a problem area for me. I was hoping to get some input on where I could purchase one, and how much seperation of ILD would it take to tell a difference from hip and shoulder?

I found one sold which is advertised as 7 zone, from Lake Mattress, which is a retailer I found on the component list here. There is a 2-3 Ild difference between zones, and I can get this in 2 inch. I am not sure 3 Ild will make much difference. I would prefer just having a 3 zone at most, but aside from Flo-beds and other shredded toppers ( which don’t interest me) there seems to be little to no market pushing these types of products into existence, at least in a solid slab form. I know about the 6 inch cores, but this is too thick for me, as I already have my dunlop core. Maybe I could make something from two types of soft foam, say 15 and 20, but this could get expensive, since I will need to purchase two sheets of two different ild foams and throw most of one away.

Will a 7 zone topper cause more problems than it could solve? Maybe this is impossible to answer, but any input would be appreciated.


Hi gardenguy.

Welcome to our Mattress Forum! :slight_smile:

I am not very sure what you mean by “separation of ILD… to tell between the hip and shoulder” because the zoned layer itself is usually not made from separate pieces of different ILDs which are laminated together. E.g. zoning in dunlop latex is achieved using different size pins to increase or decrease the amount of material in a section of the foam which in effect alters the amount of material in that particular section which will change its overall density/ILD. Depending of the pin size used, this results in a softer or firmer overall zone feel. One of the concerns with zoning is that people have different body configuration, height, weight, and profile, and a particular zoning configuration might not work for everyone because the zoning does not adjust to the size of the people. Whatever type of zoning you are considering, make sure to verify that the “zone” falls under the areas of your body that needs adjustment

Placing zoned latex as a transition layer under a top layer, can provide more sinking than a layer that has the same ILD without zoning, but as all layers work together, how much you’ll sink depends on your body specifics and also on the overall layer combination, including the encasement and the bedding being used. Adding extra layers (zoned or not) also can help with pressure relief provided that the ILD is soft enough. This may be just the “touch” you need to help with taking the “edge off” the pressure points you are experiencing in the shoulders area. FloBeds site is a good source to see configurations and zoning combinations and as they are an expert of our site you can reach out and discuss your specifics with them.

A 3 zone layer is usually softer on ends (shoulders and legs) and firmer in middle (under hips) and could be a good solution for someone with wider shoulders as this would allow the shoulders to sink in past the support that is needed for the lumbar curvature of the of the spine. Five zone tends to give more allowance for shoulder and hip sinkage, but keep in mind that this varies by manufacturer. The 2 zone layer could be working well for someone with a large size differential between shoulders and hips and this is the type of zoning that is usually used in the comfort/transition layers of the mattress, as opposed to the 3, and 5 zoning which is found more in the deeper layers of the mattress.

I don’t keep a record of all outlets selling zone latex in 2" layers and generally speaking zoning is usually applied more to mattress cores, so you’ll have to do some more searching, but you are correct that this is not something that you would easily find as thinner zoned pieces are not as common because the zoning in a thinner piece doesn’t make “as much” of a difference as in a 6" core.

2-3 ILD difference isn’t much, but whether or not it is noticeable depends mainly of each individual and where the zone is located in relationship to the area that needs zoning accommodation, but generally the closer to the top the more potential for the “difference” to more to be noticed. I would also keep in mind that ILDs are not exact numbers but ranges and they may slightly vary throughout the layer.

There are many interrelated variables when it comes to zoning, which are different for each individual, such as the difference in weight, surface area, thinness/thickness of the part of the body that needs a special zoning accommodation along with the sleeping positions and the differences in body profile of any particular person all of which makes it very difficult to predict whether this zoning will work for you. 7 zone layers IMO adds a level complexity to an already complex situation and I would advise you to approach it with caution as it can do more harm than good and be costly in the process of figuring this out.

You may find it useful to peruse a few more discussions about zoning in post #11 here. Also in post #2 here and post #7 here (latex momzone unique properties).

Best of luck and I’ll be interested to learn of your eventual decisions.


Thank you for your insight and recommendations regarding zoning. I have not found much on this topic and appreciated what you shared. I found your various comments in several of your articles. By any chance, do you have a single article about zoning with all of your advice and wisdom systemtically organized and explained? You are the most knowledgeable zoning expert I have found so far and it would be helpful if you had a single reference to share your wealth of information and explain it to those who may benefit from zoning. Thanks for your helpful website!!

Hi jxp10.

Welcome to our Mattress Forum! :slight_smile: and thank you for your words of appreciation.

As you well noted … while the basic information about zoning is summarized in a few articles on the main site many of the in-depth details connected with it and questions & answers can only be found in various threads on the Forum. I agree with you … consolidating this information in one place is a consumer need that we are in the process of addressing and while we are already working on it … this time-consuming manifold process and it may not be as fast as we would wish to… the good news is that for those like you who are inclined to do a bit of homework most of the information is already on main site and forum and also our zoning expert FloBeds here is always ready to answer any zoning related questions :slight_smile:


I have a custom-zoned mattress topper (with latex in the middle and foam at the ends) that worked fine while the mattress was new. Now that the mattress is older, it could use a little boost in some higher pressure regions for a side sleeper in order to help fine tune my zoned mattress topper system. I have looked for a thin topper like possibly thin foam, maybe 1/4" or 3/8" (or 1/2") thick but I haven’t found much in conventional mattress toppers. Do you have any recommendations about where to find such a topper or foam? Do you recommend any type of thin topper/foam? For example, regarding general thin foam, I have found sew foam, naked flex foam, upholstery foam, foam padding, and more but I am not sure what would serve best as a thin mattress topper. I’m considering trying/adding (thin) sew foam to custom tweak my existing zoned topper (combination) system. Is there anything, in particular, I should look for in a thin topper or thin foam? Your input, advice, and suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Hello jxp10,

Welcome to The Mattress underground! You didn’t mention when or where you purchased your custom-zoned mattress topper nor how thick it is. You will likely not find a mattress topper less than 1", and even then, a 1" topper sold commercially is fairly rare. Some mattress companies use foams are cut to less than 1" (1/2" for example) when used as a component in a mattress, but these small levels are more for providing a marketing story as 1/2" foam layers do not provide similar performance benefits. You may be better served by starting all over (creating a new custom topper) than putting money and effort into a product that has served its useful life.

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Thanks Phoenix.

I have a real interest in zones for my specific situation, and want to get your thoughts on if my plan is “sensible.”

Re: The three-zone with firmer middle/lumbar/pelvis:
You note that men with wider shoulders and chests than hips (describes me) can do well with that configuration. You also note that it may well suit a body profile with thinner and relatively heavier hips. This makes sense to me, I can visualize this in my mind as you describe it, and feel I probably fit this category physically-speaking. I observe the qualifying condition to be a sufficient enough comfort layer and/or support layer that is soft enough their alignment is now off…

The Obasan is going this route, way beyond my price range.

The multi-zone, or “reverse-zoning” you seem to indicate that body types on the very lean and quite heavy spectrum can benefit from this approach, if a mattress can’t otherwise be found that gives them adequate support and comfort for their build.

Flo-beds fits here I believe and therefore probably is not the match I was initially hoping for.

My body type and PPP details:
I’m 5’10", 165 lbs, lean, wide shoulders, straight waist. Side sleeper. Tend to sleep hot. Sciatica the last few years. Always thought of myself as a light, “picky” sleeper. Mattresses mostly feel either supportive but not comfortable (inadequate pressure point relief - toss and turn due to sore sides) or comfortable but not at all supportive enough (sore and tight back in the middle of the night).

I’ve made a ten-year run on a Denver Mattress air bed (sleep number imitation) without any pillow top or much of a comfort layer. For years I suffered thru low/mid/upper back pain due to misalignment from a 3" memory foam topper that just wasn’t quite dense enough. I finally cut the topper in half and went without it on my side of the bed. Not much comfort, but better…and with a proper pillow, the midsection of the bed inflated about 25% more than head/foot in order to bolster/raise midsection/hips support, my alignment is more-or-less there, although I do have to put a pillow under feet and between legs (that may just be the sciatica talking).

But the mattress is DONE and I’m tired of dealing with the comfort issues.

What we have tried many replacements over the last couple years now and all-latex seems to be the next thing to try. DIY is what I’m thinking just to save some money, since the latex all comes from the same places, more or less.

I have lied down for a minute on a very very expensive three-zone mattress (the Obasan) that wasn’t correctly configured for my type but the salesman believed that firm in the midsection was the magic sauce that would work. Just out of my budget.

Do you think going after DIY, configured, like the below makes sense? I’m thinking that a carving knife, fastened in place, and a rolling plywood board could be poor man’s foam table saw to
cut three sections out of 3 densities with sufficiently-clean cuts that could work in the middle section, and if the cut edges were positioned at the head, foot and for the middle zone towards the feet that I would probably be ok.

|       "soft" 19-22 ILD                                     |
|       top 3" layer                                         |
|   "soft"  20-22 ILD | "firm" 36-40 ILD |"medium" 26-32 ILD |
|   head/shoulders    |  waist/lumbar    |     legs zone     |
|    "firm" 37-40                                            |
|     bottom 3" layer                                        |
|    "extra-firm" "oh dang I needed more overall thickness"  |
|      44+ ILD   (we are not heavy, so doubt we need this)   |

Thinking all layers are 3" Talalay because I understand it breathes better then dunlop. If that isn’t true, then just top layer as Talalay.

My wife, who is petite and pear-shaped side-sleeper, would also be the same soft top, a non-zoned medium middle (to start anyway), and a medium (dunlop) bottom.

Bad plan? Good plan? thoughts?

Bonus question: is a wool batted cover going to sleep cooler than a thin stretchy knit cover? Thanks!


I hope your customization strategy works well. I understand the need. I have found some help with a firm mattress underneath and personally customizing the topper with mid-section latex (and thin 1/4" foam underneath for fine-tuning) and foam in the upper and lower regions.

What I want to mention to you as something perhaps worth considering is the reasonably priced, customizable, 6-zone (his/her sided) mattress at My morphis.

I haven’t yet tried this myself but I am planning for the Morphiis mattress to be my next mattress. Apparently, it is risk-free.


Thanks for that info and well-wishes.

As for the morphiis…interesting. So I did a lot of digging on this and here’s what I found:

  • The design has been around 2 years
  • All polyfoam: 5.5" layer base, 2.5" zone layer, 2" “ultrafoam” layer - which is HR polyfoam according to this site. which explains…
  • Very affordable. I ended up finding their website had discounted a king from 995 to 545, which sounds cheap, then sleepopolis takes it down to 395, but it can be had for 150+ shipping on amazon.

At that price I just decided to pull the trigger, since $203 is cheaper then most any piece of latex you can buy. It likely will only last a few years, but…the design seems sensible and can be a template for a better build in the future. There’s also the risk that the foam has been sitting compressed too long in a warehouse - and it was made in Asia. I guess we will see!

Hey zachbaker,

Thanks for the posts, I was a bit worried about the cutting of latex layers, I have had some experience with trying to cut latex, and of course, you can do it, but it is a lot more difficult than poly foam that is for sure. I am interested to see if this Morphis works for you. Please let us know when you have had a chance to try it.


Thanks Sensei.

I will post my updates here.

Meanwhile I’ve reinforced my foundation in preparation of whatever eventually works, and made it more breathable. There was literally a sheet of cardboard under the fabric. I now have 2" or less between slats. So I guess you could say I’m a DIY-er.

Curious what you’ve found on cutting latex? I can imagine the elasticity of latex makes it tricky to cut.

Hey zachbaker,

Yes you are a diy’er …no doubt! I was only cutting 3-inch latex toppers and talked to an old friend and ended up buying a couple of really sharp knives at Home Depot and manually cut down a queen to full size. Thank goodness I had a cover it looked like I butchered the thing. I didn’t have air compressor so couldn’t really use any cutting equipment. The latex flakes all over the place and it was difficult to keep straight cut line…it’s not easy, for me at least. It was for a family friend and was free so they were not going to care that much…not a lot of experience, but once was enough for me.


Here’s my update with the Morphiis. The jury is still out. Here’s what I can say, which is just my experience, but should be taken into account with other reviews out there for the mattress.


  • Cheap. I paid $203 shipped on Amazon from their storefront (“Morphiis Personalized Sleep Solutions”).
  • Configurable support. The configurations are easy to change. There’s actually sizable gaps between the pieces for ease of swapping, and so far I have not been able to notice them when sleeping.

  • The foam is somewhat smelly, but tolerable. Sometimes I still get a polyurethane whiff if I compress a piece of foam, over a week in. Getting fairly minimal at this point.
  • Most of the “ultrafoam” topper and the soft blocks are damaged by over-compression and/or sitting compressed too long in a warehouse. Which is a shame, because the bed is too firm.
  • The perceived difference in firmness between soft and firm blocks is not that much. Could probably benefit by having some “Xtra-soft” blocks. Or a stretchy knit cover rather than this woven one.
  • Sleeps somewhat hot, but not too bad. Helps that you are more on - and not in - the foam.
  • The mattress seems to address support pretty well, due to the configurability. I haven’t had back aches at all! But not comfort. My sides get somewhat sore with it. I believe the “comfort layer” - the top layer of “ultrafoam” just isn’t enough, at least for us. My light-weight, pear-shaped wife has a (fairly worn out) 3-inch memory foam topper on it and she’s still complaining about it not being comfortable enough. We’re still experimenting, and now we have adjusted things even softer to see if we still have enough support with the softest block options that make sense for our body types and sleep style. Will update.
  • Old foam? The foam has already yellowed on some of the edges. I don’t know if that is just normal for manufacturing process or what.

compression damage


yellowing and compression damage to sides and where blocks packages were situated

after a week, still compression damage.

after a week, still compression damage.

yellow + blue = green :slight_smile:

quite yellow on some sides


  • The website says in places that it is “custom-built.” It is not custom built, but it is customizable.


Definitely a YMMV type of purchase, but I believe they are onto a solid concept here. You might get one that sat in a warehouse too long. You might find that the relatively short (head to foot) segments may not be easy to line up for the configuration that you set up.

Hey zachbaker,

Wow, that was an incredible update and the photos!

First of all, for $203, I am not going to pick apart this mattress.

The yellowing is totally normal, oxidation - any light/air, this happens to any polyfoam.

The compression damage is disappointing, but at that price, I just can’t imagine the polyfoam is going to last a long time. There is something to “zoning” in a way that can help, but it is hard to do with the imported product on Amazon.

Thanks again for the update, I may move it to a thread for Morphiis info.



My husband and I visited Obasan recently to try out a latex mattress (since we’re used to sleeping on a very saggy and uncomfortable innerspring mattress). We’ve done a decent amount of research thanks to your forum and have reached out to Memory Foam Comfort to make a mattress for us that will be similar to one of our favourite mattresses at Obasan; with a 4" firm core (divided into two 2" layers), 3" medium center and 3" soft top.

Out of curiosity, there was another mattress at Obasan that my husband was a huge fan of; the top layer was zoned with separate pieces for the shoulder (soft), hips (medium) and feet (firm). To me, the original mattress we tried (which wasn’t zoned) was just as comfortable, but my husband insisted that having your shoulder sink into the top of the mattress was the best feeling ever. Is there legitimacy to this type of zoning, or is it one of those things that only works when done correctly? For context, he’s 6’2" at 200 lbs while I’m 5’7" at 160 lbs and we both tried the same firmness level, which might be why I found the experience lacklustre.

My other question was related to the pieces of the latex layer that make up the zones. They’re encased in the mattress cover and can be rotated and flipped when needed, but have people had issues with gapping between pieces (since they’re combined to be part of the same layer)? We’re both completely decided on purchasing the mattress I described above from Memory Foam Comfort; my question is purely based on curiosity.