Most of us old enough to purchase a mattress have some memory of waterbeds, either as an uber-hip 70s phenomenon or a kitschy 90s novelty.
Of course, so far we're just talking of marketing and perception. But are/were they any good? The first water-filled beds were goatskins filled with water, used in Persia over 3,000 years ago. In 1873, Sir James Paget at St Bartholomew's Hospital presented a modern waterbed as a treatment for bedsores. The idea for the mass public could not be well-executed until vinyl came along in the 60s.
Water beds are ergonomic--the water contours your body. Many are also heated for comfort. But they are heavy, create waves every time you move, require maintenance via special parts, and must be drained to be moved. Did we mention you could puncture them and soak your bedroom? They could be built (and some are) as serious comfort devices, but the marketing efforts in their golden era played off of their status appeal.
The reason they haven't had a resurgence is that other materials and construction techniques have approximated the ergonomic support of waterbeds without the hassle. You can still get one--they represent around 5% of the market.
Are you embarrassed to ask? Don't be. You CAN clean a mattress. Here are some ideas:
A great way to ensure your mattress stays clean and protected is through the use of a mattress protector.
You would think a box spring is a spring-filled box. They once were, but now they are simply wooden, cloth colored platforms usually placed in a bed frame. The box spring does two things: gives you a sturdy, flat surface upon which your mattress can lie, which extends its comfort and life; and raises you off the floor, making it easier to get into bed.
You can put a mattress directly on the floor. But the floor is dirty and dusty. And you have to get down there and up from there every morning. Your other alternative is to get a "platform bed." These have wooden slats that line the frame. They can look euro-chic, but again, it makes it harder to get in and out of bed. That is why most people find a box-spring the easiest option.