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Soft vs Firm Mattress - Which Comfort Level is Right for You?


Woman's hand presses on mattress to determine if it is soft or firm

Mattress shopping can feel like a chore when you don’t know what you need. This problem gets compounded when you take the advice of a friend or family member who loves their new mattress; you buy the same one, only to find it isn’t right for you. If you think about it, this makes sense. After all, every person is different, so one mattress truly doesn’t fit all. 

Assess Yourself

The key to determining which mattress is best for you starts with an assessment of yourself as a sleeper. Do you primarily sleep on your back, your stomach, or your side? Do you have any physical ailments, such as frequent back or joint pain? Do you often sweat in your sleep or struggle to stay warm? Giving some thought to your habits as a sleeper goes a long way towards finding a mattress that meets your specific needs.

Mattress Basics

Once you have a good idea of who you are as a sleeper, it’s time to dive into the basics of mattress technology. 


Every mattress is designed to provide a specific comfort level. This starts with how soft or firm the mattress is, which is an indication of how much “give” you can expect when you lie down on its surface. City Mattress rates each mattress on a firmness scale from 1 (Firm) to 10 (Soft). When you see the term “medium firm,” it generally means the mattress falls near a 5 on this scale. 


The firmness rating of a mattress is a broad view of its comfort level, but how it achieves that level is determined by its materials and construction. For instance, a medium firm innerspring mattress is not the same as a medium firm memory foam mattress. Though they share the same firmness rating, their actual “feel” is quite different. 

Innerspring Mattresses

Most people are familiar with innerspring mattresses. However, today’s innerspring coils are the result of constant refinement, surrounded by newer, more effective comfort materials. Innerspring mattresses offer active resistance to weight by pushing back, but this same attribute can lead to sore pressure points. That’s where the comfort layers come into play, combining with the coils to create an overall experience that ranges from soft to firm.

Memory Foam Mattresses

The term, “memory foam,” is a generic categorization of many foams that react to pressure and temperature. However, they all conform to the body to relieve pressure while distributing weight evenly. Memory foam mattresses also provide excellent motion isolation - when one sleeper moves, the other doesn’t feel it. By varying the density of foams in the mattress, a memory foam mattress can provide a range of comfort experiences from soft to firm. One downside to memory foam is a tendency to trap heat, but this is often offset by cooling technologies incorporated by the manufacturer.

Latex Mattresses

A natural material with extraordinary durability, latex provides some of the contouring properties of memory foam while remaining bouncy like an innerspring mattress. Latex mattresses are more breathable than memory foam, resulting in a cooler sleep experience. The exceptional durability of latex mattresses allows them to carry warranties of up to 15 years!

Hybrid Mattresses

Combining the strength of an innerspring coil system with the comforts of memory foam or latex, hybrid mattresses offer the best of both worlds. Support layers include the innerspring core and denser foams, while the comfort layers vary in density according to how firm or soft the manufacturer designs the mattress to be. 

Mattress Tops

A mattress’s topmost comfort layer may stand alone, or it may include a plush, pillow or euro top. A plush top adds a little extra cushion, often for a medium-firm experience, while a pillow top creates a much softer experience. Eurotops are a variation of pillow tops; a pillow top is a separate layer with a gap between it and the mattress surface, while a eurotop keeps the pillow top under the mattress surface, flush with the mattress edges. 

Which Mattress Type is Right for You?

Tying everything together, the softness or firmness of any mattress depends on the materials used, and knowing which materials suit you best requires a little experimentation. However, you can develop a good idea of where to start based on your self assessment, looking at issues like back pain. We encourage you to view our dedicated articles on choosing the right comfort for you, and decoding softness meanings between various firmness levels. 

If you are a back or stomach sleeper, too much cushion can result in poor spinal alignment, while side sleepers need pressure relief on their shoulders and hips. If you prefer to feel like you’re sleeping on top of your mattress, a firmer mattress may be right for you. Conversely, if you prefer to feel like you’re sleeping on a cloud or sinking into your mattress, a softer mattress is a good place to start.

Talk to one of our sleep experts and let City Mattress match you with the mattress of your dreams!