Consumer Mattress Reviews

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What You Should Know Before Buying a New Mattress

What You Should Know Before Buying a New Mattress

If you feel lost at the thought of buying a new mattress or have never bought one before, there a few things that can be helpful to know before hitting the stores. First, keep in mind that sleep is incredibly important to overall health and wellbeing, and the sole purpose of a mattress is to provide the foundation for good sleep. A bed is likely one of the more expensive household purchases you will make, and it’s also an item people expect to last for several years. The average person spends 8 hours a day (or around 3,000 hours per year!) with their mattress, so investing a little time in the buying process is both wise and worthwhile. In this article, we will share the basics of what you need to know to choose the best mattress for your needs and get the best deal.

Key Things You Should Know Before Buying a New Mattress

There is more to buying a new mattress than testing a few models in a showroom. In today’s industry, there are many brands and many types of beds to choose from, which can easily get overwhelming. There also a lot of sales tricks and things to watch for in fine print, if you want to come away with a good value and satisfactory experience.

Learn The Differences Between Mattress Types

The most essential thing you should know before buying a new bed is how the different types, like spring, foam and latex, compare to each other. Each material has pros and cons to consider, and no one type is right for everyone. Spending a little time researching and comparing your options can make the difference between good sleep and buyer’s remorse. There are a wealth of resources available online, such as consumer review websites where you can read others experiences and product review websites where you can contrast the specifications for beds. It’s wise to do research yourself rather than take sales claims at face value or to rely on brand or price alone as a measure of quality.

When you are comparing different mattresses, there are a few key factors to consider which can help provide insight into the bed’s performance and potential durability. Here’s a brief overview of what details you should collect and compare for each type. Statistics and percentages come from review analysis website SleepLikeTheDead.com (SLTD).

Innersprings

Innerspring beds are the most popular type in terms of sales, and the majority of people are likely familiar with these types of mattresses. They excel at affordability, provide good comfort the first few years, and are often widely available. However, spring mattresses also have the lowest average owner satisfaction rating (around 63%) of all types, are prone to motion transfer, and tend to lose support and cause discomfort sooner than other materials.

  • Coil Type: There are four main types of mattress coils; Bonnell coils tend to be cheapest but least durable and poor at motion isolation. Continuous coils excel at durability, but offer poor motion isolation and average support. Offset coils tend to be more supportive and motion-isolating, but are still relatively prone to sagging. Encased or pocket coils are best motion isolation and durability but tend to be pricier.
  • Coil Count: Coil counts typically range from 450-900, referring to the number of springs in the bed. Coil counts below this range may be unsupportive, though some every high counts may also be exaggerated. SLTD finds little difference between coil counts within a normal range and satisfaction/durability.
  • Padding Materials: Find out what the mattress uses for all padding layers, and preferably the density of the foams (see categories below for more information). Higher quality foams like denser memory foam and latex will be more durable than fiber padding and low-density foams.
  • Warranties: Most innerspring beds usually come with at least 10 years of warranty. Some very cheap or promotional mattresses may have only 5 years or fewer, while others may have extended prorated warranties. Warranties usually cover 1-1.5” of compression.

Memory Foam

Memory foam mattresses have become fairly popular in the past 10 years and are now widely available in most areas. They can range from very cheap to very expensive depending on quality and brand. Memory foam earns the highest average owner satisfaction rating at 81%, and excels at pressure relief, motion isolation and support. However, a minority of people do report issues with hotter sleep and initial odor. Lower density foams can also break down fairly quick, but some denser foams can feel difficult to move on.

  • Foam Type: Traditional temperature-sensitive foams create a “sinking” sensation as the foam warms and softens near your body and the firmness can also fluctuate with room temperature. This is less prominent with plant-based foams, which are often considered temperature neutral. Gel foams can feel initially cooler (eventually warming to body temperature), but must be used at the surface of the bed. Consumer Reports finds little difference between breathability on gel and non-gel beds.
  • Memory Foam Density: Density is the measure of weight for a block of material, with denser foams offering better durability and pressure relief. Less dense foams can be easier to move on, less prone to heat, and less expensive though. Density is usually grouped along the following lines: under 3.5lbs is low density, 3.5 to 5.0 lbs is medium density, and over 5.0 lbs is high density.
  • Memory Foam Thickness: A memory foam bed should have a minimum of 2 inches of actual memory foam for adequate pressure relief. 2-3” is suitable for petite people, back sleepers and stomach sleepers, though larger individuals and side sleepers will probably feel most comfortable with 3-6” inches.
  • Core Density: The regular foam core that supports the memory foam layer is important for gauging supportiveness and durability. Less dense cores (under 1.8lbs) may not be supportive enough for most adults. Most good-quality brands use cores between 2-2.5 lbs.
  • Fabrics: Covers can be important for memory foam, as they can affect breathability and the contouring of the foam. The material should allow airflow and should also allow some stretch so it doesn’t inhibit the contouring of the foam. Natural fibers like cotton are desirable, as are rayon/bamboo type fibers and other materials like Outlast.
  • Warranties: Memory foam mattress warranties are typically between 10-20 years, with at least 10 years of full coverage for mid to high-end brands. Some cover compression as little as 0.75”, but others may require 1.5” or more.

Latex Beds

Latex mattresses have been around for awhile, and have recently seen a resurgence due to consumers seeking more natural products. Latex mattresses can be hard to find in some areas, and are among the most expensive beds. As a category, latex beds have an average satisfaction rate of 80%, though natural latex beds tend to average 15% higher than blended ones, and all-latex beds also rate significantly higher than latex/poly foam models. These mattresses excel at support, pressure relief, and durability, though a small percentage of people may sleep hotter or notice an odor (particularly with man-made latex). Some brands allow firmness and layers to be customized, and may also offer dual side firmnesses for couples.

  • Latex Type: Latex foam can be made using either the Dunlop or Talalay manufacturing process. Both involve frothing the liquid latex, pouring into molds and heating it, though Talalay also adds vacuum pressure and flash freezing. The Talalay process gives more control over quality to manufacturers, but costs more and requires additional ingredients. Both types rate similarly in reviews.
  • Latex Contents: Latex foam can be made with naturally-derived liquid latex, man-made synthetic latex, or (most-commonly) a blend of the two. Natural latex offers the benefit of being free of petrochemicals, and is typically more durable and resistant to impressions, but costs more. Be aware that some retailers call blended latex “natural”, even when its not 100% natural. Natural latex tends to earn considerably higher reviews than synthetics.
  • Layer Thickness: Always be sure to check what each layer is made of on a latex bed. Some brands use traditional poly foams for cores or padding layers, which affects latex’s beneficial properties and owner satisfaction rates. A latex mattress should usually have at least 6” of latex material, but those who need more support or pressure relief may want thicker mattresses.
  • ILD: Indentation Load Deflection is often specified for latex beds, which is a standardized measure of firmness (via the force required to compress the material) typically ranging between 14 and 45. Lower ILDs are softer and more suitable for padding layers, while higher ILDs are firmer and more suitable for cores and support layers.
  • Fabrics: Latex mattress covers should have breathable fabrics like cotton or wool. If you are specifically seeking a natural bed, be sure to inquire about the cover and fire barrier materials as well, and always make sure anything claimed to be “organic” is certified by a recognized body.
  • Warranties: Latex mattresses often have some of the longest warranties, usually around 20-25 years with at least 10 years full-coverage. Brands may cover impressions as little as 0.5”, but others may only cover compression over 1.5” or more.

Waterbeds

Waterbeds aren’t quite as popular as they once were, but many people still swear by this mattress type, especially the more modern-looking softside waterbeds. As a category, waterbeds earn owner satisfaction ratings around 79%, with softside models and waveless models coming in slightly higher than more basic hardside and freeflow types. Waterbeds are often affordable and excel at pressure relief, allergen relief, and cool sleeping, but require maintenance, can be difficult to find locally, and may not be practical for all homes.

  • Hardside vs Softside: Waterbeds can come in hardside models (bladders meant to be used with deep wood frames) and softside models (which look like a traditional mattress and may be used on regular frames). Softside beds operate with water bladders or tubes sitting inside a zippered encasement.
  • Bladder Material: Waterbeds are usually made of vinyl. Those over 20mil thick are considered more durable and resistant to punctures.
  • Corners & Seams: Overlap seams (which are set beneath the bottom of the mattress) and reinforced corners can help reduce the chances of rupture, but may increase prices.
  • Motion: Waterbeds are usually available with different motion levels, from free-flow (full-motion) to waveless and even ultra-waveless (virtually no motion). This is controlled by layers of fiber or baffling within the chamber. Tethered fiber layers help reduce twisting or distorting.
  • Warranties: Waterbeds typically have shorter warranties, around 1-10 years depending on vinyl quality, cost and whether the bed is a hardside or softside.

Understand Mattress Sizes

Mattress size is a basic but important part of shopping, and it is always something you should know before you go to buy. It is best to measure your current bed if replacing, or to be sure of your size preference if buying for a new bed. In the United States, sizes are fairly standardized following the measurements in the chart below:

Size

Measurements

Twin

38-39” x 74-75”

Twin XL

38-39” x 80”

Full

54” x 74-75”

Full XL

54” x 80”

Queen

60” x 80”

Eastern King

76” x 80”

California King

72” x 84”

Queen is the most popular size in America for couples, while twin is the most popular size overall. Crib size is the smallest standard size, and is suitable for cribs and some toddler beds. Typically, standard Twin beds are best suited for children or petite single adults under around 5’5”. Twin XL sizes, commonly seen in dorm rooms, are suitable for single adults up to 6’. Full size beds can be used comfortably by single sleepers up to 5’5” and for guest rooms, but most couples may find them too cramped for comfortable rest. Queen size beds accommodate most people and provide 30” of width per person and 5” more length than fulls. Larger individuals or those who prefer to spread out while sleeping will likely prefer an Eastern King, which gives each sleeper 38” of width. California King is ideal for taller sleepers over 6’, as these beds provide an additional 4” of length (but also 4” less width) than a regular king. Mattresses noted as “split king” are designed for adjustable beds, and generally are composed of two Twin XL halves which together equal and Eastern King.

Understand Mattress Firmness

Firmness can be confusing when buying a new bed as there is no industry standard for firmness, and more importantly, it is a rather subjective measure. One brand’s firm may be another’s medium, and a firm memory foam bed likely will feel different to you than a firm spring bed.

A mattress should ideally provide adequate support to keep your spine in proper alignment, as well as enough cushioning to prevent pressure points. A bed that is too firm will not allow your hips and shoulders to sink in enough, which can cause place strain on your back and create pressure points. A bed that is too soft will allow your hips and shoulders to sink too far, which can also affect your spine and cause pain.

Most research finds that beds in the medium to medium-firm range result in the highest comfort and are more likely to relieve back pain. If you are in between firmnesses, it is usually wiser to opt for something firmer rather than too soft. Most materials soften a bit over time and you can always add a topper for extra padding; however, there is little you can do to remedy a bed that is too soft or unsupportive.

Buying a New Mattress Online vs In-Stores

Mattress showrooms and department stores have long been the only way to buy a new mattress, but in recent years online shopping has continued gaining popularity. Initially, this may seem counterintuitive as people have been told for ages that they must try a bed for a 10-15 minutes before taking it home. However, even this showroom test may not be enough as one study found people had difficulty choosing a comfortable mattress in a showroom environment, and in 2013 Consumer Reports found that 40% of readers surveyed experienced buyer’s remorse after buying their last bed.

Mattress showrooms do have the advantage of physically testing and inspecting beds. However, they are also notorious for deceptive practices and high-pressure sales. Buying online offers less pressure when shopping, potentially better deals, and more opportunity to research beds before buying. What may be more relevant to your long-term satisfaction is the retailer’s return or exchange policy, regardless of whether you buy locally or on the internet.

Learn About Return Policies

Even if you test out a mattress in a showroom and thoroughly research it online, there is still a chance it may not be a good fit when you get it home. Because mattresses can be costly and your comfort is important, it is wise to choose a bed that can be returned or at least exchanged if necessary. A good policy will allow you at least 30 days to make up your mind, and will require few fees aside from return delivery. Some stores may charge restocking fees or may limit you to store credit. It is also common for retailers to require returned beds to be free of stains or odors, so a mattress protector can be a good idea. Always get the full policy in writing for your review prior to buying, and keep all of your receipts and leave manufacturer tags attached. Read more about warranties, returns and tags in our mattress buying guide article.

When you know what to look for, buying a new mattress doesn’t have to be hassle. We suggest dedicating some time to research and testing before committing to purchase in order to get a feel for what you will prefer. The internet is your greatest resource when making a major purchase like a mattress, as it allows you to compare mattress details, learn about the variety of products, and read real reviews rather than just relying on sales pitches. Learning about the mattress type(s) you are interested helps you distinguish quality and value, and knowing the basics about warranties and returns helps protect you as a consumer. Covering these bases will give you a better chance of choosing a new mattress you’ll be happy with. If you have any other questions about buying a new mattress, feel free to comment below!