How To Choose Mattress Firmness

September 13, 2021

How To Choose Mattress Firmness

If you are in the market for a new mattress, you should know that mattress firmness is one of the most important features to consider when you choose a mattress for your needs. So, how do you choose the right mattress firmness for you?

The right mattress firmness will relieve pressure points, support your body weight, relieve aches and pains, and provide support and comfort, no matter your preferred sleeping position. Each person has their own ideal firmness level. Learn more about how to find your ideal mattress firmness level.

What is Mattress Firmness?

Mattress firmness refers to how the mattress feels when you first lie down on it. The firmer the mattress, the more pushback you will feel. You will sink into a soft mattress, and a medium mattress will contour to your body. Mattress firmness plays a large role in mattress comfort.

Most mattress manufacturers use a firmness scale of 1 through 10 to describe their mattresses’ firmness levels. A level 1 mattress would stand for the softest mattress in existence, and a level 10 would stand for the firmest mattress in existence. Most mattresses sold are far from either extreme.

Other mattress companies use a universal firmness rating, which means that they state that their mattresses are universally comfortable to all customers’ needs. This is not typically the case, however, because all people require different mattress firmness levels based on specific characteristics.

How the Right Mattress Firmness can Improve Your Sleep

Choosing the proper mattress firmness goes beyond just picking a mattress that you find comfortable. In fact, the right comfort and support can ensure proper spinal alignment and pressure relief, easing your aches and pains. This will allow you to wake up feeling refreshed every day.

If you prefer a mattress that conforms and contours to your body, this is where mattress firmness comes in. The upper-most layer of a mattress is typically the layer that determines firmness and contouring.

So, if lots of contouring and softness is what you need to sleep well, you will get better sleep with a soft mattress. If less contouring and more firmness are better for your sleep quality, then a firmer mattress will provide better sleep overall.

Additionally, the proper mattress firmness will allow you to sleep peacefully in your ideal sleep position. This can lead to deeper, uninterrupted sleep, and improved overall sleep quality.

Mattress Firmness Scale (1-10)

There is no universal scale for mattress firmness. Different mattress manufacturers can use different scaling systems. However, many mattress companies use a scale of 1 to 10 to describe their mattresses’ firmness levels because this type of scale is relatively easy to follow and understand.

Extra-Soft (1-2)

A 1 to 2 on the mattress firmness scale is extremely soft. You likely won’t find a 1 out of 10 on the firmness scale being sold anywhere. This type of mattress would be too soft to offer any support for a comfortable night’s sleep.

A 2 on the mattress firmness scale is slightly less soft than a 1, but is still very soft. The average sleeper would likely find a 2 on the firmness scale to be too soft for comfort.

Soft (3)

A 3 on the mattress firmness scale is quite soft. If you are looking for a soft mattress, this is the softest you would want to go. While a 3 is soft, it still offers support. Most mattresses with this firmness level are made of foam.

Medium-Soft (4)

A 4 on the firmness scale is a more balanced medium-soft. The mattress is still soft and comfortable for those who want a soft feeling mattress, but without as much sinkage. There also might be a sturdy base layer.

Medium (5-6)

A medium mattress likely has a sturdy base layer, but soft comfort layers. A 5 or 6 on the firmness scale is very balanced. It is a great middle-of-the-road choice for those looking for a compromise that will conform without sinking too much.

Medium-Firm (7)

A 7 on the firmness scale is a popular mattress firmness sold by mattress manufacturers. This firmness level is where mattresses begin to do away with the body contouring and conforming. This mattress firmness is the first in the firm category.

Firm (8)

At an 8 on the firmness scale, a mattress is firm. There is not going to be body contouring or conforming like with softer mattresses. There will not be sinking into the top comfort layers. There is lots of pushback.

Extra-Firm (9-10)

A 9 and 10 on the firmness scale are extremely firm. A 9 or 10 will not provide pressure relief. A 9 will have lots of pushback, and no sink or contouring. Most sleepers will find this mattress firmness too hard for comfort.

A 10 on the mattress firmness scale is as firm as you can get. You will likely not run into a 10 on the mattress firmness scale being sold in stores, as it is as hard as it gets.

Mattress ILD Firmness Scale (Latex Density)

Another way to measure a mattress’s firmness is by its ILD, or impression load deflection. ILD measures how soft or firm a mattress is by figuring how much pressure is required to sink a large round disk one inch into a mattress’s surface. The higher the number, the firmer the mattress.

A soft latex mattress would have an ILD rating between 19 and 21. Soft mattresses of this nature might not offer the right support for everyone, as a sleeper would sink into them.

When shopping for a new medium mattress, the ILD rating should fall somewhere between 24 and 26. When shopping for a medium-firm mattress, the ILD number should fall somewhere between 29 and 31.

A very firm latex mattress will likely have an ILD rating between 34 and 36, which many will find too hard.

The ILD measurement is common for estimating the firmness of latex mattresses, specifically. Latex rubber is formed from the sap of rubber trees. However, there are two different production methods known as Dunlop and Talalay.

The two latex production methods offer different firmness levels based on how they are formed in the production process.


Dunlop latex is formed by pouring the liquid latex mixture into the mold all at once. It results in a dense bottom, and overall firmer feel. In general, Dunlop latex mattresses are firmer due to their higher density.


The Talalay process is not poured all at once, but in sheets that are vacuum-sealed. Talalay latex is overall softer and fluffier. Often, Dunlop latex is used as a firm base layer, while Talalay is used as a soft comfort layer.

However, both Dunlop and Talalay latex can be produced in ways that make them firmer or softer, depending on a manufacturer’s specifications.

Firmness Levels and Types of Mattresses

Each type of mattress offers a different level of firmness. When shopping for a new mattress, keep in mind that mattress types can play a role in how soft or how firm a mattress is likely to be.


Innerspring mattresses get their name from the system of coils that make up these mattresses’ core support layers. Because innerspring mattresses do not typically have thick comfort layers, these types of mattresses are usually firmer than others.

Innerspring mattresses were once the most common type of mattress, but they have since been overshadowed by more comfortable and durable types of mattresses.

Memory Foam

Memory foam mattresses are known for their tendency to conform and contour against the body. All memory foam mattress types are relatively soft for this reason. Memory foam provides pressure relief, and lots of sink. However, firmer memory foam mattresses are available as well.


Similar to other mattress types, latex mattresses are available in a variety of firm and soft options. As mentioned above, Talalay and Dunlop latex mattresses offer different levels of softness and firmness. Latex is great for pressure relief while limiting the amount that a sleeper will sink into its surface.


Hybrid mattresses are created with a coil support layer on the inside, and comfort layers on the outside, made of either latex, memory foam, or both. Hybrid mattress coils are usually different than innerspring coils in that the coils are individually wrapped. Hybrid mattresses can come in a wide variety of firmness and softness options.

Best Mattress Firmness for Preferred Sleeping Positions

So how do you choose the perfect mattress firmness? One of the easiest ways is by figuring out what your ideal sleeping position is. Yes, it really is that simple.

Do you sleep on your side most of the time? Or, do you sleep on your stomach or back? If you're not sure, you could be someone who happens to take turns sleeping in all three of these positions.

Back Sleepers

Back sleepers do best with a medium-firm mattress. Back sleepers require slightly firm mattresses to keep their spines aligned properly throughout the night. As mentioned above, a medium-firm mattress is a mattress with a firmness rating of about 6 or 7.

If a mattress is too soft, someone who sleeps on their back might find that their shoulders and hips do not stay aligned, which can cause aches and pains. If a mattress is too firm, their lower back can become strained after sleeping on a hard surface each night.

Stomach Sleepers

Stomach sleepers need more firmness than back sleepers do, so they don’t experience back pain, which can occur when sleeping on a mattress that is too soft. Stomach sleepers also rely on firmness, so that their abdominal section does not sink deeply into the mattress, throwing their spinal alignment out of whack.

Side Sleepers

Those who sleep on their side place pressure on their shoulders and hips. As with back sleepers, side sleepers will not do well with a mattress that is either too soft or too firm due to this added pressure.

Side sleepers will benefit from sleeping on a medium-soft to medium-firm mattress, as too much firmness won’t provide them with cushioning for their hip and shoulder while laying on their side.

Combination Sleepers

Since combination sleepers tend to switch positions throughout the night, there is no one sleeping position to base a mattress firmness off. The best way to choose a mattress firmness for a combination sleeper is to go with a moderate firmness level, like medium-firm.

Tips for Choosing the Right Mattress Firmness

Beyond sleeping position, there are other considerations to keep in mind when choosing the proper mattress firmness for you. Take all of the following into account when shopping for your next mattress.

Body Weight and Type

Consider your weight. Your weight matters when choosing the firmness of a mattress. Heavier sleepers typically want to choose firmer mattresses. If a heavier person chooses a mattress that is too soft, they will sink down too deep, and will not receive the proper pressure relief necessary for a comfortable night’s sleep.

Lighter people will find that firm mattresses are uncomfortable. Usually, if a person is 130 pounds or lighter, a firm mattress will feel extra hard and uncomfortable.

A lighter-than-average person should stick with soft to medium-soft mattresses. An average person can stick with medium firmness. A heavier-than-average person should stick with medium-firm to firm mattresses.

Sleeping Partner

Do you sleep with a partner? If you and your sleeping partner require different firmness levels, a good compromise often involves choosing a medium firmness mattress. Some mattresses even offer split firmness levels that can accommodate both your and your partner’s preferred firmness levels, if they are wildly different.

Health Concerns

Consider any health concerns you have when choosing a mattress firmness. If you have arthritis or other joint and pain problems, go with a mattress firmness that will help to provide pressure relief, and alleviate joint and back pain.

Additionally, if you have mobility issues, a mattress that is too soft will be difficult to get in and out of because of how deeply you will sink into it.

Mattress Durability

How long do you want the mattress to last? Softer mattresses typically wear out faster than firmer mattresses. The thicker the mattress’s comfort layer, the more quickly it is likely to sag. If you want your mattress to last many years, consider going with durable material and firmness, like medium-firm latex, that will last.

Go with the Average

If you cannot decide what your ideal firmness is, or if you are not picky and have no preference whatsoever, you can always choose a middle-of-the-road mattress firmness. A medium mattress firmness is right in the middle between soft and firm, and does not force you to choose one way or the other.

FAQ About Mattress Firmness

Do you still have questions regarding mattress firmness? Read on for some common questions about mattress firmness that you might want answers to.

Is Mattress Firmness the Same as Mattress Support?

It can be easy to confuse the firmness of a mattress with the support of a mattress, which are two completely different things.

The firmness of a mattress is determined by the top layers, and the support of a mattress is determined by the middle and bottom layers. The underlying support system of a mattress must be made with high-quality materials, in order for the top layers to perform their job.

How do I Tell if My Mattress is too Firm or too Soft?

There are a few ways to tell if your mattress is too firm or too soft.

If your mattress is too soft, you might wake up sore in the morning. You might toss and turn throughout the night. Additionally, you might have trouble getting out of bed because you sink in too far. If you are a stomach sleeper, you will notice neck and back pain, if your mattress is too soft.

If your mattress is too firm, you will not receive proper pressure relief. You will have aches and pains, and you might wake up feeling tired, and unrefreshed. A good mattress should contour to your pressure points, even if it is just a little bit. No pressure relief whatsoever indicates that your mattress is too firm for you.

Can a Mattress Topper Help if My Mattress is too Hard or too Soft?

A mattress topper is a great tool for adding softness or firmness to a mattress that is too hard or too soft. Mattress toppers add an additional comfort layer, which will change how a mattress feels when you first lie down on top of it.

Many people know that a mattress topper can make a mattress feel softer, but a mattress that is too soft or sagging can also be aided by a high-quality mattress topper that will firm up a soft mattress.

How Does Mattress Firmness Affect Back Pain, Shoulder Pain, or Hip Pain?

If a mattress is too firm, it will not have a great deal of pressure relief. A good, comfortable mattress needs to have some give so that it can relieve back pain, shoulder pain, and hip pain.

This is especially true for side sleepers who put lots of pressure on their shoulders and hips. If a mattress is too hard, their shoulders and hips will be pressed upon.

A mattress cannot be too soft, however, or it will offer no support, and the joints can fall out of alignment during sleep.

How Does Mattress Thickness Affect Mattress Firmness?

Typically, the thicker the comfort layer, the softer the mattress. A very thin mattress does not have room for several layers, so a thin mattress will be firm, without much room for comfort layers.

Eco Terra Mattress Firmness

Why doesn’t Eco Terra offer the ability for people to buy a soft mattress, or an extra-firm mattress? Because a soft mattress tends to make sleepers sink really far into the mattress, and extra-firm mattresses offer very little give when it comes to essential pressure point support.

This is why Eco Terra has chosen to only offer medium mattresses and medium-firm mattresses, as these two firmness levels are easily able to accommodate the majority of the population's sleeping needs.

Additionally, latex mattresses are extremely durable and comfortable. The organic materials are breathable, and offer quality sleep for all kinds of different sleepers, regardless of sleeping position.

Why Choose an Eco Terra Mattress?

For those of you who have decided that a medium or a medium-firm latex mattress will meet your sleeping needs the best, understand that you have nothing to lose by trying our quality latex mattress, as we give you a full 90 nights to sleep on it, to see if it’s indeed right for you. 

All of Eco Terra’s materials are organic, all-natural, and healthy for you and your household. Each mattress is designed and handcrafted in the US, so you know great care is taken in each and every mattress Eco Terra sells.

Eco Terra’s latex is 100 percent natural and ECO-INSTITUT Standard 100 certified. Our wool and cotton are 100 percent GOTS certified organic. You can rest assured that none of our mattresses include synthetic materials like polyurethane, memory foams, latex blends, chemical flame retardants, or chemical adhesives.

Return Policy

Because it might take time for your body to acclimate to a new latex mattress, Eco Terra asks that you try your new mattress for at least 30 days before making your final decision. If, after 30 days, you are not satisfied with your Eco Terra mattress, you can return it for a full refund.

All you need to do is return your Eco Terra mattress back into its original box within 90 days of your purchase, and we will send you a return shipping label as long as you try your mattress out for at least 30 days.


Eco Terra believes in our mattresses. That is why we offer a 15-year warranty for the mattresses you purchase. Natural latex mattresses are known for being durable and long-lasting. With the proper care, your Eco Terra hybrid latex mattress is sure to last you for many years.

Patrick Gunther

Patrick is an accomplished writer. He has been in the retail mattress space for the past 13 years, and more specifically in the natural mattress niche. He blogs on the subjects of natural mattresses, sleep, health, fitness, and green living.