Saturday, February 18, 2017

Recycling Mattress Foam

When we decided to build our own foam mattress (see the Steps we followed in the links in the right sidebar) we first needed to figure out what to do with our old innerspring mattress and boxspring. We also realized that we'd need to someday dispose of the foam from the new bed when it needed to be replaced.

Every foam mattress, of every design, will eventually wear out and need to be replaced. I estimate that our DIY polyurethane and latex foam bed will last 10-15 years if individual foam layers are turned (flipped) every 5 years or so. But, the new all foam mattresses like the Casper and Leesa that are completely encased in non-removable covers, and therefore can't be turned, might last only 5-10 years before sagging in the foam makes them uncomfortable. So ...

What To Do With Your Old Mattress?

The best solution is to contact a recycling facility in your area. This keeps the material out of the landfill and puts the old material to good use. ByeByeMattress has a recycling facility locator to help. Just enter your zip code and contact the facilities near you for their details.Then, find a friend with a pickup to help you haul the mattress to the recycling facility!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

5 Yrs Later - What Would I Change Now?

Our latex and polyurethane bed is now almost 5 years old (see the Steps we followed building our mattress - right sidebar). We have no real complaints, the bed is still very comfortable - certainly an order of magnitude more comfortable than our old innerspring mattress! We've found that rotating the comfort layers 180 degrees every few months helps to keep the surface flat. We have also recently turned (flipped) all the foam layers as they have started to sag after 5 years.

If we started over now I might substitute a high quality HR foam for the latex layers only because latex is heavy and harder to move around. As we get older the prospect of wrestling with the latex layers several times a year becomes more of an issue all the time!

I'd probably also go with thinner foam layers. We used 2", 3" and even 4" thick layers. I think this was unnecessary and added greatly to the overall weight of the bed. One inch thick pieces for the comfort layers might have been enough and additional "toppers" could be added if needed. 

I would like to try a memory foam topper as the top layer some time as well. My guess is I won't like it (might be too soft and "grabby") but I'd still like to give one a fair try. One issue with trying out different topper pieces, however, is what to do with the ones that you don't want to keep.

What About The New All Foam Beds

You may have seen ads for several different all foam beds that are now available online. These beds are very similar in design to our DIY bed. Two of the more widely advertised all foam beds are the Casper and Leesa. If you look at their websites (google "Casper mattress" or "Leesa mattress") cutaway diagrams show how the layers are stacked. Both are available for under $1000 (queen size).

If we were just starting our project now I might get one of these mattresses and place it on a single 4" layer of our foundation (blue) foam instead of building the entire bed from scratch. This would have added some cost but would have saved a lot of time. One thing I really like about these new mattresses are the covers that hold all the pieces together. However, one important disadvantage is that since the covers can't be removed the foam layers can't be turned (flipped). All foam will eventually sag and need to be turned or replaced. I suspect that our DIY bed will last many years longer since we can, and have already, turned the foam layers. Please note that I have no connection to these companies and am not specifically recommending any commercial mattress.

Hope this has been useful. Don't hesitate to build your own mattress, I can't imagine ever going back to an innerspring mattress, no matter how much it costs!


Bed Bugs - Can A Foam Mattress Help?

bed bug ~ 1/5"
Five years ago we built our own foam mattress from materials available online (see the Steps we followed building our mattress - right sidebar). One question that I occasionally get through my 'Bugs site is "can a foam mattress help prevent bed bugs?".

Bed bugs (left) hide during the day and venture out at night in search of a meal (blood). Bed bugs need a protected, dark hiding place in which to digest the blood meal and lay eggs. Hiding places generally acquire dark greasy stains from bug feces. A conventional mattress with many deep creases and sewn seams (bottom photo, left) is the perfect environment for these blood-feeding insects to hide undetected.

Red arrows in the photo below show where bed bugs hide during the day. Dark-colored fecal stains also indicate the presence of feeding bed bugs.

Our foam mattress has no sewn seams or creases and is encased in a smooth, white cover. This lack of good hiding places and the easy detection of fecal stains against the white background makes it virtually impossible that bed bugs would gain a foothold before being seen.
hiding places & bites

Bed bugs are relatively easy to control if detected in the early phase of an infestation. A foam mattress will facilitate the early detection of these blood-feeders before the infestation gets out-of-hand. See our bed bug articles for details regarding identification and control of bed bugs.


Friday, January 25, 2013

Our Foam Mattress - The Comfort Layer(s)

foam mattress - support layers
Foam mattress - (no cover)
This is the sixth post in the series of six articles about building our latex foam bed. Be sure to look over earlier posts with more details about how the bed was built. In order they are "Decision", "Foams", "Suppliers", "Advantages", "Foundation" and "Mattress" (see links in the right-hand column).

The final task is to construct the comfort layer(s), which in a conventional bed would be called the "mattress". These layers provide the soft, supportive surface on which we sleep and these are the layers that can be adjusted for individual preference.

In a foam bed the comfort layer is built from individual layers of polyurethane foam, latex foam, and/or memory foam whereas In an innerspring conventional bed the mattress is often made from metal springs sandwiched between thin layers of some type of foam. Even expensive innerspring mattresses are no match in terms of comfort for the foam mattresses. Once you decide to abandon the lumpy, squeaky innerspring the only choice is the type of foam to use.

We decided to encase our latex comfort layers in an inexpensive cotton cover. A conventional mattress pad is then fitted on top of the stack (see photo below) to pull everything together.

Complete with covers and pad
Final Configuration:

The completed bed is now 15" of foam. Starting at the bottom, just above the wooded slats, we have 7" of relatively firm (HD Lux-HQ) polyurethane (the "boxspring" of a conventional bed) - this is the blue foam in the previous articles. Then 3" of medium firm HR polyurethane, the transition layer, sometimes called a support layer, between the firm foundation foam and the softer comfort layers. Then 3" of medium firm Talalay latex foam; and 2" of soft Dunlop latex foam (the comfort layers). If desired the latex foam layers (5" total) could be replaced with memory foam, at around $400-$500, converting the bed to a high quality memory foam bed that might otherwise retail for $3,000+.

Final Thoughts

Our perfect foam bed is now about 5 years old and is performing wonderfully. It is very comfortable for both of us, does not squeak or creak and is fairly easy to move. Total cost, not including hardwood frame, bedding and pillows, is $1,008, a whole $8 over budget!. The cost breakdown is: 7" HD Lux-HQ ($228), 3" HR ($230), 3" Talalay Latex - medium ($273), 2" Dunlop Latex - soft ($237) and wood slats ($40).

One of the unexpected advantages of our foam bed is that it is adjustable, not in the push-button sense of air beds but by swapping out individual layers, or rearranging the different firmness layers, you can adjust the firmness of the final sleeping surface. And, if we decide we like memory foam at some point in the future we can have a memory foam bed by adding an inexpensive 2"-3" memory foam topper to the already excellent foundation and comfort layers.

One thing I have learned, however, is that latex foam is very dense and heavy. Since we rotate the comfort layers every 3 months or so this weight has become noticeable. If the relatively heavy latex layers are an issue for you consider using soft HR polyurethane rather than latex for the top comfort layers. Polyurethane is much lighter and the HR types will impart most of the "springiness" of latex.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Our Foam Bed's Foundation

Almost complete foundation, still needs a cover.
This is the fifth post in the series of six articles detailing the steps we followed building our polyurethane and latex foam bed. See the links (right) for other steps.

This post is about building the bed's foundation. The foundation is the bed frame (or platform) plus the layers of polyurethane foam that give the bed height and upon which the support and comfort layers rest.

The foundation layer could be a simple plywood platform but since we already had a beautiful white oak bed frame that originally held a conventional box spring we wanted to adapt the frame for our new bed.

The original bed frame had three fairly flimsy slats that held up the box spring. This worked ok because the box spring had its own rigid frame that sat on the slats. This arrangement  would not work however for the foam bed because the foam layers of the foundation needed more bottom support.

Kiln-dried 2x4 foundation slats and centre brace
Rather than using a solid, and hard-to-move, plywood platform I built a system of kiln-dried 2x4 Douglas-fir slats and a centre floor brace.  I used kiln-dried wood so the slats would not shrink in length as they dried and possibly pull off the side rails. The brace is made from the same material as the slats with a top and bottom head and short "studs" about every 30". The slats are loosely laid on the side rails of the bed frame except for the middle slat which is screwed into the rails which prevents the bed frame sides from bowing outward.

Slat and brace detail.
Next, we placed 7 inches of ILD 50 (very firm) high density (Lux HQ) polyurethane foam (see photo above) on the slats. Seven inches was the depth needed to bring the level of foundation foam to the top of the bed frame side rail (see photo above). The foundation foam was bought in two pieces, a 3" and a 4", from the Foam Factory ( See the earlier post about sources of foam for details about how foam was bought and shipped.

The seven inches of HD polyurethane replaced the conventional box spring at a cost of about $220. This is about twice the cost of a cheap box spring but will likely last much longer, has no springs that could break and damage the upper layers of foam, plus is very easy to move.

The final step was to cover the foundation polyurethane foam with an old sheet for protection. The next step in the project is to add the support and comfort layers.

If you have questions or comments contact us through our 'Bugs website of leave a comment below. 


Monday, March 19, 2012

Advantages Of A Foam Bed vs Innerspring Mattress

Complete HD polyurethane foundation.
This is the fourth post in the series of six articles that chronicle the steps we followed to build our own polyurethane and latex foam bed. See the links (right) for earlier posts.

Advantages of a Home-Made Foam Mattress Bed

  • Building the bed yourself makes it much less expensive than a comparable brand-name latex or memory foam bed, and just as comfortable. In fact, unless you bought the top-of-the-line, name brand bed, your DIY bed is probably much higher quality.
  • Overall, foam beds are more supportive than innerspring mattresses and don't exhibit the pressure points that some innerspring mattresses do. Have you noticed that most innerspring mattresses have a so-called "pillow-top"? The pillow top is essentially a thin piece of latex or urethane foam. This thin layer of foam is put there to cover the hard spots that are inherent in innerspring designs. Buy your own "topper" and get a much better piece of foam for much less money.
  • Foam beds are much easier to move from room to room than a conventional mattress/box-spring, especially when going up or down a narrow staircase, because the beds can be taken apart and moved as individual pieces of relatively flexible foam pieces.
  • The beds can be customized/adjusted to firmness by changing the position of individual foam layers in the stack.
If you have questions about our project or comments about this article please contact us through our website LivingWithBugs or leave a comment below.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sources of Mattress/Foundation Foam

queen-size foam packed for shipping

Buying Foam 

This is the third post in a series of six that chronicle the building of our home-made polyurethane and latex foam bed (see links right). Earlier posts detailed why we decided to build a foam bed (#1) and post #2 is about the types of foam that were available for this project. Future posts will show how the bed's foundation, support and comfort layers were put together.

This post is about where we bought our polyurethane and latex foam pieces and how they were shipped to us.

60"x80"x3" polyurethane foam slab
How Foam Was Shipped
We purchased queen-size (60"x80") pieces of polyurethane and latex foam in 2", 3" and 4" thick "slabs" from two different online retailers. Both retailers packed the pieces for shipping by folding them in half longways, rolling them up as you would a sleeping bag, then compressing this "bedroll" further by removing some of the air under vacuum. The compressed roll is then wrapped tightly in plastic wrap (see the blue roll in the photo above which opens into the slab pictured right when the wraps are removed). The compressed rolls were boxed (see photo above) and shipped via UPS.

Where We Purchased Foam
We had both good and bad experiences purchasing foam online. While we have a local supplier we felt that we could save a few dollars by ordering online, plus there was a better selection of foam quality and firmness from online suppliers.

The downside of shopping online, of course, is that if something goes wrong it can be difficult to get a satisfactory resolution. We found, for example, that one retailer (Foam Online ( used very confusing/misleading terminology in their ordering process. We ordered a relatively firm polyurethane foam based on industry-standard (IFL) terminology but received a much softer foam that the retailer claimed was equivalent. Worse, their customer service was not helpful when this problem was brought to their attention. In the end we used this softer foam but had to "bury" it under a firmer piece of urethane. I definitely would not order from Foam Online ( again.

Another retailer, Foam Factory (, on the other hand, delivered exactly what we ordered and the overall quality was superior. The bottom line - if you have no experience with an online retailer order only a single piece of foam at a time! That way if things go bad you'll only have a single piece to replace or re-purpose.

If you have questions or comments please contact us through our website LivingWithBugs or leave a comment below.

Types Of Foam Used In Beds

side view HR-30 urethane foam

Types of Bed Foam

This is the 2nd post in a series of six articles that describe the steps we followed to build our perfect foam bed (see the links in the side bar at right). In the 1st post I described the decision process that lead us to build our own foam bed rather than buying a conventional innerspring mattress and box-spring set. Our backgrounds and "expertise" are described in an earlier (#1) post as well.

Once we decided on the foam bed our next task was to learn as much as we could about the various types of foams available for beds and how to best use them.

We learned that modern foams used in furniture and bedding are made from either synthetic chemical resins or natural latex (rubber), or some combination of the two. Each type foam has very distinct properties which affects the comfort and longevity of the final product, and different foams vary widely in cost. Foams are categorised by density (lbs/cubic ft), which is usually measured between about 1 and 5 lbs per cubic foot, and firmness, expressed as the ILD or IFL number. ILD and IFL numbers for furniture/mattress foam range from about 10 (very soft) to about 50 (very firm). The higher the density the better the foam will hold up in use. A low density foam might last 5 years before it starts to break down whereas a high density foam might last 15 years or more.

Synthetic polyurethane resins 

Polyurethane is a synthetic material made from petroleum oil or sometimes plant-derived oils like soybean oil.

Low density (LD) polyurethane is relatively cheap, light-weight (less than about 2.0 lbs/cu-ft) foam used in inexpensive furniture and as filler in combination with more expensive foams. It is not very resilient nor supportive. Like all polyurethane foams it is made from plant and/or petroleum oil.

High density (HD) polyurethane is a heavier, more expensive and more durable foam used in expensive furniture and mattresses, sometimes labelled "LUX" foam. HD polyurethane is still not very resilient but more supportive than LD foam. It does not have the "push back" against deformation the way that HD/HR foam and latex does (see below).

High density/high resiliency (HD/HR) polyurethane is a bouncy version of HD foam, this property imparts the push back which makes the foam more supportive but less "cushy" feeling.

Viscoelastic Memory Foam is a very high density material but it lacks any resilience (memory foam is classified as a high density/low resilience polyurethane). In fact the hallmark of memory foam is that when deformed it tends to hold the shape of the object even after the weight is removed whereas HR foam and latex snap back to a flat surface. Memory foam also tends to become softer at higher temperatures so a warm body seems to "melt" into the surface slightly.

Natural and synthetic latex
3" latex foam; notice holes
Latex is made from the sap of the rubber tree (natural latex) or from synthetic rubber, blended latex is made from a mixture of the two. You'll also find the term organic latex. When used properly the term means that the natural latex sap is harvested from trees that are grown under certified conditions where no artificial fertilisers or pesticides are used. I'm very skeptical of this designation because it is unlikely that chemicals applied to the tree would end up in the sap thus rendering the distinction meaningless. I believe this is more of a marketing ploy than anything else.

Blended/natural latex foam is a very high density (around 5 lbs/cu-ft) and very resilient (bouncy) material.

Latex foam is made by curing (vulcanizing) liquid latex in a mold. The molds have pins that evenly distribute the heat needed during the curing process. When the cured latex foam is removed from the mold it has holes where the pins were (see photo). These holes are a characteristic of latex making it easy to identify and distinguish from other foam materials.

Talalay vs Dunlop Process Latex
As you research latex foam you'll see the terms Talalay Latex and Dunlop Latex. Latex foam is currently manufactured by one of two different processes. Both natural and synthetic latex, or a blend of the two, can serve as the starting material. The Dunlop process is the older method and results in a denser, somewhat less springy foam while the Talalay process producer a lighter, "softer" foam. This is the only difference between the two methods, Talalay does not infer a more natural process as some retailers deliberately imply!

If you have questions or comments please contact us through our website LivingWithBugs or leave a comment below.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

The "Build or Buy" Decision

White Oak Bed Frame & Slats
***Updated 2/11/17*** This is the first in a series of 6 articles that chronicle the planning and building of our polyurethane and latex foam bed. See the links to the right to review all of the steps we used to build the perfect foam bed.

We are not bedding designers or bedding experts. I am a retired university professor and my wife retired from our state's Department of Agriculture. In the beginning building a bed from scratch was not our intention but the more we learned, and we can be a bit obsessive when researching a topic, the more it made sense to simply build our own bed rather than accept the run-of-the-mill mattress store offerings.

Just to complete the picture - my wife is average size, I am somewhat heavier than average but about average height, and we both prefer a fairly firm mattress.

In The Beginning ...
Initially we just wanted a new mattress. After sleeping on a so-so innerspring mattress and box-spring for the last 20 years we decided it was long-past time to get something new. Nothing special or expensive, just an upgrade and improvement over our current bed. Our bed frame is beautiful furniture-grade white oak so all we needed was a new mattress set. Our budget was around $1000.

We began our search as most people do in a mattress store looking at pillow-top innerspring mattresses and the current "in-thing" of the mattress industry the so-called memory foam beds (for example Tempur-Pedic (tm)). Queen-size innerspring mattress sets (mattress + boxspring) from name-brand manufacturers like Sealy and Serta begin at about $800 and can cost as much as $2000 depending on which "bells and whistles" you add. Memory foam beds cost considerably more, in the range of $1500 - $4000, depending mainly on the thickness of the memory foam layer. We did not consider an air bed because of the high cost of these beds.

Near the end of our first day of shopping for a mattress the salesperson suggested we try a latex foam bed. "What's the difference?" we asked. The salesperson tolds us that "latex foam is springy and pushes back while memory foam just absorbs the weight. Memory foam can "sleep hot" for some people but with newer and more expensive memory foams this is less of a problem."

Our own in-store experience was that memory foam was much too soft and tended to trap us in the depression of the foam making turning and getting out of bed more difficult, latex foam was less "enveloping" and more supportive, at least to us. We definitely liked the feel of latex foam over memory foam but both were better than even expensive innerspring mattresses. We decided at that point that we'd buy a latex foam mattress if we could find one in our price range of around $1000.

Mattress-Store Latex Foam

The basic latex mattresses that you find in stores or online have a 2"-3" layer of latex on top of 1" - 5" of polyurethane foam, and were in our price range. The thicker the top latex layer the more expensive and "cushier" the mattress.

Why we decided to DIY ...
However, we discovered that buying a mattress through a retail store or online is a bit like hiring a professional painter to paint one small room in your home, and then insisting that the painter use cheap paint in order to save a few dollars. Not only are you paying way too much to get this one small room painted but in the end the result will be inferior because the quality workmanship won't make up for the cheap materials used.

If instead of calling in the "pros" what if you bought some high quality paint and rollers and spent a few hours painting the walls yourself. Since painting a small room is not technically difficult you'd probably end up with a better paint job at much less cost because you saved on labor by doing it yourself.

This is exactly the logic we used when we decided to build our new mattress instead of buying one. Beds are very simple things. There are only three pieces - a frame, a foundation and a mattress. The mattress is made of the support layer and a comfort layer - not complicated, no moving parts. Plus, there's a lot of profit margin built into the cost of a mattress. The proof of this is the number of mattress store ads we all see on television. If there wasn't a lot of margin they could not discount the mattresses as they do.

Our Decision Made

So, naturally, as soon as we got home we jumped on the Internet and began googling "latex mattress" and "latex foam". We quickly learned that you can buy complete latex foam mattresses consisting of the foam plus cover or uncovered latex foam slabs. Given the significant price differential we decided to take a stab at building our own bed from individual components. So, we set out to assemble the parts we'd need to build the Perfect Foam Bed.

If you have questions or comments please contact us through our other website LivingWithBugs