Read This Before You Buy a Mattress
You spend a third of your life in bed, so finding the right mattress is key to getting your zzzs. Read on for our experts' tips
• It's more than 10 years old and sports lumps, dips, or trenches.
• Your hips sink too low, so you wake up with a sore lower back. Sagging means the springs are worn, the batting has flattened, or the mattress or box spring was poorly made.
• You wake up stiff or with shoulder or neck pain.
• You've changed: You've gotten much lighter or heavier, which can affect the body—mattress fit.
• You've gotten older. Young folks tend to like firm mattresses, but as the body grows more mature, it requires more cushioning, especially if you are a side sleeper. Incidentally, getting a good night's sleep generally gets harder as you get older, no matter how your mattress is made.
The range for a quality queen-size runs from $700 to $1,600. Yes, you can pay more, especially if you crave long-lasting hand-tufted cotton, wool, and, say, hog hair, but experts aren't convinced this will help you sleep. Remember, if you need a new foundation it could double the cost.
When the top and bottom layers are the same, a mattress can be flipped, extending its life. Some traditional companies, like Shifman, still make them this way. But most mattresses today have only one comfort layer, so flipping won't work. Be sure to ask what the maker recommends.
It's always a good idea to try before you buy. But forget speed dating around the showroom. This is a once-every-10-years purchase, so take your time.
Ignore the hype: Retail-store sales are so common that the list price is often meaningless. Don't be afraid to haggle. Another challenge: The same mattress may be tweaked and sold under a different name in a different store. Yes, this is done to stymie comparison shopping.
Feel them out: Get a sense of the sales staff, advises The Mattress Underground, a consumer watchdog group. Salespeople should be ready to talk specifics, from the density of the foam and the nature of the springs to the fiber content of the topping and ticking.
Pack your own pillow—and a timer: Wear a comfy outfit, like workout clothes, kick off your shoes, relax in sleep mode, and give yourself at least 15 minutes on the mattress, shifting positions. Are your hips and shoulders aligned and well cushioned? You should feel like you're floating.
Two more tests: Pressure points like shoulders should sink in while being supported by the core layer, keeping your spine straight. Place one hand under your waist; it should be tough to slide it out. If you jump when your partner plops down on the edge, ask to see a more stable mattress.
Sleep style is important, but so is your physique.
Big + heavy:
You need extra support from the core, especially if you sleep on your back. Curvy bodies, heavy or light, need a thicker, softer comfort layer.
Thin + bony:
Look for a softer, thinner comfort layer so you don't float too high over the support layer. If you are a stomach sleeper, slightly firmer will do.
Mad scientists are cooking up fresh latex and foam formulas and sandwiching them in artful new ways so that a mattress can omit springs altogether.
Natural latex, made from rubber-tree sap, is prized for its resilience and durability and is a good choice for the comfort layer. There are two ways it is molded, called Dunlop and Talalay, but more important is to test it for a buoyant, not bouncy, feel.
Foams are typically made from petroleum, though alternatives like soybean and other vegetable oils are increasingly going into the mix. Some makers also add gel.
Latex-foam blends are common because all-rubber latex is expensive. Don't assume a "natural latex" label means 100 percent rubber.
Memory foam responds to body heat and weight by "melting" around pressure points (while remaining firm, for better support, deeper down). It has its fans, partly because it doesn't jiggle, though others find its slow response to changes in sleep position and "sleeping hot" a problem.
Safety Check OEKO-TEX and CertiPUR-US certifications mean the mattress has been tested for formaldehyde and other chemicals. There are Global Organic standards for latex but not for mattresses as a whole.
Innovative foams are rated for such things as their ILD (indentation load deflection) and open vs. closed cells, but never mind: Manufacturers do the thinking so you won't have to, and what's key is your comfort. (Note: Old-school springs are said to be better for, ahem, romance.)
Mattresses are made with a softer top, or comfort layer, and a denser middle core, or support layer, which traditionally holds steel springs. Watch out for springs that allow motion transfer from one side of the bed to the other, a.k.a. "partner disruption." Lower-gauge springs offer the most support, so they may be best for folks who are big and heavy. Thinner, higher-gauge springs can be more responsive, or springier. But when talk turns to coil counts and springs that are "oven-baked," "tempered," or made of titanium, keep in mind that what matters is how your body responds when you give the mattress a whirl: The goal is to feel both supported and cushioned.
Shown: It's best to have springs encased in separate pockets, or even "socks," as seen in this sample from Room & Board, so they can flex separately to respond to shifting positions and provide support where it's needed.
More and more, mattresses combine innersprings and latex or memory foam, with springs at the core and a soft top layer to cushion joints.
1. Try to get a handle on it. A queen-size can weigh 75 pounds or more. Four comfy handles will help you reposition the mattress or even move it one day.
2. Carry a ruler. Measure the height of the frame, the mattress, and any base or foundation, lest you literally have to climb into bed. Make sure your sheets still fit, too.
3. Give it a month. It can take 30 days or more to adjust to a new mattress. Many comfort guarantees allow you to live with it for 60 to 90 days.
Like so many things these days, mattresses can be adjusted to suit just you.
Split the difference: If you and your partner can't agree, pay a little more and order a mattress that's half firm and half less so.
Pump it up: One maker, Select Comfort, uses side-by-side air pockets and an electric pump to allow separate adjustments in firmness in its Sleep Number beds. Its new smartphone app will monitor your sleep, helpful if you want to tweak the setting.
Fill out a form: New online company Helix will customize a foam-and-microcoil mattress based on your age, height, weight, and favored sleeping position. Over time the company's Netflixesque questionnaire and algorithm should become ever keener. Till then, there's a comfort guarantee.
Used to be that mattresses met fire-safety standards by blending scary chemicals into the flammable foam. But starting in 2007, manufacturers shifted to thin barriers made from fire-resistant natural or synthetic fibers, so if you're buying a new mattress, you can rest easier.
Some fibers, such as wool (shown), sisal, and thistle, keep you cool while also providing fire resistance.
Before you commit, pin down any delivery costs, and ask if the dealer will also whisk away your old mattress. Most mattresses come with a friendly-sounding policy on returns, or a so-called comfort guarantee. But read carefully: You may have only one month to exercise this option, and you may have to pay for shipping or a restocking fee even if you do return the mattress within the set time.
Long-term warranties (typically 10 to 20 years) guard against lumps, sags, and trenches—but with certain conditions.
The warranty may apply only if you use a certain foundation. (See "Add a Base," opposite.)
You may not get a full refund. And a lump or other problem may not qualify as a defect if it's deemed too small.
You may need your original receipt—and the "Do Not Remove" tag that comes with the mattress, which could contain key product information. For instance, to exercise IKEA's generous 25-year warranty, you have to bring the receipt—and the mattress—back to the store.
You're away from the usual stresses and strains and find yourself sleeping like a baby. Convinced you'd sleep better if you could just take that hotel mattress home? Maybe you can. Ask at the front desk—major brands like Simmons supply many hotels. The website shophbd.com offers Stearns AP Foster and Sealy mattresses made for the Hyatt and the Ritz-Carlton.
Web-based companies like Leesa and Casper offer one-style-fits-all mattresses made with foam or latex and foam. You save money because there's no store overhead, and because a no-springs slab can be vacuum-packed, rolled up like a rug, and delivered in a box, like Tuft & Needle's, above. If you don't like it, you get a full refund. Online dealer Saatva has risen to the challenge with discounted innersprings and more choices, plus a 75-day comfort guarantee and classic "white glove delivery," which entails a nonrefundable fee of about $100.
• Traditional mattresses are designed to lie on a stiff wire foundation, which acts as a shock absorber, extending the mattress's life. Many of today's models do fine on slats, platforms, and boxes covered with foam and fabric.
• Ask what the mattress maker recommends; the long-term warranty may depend on using a certain base. That doesn't mean you have to buy them as a set.
• Flexible bases, like Sleep Number's, here, can elevate your head, knees, and feet and turn your bed into a chaise longue. Sleeping with a snorer? Sleep Number's remote control allows you to raise your partner's head.
Integrated pillow tops are giving way to free-floating toppers that are purchased separately. While they can be pricey, they are a way to experiment with new-age options like gel honeycombs (IntelliBed) or plastic yarn spun into washable springy slabs (Airweave). Note: You still need a good-quality support layer underneath.
Now that you've found a mattress that keeps your spine aligned, don't forget the supporting player: a pillow that will continue that alignment by keeping cricks out of your neck. Unfortunately, pillows generally don't come with comfort guarantees, and it may take a few tries to get the combination of softness and support that's right for you. Now all you need is the perfect set of sheets.
Humans throw off dead skin cells and bodily fluids, and if over time all that weren't weighty enough, dust and dust mites pile in too, never mind pollen and bacteria—and could that possibly be pet fur joining the party? Vacuuming a mattress every couple of months and using a case or cover can help keep it in fighting trim.
1. Protect it with a washable cover or mattress pad. Some, like one made by Sure Fit, add a bit of cushiness, too. If you are allergic to dust mites or worried about spills or even bedbugs, there are specially designed covers and cases.
2. Assuming the manufacturer recommends it, rotate the mattress every three months to even out wear.
3. To freshen a mattress, sprinkle it with baking soda, let it sit, then vacuum.