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Plush vs. Firm Mattress: A Comfort Comparison Guide

    Last Updated
    February 5, 2024
    min read

    The main difference between plush and firm mattresses is how they feel. Plush mattresses are softer and provide a more cushioned surface, while firm mattresses offer a more buoyant, less yielding feel.

    When searching for a new mattress, deciding between a plush vs. firm mattress can oftentimes present a challenge. When weighing this decision, a variety of factors come into play including health considerations, sleep needs, and sleep partner’s preferences, to name only a few. Ultimately, the decision relies most on your comfort level upon each surface. 

    For a comprehensive deep dive into mattress firmness, we have you covered. But if you’re focusing on the plush vs. firm mattress decision, read along to find what is the right fit for you.

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    Our exclusive GelFlex® Grid dissipates heat and cradles your body exactly where you need it — in both plush and firm feels.

    What Is a Plush Mattress?

    Plush mattresses are soft, cozy mattresses with minimal firmness. You can tell a plush mattress apart from a firm mattress by the way the top layers “collapse” when you apply pressure. Because they tend to have a thicker top layer, plush mattresses usually hug your body as you fall into them, keeping you gently in place while you sleep.

    A plush mattress — also called a soft mattress — offers a gentle hug-like feel, typically achieved through multiple material layers like memory foam, latex, or pillow-tops. This design not only cradles the body but also alleviates pressure points, making it a great choice for side sleepers or users with chronic joint pain. 

    Mattresses have a firmness scale ranging from 1 to 10, with 1 being the softest and 10 being the firmest. Plush mattresses typically have a firmness score of 3.5 or lower, making them some of the softest commercially available mattress types.

    Plush mattresses’ super-soft surface is often faulted for inhibiting one’s ability to easily change sleep positions throughout the night.  As a gauge, sleepers who weigh less than 130 pounds tend to maintain ease of movement since their body weight does not sink into the mattress as deeply as heavier sleepers. 



    Gently molds around the body’s contours

    Difficulty changing positions

    Motion isolation


    Often lighter 



    A graphic shows a woman sitting on a plush mattress and answers what is a plush mattress.

    Benefits of a Plush Mattress

    In addition to their softness, plush mattresses offer several advantages for those seeking a cloud-like sleep experience. Keep in mind that the pros and cons vary significantly between manufacturers and material quality. Here are a few examples of some potential benefits of plush mattresses: 

    • Motion isolation: Plush mattresses, particularly those made with memory foam, absorb and minimize motion transfer. This means that if one person moves or shifts positions during the night, the movement is less likely to disturb their sleeping partner, making them a perfect mattress for couples.  
    • Body cradling for joint pain: Plush mattresses are known for their exceptional body-cradling capabilities, making them a preferred choice for individuals with joint pain or discomfort. The soft and supportive layers conform to the contours of the body, providing a gentle embrace that helps alleviate pressure points.
    • Easier to transport: Plush mattresses are often made of more lightweight, flexible materials compared to their firmer counterparts. This makes them easier to transport for those who move frequently or rearrange their living spaces often. 

    Who May Prefer a Plush Mattress?

    Plush mattresses provide a soft, body-conforming feel that many sleepers prefer over the taut, supportive feel of firm mattresses. As a result, plush mattresses generally appeal to:

    • Side sleepers: The soft, cushioning layers of a plush mattress tend to allow your shoulders and hips to move deeper into the mattress, alleviating pressure points and promoting proper spinal alignment for side sleepers
    • Sleepers with hip and joint pain: Plush mattresses offer a soft yet supportive surface that can help alleviate pressure points and reduce joint pain. 
    • Sleepers who like the feeling of being hugged: The soft, conforming layers of a plush mattress create a cocoon-like effect as it conforms to the body. This enveloping feeling promotes relaxation and helps provide a sense of security.


    What Is a Firm Mattress?

    Firm mattresses offer more rigid support while feeling less soft than plush mattresses. They are often made from a selection of durable layers with very little flexibility or give. As a result, sleepers experience a floating feeling rather than sinking sensation. 

    Firm mattresses promote proper spinal alignment for stomach and back sleepers. Firmer support ensures your hips won’t sink into the mattress, which can alleviate back pain. Sleepers who weigh over 200 pounds tend to prefer firm mattresses since the firmer support evenly distributes weight. 



    Even weight distribution

    Joint aches for side sleepers

    Spinal alignment for stomach sleepers

    May be too firm for some sleepers

    Easy to change sleeping positions

    Places pressure on shoulders and hips

    A graphic shows a woman laying on a firm mattress and defines what is a firm mattress.

    Benefits of a Firm Mattress

    Firm mattresses feature an array of benefits that vary between mattress manufacturers and quality. Benefits of firm mattresses include: 

    • Even weight distribution: Firm mattresses evenly distribute body weight, which can help relieve pressure points. This feature is good for those who want support without compromising comfort. 
    • Spinal alignment: Firm mattresses are designed to promote a neutral spine position while sleeping, which may help reduce back pain. 
    • Ease of movement: The firmness makes switching sleeping positions easier. Unlike soft mattresses, firm mattresses offer a responsive surface with minimal resistance. 

    Who May Prefer a Firm Mattress?

    Those seeking more rigid support from their sleeping surface may prefer firm mattresses over plush mattresses. Firm mattresses generally appeal to: 

    • Stomach or back sleepers: People who prefer these sleeping positions may benefit from firmer support. 
    • Sleepers with lower back pain: Those looking for a mattress to relieve back pain may find relief on a firm mattress. The solid foundation helps support the spine for a more comfortable sleep.
    • Sleepers who prefer a buoyant feel: Firm mattresses provide a supportive surface to accommodate sleepers who prefer a more elevated and less sinking feeling.

    How To Choose Between a Plush and Firm Mattress

    Personal preference plays the biggest role in deciding which mattress to choose. Unless you have extenuating health circumstances, both plush and firm mattresses can give you a restful night’s sleep. Many sleepers like to sample both types of mattresses before deciding which one feels right for them. 

    If both plush and firm mattresses feel comfortable upon sampling, focus on a small selection of factors to narrow your search. Plush and firm mattresses suit different sleeping positions, body sizes, and health considerations. We’ll explain these factors in more detail to help you make the right choice. 

    1. Evaluate Your Sleeping Position

    Different sleeping positions tend to get different levels of comfort from each type of mattress. While personal preference plays a role, consider a mattress that promotes back alignment and minimizes joint pain. Here’s how common sleeping positions generally affect mattress choice:

    • Side sleepers benefit from plush mattresses by allowing their joints to be properly cradled by the mattress therefore relieving pressure. This keeps their bodies aligned without causing joint pain.
    • Back sleepers get better weight distribution and proper spinal alignment on firm mattresses. 
    • Stomach sleepers get the most support on firm mattresses, which keeps their lower back from sagging during the night. 
    • Combination sleepers can base their choice on their preferred sleep position. 

    2. Think About Your Health

    Chronic pain, sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), and other health considerations should factor into your choice. Be sure to research preferred mattress firmness levels based on specific health needs. 

    In general, your mattress plays a role in back support, pressure relief, and joint pain, which all impact whole-body health. For example, plush mattresses tend to alleviate hip pain and give pressure relief to side sleepers meaning deeper sleep and rejuvenating rest. 

    If you need better back support, a firm mattress will help keep your spine aligned as you sleep. Firm mattresses also provide more even weight distribution throughout the night. 

    Sleeping flat on your back can worsen sleep apnea symptoms in some individuals with OSA. Experts recommend sleeping upright to alleviate the pressure caused by gravity that makes it difficult to breathe. An adjustable base can make sleeping elevated easier and more comfortable.

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    3. Factor in Your Body Size

    Individuals with a heavier body weight may prefer a firmer mattress. Firm mattresses offer more consistent support without allowing you to sink too deeply into the mattress. It also provides better spinal alignment for the same reason. 

    With less pressure, plush mattresses can offer some degree of support for lighter individuals. 

    4. Assess Your Temperature Needs

    Hot sleepers can find relief from certain types of both plush and firm mattresses. Plush mattresses constructed with materials like gel-infused memory foam or breathable materials provide better heat dissipation. The softer and more cushioned layers allow for increased air circulation to help regulate body temperature and maintain a cooler sleep environment. 

    Some may assume that firm mattresses feature a denser construction of materials therefore limiting heat dissipation. In reality, a firm mattress’ ability to regulate body temperature depends on the construction and the materials used. If temperature balance is a primary factor in your search, be sure to consult with customer service or available resources for each mattress.  

    5. Consider Mattress Use

    A good night’s sleep typically isn’t the only use for a mattress. It may be your work-from-home station, a cozy place to read, or a necessary addition to your guest room. How you plan to use your mattress plays a role when choosing between plush vs. firm mattresses. For example: 

    • If you share your bed with another person: It's important to consider both partners' preferences and needs. If one person prefers a softer feel while the other leans toward a firmer surface, you might need to compromise with a medium-firm option. 
    • If it’s a guest bed: When purchasing a mattress for a guest bed, medium-firm mattresses are a versatile choice for catering to the comfort needs of multiple people. 
    • If you plan to work or watch TV in bed: A firm mattress may be better suited for activities that require a solid foundation, like working on a laptop or sitting up to watch TV. 

    6. Find Your Personal Preference

    The best mattress for you ultimately comes down to your personal sleep preference. If you prefer a cradling sensation that conforms to the contours of your body,  plush mattresses with softer layers may be the best choice. Conversely, you may want a firm mattress if you prefer more solid support with minimal sinkage. 

    It can be difficult to pinpoint your perfect mattress without trying it out in person first. If possible, visit a showroom so you can experience how each mattress feels. Choosing a mattress with a trial period will also provide you plenty of time to test its comfort long term. 

    How Do I Know If My Bed Is Too Firm?

    Firmness and softness are quite subjective. One person’s idea of a solid, supportive bed could feel like sleeping on pins and needles for another. 

    So, how do you tell if your bed is too soft or too firm? The simplest answer is to try out a mattress and listen to your body. Observe any pain and discomfort you feel and in which areas. 

    Ways to tell if your mattress is too firm

    Here are some telltale signs of a mattress that is way too firm:

    1. You Wake Up With Back, Hip, Shoulder, or Neck Pain

    If you feel pain or discomfort at these pressure points, your mattress is likely too firm. Stiffness in your joints — especially your knees and shoulders — is a sign you need a softer bed.

    2. You Experience Numbness and Tingling in Your Arms

    If you wake up to find your arm dead or tingling, it’s probably time to get a softer bed. Numbness and tingling could be a sign that your mattress doesn’t contour enough to alleviate pressure from the parts of your body (like your arms and shoulders) that come into context with the mattress the most. 

    3. You Toss and Turn at Night

    Can’t settle into a comfortable sleeping position? Find yourself waking up in the middle of the night to find a good “spot”? Restless sleep could be a sign that your bed is too stiff for you.

     Ways to tell if your mattress is too soft

    How Do I Know If My Bed Is Too Soft?

    What happens if your mattress is too soft? Here are some of the most common issues people face when their mattress is too soft:

    1. You Suffer From a Sore Lower Back

    If you’re a back or stomach sleeper, a too-soft mattress won’t support your lower back enough to keep your spine properly aligned. When your lower back sinks lower than it should as you sleep, you could end up with major back pain and stiffness the next day.

    2. You Struggle To Get In and Out of Bed

    Does it feel like you can’t pull yourself out of bed because you’ve sunk in too deep? Is getting out of bed in the morning an awkward and clumsy struggle? This is a sure sign that your mattress is way too soft for you.

    How Long Do Plush Mattresses Last?

    Like any mattress, the lifespan of a plush mattress can vary based on factors such as quality, usage, maintenance, and manufacturer. On average, a well-made and properly cared-for plush mattress can last from seven to 10 years

    However, if you’re experiencing the following problems with your plush or firm mattress, you may need to replace it sooner:

    • Your mattress has permanent dips: Permanent sagging and indentations in your mattress can compromise support and negatively impact your sleep quality. 
    • You have breathing problems while you’re sleeping: If you experience breathing difficulties, allergies, or respiratory issues that seem to worsen during sleep, it could be an indication of allergen or irritant buildup within the mattress. 
    • You haven’t cleaned your mattress for a long time: Neglecting regular mattress maintenance, such as cleaning, can lead to the accumulation of allergens, dust mites, and other contaminants.
    • You regularly wake up with sore muscles: Soreness may result from the lack of proper spinal alignment or the breakdown of mattress materials over time.
    • You can’t settle comfortably into your mattress: If it’s challenging to find a comfortable position or if you constantly shift during the night, it may mean that your plush mattress is no longer matched to your sleep preferences. 

    How To Extend a Plush or Firm Mattress’s Lifespan

    Proper care and maintenance can help you enjoy your new mattress for years to come. Here are a few general guidelines to extend the lifespan of your plush or firm mattress: 

    • Use a mattress protector: Investing in a high-quality mattress protector can help shield your mattress from spills, stains, and allergens. Purple’s Mattress Protector provides maximum protection and maximum comfort with a buttery soft top knit and enhanced stretch. 
    • Clean your mattress regularly: Regular mattress cleaning removes dust, allergens, and moisture that can accumulate over time. Vacuum your mattress and spot-clean stains by following the manufacturer's guidelines to maintain a hygienic sleep environment.
    • Flip or rotate your mattress: Even if your mattress is non-flip, rotating it every few months can promote even wear and prevent permanent indentations. This practice helps distribute the impact of body weight across different areas, preserving the overall integrity of the mattress.
    • Regularly wash your sheets: Washing your sheets regularly prevents the buildup of dirt and allergens that can transfer to the mattress. 
    • Avoid eating and drinking in bed: Accidental spills and crumbs can damage your mattress over time. 
    • Don’t bounce on your bed: Excessive bouncing and jumping on the bed can strain the mattress springs and materials, leading to premature wear and tear. 
    • Clean spot stains and spills immediately: Promptly address any spills or stains to prevent them from growing mold. Use appropriate cleaning solutions recommended for your mattress and follow the manufacturer's guidelines to ensure you aren’t doing more harm than good. 

    Is It Better To Sleep on a Firm or Plush Mattress?

    A trick question — when it comes to plush vs. firm mattresses, your personal preferences and needs will determine which is best. 

    Both firm and plush mattresses can offer high-quality sleep experiences, but the key is to find what feels most comfortable to you. A high-quality mattress, regardless of firmness, should provide proper support, promote spinal alignment, and cater to your unique sleep preferences so you can get a restful and rejuvenating night's sleep.

    Whether you prefer a cloud-like sleep or firmer support, our variety of Purple mattresses offer unparalleled support for a wide range of sleep needs. With our patented GelFlex® Grid technology, you get comfort and support exactly where you need it. 

    Talk to one of our Sleep Specialists to find out which Purple mattress is best for you. They'll help you choose the right firmness level and size for a comfortable night's sleep.


    Mattress firmness refers to the surface feel of a mattress, indicating how soft or firm it is. Mattress support refers to a mattress’s ability to maintain proper spinal alignment and provide adequate support to the body. 

    Plush and firm mattresses can be equally supportive when constructed with high-quality materials. The key lies in the density and durability of components like memory foam, innerspring coils, or Purple’s innovative GelFlex® Grid.

    Deciding between a soft vs. firm mattress depends on your personal preferences and specific sleep needs. 

    If you prefer a mattress that contours closely to your body like a hug, you might prefer a softer mattress. On the other hand, if you seek a more solid and supportive surface with minimal sinkage, a firmer mattress might be better for you. 

    Consider factors like comfort, spinal support, and any existing health considerations to make an informed decision based on your unique needs.

    The main difference between a plush and pillow-top mattress lies in their construction. 

    Pillow-top mattresses are innerspring or hybrid mattresses that have an extra layer, called a “pillow-top,” for added comfort. This 1-inch layer is typically made of down, cotton, or other materials for extra softness.

    A plush mattress, on the other hand, is an entire mattress created with a firmness level of 3 or lower. This softness applies to the whole mattress, not just one layer.

    An ultra-plush mattress is characterized by exceptionally soft and cushioned construction that allows you to immediately sink into the surface. They typically include additional layers of luxurious materials like memory foam or pillow-tops that embrace the sleeper immediately upon lying down.

    No, you can’t flip a plush mattress. Many mattresses shouldn’t be flipped unless they’re double-sided, as the other side is often an uncomfortable surface that lacks support.

    Instead of flipping your plush mattress, rotate it once every three to six months to prolong its lifespan. This spreads out the pressure your body exerts on the mattress’s surface and evens out the effects of wear and tear.

    Plush mattresses can help alleviate joint pain, but for some, softness may cause back pain. For those with back issues or specific back pain concerns, a firmer mattress provides a solid surface that may help keep the spine in proper alignment overnight, depending on your sleep position. 

    Consider your personal comfort preferences, any existing back issues, and how well a mattress supports your spine when deciding whether a plush or firmer mattress is better for your back. When in doubt, ask a healthcare professional or mattress expert for personalized guidance based on your needs.

    Because hotels host hundreds of guests, all with their own unique sleep preferences, most try to strike a balance between plush and firm mattresses by opting for medium-firm mattresses.

    About the authors

    April Seifert

    April has nearly a decade of writing experience, with 3+ years specializing in sleep content. Her work has been covered by sites like BuzzFeed, Entrepreneur, and Money Under 30. She has an M.A. in Magazine, Newspaper, and Online Journalism from Syracuse University and a B.A. in Communication Studies. As a self-proclaimed expert in all things cozy, she sleeps better at night, knowing her writing helps others sleep in comfort, too.

    Kristen Olson-Turner
    Senior Director of Merchandising, Mattress and Bases

    Kristen Olson-Turner is the Senior Director of mattresses, where she has spent 10+ years understanding customer needs and integrating solutions into Purple products for better sleep and comfort.