Posted May 23rd, 2016
By: Wesley Vaughn

What’s New in Box Springs?


What’s New in Box Springs?

For many of us, the box spring is a Ho-Hum item. We buy a mattress, and a box spring is included. When the new mattress is delivered and set up, the box spring is placed on the rolling steel frame, which is adjusted for fit. Then the new mattress is placed on the new box spring. We think we know what a box spring is, so we just take it for granted.

The truth is, that plain old box spring under our bed might not be as old a design as we think. It may be something new, and if we did not pay special attention to it, that may not be realized. But before we go on to what is new in box springs, lets go back to why we have them in the first place.

We now have several kinds of foundations for beds, many owing their origin to the box spring, even if that is not what they technically are. Why a box spring? It was first put under an innerspring mattress to keep it off the floor or ground. The user was free to flip the mattress without bringing up a layer of dirt. Appearing on both sides of the Atlantic at the same time were springs inside the wood-framed foundation. Coils heavier-gauged than those in the mattress were nailed or stapled to a wood frame with cross slats. The coils were wired together and the top edge bound with a perimeter rod. This was the standard design.

With the introduction of foam mattresses, box springs were unsuitable. Most manufacturers of memory foam and latex (foam rubber) mattresses began providing foundations with solid or slatted wood tops to provide consistent support for the foam support cores of these specialty sleep beds. Slatted foundations provide underside ventilation for cooling and freshness. But the foundations continued to be called box springs out of conventional use.


Luxury mattress makers began making their own 8-way hand-tied box springs for better support, but these were too pricey for the general public. Then makers of components for innerspring mattresses and box springs developed new designs for the new mattresses. One key feature of these newer designs is zero-deflection or minimal deflection. Deflection is the amount the surface of the box spring depresses under weight. Reducing deflection, but still having resilience was a key to the box spring acting as a shock absorber withour overflexing the mattress.

Semi-Flex from corner HSM PowerStack corner

Semi-Flex                                   PowerStack

The Semi-Flex® by Bedding Components (a subsidiary of Leggett & Platt) and the PowerStack by HSM Solutions are similar in concept, though differing in actual design. Heavy-gauge wire forms flat-bottom “V”s and flat-top “A”s for firmer support with needed give. These and the perimeter and cross wires are welded together to form a one-piece spring for a zero-deflection box spring.

sigma-flex       true-flex

Bedding Components has a few more designs, such as Sigma-Flex® and True-Flex™ modular systems. The uniquely-shaped non-coil springs interlock. Modules are fastened to the frame with the connecting components. These have the advantage of more bounce than Semi-Flex and PowerStack. And since they are modular, a box spring of any size can be constructed.

Semi-Flex and PowerStack box springs are suitable for memory foam, gel, and latex mattresses. Sigma-Flex and True-Flex can be used with innerspring mattresses (ask before getting them for a foam mattress, airbed, or softside waterbed).

New coils are also being developed for box springs, but since they have a higher deflection, they are usually reserved for innerspring mattresses.

What’s new in box springs? The springs. Other innovations may be reported on later as they come into view.

Posted May 19th, 2016
By: Wesley Vaughn

Progressive Rate Springs: What Are They Doing in My Bed?


Progressive Rate Springs:

What Are They Doing in My Bed?

If anyone of us knows what progressive rate springs (PRS) are, the first place we expect them is in wheeled vehicles. In fact, that is the intended application of progressive rate coiled springs, and that is what comes up first in an online search. So it surprising to find “progressive rate springs” in the description of a mattress. And a waterbed mattress, no less!

Before we go on, let’s see what a progressive rate spring is. Some of us may already know, but not everyone.

progressive rate spring is a spring with a rate of compression which increases as the spring is compressed. For instance, a normal spring has a linear rate. If it takes 20 pounds to compress it the first inch, it will take another 20 lbs. to compress it another inch, 20 lbs. more for the next inch, and so forth. So it takes 60 pounds to compress that spring 3 inches.

However, if this is a progressive rate spring, it takes more than 20 lbs. for the second inch, and even more for the third. As can be seen in the HyperCoils illustration above, the coil is wound tighter at one end that at the other. There are several PRS subcategories, but they apply the same principle.

Now how did that spring get into a mattress? The progressive rate springs in a few softside waterbed models by Sterling Sleep Systems are not exactly the same. They have the same property of a progressively increasing rate of compression, but they are not metal, and they are not coils. They are made of foam.

Octaspring DreamCell-array-300x232

Progressive rate springs made of foam are not the first foam springs reviewed on or covered on the Beds Blog, but they may be the oldest. The first ones covered were Octasprings featured by Dormeo.  After that were the Dream Cells used by Reverie, the adjustable bed manufacturer, in its own mattresses. But the ones by Sterling were patented in 1990.

The Sterling Sleep Systems progressive rate springs are in intergral blocks. That means they are individual units that are part of one piece with the others. The concept is simple enough. Inverted cones or pyramids descend from a block of foam. The rate of taper and the densities in the foam control the rate of compression. The patent is broad enough that anyone else using the concept needs a license from Sterling.

How are these springs used in a waterbed?  The PRS blocks are placed in the bottom of the water bladder with the points down. A row of blocks runs along each edge, and a row crosses the mattress in the middle. The ones along the edge are for edge support, and those in the middle are for lumbar support. Because the rate of compression is progressive, this system automatically adjusts to the body weight of the sleeper.

As we discover other types of foam springs and their applications, we will report on them.


Posted May 16th, 2016
By: Wesley Vaughn

Ubiquitous Vinyl – It Is Everywhere

PVC Pipe Section

Ubiquitous Vinyl – It Is Everywhere

Vinyl – it is literally everywhere. It covers our houses, carries water into the house and sewage out, and bags our food and our garbage. It is hard; it is soft. It can be the box and the wrapping. We can pour out of it, drink from it, eat off it, and eat with it. It can protect our mattress, and in some cases can be the mattress. And it can be the casing on our remote.

So what is vinyl? And how can it be used for so many things?

When we say “vinyl” we usually mean polyvinyl chloride, also called PVC (there are other, non-chlorinated vinyls). It is a thermoplastic, which means it gets softer when warm or hot.  PVC is a polymer, many smaller molecules linked together. In this case, the monomer is vinyl chloride, a molecule of vinyl acetate with one hydrogen atom replaced by chlorine.


One vinyl chloride monomer is linked to another and so on, producing a chain which is very strong and very stable. In this sense it is like polyethylene, nylon, polyester and other synthetic materials.

PVC is naturally rigid, but it can be made softer by adding certain ingredients, such as phthalic acid. This vinyl can be barely bendable or very foldable.

How is vinyl used in bedding?

When we buy a new mattress at a store, it is usually wrapped to keep it clean. A memory foam or latex mattress may be compessed and rolled up. In this case the wrapping also keeps it compressed until ready to unroll at its destination. The wrapping for these mattresses may be vinyl, but not necessarily so.

If the mattress is an airbed, the air chambers are more likely to be vulcanized rubber, but some manufacturers (such as Vinyl Products Manufacturing) use PVC. But if it is a waterbed, the bladder is most likely vinyl.

An airbed has a remote control for the air pressure, and a  waterbed has one for the heater. If this mattress is on an adjustable bed, there is a remote control for the motors, the massage, and other features. The cases of these remotes are mostly hard plastic. In some cases this is vinyl.

Issues with vinyl

These is some controversy over the use of vinyl, especially with food and in bedding. These issues center around its composition and the manufacturing process.

Polyvinyl choride contains chlorine. Chlorine by itself is toxic. But in compound with sodium it forms salt, which is a safe substance. The concern with PVC is the chance that chlorine could leave the plastic and be carried in the air. This is unlikely except when the vinyl is overheated or burned. One sorce commented that in a house fire, there are other, more hazardous fumes produced.

If this is very flexible vinyl, the phthalic acid is in the form of phthalates, which are toxic. Pthalates are also used in flame resistant treatments. The concern is that phthalates would be off-gassed, polluting the sleeping area. However, as with chlorine, this is not considered very likely by some authorities. In otherwords, well-made vinyl is less hazardous than chemical FR treatments. But a word of caution here: vinyl made in China and a few other countries might not be properly cured, releasing gasses which have unpleasant odors and may be toxic.

As to the manufacturing process, the vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) is volatile, and can be in the air of the manufacturing plant and in the emissions. But since the mid-1970s, procedures have been upgraded to prevent escape of VCM into the workplace atmosphere, and it is removed from plant emissions.

Vinyl is everywhere because it is versatile. It can be used for many things. It is also durable, but this durability raises another concern: disposal. However, it is generally safe. It can keep things clean. It can be shaped in endless ways. Whether we like it or not, for the foreseeable future, vinyl is here to stay.


Posted May 14th, 2016
By: Wesley Vaughn

Sleeping on Air


Sleeping on Air

Many of us have dreamed at one time or another of floating on a cloud.  Sometimes using a high-end luxury mattress is described as “sleeping on a cloud” or “sleeping on air.”  That is not always just a figure of speech. When we use an airbed, we are literally sleeping on air. As with any mattress concept, the goal is restful, restorative sleep.

The modern airbed had its beginning with bicycles and automobiles. The first pneumatic tires (inflated with air) used innertubes, rubber tubes filled with air to specific pressures to support and cushion a vehicle at the same time.  The technology was developed of manufacturing and sealing the tubes, along with pumps and valves for inflating them and gauges to measure the pressure. Also developed were means of repairing innertubes.

Then came inflatable air mattresses for camping. These could be deflated, rolled up and stored or carried to the next camping site. This made camping much more comfortable, especially when the sleeping area was bumpy. One chamber became two or more to make the surface and the support of the air mattress more even.


The camping mattress became the overnight guest mattress, handy when there were more sleepers than available bed space. flocking or fabric was bonded to the rubber or vinyl mattress.

Eventually, air mattresses made their way into the bedroom and onto the bed. Some people used them as toppers on mattresses that were too firm.

Then regular mattresses were made for the bed, at which point they were called airbeds. ComfortAire had a role in making airbeds popular, with remote controls to operated installed pumps for filling the bed and adjusting the pressure.

Select Comfort launched the Sleep Number bed. Select pressure levels were identified by number. For a two-person bed, each side of the bed was inflated separately, so each sleeper had their own Sleep Number. An ad read, “What’s your Sleep Number?”

Now there are several manufacturers of airbeds. many of these also make waterbeds. At least one producer of many kinds of mattresses, InnoMax, began with airbeds.


The airbed has been refined until today it is a sophisticated option for a mattress. Comfort materials and quilting have been added, so now there are airbeds with latex, memory foam, gelfoam and pillow tops. The current trend of smart beds includes airbeds, such as the Sleep Number X12. They are often paired with adjustable beds.

So remember, when you are sleeping on an airbed, you really are Sleeping on Air.


Posted April 21st, 2016
By: Wesley Vaughn

Nanocoils: The smallest mattress coils so far


The smallest mattress coils so far

It used to be that the shortest mattress coils were the 4″ Bonnell coils in a sofabed mattress. The reason they were so short, when most coils were 7 or 8 inches high, was so the mattress could be folded to fit inside the sofa under the seat cushions.

With the introduction of pocket coils, the trend was for innerspring coils, at least the wrapped coils, to become taller, up to 9 or 10 inches. This allowed greater conformabiity and more weight-bearing capacity for these independent springs.

Then came much shorter springs, dubbed microcoils. Almost always pocket coils, these were shorter than the sofa bed coils, less than 4″ high. A sheet of these super short coils could be inserted into the comfort section of a mattress, such as between foam layers. Or 3″ to 4″ coils could top a traditional innerspring, such as offset coils, for a coil-on-coil construction.

Among the advantages of using microcoils are the option of placement closer to the sleepers, the increaased resistance to sagging, and the flow of air through the coils.

At some point, manufacturers and retailers began to distinguish the shortest microcoils from the others. Some began to call these minicoils. But in normal usage, micro is smaller than mini. This meant for some having to rename the coils taller than 1½” to 2″ as minicoils.

Now some manufacturers, including Hypnos Beds and Chattam & Wells, are calling the shortest coil springs nanocoils. Nano is definitely smaller than micro, so this makes sense. It would be a great idea if this terminology were universally adopted by those who make these very small coils or use them in products. Then minicoils could describe coils closer to 4″ high.

What the mattress industry needs is standard definitions for small coils. The question is, “Where do we draw the line between micocoils and nanocoils?” Another issue is how tall a microcoil has to be to be called a minicoil. If the term nanocoil is reserved for those less than ¾” high, then we can call springs between 2″ and 4″ minicoils.

For now, NanoCoil is a trademark of Bedding Components, a subsidiary of Leggett & Platt, so use of the term seems to be restricted to their products.

Posted April 13th, 2016
By: Wesley Vaughn

Float Like a Boat on a Waterbed

Float Like a Boat on a Waterbed

The title of this post sounds like either an ad or a put-down of waterbeds. When waterbeds hit the market in the early 1970s, some people remarked, “You call that a bed?” But waterbeds became wildly popular. In 1987, they constituted about 22% of mattress sales in the United States.

So what are waterbeds? Why did they become popular? Why did they decline? And where are waterbeds today?

Waterbeds are also called water mattresses and flotation beds. The modern waterbed is like a water balloon, but sturdier. It is a bag filled with water and framed to hold its shape. The most common retaining material is polyvinyl chloride (PVC). This bag, or bladder, is filled with fluid, usually water. As the water bears the weight of the sleeper, it fits itself to the body’s shape, like water forms around the hull of a ship. In a sense, the user is floating on the water.

The principal reason waterbeds became popular was pressure relief. This is the reason waterbeds were invented in the first place. When the first modern waterbed went on the market, waterbeds had been in use for close to 150 years.

The first waterbed was the Hydrostatic Bed devised by Dr. Neil Arnott, a Scottish physician. He suspended a canvas sheet over a tub of water. The patient, for whom ordinary filled mattresses were too hard, was placed on the sheet, and the water supported his weight conformably. This relieved pressure on hips, shoulders and any other protruding parts to prevent or relieve bed sores.

Sometime before 1855, waterbeds were being used in hospitals in the United States. They were mentioned in North and South by Elizabeth Gaskel (1855) and A New Beecher Church by Mark Twain (1871).

Science fiction writer Robert Heinlein foresaged several features in modern waterbeds. Why did he do this? His own need for better sleeping support and the time he spent in hospital beds.

It was C. P. Hall in California who finally patented the modern waterbed in 1971. The pressure relief it offered had great appeal. and waterbed manufacturers proliferated. Many innovations made waterbeds even more appealing.

Why did waterbeds decline after gaining over a fifth of the market? The introduction of memory foam mattresses. Memory foam, developed by Tempur Sweden (now Tempur-Pedic) from pressure-relieving viscose foam designed for astronauts, offered pressure relief without the weight of the water and the filling and maintaining of a water mattress. Airbeds also grew in popularity with the Comfortaire mattress.

The waterbed may have declined, but it did not go away. There are several waterbed manufacturers and several outlets for sales. Here is where the Internet may have helped the waterbed industry. With fewer brick-and-mortar retail stores carrying waterbeds, they can be found online.

There are two basic kinds of waterbeds: hardside and softside. In a hardside waterbed, the water mattress is placed in a rigid frame, usually wood, on a solid platform. The frame of a softside waterbed is inside the mattress cover. It is usually made of extremely firm foam. Two advantages of softside water mattresses are they are standard sizes, making buying sheets easier, and they look like a regular mattress.

More graded types of waterbeds are the design of the water chamber. This ranges from the entirely open free-flow water mattress to multiple chambers. In between are various kinds of filling fibers or foams. Some have special structures for lumbar support.

One manufacturer of waterbeds already reviewed on Beds.Org is Boyd Specialty Sleep, marketed under the brand Boyd Flotation. They list 7 softside waterbeds on their Boyd Flotation page (Meridian, Equinox, Cashmere, Pembroke, Dreamscape, Essex, and Brighton), but each of these actually has several models or variations. Boyd also makes hardside waterbeds. These are listed on waterbed retailer websites.

Other top manufacturers of waterbeds include Innomax, American National Manufacturing, Strobel Organic Mattresses, and Sterling Sleep Systems. There also are other lesser-known makers.

AmNatMfg Sterling-contourliner150 Strobel Venus2Price

Current models of waterbeds are quite sophisticated. And it does not have to stay in one spot for years. Glideaway now has a rolling bed frame made especially to handle the weight of a waterbed. If you need the pressure relief and can handle the weight, you may consider a waterbed along with pocket coils, airbeds, latex mattresses, and memory foam mattresses. Maybe you could float like a boat.

Waterbed Manufacturers


Boyd Specialty Sleep:

United States Watermattress:

Sterling Sleep Systems:

Strobel Organic Mattresses:

American National Manufacturing:

Vinyl Products Manufcturing:


Posted January 30th, 2016
By: Wesley Vaughn

What Are Performance Fabrics?

What Are Performance Fabrics?

John is looking for a lightweight jacket, one to keep him dry and cool on a rainy summer day.  He finds a Windbreaker online “with performance fabrics.”

“Huh?” he thinks, “What’s that?”

Mary needs another jogging outfit.  She wants to stay cool and dry, not soggy and itchy as in the old running clothes. Aha! Here on Amazon is a top-and-shorts combo made of “high level performance fabric.”

“Okay,” she mutters, “They’re throwing all these new-fangled terms at me.”

Jack & Jill need a new mattress. Walking through Mattresses Galore, they press down on one mattress after another. Jill lies on one and pops off quickly. Jack tries another one, sighs, and says to Jill, “Let’s take a closer look at this one.”

Jill lifts the tag and reads the specifications. After listing the interior components, such as titanium coils and memory foam, it describes the cover: “Stretch-knit performance fabric to conform to you, keep you dry, and balance temperature.”

“Jack, have you ever heard of performance fabric?”

“I’ve heard the term, but have no idea what it is.”

So, what is performance fabric? How is it made? And what is it used for?


So, what are performance fabrics?

Wikipedia says, “Performance fabrics are fabrics engineered for a wide variety of uses where the performance of the fabric is the major parameter.”

Textile Glossary defines performance fabrics as “Fabrics made for a variety of end-use applications, which provide functional qualities, such as moisture management, UV protection, anti-microbial, thermo-regulation, and wind/water resistance.”


According to one writer, some natural fiber products may be considered “performance fabrics.” For instance, Merino wool is excellent at wicking moisture.  But most performance fabrics were designed to perform in certain ways.

Performance fabrics may be ordinary cloth which is coated or otherwise treated to achieve specified properties. The fibers themselves may be engineered to act in certain ways. For instance, synthetic fibers, such as polyester, nylon, or rayon, can be extruded with a cross section forming channels for moisture, or formed with protruding hairs for trapping air.

One old performance fabric was oilcloth. It was cotton duck canvas coated on one side with boiled linseed oil (the same oil used in oil based paints) and metal salts.  The result was a flexible waterproof fabric which was lighter and less expensive than leather.  In the middle of the 20th Century, vinyl replaced linseed oil in oilcloth. I remember wooden kitchen tables covered with vinyl oilcloth.

Later, silicone was sprayed or otherwise applied to tents, canvas tarps, and outerwear to make it water repellent. A lightweight rain shell is washable, but has to be retreated after washing. A common treatment is Scotchguard by 3M.


A well-known current performance fabric is Gore-Tex. Invented in 1969, it is a membrane fabric coated with Teflon. This membrane is the middle of a layered fabric. It will repel water, but still be breathable, allowing water vapor to escape. In other words, keeping the rain out doesn’t turn your suit into a sweat-box.

Performance fabrics do more than manage moisture. Some manage temperatures directly. One means of doing this is to make the fabric more heat conductive. With common fibers providing the required strength and flexibility, heat conducting materials are spun into the threads, or woven or knit into the fabric. These may be metallic strands. But one choice is carbon fibers (also known as fibrous graphite).

Moisture wicking fabrics provide cooling by the evaporation of the moisture drawn out to the surface.  Since a user perspires more when hot, this is when evaporation is greatest, cooling when most needed. But what if it is too cool? Can the fabric switch from cooling to heating.?

Some performance fabrics are actually engineered to keep temperatures within a specified range, not just evaporate drawn out moisture. How do they do this? The fabric is infused with Phase Change Materials (PCMs). PCMs change their physical state (solid-liquid-gas), absorbing heat to cool the fabric, and releasing heat to warm it up.

PCM-infused fabrics are a type of smart (interactive) fabrics. They react to specific changes in the environment.

Two major categories of performance fabrics are value added fabrics and engineered fabrics. Value added fabrics are regular fabric which has been coated, infused or otherwise treated to add the desired properties. Engineered fabrics are formed from fibers which already have the characteristics of the finished material.

Just a few major producers of performance fabrics are DuPont,  Milliken and Invista.  Milliken has four types of performance fabrics. Invista makes Outlast, and DuPont produces Sorona. Besides these, there are many other perfomance fabric manufacturers.

Now we have enough performance fabrics on the market that, as the saying goes, “You need a score card to know the players.” Performance fabrics are quickly becoming so prevalent that soon they may be taken for granted.



Textile Glossary: 

Fabric Link:

Apparel Search:






Posted January 14th, 2016
By: Wesley Vaughn

Pillow Top or Euro Top: What’s the Difference?

Serta eurotop

Pillow Top or Euro Top:

What’s the Difference?

Jack and Jill are shopping for a new mattress. They visit a couple of mattress stores, several furniture stores, and a department store. Just so they don’t miss anything, they check the Internet. Jill read that some brands and models are sold only online.

“Hey!” Jack says, “We didn’t see that when shopping for our first mattress.”
“See what?”
“Pillowtop mattresses.”
“That must be something new,” Jill remarks.
“We’ve had the Serta for over 25 years,” Jack adds. “A lot can be new in that time.”

Let’s face it; there have been a lot of new things in mattresses in the past quarter century. If it’s been that long since you’ve shopped for a mattress, there’s a lot to find out.

Jill points at the screen. “This model is called a ‘Euro-top.’ What is that?”
“I don’t know,” Jack replied. “Maybe it’s just another name for a pillowtop. What’s the difference? I saw a ‘box top‘ earlier.”

Well? What is the difference between a pillow top and a euro top? Or a box top, for that matter?

First of all, some owners of mattresses found their mattresses were too firm. This was especially true during the time when it was commonly thought that firmer was better for back support. Mattress pads, or toppers, were sold to soften the feel of the bed without having to spend for a new mattress.

Mattress manufacturers have been adding padding to one or both sides of a mattress to soften the feel. Thicker and softer padding is used to make a mattress plusher. This can be done without sacrificing the underlying support of the innerspring or the base foam.

These mattresses can be made even plusher by adding a topper. Toppers have to be held to the mattress somehow. This can be with corner harnesses or with skirts (like a fitted sheet). A topper could shift if not held on tightly enough.

Some manufacturers began sewing toppers to the mattress. Some of these are still called toppers. Then some began to be called pillow toppers or pillow tops, followed by box tops. Essentially, euro tops are box tops. “Euro” sounds more classy.

The distinction between a pillow top and a box top is easy to visualize. A pillow top looks like a mattress-sized pillow sitting on the mattress, while a box top is boxy (squared sides).

pillow-top euro-top

The pillow top usually has a single bead around the edge. It is sewn to the top cover of the mattress a little way in from the edge.

The box top, on the other hand, has top and bottom beads. The bottom one is sewn to the top bead of the mattress proper.

Visually, the side of the mattress continues to the top of the box top (now called a euro top) with a seam along the side just below the top, while the edge of the pillow top sits above the top edge of the mattress.

The feel between a pillowtop mattress and a eurotop mattress is slightly different. The pillow top seems a little softer, because there is more give at the edge. The eurotop mattress feels a bit firmer because of the support along the edge. This diference is more noticeable close to the edge of the mattress.

The lifetime of a eurotop mattress is generally somewhat longer than a pillowtop model. This is due to the additional edge support.

Not all mattress makers strictly follow the technical distinctions between pillow top and euro top and use the terms interchangeably. Unfortunately, this causes some confusion. Also, some brands call the top layer a “euro top” when the only distinction is a seam an inch or two from the top surface. Technically, a pillow top or euro top is an attached topper, meaning that it sits on top of the top cover or ticking of the actual mattress.

Pillowtop cutaway
Cutaway view of a pillowtop mattress

As to spelling the term as one word or two, this is not standardized, but some distinction is used by some companies, though not always consistently. In this usage, “pillow top” and “Euro top” are the toppers themselves, while “pillowtop” and “eurotop” are adjectives applied to the mattresses. In other words, a pillowtop mattress has a pillow top, and a eurotop mattress has a euro top.

Jack and Jill bought a medium firm tight-top mattress and a plush topper. After reading customer reviews about high profile plush mattresses sagging, they figured it would be less expensive to replace the topper than the entire mattress.


a few pillowtop, boxtop and eurotop models

BR BoxtopCorsicana pillowtop Sealy Eurotop Serta Pillowtop



Posted January 7th, 2016
By: Wesley Vaughn

Lyocell (Tencel)

Tencel logo

Lyocell (Tencel®)

Lyocell, better known by the brand name Tencel®, is a cellulosic fiber. This means that it is regenerated cellulose. Natural cellulose is dissolved from wood pulp and extruded into filaments which are spun into threads and yarns for textile production.

Tencel® is the brand name used for lyocell produced by Lenzig AG, an Austrian company. Lenzig bought American Enka, the company that first produced lyocell, and it is now the only large scale producer.

Lyocell is further classified as a “third generation cellulosic fiber.” In 2015, Lenzig had produced viscose (rayon) for 100 years, Modal for 50 years, and lyocell for 25.

Rayon is the original regenerated cellulose fiber. Modal is a development from rayon. It has a higher wet strength and is machine washable. It is also much softer.

Lyocell has the advantage over rayon and Modal of a more environmentally acceptable manufacturing process. The production first two fibers requires use of bleach, sulfuric acid, and other noxious chemicals to remove lignin and dissolve the cellulose. Lyocell uses an amide acid, an organic solvent, to dissolve the cellulose from wood pulp. From 97% to 99% of the amide acid is recovered and reused. This leaves a much smaller environmental footprint than producing rayon or Modal.

Lyocell (Tencel) is more expensive to produce than rayon. That is why it is usually found in higher priced luxury products, such as the Aireloom Nimbus Pillow. Patagonia, a manufacturer of outdoor clothing, chooses Tencel over rayon (including bamboo rayon) for use in its products primarily because of the environmental impact of manufacturing rayon. Like the other cellulosic fibers, lyocell is biodegradable.

The properties of lyocell do give it some advantages over rayon. Like Modal, it is more washable. It is also stronger, and it is static free. The signature advantage of Tencel is its extra absorbancy. This alone gives lyocell preference over rayon and many other fibers for controlling moisture and temperatures, which accounts for its use in outerwear and activewear. It is also why it appears in a number of mattress covers, for instance some mattress models by Ashley Sleep, Aireloom Bedding, Northwest Bedding, and Simmons Beautyrest.

The newest development for Lyocell (Tencel) is nano-fibrils, extremely small included fibers that increase absorption while making the thread smoother.

Rayon from bamboo is promoted by many as evironmentally friendly because of how bamboo is grown. But that is offset by the process of making rayon from the bamboo. Ed Mass, the President of Yes, It’s Organic, wishes the process for producing Tencel will be applied to bamboo fiber, introducing bamboo lyocell. Would this be called “Bambocel“?


(all accessed on 01/07/2016)

Lenzig AG:

Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet:

Organic Clothing Blogs:



Yes It’s Organic:

Posted December 24th, 2015
By: Wesley Vaughn

Is it Bamboo or Rayon?


Is It Bamboo or Rayon?

A November 2015 review found that most of the top-selling pillows on Amazon featured bamboo. However, on reading the descriptions for individual pillows, some said the covers of the pillows contained “bamboo rayon” (or viscose) or “Rayon from bamboo,” while others just said “bamboo.” So, what is the distinction? What is the difference between bamboo and rayon from bamboo? And are the ones labeled “bamboo” really rayon?

First, bamboo itself is a natural product, a woody grass which grows in dense thickets to tree size. Parts of Asia have forests of bamboo. This plant has been used for thousands of years for building material, fuel, fibers, tools and many other uses, even food.

Bamboo grows so well and regenerates so quickly that it really doen’t need fertilizers. It is also so resistant to microbes, molds and other destructive organisms that it does not need pesticides. And anyone who has seen bamboo take over a plot of ground will testify that growing bamboo does not require herbicides. For these reasons, bamboo itself is billed as a “green” product,  consumer safe and environmentally friendly.

When it comes to fabrics, the question is why is it sometimes called “bamboo”? And other times called “rayon”? And what does this mean for the consumer?

Textile fibers are generally classified as natural or synthetic. In a way, rayon is both. The actual substance, cellulose, is made by plants, and the source used in rayon is wood, whether from trees or from bamboo.  But the cellulose is extracted from the wood, liquified and extruded as fibers, sheets, or blocks. Sheets of extruded cellulose are called cellophane, blocks are called celluloid, and fibers are called rayon (or viscose). So rayon can be classified as artificial, a natural substance re-formed in a synthetic process.

Here is where the subject of bamboo gets tacky. Bamboo fibers can be extracted by a process similar to producing hemp fibers or linen. This can take a long time and is generally more expensive than making rayon.

The real benefit of rayon is its texture and feel, which is very much like silk. However, the process of making rayon is generally not a “green” process. Harsh chemicals are used to extract and liquify the cellulose, hardly environmentally kind.

“But what about the benefits of bamboo?” someone asks. “Isn’t bamboo anti-microbial? Isn’t it anti-fungal?” The original bamboo fibers are just that. But cellulose is the only surviving ingredient of bamboo in the rayon. The plant’s antibiotic properties are lost in the process.

I have traced the question of “Bamboo or rayon?” at least as far back as 2007. In October 2009, the Federal Trade Commission settled with a company charged with claiming that rayon made from bamboo was “green” and had the health benefits of natural bamboo.

The FTC has also issued bulletins on the subject: How to Avoid Bamboozling Your Customers to manufacturers, and ‘Bamboo’ Fabrics to consumers.

The FTC has also published rules and guidelines pertaining to “all environmental marketing claims” and The Textile Products Identification Act (TPIA). In the TPIA, mattress covers are exempt (except for “green” claims).

They have also taken action against retailers (such as Amazon, Wal Mart and JC Penney) and manufacturers (such as The M Group, Inc. and Pure Bamboo, LLC) several times since 2009, including December 2015.

Natural bamboo fibers are rarely used in textiles of any kind. One textile products manufacturer, Patagonia, says that they don’t use natural bamboo fibers, because they already use hemp, and they do not use nylon and rayon because of the envronmental consequences of the manufacturing processes..

I have learned to question whether “bamboo” in a mattress or pillow cover is the natural fiber or rayon. Now  I’m inclined to believe that it is rayon unless specifically stated as drawn-out natural fibers. Though the law does not apply to mattresses, it still applies to pillows. The International Sleep Products Association has a Manual of Labeling Laws for its members, which has been updated in 2015.

As to why, after all the FTC and Canadian government actions, several product descriptions state “bamboo” and not “bamboo rayon,” I think the fault lies first with copywriters who may not understand the distinction or the law, then with companies who do not verify the accuracy of the product descriptions.


FTC – Fed Govt







Posted December 3rd, 2015
By: Wesley Vaughn

Minicoils or Microcoils?

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Minicoils or Microcoils?

A previous blog article, Microcoils, covered the use of coils in mattresses that are significantly smaller than innerspring coils. In this article, I noted that some of these smaller coils are much smaller than others, and that there has not been a concensus on terminology.

Until now, the whole category of small springs has been classified as microcoils. But now several manufacturers are placing two layers of these coils above the support core of a mattress. Typically, the coils in one layer (usually the upper one) are much smaller than those in the other. Attempts at differentiating these have been inconsistent. Some call the smaller springs “mini-microcoils,” and some “micro-minicoils.” So which way is it?

Two mattress manufacturers now use terms that make sense. European Sleep Works and Berkeley Ergonomics call the larger European-manufactured coils (2-4 inches) “minicoils” and the smaller ones (1″ or less) “microcoils.” This makes sense, because in common usage “micro-” is smaller than “mini-.”

I propose using this order of terms, first defining “minicoils” as those 4″ or less in height, and much smaller ones as “microcoils.” The real question is, “Where do we draw the line between minicoils and microcoils?” This could be at a certain coil height, such as 2″ or 1½”. On the other hand, small coils with a height smaller than their diameter could be called “microcoils.”

If mattress component manufacturers, such as HSM Solutions and Leggett & Platt Bedding Components, adopted consistent standards for terminology, mattress descriptions would be less confusing to consumers. Some elements in the industry seem to make it hard for a customer to compare one model with another. But overall public confidence in bedding manufacturers would benefit from clarity rather than obfuscation.

Posted November 13th, 2015
By: Wesley Vaughn

Pillow Talk


It has been almost 4,000 years since Jacob used a stone for his pillow. Honestly, it was not the pillow that caused him to dream about angels walking up and down a tall ladder, but our pillows can affect how well we sleep, and perhaps whether or how we dream.

What is the primary purpose of a pillow? To support and cushion the head. When a person lies down to sleep, the head needs to be high enough to keep the neck in line with the rest of the spine. Notice how many people who don’t have a pillow will rest their heads on their arms, a rolled up coat, a book, or even a stone. Ancient beds were made with head rests built in or attached.

For most of us, pillows are neccessary items—we can’t do without them. I know from personal experience that what pillow you have does make a difference. It can be too large or too small, too firm or too soft. The shape may or may not be suitable for its use, or it may have the right or wrong texture.

There are several kinds of pillows to choose from in a number of categories. The most important of these are Fillings, Size & Shape, and Covers.

The most significant category is the Filling, or to quote a well-known aphorism, “It’s what’s inside that counts.” When I was growing up, most pillows were filled with down, or a mixture of down and small feathers, and covered with cotton. Now most are one kind of foam or another. At home, we do have one buckwheat pillow and some wool pillows, but most of ours are filled with polyurethane foam.

A pillow may be filled with natural or synthetic ingredients, or a mixture of the two. Natural pillow fillings include down, buckwheat, wool, cotton batting, and natural latex. There are even pillows filled with air or water. Among artificial fillings are synthetic latex, polyurethane foam, memory foam, and polyester fibers. A large number of pillows use shredded foam.

Pillows share their history with mattresses. Early pillows had the same fillings as early mattresses, including straw, sawdust, wool, horsehair and feathers. The last three are still used in commercially produced pillows, with the feathers now being down off ducks or geese.

As stated earlier, we have a few wool pillows with cotton ticking, bought at Design Sleep in Ohio. The pillows were made in California by a company affiliated with European Sleep Works. They are comfortable, but do need periodic fluffing.

Pillows with horsehair in the filling are almost always high-end products. They usually have double ticking, with the liner designed to contain the hairs.

Buckwheat is very supportive, but a buckwheat pillow can also be shaped to suit its immediate use. Most covers are zippered so they can be opened, the buckwheat hulls poured into a container, and the cover washed. If you happen to lose some of the hulls, or if you just want a fresh filling, buckwheat hulls are available for sale.

Shape & Size is another important category, which is most often determined by the intended use. A few shapes & sizes are body pillows, bed pillows, throw pillows (small and usually square), neck pillows (straight or horseshoe), slim pillows, and dog-bone pillows. The choice here depends on the part of the body the pillow is intended for and the desired level of support.

Body pillows are intended for more than just the head. Bolsters are meant to support narrow recessed parts of the body, such as the lumbar or the neck. Most head pillows have the familiar rectangular outline and are usually 20″ or more in length. Horseshoe pillows are made for supporting the neck even when the user is standing or sitting, such as riding in a vehicle. There are pillows designed to support arms and knees while sleeping. And wedge pillows are designed to elevate the upper body or the feet.

The Cover (or ticking) of the pillow is a significant factor in how a pillow feels. This involves features such as surface texture, fabric weight and flexibility, temperature control, and substance sensitivities (such as allergies). The ticking serves to contain the cushioning materials inside and to protect them. Down pillows need covers with tight enough weave and and seams to keep the down and feathers from leaking out.

Many fabrics find use in pillow covers. Common ones include cotton, polyester and rayon, Also common are fabric blends, sometimes including bamboo fibers. Silk is used on some high-end pillows, alone or in a blend.

Most pillows used in bed are enclosed in pillowcases. These are usually in sets with the sheets. More than just a comfort or fashion item, a pillowcase serves to keep the pillow clean, just as the sheet keeps the mattress clean.

What you are sleeping on includes not only the bed and the mattress, but also the pillows. What pillows are best for you depends on your own personal needs and preferences. You have to experience different pillows to know what is best for you.

Posted October 17th, 2015
By: Wesley Vaughn

What Are You Sleeping On? The Ingredients List for Mattress Recipes

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What Are You Sleeping on?

The Ingredients List for Mattress Recipes

 What are you sleeping on? A few of the readers of this article may sleep in a sleeping bag or on folded blankets or quilts on a sleeping mat or an air mattress, especially if they are camping at the time and using a smart phone or tablet. Most of us, however, sleep on beds of one sort or another, also including sofas, futons, semi sleepers, and built-in beds.

The most common configuration for a bed in North America is a mattress on a foundation, which may be on a bed frame. Sometimes the bed and the foundation are the same thing. Platform beds are commonly used with memory foam mattresses. And an adjustable bed is often used without another frame.

Other than wood, wood substitutes, structural metals, and mechanical, electrical and electronic components, the materials in foundations are the same as those in mattresses. Many materials are used in mattresses. The list is long, but it can be organized into a few categories as to their types and their applications.


The types of materials used in mattresses are Fibers, Metals, Foams, Rigid and Semi-Rigid Materials, Chemicals and Special Use Additives, Natural Materials, and Synthetic Materials. The last two categories are sub-categories of some of the other categories.

The application of materials used in mattresses has several ingredients in different categories. These applications are Cushioning (padding & upholstery), Covers & Liners, Separators & Insulators, Climate Control, Safety, Containment, Support and Framing, Decoration, Fashion & Aesthetics, and Convenience & Handling.


Fibers are generally used in two application categories, Covers & Liners and Cushioning.

In Covers, fibers are woven or knit into fabrics to form the top panel, sides (borders) and bottom panel of a mattress. Most of these cover fabrics are very breathable, since ventilation is an important way of keeping the mattress cool and dry.  The most common fibers used in covers are cotton, polyester, rayon and wool. Other fibers used are linen, silk, cashmere, and bamboo. Less common in covers are horsehair, mohair, and aloe fiber. Two or more of any of these may be blended or used together in a fabric.

The cover also includes quilting material, which may be foam or fiber. Quilting fibers are usually polyester, wool, cotton or rayon, but may include other fibers. Quilting is used to add loft or cushioning at the top of the mattress. But some of the quilting materials serve in the Safety category as fire barriers to meet federal flammability standards without chemicals. These include dense wool batting and rayon infused with silica.

Liners are usually denser than cover fabrics, since they protect the interior of the mattress from moisture or help contain some loose material, such as horsehair.

Fibers that are used in cushioning are usually looser than in cover fabrics and quilting. The individual strands of the fiber need to be stiff enough for the fluffed fiber or batting to retain its resiliency. This kind of cushioning is usually used to avoid or lessen the use of foam. Common cushioning fibers are cotton, wool, and polyester fiber filling. The use of horsehair as cushioning is usually in high-end luxury mattresses, such as those made by Aireloom, Vispring and Hypnos.

Fibers are also used as Separators (also called Insulators) to protect the contents of one layer from those of another. For instance, innerspring mattresses usually have an insulator above and below the coil unit. This keeps softer materials from being damaged by the wire coils, and keeps them from binding or clogging the coils. An insulator can also separate coil units in a mattress with stacked coils.

Coconut husk fibers are used in coir, which is used for Containment as well as for Support.


The most common use for metal in a mattress is in spring coils. Coils are made from spring steel wire. Steel is iron alloyed with other elements to give it certain properties. Titanium and vanadium makes steel more resilient. Titanium, nickel and chromium are used in stainless steel. The right degree for the kind of steel being used can make it more durable. Steel is also used in helical wire and perimeter rods  to hold a Bonnell coil, offset coil or continuous coil innerspring together. Pocket coils are in fabric pockets.

Metal may be used elswhere on a mattress, such as brass for air vents, buckles, and rings. Brass, gold and silver are also used for Decoration.


Foams are used in a number of these categories, most commonly for Support, Cushioning, quilting in Covers, and Containment (as foam encasement).

Foams are what they are made of and how they are formed.  The most common basic kinds of foam are polyurethane and latex. Some insulating foams occasionally used in quilting are polyethylene and polyester.

Polyurethane foam is, for the most part, a petroleum based material.  Most of the so-called plant-based foams only have a small percentage of polyols made from plant oils. These may be soy oil, peanut oil, or some other oil. Some manufacturers advertise foam made with coconut oil.

Magniflex claims to make water-based foams from soy and aloe vera. This eliminates the use of petroleum. Though I don’t know the chemical details, water-based foams sound a lot like latex, and latex-like substances can be made from several reduced-moisture vegetable liquids, such as aloe vera juice.

Latex foam is made from rubber tree sap. Synthetic latex is made from butadiene, and the two are often blended to combine their benefits. Latex is used for its resiliency.

Rigid and Semi-Rigid Materials

Rigid and semi-rigid materials are used for framing and support. These include wood, particle board, composite hardboard, and sheets of metal and plastic. They are usually used in framing foundations. A few one-sided mattresses have a base layer that is rigid or semi-rigid.

Chemicals and Special Use Additives

The best known use of chemicals in mattresses is for Safety. Unless the manufacturers use a non-chemical alternative, certain chemicals serve as fire retardants to meet federal guidelines for flammability. These fire resisting chemicals include some nasty ones such as phthalates, which have been linked to cancer. These are still used for lower cost mattresses. Among non-chemical alternatives, silica is infused into rayon to make it flame resistant.

Some additives are used for temperature regulation. These are generally harmless, as these substances rely on physical properties rather than chemical interaction. Phase change materials are added to cover fabrics, quilting materials, or foams to keep temperatures within a desired range. Gel is added to foams to modify their support and absorb heat. Aloe vera extracts and other herbal extracts, such as lavender, are added to fabrics to sooth the skin, control odors, and offer other benefits.

Natural Materials and Synthetic Materials

Fibers, ingredients for foams, and additives consist of both natural and synthetic materials. Natural materials are those found in nature, whether wild or cultivated. This also included minerals which have not been chemically altered. For instance, graphite that is mined is a natural material. If it is obtained by reducing compounds to carbon, then processed to crystallize the carbon to graphite, it is synthetic.

For biological natural materials, there is also the question of whether they are organic or not. To be classified as organic, certain standards have to be met as to how the plant or animal was raised, suah as what it was fed, and how the product was handled and processed. Now added to that is the question of whether the animal or plant was genetically modified. With bedding, the concern is the presence of residues from pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and other chemicals, many of which are potentially harmful.

Synthetic materials are the product of creating new compounds from raw materials, usually by chemical processes. Most plastics are examples of this. First with coal tar, then with petroleum distillates, one substance was changed into another, usually by polymerization, the linking of short molecules to make longer molecules. Examples of this are the “poly” materials: polyurethane, polypropylene, polyester, and polyethylene.  Other common polymers are nylon and vinyl.

Rayon bridges these two categories. It is cellulose which has been extracted from woody fibers, liquefied, and extruded as sheets, blocks, or fibers. Therefore rayon is natural in substance (it is still cellulose), but synthetic in form. The Federal Trade Commission has ruled that rayon (also known as viscose) should be identified as such, since cellulose is the only substance from the biological source. But the wood from which it is made can be named, for instance “bamboo rayon” or “rayon from bamboo.”


As long as this article is, it is not in any sense exhaustive.  I can only hope that I’ve given you something to sleep on.

Posted October 16th, 2015
By: Wesley Vaughn

Aloe Vera: The Succulent Ingredient


Aloe Vera: The Succulent Ingredient

Aloe is a succulent plant which grows naturally in desert and semi-desert areas. Used for thousands of years as the source of medicinal and cosmetic products, this plant has been so widely cultivated that identifying its place of origin is a matter of educated guessing. It is also known by other Latin names, but the official one is Aloe vera.

The three most active substances in Aloe vera are derived from hydroxyanthrone. Collectively they are called aloin.

Two substances from the Aloe vera plant are commonly used, the juice and the gel. Aloe latex (not to be confused with rubber latex) is made by drying the juice. They are used both externally and internally. External use is safer than internal use, since aloe gel and aloe juice can be toxic in large qualtities or concentrations. Aloe latex, therefore, is generally not recommended for internal use because of its concentration.

Many uses of aloe have been documented over the past 5000 years. Its most common use has been as a skin softener or conditioner. It has also been used for burns and wounds. Many of us grew up learning that fresh aloe gel or aloe juice heals burns, including sunburn. Numerous clinical studies have been inconclusive or contradictory on actually healing burns, but it does have a postive influence. First, the gel will remain long enough to protect a burn or wound. Secondly, Aloe vera juice and gel are anti-microbial, and thus may protect a wound from infection.

One of the proponents of Aloe vera for health benefits is Dr. Andrew Weil, the founder of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. He has also recommended a mattress reviewed on Beds.Org, the Comforpedic IQ.

The leaves of the Aloe vera plant are fibrous. These are finer fibers than other natural fibers used in textiles, and they are not readily extracted. Therefore they are not commercially important. But recent research explores blending aloe fibers with other fibers. Since these fibers are cellulose, they can be used to make rayon, otherwise known as viscose.

Uses in Bedding

Fifteen mattress models or collections reviewed on Beds.Org use Aloe vera. Most use it in the textiles, and some use it in the foam.

Aloe vera in textiles is most often not as a fiber. It is usually the juice or the gel applied to the fibers or to the finished fabric. The usual motive is cosmetic or medicinal, to sooth skin coming into contact with the fabric. The fibers may be treated by coating them with or soaking them in the aloe. On the other hand, aloe gel and aloe juice capsules can be spun into the threads. This saves the aloe until released by skin rubbing on it. Treament of fibers and/or fabric is the most common use of aloe in mattresses reviewed on Beds.Org.

One of the reviewed models actually uses Aloe vera as one of the fibers. The cover fabric of the Aloe Alexis by Brooklyn Bedding is a 50/50 blend of organic cotton and aloe fiber rayon (literally “Viscose from the Aloe Plant Fiber”).

The most suprising use of aloe in textile fibers I found while researching this article has to do with silk. When silk fibers are processed for spinning, a gummy substance called sericin is removed. Sericin is anti-microbial, protecting the silkworm’s cucoon from being degraded by bacteria. This leaves the processed silk vulnerable to decay. According to an article written by Vinay G. Nadiger and Sanjeev R. Shukla of India, the silk can be treated with an extract of Aloe vera to make it antimicrobial once again.

Another use for Aloe vera in beds is in foam. The Italian bedding manufacturer Magniflex makes its own foams. One of them, Geomemory, is a water-based memory foam, made from soy and Aloe vera.

Of the mattresses using Aloe vera in one way or another, they are a small portion of the models and collections reviewed on However, if treatment of silk with aloe vera extract becomes widespread, beds with silk may have Aloe vera as an un-named ingredient.


Posted October 7th, 2015
By: Wesley Vaughn

Coconut and Coir


Coconut and Coir

Coconuts are not only something you can eat, but something you can sleep on.

Coconuts are the fruit of the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera), a tree naturally found on tropical coasts. The coconut palm has spread by means of its bouyant seed floating on water, following ocean currents and tides. From beaches, it spreads to nearby low areas by dropped seeds. Coconuts are rather large and heavy for seeds, so coconut palms do not naturally range far from the shoreline. However, cultivated coconuts palms are found inland.

The coconut has three parts: the outer husk, the inner husk (coir) and the seed itself. All three parts have economic significance. The coconut is a source of both food and fiber.

Most people know the coconut as a food source. The solid white meat around the hollow interior is edible, as is the watery “milk” inside. Coconut oil extracted from the fruit is used in cooking. It is also used in cosmetics, lotions, ointments and plastics

Coconuts are also used in bedding, especially mattresses. Some bedding foams use coconut oil as an ingredient. The oil is actually infused into some fabrics as a skin conditioner, but this is not common, because that would have only a short term effect.

The fibers of the coconut are also used in mattresses, especially from the inner husk. These fibers, called coir, are extracted from the soaked hulls. The fibers themselves may be included in matting, such as base pads and insulators in a mattress.

More commonly, coir portions or fibers are mixed with rubber tree sap (latex) and cured, forming a very firm sheet, also called coir. India is a significant producer of this kind of coir. Its use in beds is usually as a base pad or an insulator (separating softer materials from coils). In several non-foam innerspring mattresses with pocket coils, coir is used for edge support.

There are dozens of other uses for coconut fiber, so raising coconuts for food and fiber is an important activity in many tropical and subtropical regions.

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