Thinking Of Building A DIY Mattress? Tips According To A 25 Year Manufacturing Veteran

Building a DIY mattress is actually pretty easy, if you know where to get the right materials to use for comfort and support foam layers. You can find layers of foam cut to standard mattress sizes, stack them, and even find slipcovers that will encase your finished products.

After spending 25 years as a mattress manufacturer though, and reviewing and testing hundreds of brands sold online, I will provide a disclaimer and tell you that it might be less expensive in some areas of the country to just order a basic all foam mattress from an online store that offers free shipping. You can check out my memory foam mattress page to cross reference some mattresses vs. what you might find in your own quest for pieces and parts.

If you are determined, though, you can build your own DIY mattress and get really good results. Many customers contact me and ask us to write about DIY mattress making, and I’m finally up to the task of explaining the upside and the reasons why it might just be too much trouble to create your own mattress. 

Bottom line is, you can certainly do it if you have access to a foam supply shop who can cut some foam up for you, and someone who can sew you a slipcover, something that anyone who runs a sewing machine has probably done before.

It’s actually, in principle, amazingly easy to knock off most of the mattresses made and sold online, and you’d certainly pay a lot less. In fact, you’d pay about one third of what you would pay to buy a comparable mattress from an internet site, which as of June 2020 number about 215. First, you need to know some of the tricks of the trade that fabricators use, and understand what it really cost, including time and materials, to build a decent mattress.

If you want to build your own mattress, it’s actually pretty easy. You’re going to need to take a drive to the foam store or bedding components supplier you’ve found so you can pick up the ingredients and have them cut to standard mattress sizes. Then, have them rolled up and get them in your vehicle to bring home.

First, there are some ingredients that almost all foam mattresses have in common. We’re going to talk about building a foam bed, similar to what is sold in almost every online mattress store from Casper to Puffy.

How To Build Your Own Mattress- Step By Step

Building your own DIY mattress can be complex and involved process if you don’t have a lot of free time and it also does require specialized equipment and materials. For example, cutting foam down to size usually involves a reciprocating saw that has a highly specialized blade, but it can be done with a bread knife if you are careful.

It’s important to note that a DIY mattress may not provide the same level of quality, longevity, or support as commercially manufactured mattresses. Additionally, you won’t be creating a mattress that meets specific safety standards and regulations such as having a flammability label, also called a fire tag, which federal law requires so that the mattress does not easily burn.

Disclaimer: I’m not recommending you build a DIY mattress without proper certification, rather, I’m just offering my mattress making experience.

Consider DIY mattress projects more as experimental or temporary solutions rather than long-term replacements for professionally made mattresses.

Here’s how you do it, but first things first. You’ll need a good size work table, or clear an area on the floor and thoroughly vacuum or mop it down. Note that foams have an electro-static charge to them and literally ANYTHING will stick to them or fly towards them. Have a tape measure and some rubber cement handy. 

While it is possible to create a basic sleeping surface, it may not provide the comfort, support, and durability of a professionally manufactured mattress primarily because the densities required for the ideal recipe are hard to find unless you are buying them by the container load. However, if you’re still interested in pursuing a DIY mattress project, here are some general steps you can follow:

  1. Research and Planning: Begin by researching different types of mattresses, materials, and construction methods to understand the options available. My site has a lot of information about different kinds of mattresses. Consider factors such as comfort, support, and durability to determine the design that best suits your needs.
  2. Purchase Your Materials: Once you have a design in mind, gather up the necessary materials. This can include foam or latex for the comfort layers, fabric for the cover, and any additional materials such as batting or adhesive. As an example, a local seamstress or curtain store might be able to make you a slip cover for the mattress, which is the outer encasement.
  3. Measure and Cut: Measure and mark the dimensions of your desired mattress size on the foam or latex material. Use a sharp utility knife or an electric carving knife to cut the materials to size. Be precise to ensure accurate and symmetrical cuts.
  4. Layer Construction: If you’re using multiple layers of foam or latex, stack them according to your desired comfort and support levels. Adhere the layers together using a suitable adhesive, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Tip: the firmer layers go on the bottom softer as you go up. I recommend using 3 different firmness densities.
  5. Outer Cover: Cut a piece of fabric slightly larger than the dimensions of your mattress layers to create a cover. Sew the fabric together, leaving one side open for inserting the mattress layers. Consider adding a zipper or Velcro closure for easy removal and cleaning.
  6. Assembly: Insert the stacked foam or latex layers into the cover. Ensure the layers are aligned properly and the cover is secure. There’s no need to glue or laminate the layers together as the outer covering will kind of keep everything from shifting around. Close the open side of the cover.
  7. Finishing Touches: You can add a mattress topper, such as a quilted layer or a mattress pad, for added comfort and protection. I always recommend a topper, up to 3″ thick to add a layer of plushness and comfort.

We’re going to substitute a water based glue with the rubber cement, since applying a water based adhesive requires specialized equipment and takes some skill and practice to either spray on or roll on.

1.  Start with a layer of inexpensive polyurethane foam that is about 6” thick. If the foam supplier asks you what ILD you want, tell him 32-36 for the base. This is the foundation or base layer of literally every kind of foam mattress. It really doesn’t matter where it comes from, but it needs to be firm. 

You’re going to build up the mattress height from this layer by adding gradually softer layers above this one. the number of layers you add and the sensation you want to create is a function of what you add on top of this layer.

2.  For the middle layer, called a transition layer, you’ll need something a little less firm, a layer of specialized foam like a firmer memory foam or high density latex that is not too soft. You don’t want to be bottoming into the firmer, underlying support layers that are important in distributing weight laterally, or sideways, and won’t develop buckets or indentations.        

Use either latex that is all natural and not synthetic of course, something in the density range of 28-32 ILD- medium firm. Gradually, we are getting softer as we go up. This layer should be about 2-3” thick and at this point your mattress is running at about 8-9” thick.

To attach the middle layer to the bottom layer, first flip the middle layer over so it is upside down. Paint on the rubber cement along the perimeter, all the way around, at about 2-3” from the edge of the material. The width of the application should be about 1” wide. Carefully reverse the top layer, and lay it down in place starting at one edge, careful aligning the edges of the two contact pieces, the foundation layer and your new layer and like flat, but not pressing on it. You can adjust the position of the layer of 2” transitional foam to make sure the edges are neatly stacked and not overlapping.

3. For the top layer, typically called the comfort layer, you’re going to want to use a 2” layer of softer memory foam, gel foam, or natural latex foam. The density of this top piece should be about 20-24 ILD, which is soft, but not excessively so. 

This is the top most and third layer in our DIY build, and this layer will give your mattress its signature feel. You can go softer or more towards a medium feel if you like something firmer, but either way you will have created a mattress that has a giving, yielding, yet supportive feel.

For the all important top layer, you can opt for two layers, but your finished height, which we set at 10” will be bit taller if you add another comfort layers, and at 12”, unless you place the mattress on the floor, it’ll be on the taller side.

Choose softer foams such as memory foam or Talalay latex that let you immerse slightly into the mattress. Layer these materials on top of each other one by one until you have the desired firmness or softness. Make sure the foam or latex you like the most is the top layer, since that will be what is called the “body contact” layer, the layer you’re really going to sleep on.

Try to keep the mattress at 14” or under, because adding too many layers can also make the mattress collect heat, called the “heat sink” effect, creating problems, especially for warm sleepers. Now, the only thing left is to have a slip cover made in the correct size and height.

The slip cover can be made with a zipper, so that you can install the fabric and line it all up, gathering the zipper and adjusting for fit all the way around.

For fabric choices, use a softer material made with bamboo or rayon, such as a super soft and durable Tencel® material, but since this mattress is designed for you, consider a variety of options. Be practical and remember that you will be covering your mattress with a  mattress protector and sheets so visual appeal is pretty fleeting and generally for photo-ops and marketing, for the most part.

Other fabric options include using a separate wool or bamboo topper, wool batting toppers, and mattress pads or covers. Want to get a ball park idea of what your DIY mattress is going to cost in materials alone? We’re not including your labor time, which will likely run around 6-10 hours for your first crack at mattress production. Here’s a rough cost breakdown of this basic mattress:

High Density Foam Base Layer, 6”  (queen size)       $200

Middle Transition Layer, 2”               (queen size)       $200         

Top Comfort Layer, 2”                      (queen size)       $200   

Outer Fabric Slip Cover, Material And Labor, Queen  $125

Total Cost Of DIY Mattress:                                         $725  

Not a bad deal. But…have you shopped around online? You might be surprised to find that for another $100-200, you’ll be able to purchase a state of the art foam or even hybrid mattress (with a coil layer) that is manufactured in a controlled environment, is shipped for free, and here’s the best part- can be returned for a full refund if you don’t like it. 

Nevertheless, if you like a project and the satisfaction of carving your own existence out of the wilderness, then this will provide a decent one day challenge.

If you opt to choose from our Trusted Dealer program and buy a top of the line foam mattress built with premium ingredients, designed, built, and shipped from a U.S. A. based factory, you’ll likely pay about $100 more. But how can this be you might ask?

The answer is very simple. First of all, the materials cost one tenth the price you paid for them, not because they are lower in quality, in fact the quality is likely to be much higher. You were paying retail for each piece of foam you purchased. A mattress manufacturer and online e-tailer is buying thousands of blocks of foam at the same time and paying a lot less.

The fabrication and manufacturing process is streamlined and done in assembly line fashion so that drastically reduces the labor time and cost. In fact, your price doesn’t include the shipping that a retailer has to absorb to advertise “free shipping”, which is typically $100 for a queen mattress. Still you’re paying only a few dollars more for a superior product.

Buying A Decent Mattress Isn’t As Costly As You Might Think

The trial period, which allows you to use the mattress for a pretty decent length of time to determine if you can’t live without it, is a nice advantage, as we already mentioned. The company will likely either have you dispose of the bed if you don’t like it, donate it, or even let you keep it anyway, give you a full refund, and suggest that you simply put it in a guest bedroom. 

There’s an issue of integrity here, though, and many retailers and manufacturers have spoken amongst themselves and exchanged the names of people who repeatedly take advantage of this loophole, and you can in fact get banned from a mattress site or several sites if you aren’t completely honest.

What Is The Point Of The DIY Exercise?

Essentially, the point of our simulated DIY exercise above is to clearly describe that in fact, you can indeed build your own bed, but you probably don’t want to. The cost of a professionally manufactured mattress is almost identical, your ability to return the product is a great feature, and a warranty can protect your investment for virtually the lifespan of the mattress. 

Typical Price For A Queen Size Mattress Purchased Through our own Trusted Dealer recommendations 

Innerspring Mattress       Average Cost:  $850

An innerspring mattress generally consists of a coil system which is inserted in between several thin layers of foam, to protect the coils and to eliminate any pinpoint pressure created by the individual coils. Pocketed coils are used in most mattresses these days, which allow isolated suspension, so that pressure is managed on a localized basis, kind of like the keys on a piano.

Pocketed coils are great for side sleepers, because it accommodates heavier areas of the body by pushing back agains the weight. The coils also fill in void areas too, offering support against the rib cage, and lumbar areas for back sleepers.

Foam Mattress                Average Cost:  $700

A laminated foam mattress, typically consisting of 2-3 foam layers and a fabric outer covering is the most popular “bed in a box” option, offering comfort and support that provide a great night’s sleep for a reasonable cost. These mattresses can be found on over 200 web sites, but we only recommend a handful of foam mattresses. Often fabricated with a memory foam layer on top (the comfort layer) they offer pressure relief, excellent spine alignment, and work well in most environments. They are not a good solution for obese persons, or people sensitive to fragrances, as some foam mattress off gas for small periods of time. Here is a list of Trusted Dealers that we recommend.

Hybrid Mattress                 Average Cost:   $1,500

The cost for a hybrid mattress rises substantially because it incorporates a variety of elements, including a coil system as well as other premium components such as memory foam, natural latex, gel foams, and higher end textiles used for the outer covering. Often the top section of the mattress may include expensive quilted tops or pads, and these mattresses tend to be much taller. A hybrid mattress is often a better choice for heavier people, or those wanting a firmer feel, though there are softer and more sumptuous variations of hybrid mattresses. You can check out some options that we recommend on our Trusted Dealer page.

Latex Mattress                     Average Cost:   $1,500

A latex mattress is typically substantially more expensive than most other mattress types,  especially if it is made using botanical or naturally derived latex, considered the most desirable because of its long lifespan (50 years or more if treated properly), extraordinary support and comfort, and because it must be hand collected on large plantations. A true latex mattress is made top to bottom with latex, and because the foundation layer is not typically made with a polyurethane base, the cost factor is higher. Latex hybrid mattresses are sometimes made with a 2-3” natural latex topper on top of a piece of polyurethane foam, but these mattresses are not considered all natural nor botanically derived, and most latex mattress buyers and owners are strictly looking for an all natural alternative to a foam mattress. 

Air Bed System                      Average Cost:  $1,500

Adjustable air bed systems, not to be confused with camper style air beds that inflate with a small foot pump or small remote pump are a fully integrated system of air chambers, various comfort layers usually located above the air chambers, and are operated with remote controls which adjust the level of softness vs. firmness inside the air chambers, providing a true flotation like experience, and the adjustability of the bed is great when couples who can’t agree on a similar sleep surface. We recommend one dealer in our Trusted Dealer program, a company called Habitat Furnishings.