Why is my mattress so hard?

My customized mattress is still way too hard even after several modifications. (It’s somewhat better than it was at first, but not anywhere near as much as I hoped and expected.) Why?

What I currently sleep on, bottom to top:
-flat hard surface
-bottom of 6 mil vinyl waterproofing bag
-bottom of woven ticking/cover
-bottom of inner cover of thin stretch terry-cloth
-4" very hard foam - ILD 50, density 2.8
-2" medium Talalay latex - ILD 28, density 5.6
-3" soft Talalay latext - ILD 22, density 5.6
-top of inner cover of thin stretch terry-cloth
-top of woven ticking/cover
-top of 6 mil vinyl waterproofing bag
-2" high loft (“overfilled”) mattress pad, polyester batting boxed in “microplush” polyester fabric, no waterproof layer
-fitted sheet

I’m loath to change the lowest layers (without having the certainty of understanding why they’re really causing this problem) because I really do need a whole lot of support. I’m over six feet, almost 300 pounds, and a side sleeper. (I’ve had bad experiences with backaches in the past and am very leery of repeating them. And I wrecked my last innerspring mattress in just about three years.)

What I have now (i.e. what’s listed above) “works” in the sense that when I wake up in the morning I have neither the insufficient support achey muscles nor the insufficient pressure relief incipient bruises. But it feels (and even looks) very hard, so much so the idea of crawling under the covers to read is repulsive rather than inviting. Why?

Hi ckollars,

Softness and firmness is very subjective and relative and each person experiences it differently so a mattress that feels too firm for one person can feel too soft for someone else depending on their body type, sleeping position, and preferences or sensitivity and what they are used to sleeping on in the past and are using as a reference point for soft or firm. It would be similar to “sweetness” or “saltiness” where a food that tastes too sweet or too salty for one person won’t be sweet enough or salty enough for someone else. There are also different types of softness and firmness that different people may be sensitive to (see post #15 here). Higher body weights will generally feel more of the effects of the deeper layers more than lighter people.

The most likely short answers though would be that either one or more of the layers are too firm for you or the mattress is thinner than you may do best with (see post #14 here) or the thick vinyl on top (and possibly the thick mattress pad as well) is interfering with the response and contouring of the latex underneath it. There is more about the different factors that can affect how soft a foam feels in post #4 here.

The specs you listed also don’t seem to be correct (the densities you listed don’t relate to the firmness levels for Talalay). Did you buy the mattress as a complete mattress or did you buy the layers individually … and where did you purchase them?


How likely is it that this could be the problem? If so, could standard weight (3 mil) be a significant improvement over the current heavy weight (6 mil)?

(I’ve had problems in the past with standard weight vinyl bags ripping, hence the current heavy weight.)

I don’t think this is a problem. This is the third mattress pad I’ve tried, and it’s definitely better than the first two. Its “high loft” finally solved what had previously been an ongoing problem with pressure points.

(One of previous mattress pads was “waterproof”, which seems to have made the problem worse all by itself. Getting mattress pads that were not waterproof improved things.)

Yes, this is a “do it yourself” arrangement. The good part is the flexibility to change out individual sub-components. The not-so-good part is an explosion in the number of ways to screw it up.

Purchased on the web, delivered by mail. (I’m reluctant to give a specific URL here, but simply Google and there will be no question.) Advice fooled me at first, because I mistook their responsiveness and helpfulness for guidance, and didn’t realize until later that they actually provide no guidance at all and are mainly of use to either those who construct something extremely simple to meet a very flexible need, or those who know exactly what they’re doing (not me:-).

Hi ckollars,

[quote]How likely is it that this could be the problem? If so, could standard weight (3 mil) be a significant improvement over the current heavy weight (6 mil)?

(I’ve had problems in the past with standard weight vinyl bags ripping, hence the current heavy weight.)[/quote]

It would likely be part of the problem but not all of it. Thicker plastic can certainly interfere with the contouring and feel of the latex. 3 mil may be better but could still have an effect and as you mentioned would be more likely to tear. The most reliable way to know “how much” effect it’s having is to remove it and try it without the vinyl. I’m curious why you are using vinyl (or polyethylene?) on the top and bottom of your mattress. In addition to any effect it has on the firmness of your mattress it will also have a significant effect on the breathability and ventilation of your mattress.

I suspect that you purchased from Foam by Mail (AKA Foam Factory, FBM etc) and I think that this may be the biggest issue that you have (which is why I asked). You may be interested in reading this post and this post and this topic (about their polyfoam and sources) and this post (presumably from a past employee). They don’t sell Talalay latex … they only say they do … and the Dunlop you purchased is probably significantly firmer than you believed you were purchasing.


It’s no fun at all to be an old man with very occasional incontinence problems. It’s even less fun to find out that on top of everything else, your mattress is now ruined. What sounds so strange because it’s clearly not entirely reasonable for most adults -or even toddlers- is almost a prudent requirement for seniors. Frankly, I’m surprised this isn’t discussed more commonly.

Despite being quite common, the “shields” that cover only the top of a mattress really only work for little bodies that don’t hold much pee. The seams and sides of the mattress need to be covered too. And at that point, keeping it in place is such an issue that the “whole bag” approach seems best.

Hi ckollars,

Thank you for your forthright reply … and I agree with you that these types of issues should be discussed more openly because they are a fact of life for millions of people.

It may be worth considering other alternatives that would provide better ventilation and temperature regulation and “comfort” and help you sleep better than than using a plastic/vinyl bag. If you were to use a membrane type mattress protector that is waterproof on 5 sides and tucks under the mattress like a fitted sheet (see post #2 here for some options) and then use a wool/cotton mattress protector on top of that (see post #89 here for some options) you would have a two protector system where both would be easy to remove and washable and would likely have enough water resistance to protect your mattress and you would have a more breathable and probably more comfortable sleeping surface as well.

Other alternatives that are also included in the main mattress protector post would be the wool/cotton protectors that include a waterproof membrane or a wool “puddle pad” under a membrane protector.

These would be more costly options than a plastic/vinyl bag but they would probably be much more temperature regulating and comfortable as well.

While I don’t have any personal experience with it so I don’t know “how waterproof” it is … there is a newer type of Crypton mattress protector made by Legget & Platt that may also be worth considering. I have some samples of the regular Crypton fabrics that are very stiff and not very breathable at all but it looks like the version they are using in the protector is much more flexible. I also don’t know if only the top surface is waterproof or whether it is waterproof on 5 sides.


It’s now time to report back, to tell the results of my experiments and what ultimately worked, to “follow up”:

I found that any waterproof mattress protector of any type makes the mattress just a little bit harder. Anything that’s tough enough to block liquids also distributes any weight above it over a wider portion of the layer below. It’s not a terribly significant effect, but it is there and it is consistent. I tried various protectors, and even risked no protector at all for a few nights to find out what would happen. It was clear to me that “more is not better”, that two waterproof mattress protectors where only one was really needed was a poor idea.

I found the six-sided (i.e. “bag”) waterproof mattress protectors to be even more effective, to be the top-of-the-line model recommended by most sources, and to possibly have the desirable side effect of also blocking bedbugs. They do have one very significant disadvantage though: by foregrounding “the drum effect” they can make mattresses much harder. Stretched tight, they don’t have enough flexibility to allow the mattress to do its job. One compromise solution is to use a five-sided waterproof mattress protector instead. Another compromise solution is to use a bag that’s a little too big, typically because it was made for a thicker mattress. The goal is to have enough extra material to avoid tightly stretching so one gets the drum effect, but not so much extra material the sheets won’t stay on. Ultimately I settled on the “too big bag” solution.

I didn’t experiment with “membrane” type waterproof mattress protectors where the waterproof layer is part of a “sandwich” of other materials, because I’m very leery of them. It’s too easy to launder them at too high a temperature and damage the membrane, but not realize it. It goes back on the bed and one thinks everything is fine …but when it’s finally needed it doesn’t work.

I found that mattress pads had both a “harder” and a “softer” effect, partially canceling each other out, with only the rest of the larger effect remaining. The “harder” effect comes from the quilting, which can be quite tight and pretty stiff (don’t be fooled by the “hand feel” of a small area, which always seems soft). The “softer” effect comes from the embedded padding/batting. In my case a couple “good” mattress pads didn’t actually work for me, but what did finally work well was one that was very loosely made with “box” construction and containing a high-loft filler.

Neither “ventilation” nor “temperature regulation” were issues that mattered to me, because the effects of the window and the baseboard heater -both of which are only inches from my bed- completely swamp out any effects of the mattress or bedding. (They’re likely important factors for others though, and may militate for something different than what worked for me.)

As suggested I revised the inside of the mattress, and now it’s “just right”. On the top I added a 3" layer of ILD 18 Dunlop process of a natural/synthetic blend that I purchased from a different source. (I still don’t know how to tell whether a piece is Dunlop or Talalay by looking at it, but strongly suspect that what I previously purchased as Talalay is in fact Dunlop.) Next I retained two existing layers, 3" of ILD 22 latex, and 2" of ILD 28 latex. I removed the bottom layer of 4" of very stiff ILD 50 (!) foam, and replaced it with 1" of more moderate ILD 35 foam. (Previously with weight widely distributed over the bottom layer of very stiff ILD 50 foam, it in effect acted as a hard surface, so my mattress was really only 5" thick.) The combination of the softer top layer and the more compliant bottom layer got rid of all my pressure issues without introducing any support problems.

Hi ckollars,

Thanks for sharing your comments and insights in such great detail and it’s great to hear that you were able to make some changes that are working well for you :).