Mattress Buyers Guide

Mattress Buying Guide For The US Market

Purchasing a new mattress can be one of the most frustrating shopping experiences you’ll ever encounter, particularly if you decide to start the process at a brick-and-mortar mattress store and face their salesmen.

Selecting a new mattress based on price, material composition, and other factors requires a comprehensive product research — no small task, considering hundreds of retailers and brands offering new mattresses in brick-and-mortar stores and online.

This mattress buyers guide is designed to give you the information, tools, and power you’ll need for making an informed and well-researched decision when shopping for and purchasing a new mattress in the US.

Everyone has a unique list of requirements that they’re searching for in the perfect new mattress. By understanding the pros, cons, and differences between each mattress option, you’ll have the knowledge you need for buying the optimal mattress for you.

This buyers’ guide will analyze the following key issues:

  • When to replace your current mattress
  • Differences between memory foam, latex, innerspring, and hybrid mattresses
  • Key performance and purchasing factors to consider
  • Potential places to find a new, high-quality mattress
  • Common myths about mattress buying and performance
  • A final checklist for new mattress shoppers

When Should You Replace Your Current Mattress?

You should consider purchasing a new mattress if:

The mattress is older than eight years.

Lots of factors affect the lifespan of a mattress. Some mattress types – such as latex foam – are less susceptible to wear and tear.  Sleep habits are another consideration, as a mattress that is used every night will deteriorate quicker than one that is used occasionally. However, the general rule of thumb is that you should replace your mattress every eight years — irrespective of how long your bed is covered under warranty.

You toss and turn or wake up with pains

Some mattresses provide better overall support than others, regardless of their age. If you wake up in pain or begin to develop pressure points that didn’t previously bother you, then you should consider replacing your current mattress — even if it is relatively new.

The mattress has significant sagging or deep indentations

All mattresses are subject to sagging in the sleep surface after enough use. Indentations may also develop in places where the sleeper have higher concentrations of body weight. Excessive sagging and deep indentations undermine mattress support, and may cause discomfort for sleepers.

Your body has changed since you last purchased such mattress

Excessive weight gain or loss can change how your mattress feels, since factors like support and preferred firmness depend mainly on body weight.

Medical diagnosis is another point to consider. For example, sleep apnea primarily affects back sleepers (since they are more prone to snoring); a mattress designed for back sleepers may no longer be appropriate if the owner has been diagnosed with sleep apnea.

You want a mattress upgrade

Whether you want to replace the mattress you’ve been using since school or a more sophisticated bed seems more suitable than your current model — sometimes it’s just fine to upgrade your current mattress.

How to Select a New Mattress

There are many performance issues to evaluate when shopping for a new mattress and comparing several models and brands…

Thickness

Mattresses often measure more than 10 inches in height, though it varies from about 5 inches to 15 inches or even more. Your body weight will affect your preferred thickness, i.e. lighter individuals tend to feel more comfortable on thinner beds, whereas heavier people often prefer thicker beds.

Durability of materials

The normal new mattress will often perform without excessive deterioration for at least eight years before it should be replaced. However, the expected lifespan of a new mattress will primarily depend on the composition of its materials. A normal memory foam mattress has a lifespan of eight years, whereas latex mattresses have above average longevity, while hybrids and innersprings normally have shorter than average lifespans.

Size

Most mattresses are available in 6 standard sizes: Twin, Twin XL, Double/Full, Queen, King, and California King. Some models may come in additional sizes (such as Full XL or Short Queen) and they may also be available in split Queen, King, or California sizes, meaning that 2 separate mattresses can be separated or put together.

Conforming ability

Some mattresses conform closely to the sleeper’s body for helping to align the spine and prevent pressure points from developing, while others offer virtually no conforming. How closely a new mattress conforms is associated  with its comfort layer, or the cover and topmost layers. Mattresses with thicker comfort layers made of latex and/or memory foam will often offer the best conforming.

Support

Support refers to the mattress ability for providing a flat, even surface that helps align the pelvis and spine, and does not sink beneath heavier areas of the body. Initially, most new mattresses offer optimal supportiveness, but support will decrease over time in mattresses made of soft materials (e.g. latex and memory foam). Innerspring and hybrids offer better, more consistent support throughout the lifespan of the mattress.

Firmness

Mattress firmness choices are often associated with 2 factors: sleeper weight and sleep position. Back and stomach sleepers tend to feel most comfortable on medium-firm and/or firmer mattresses, while those who sleep on their side often prefer softer mattresses. In terms of body weight, lighter sleepers (less than 140 pounds or 70 kilograms) often require softer mattresses in order to experience more conforming and pressure relief; heavier individuals (more than 250 pounds or 125 kilograms), often require firmer mattresses for preventing excessive sinkage. For couples with different firmness preferences, a dual firmness mattress with different firmness settings on each side is often the most suitable choice. You can also select your new mattress with the in-home firmness adjustability feature.

Motion isolation

Movement in bed creates motion transfer that may be felt across the rest of the mattress. For couples, this may cause sleep disruptions whenever someone shifts position or gets into or out of bed. Mattresses with softer comfort layers will minimize motion transfer and keep it isolated to smaller regions of the sleep surface, thus reducing the risk of sleep time disruptions for both partners. Consider also your new mattress with motion-isolating coils, for zero partner disturbance purposes.

Odor potential

Virtually all new mattresses emit harmless off gassing particles, and these particles carry an unpleasant odor for most people. Such off gassing smells often dissipate in a matter of a few days when such mattress is kept in a well ventilated room.

Weight

All mattresses are relatively heavy and difficult to move. However, the average weight for both hybrid and latex mattresses is more than 100 pounds (50 kilograms), whereas innerspring and memory foam mattresses are much lighter, in relative terms.

Temperature neutrality

Some mattresses absorb and trap body heat and this may cause sleepers to feel warmer than usual, disrupting sleep. Memory foam mattresses tend to sleep the warmest because they have solid support cores. Latex mattresses are often cooler. Innerspring and hybrids are normally the ones with the most temperature neutral options because they often have more air circulation in their support core.

Edge support

All mattresses are subject to sinkage at the edges of the bed where people tend to sit when they get up into or from bed. However, some mattress types e.g. memory foam and latex models — provide little to no edge support and excessive sinkage may occur. Mattresses with coil based support cores reinforced in high density foam often offer the best edge support.

Noise potential

Foam and latex mattresses are virtually silent when bearing body weight. On the other hand, innerspring and hybrid mattresses may be loud due to squeaks and creaks from their steel coils.

What Type of Mattresses Are Available in the US Market?

Every mattress is unique, however the vast majority of models fall into one of the following 4 types.

1) Foam Mattresses

Construction.  Their comfort system features at least one layer of memory foam and/or polyfoam, while their support core is made from high-density polyfoam.
You should use these factors to determine which foam mattress is most suitable for you…

Type of foam. Memory foam performs better than polyfoam for helping to align the sleeper’s spine and alleviate pressure points.

Foam density. It applies to how well the new mattress will support your body weight, in pounds per cubic foot (PCF). Medium and high density foams have a good lifespan, but not low density foams.

Indentation load deflection (ILD). It refers to how much weight is needed to compress the sleep surface by 4 inches. The higher the ILD, the firmer the mattress and most foams range in ILD from 8 to 21 inches.

2) Latex Mattresses

Construction. Their comfort layer features at least one layer of latex (a  natural substance extracted from the sap of rubber trees – although it can also be synthetic, sometimes. Their support core may also be made from latex or, as an alternative, high density polyfoam.

You should use these factors to determine which latex mattress is most suitable for you…

Latex processing methods (2). The Dunlop process results in fluffier foam on the top of the mattress and more sediment on its bottom. Thus, Dunlop latex is often used in support cores. The Talalay process results in a more homogeneous mixture of light foam, and is often used in comfort layers of the mattress.
Indentation load deflection (ILD). Like foam mattresses, latex ones are also assigned ILD scores, but the scale is slightly different: an ILD rating of 16 or less is considered the softest, while a rating of 39 or more is considered the firmest for latex.

3) Innerspring Mattresses

Construction. Most innerspring mattresses have one or two layers of polyfoam in their comfort system, and their support core features evenly spaced steel coils, as well as a base polyfoam layer.

You should use these factors to determine which innerspring mattress is most suitable for you…

Coil type. There are 4 coil types often used in innerspring mattresses.

  1. Bonnell coils are hourglass shaped and often found in cheaper innersprings.
  2. Offset coils are also hourglass shaped, but their bottom is straightened to create a hinging effect for more consistent support. They’re more durable than other mattress coils, and slightly more expensive.
  3. Continuous wire coils form rows of single steel wires that are joined at the sides to create a hinging motion (similar to offset coils). These coils are more durable, but do not conform as closely as other innerspring mattresses.
  4. Pocketed coils are usually found in hybrids, but some innerspring mattresses include them as well. Each coil is wrapped in cloth or fabric – this minimizes noise and reduces more motion transfer than other innerspring coils.

Coil gauge. The gauge (or thickness) of innerspring coils may be used to determine how durable such mattress is. Gauge is measured on a scale of 12 (thickest) to 18 (thinnest). Pocketed coils are usually the highest gauge and offset coils are the lowest – but bonnell and continuous wire coils tend to vary substantially in terms of its scale.
Pitch. It refers to the angle of the coils in relation to the sleep surface of the mattress, and may be used to determine how firm it feels.
Coil count. This is difficult to evaluate because it may not necessarily affect mattress longevity and/or comfort. Innerspring mattresses with coil counts ranging from 600 to 1,000 have the highest satisfaction ratings, but models with 1,000 coils and more are not associated with increased levels of performance, comfort, and support.

4) Hybrid Mattresses

Construction. A true hybrid is constructed with at least two inches of memory foam and/or latex in the comfort system and a pocketed coil support core.

You should use these factors to determine which hybrid mattress is most suitable for you…

Density. This is an important consideration for mattresses containing polyfoam and/or memory foam layers.
Indentation load deflection (ILD). This is an important consideration for all hybrids.
Gauge. Most pocketed coils are high-gauge (i.e. thin), but longevity expectations and specifications vary substantially.
Coil count. Coil count is good to take into consideration, but may not play an important role in mattress performance, comfort, and support.

Important Buying Considerations for New Mattress Shoppers

The next steps are purchasing and ordering your new mattress. All brands and retailers have different policies, so it’s paramount to get answers about the following issues prior to the actual order…

Delivery and Shipping

Where can new mattresses be shipped? Lots of mattress brands offer free shipping in the mainland US, but customers in Hawaii, Alaska, and overseas US territories must pay additional shipping charges. In a few cases, all customers within the US must pay a delivery fee.

What is the wait time for a new mattress delivery? Retailers that offer free delivery typically ship mattresses through third party courier services (e.g. FedEx, UPS) and the expected wait time is often 3 to 7 business days, but will be longer for remote locations or addresses outside the mainland US.

Do mattress brands offer in-home assembly? Some retailers offer a service known as White Glove Delivery, meaning the inclusion of in-home mattress assembly and also packaging waste disposal. This service may be offered for free (i.e. included in the mattress price), but in most cases it costs more than $100 on top of the purchase price.

Can you get old mattress removal? It may be available from mattress companies that deliver with their own couriers, but brands that use FedEx or UPS do not normally offer such option.

Sleep Trial and Returns

Most mattress brands and retailers offer sleep home trials, allowing customers to test out the mattress at home for a certain period and then return it for a refund if they are dissatisfied.
The average sleep home trial spans 100 days in length, but home trials may range from 30 up to 365 days.
New mattress owners typically need at least 30 days before the bed adjusts to their bodies. For this reason, many sleep home trials include a mandatory break-in period of 30 days or longer, thus forcing customers not returning the mattress for a refund during the first full month.
In addition to returns, some sleep home trials offer mattress exchanges for a model of a different firmness, construction, size, or a combination.
Returns may be completely free, but in many cases mattress buyers need to pay a return fee and/or cover the shipping and respective handling costs.
Returned mattresses will either be recycled or donated to charity and rarely will be resold or reused.

Mattress Warranty

  • New mattresses sold nowadays come with a  product warranty which often span 10 years or more in length. However, this may fluctuate from 1 or 2 years, up to lifetime coverage.
  • Mattress warranties protect against specific defects, such as manufacturing flaws in the mattress cover or layers and excessive indentations / sagging. These warranties never cover normal wear and tear, changes in the owner’s mattress preferences or physical damage.
  • Most warranties establish that coverage will be voided if the mattress isn’t used with a suitable support system. The exact specifications will be listed in order to ensure that owners know how to support properly their new mattress.
  • A key provision of mattress warranties is prorated vs. non-prorated coverage.  During the prorated period, owners will have to pay a percentage of the original mattress price in order to replace or repair a defective model. Prorated annual charges typically increase exponentially every new year. During the non-prorated period, owners may replace or repair a defective mattress at no charge. Most 10 year warranties are entirely non-prorated and longer warranties tend to include both prorated and non-prorated coverage.
  • Most mattress warranties are limited, meaning that the coverage extends exclusively to the original owner provided he/she bought the new mattress from an authorized brand retailer (or from the manufacturer). Anyone who purchases the mattress from the original owner or from a non-authorized retailer will not qualify for warranty coverage.

Where Can You Buy a New Mattress?

In today’s marketplace in the US, new mattress shoppers can select a wide range of buying places. Those who wish to acquire a mattress online can choose from the following 2 options:

The mattress manufacturer’s website

Buying a new mattress directly from the source often results in the most savings, and many mattress brand websites often live chat tools that allow shoppers to communicate directly with customer service personnel. Buying a new mattress from the brand also ensures a full sleep home trial and warranty coverage. Often, shoppers arrive at the mattress brand website via affiliate sites (e.g. TryMattress.Net).

Online retailers

Retail sites such as Amazon carry a wide selection of mattresses, including the ones from other brands and also specific models that are exclusive to their website. Mattress prices are often on par with the brand’s listed price point. However, shoppers may not qualify for the brand’s full sleep home trial if they order through these sites… For example, Amazon offers a standard 30 days sleep trial, irrespective of the longer period often provided by the brand.

Additionally, mattress shoppers may find a bed at the following brick-and-mortar locations in the US:

Mattress specialty stores

These large establishments may be privately owned or part of larger chains and typically carry the widest selection of mattress models and bedding. If you visit a chain-based specialty store, you may be able to negotiate the price of a new mattress. These stores often offer in-home assembly services and delivery.

Big box retailers

Retail chains like Walmart, Costco, and Target normally carry a limited supply of mattresses on display to shoppers. Often they allow consumers to purchase the mattress on the company’s website and then pick it up at the most convenient store location. They often also offer mattress delivery services, but are often unable to provide dedicated sales staff that specialize in beds.

Department and furniture store chains

These store chains often carry a small selection of mattresses in brick-and-mortar locations and sometimes they may not have dedicated sales staff that specialize in mattress sales – depending on each specific chain.

Most Common Mattress Myths

Now, let’s analyze some widespread myths about mattress buying and performance.

  • Lying on a mattress in a local store is the best way to choose. You’ll often need at least one month for evaluating most mattresses. The way a specific bed feels in a local store for a few minutes may be completely different than the way it feels 30 days after its purchase.
  • The best mattresses are suitable for every type of sleeper. No mattress will ever be suitable for everyone. Factors like sleep position, firmness preferences, and body weight ensure that everyone experiences mattresses in a unique way. Rather than aiming for a universal bed, you should focus your search on a mattress that meets your unique preferences and needs.
  • Gel foams sleep cooler than standard foams. Gel-infused memory foam and polyfoam layers may sleep slightly cooler, but in broad terms gel foam have a minimal effect on the temperature neutrality of a mattress and is just a common marketing ploy in mattress sales.
  • Coil count is important. While coil counts of between 600 to 1,000 are often associated with the highest levels of sleepers’ satisfaction, there are better ways for evaluating innerspring and hybrid mattresses, e.g. the comfort layer materials and thickness, coil gauge and coil type.
  • People with back pain need mattresses with lumbar support. It is also a common marketing ploy in mattress sales. Beds may be advertised with lumbar support, but these models do not have higher satisfaction ratings among sleepers with back pain – in some cases, the ratings are even worse.
  • A mattress with a longer warranty must have a longer lifespan. While a mattress warranty may extend 20 years or even longer, don’t be fooled into thinking a lengthier warranty implies a better durability. The average mattress needs to be replaced every 8 years, regardless of its warranty.
  • The label says ‘hybrid,’ so it must be a hybrid. A true hybrid features at least 2 inches of memory foam / latex in the comfort layer and a pocketed coil support core. Many mattresses are labeled as hybrids although they don’t meet such criteria.
  • You need a new box spring / foundation. Many mattress sellers offer box spring / foundation bundles, which allow customers to purchase both at a discounted rate. However, any box spring / foundation in good shape will be suitable for your new mattress, if its type remains the same.
  • More expensive mattresses are better. Never assume a new mattress that costs thousands of dollars is of higher quality than one that costs just a few hundred dollars. You should watch carefully price-point averages for each  mattress type and then make the purchasing decision based on your individual budget.
  • Mattresses made of latex will last forever. Latex mattresses provide the longest lifespan among all mattress types. However, they’re still susceptible to the same wear and tear as other mattresses and will eventually deteriorate.
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