Mattress Buying Guide
How to Choose the Right Mattress
Buying a new mattress has changed in recent years. With more brands and models than ever before plus innovations in sleep technology, there’s never been a better time to find the right mattress. Driving from store to store to negotiate the best deal is also no longer the only option. Direct-to-consumer online retailers like Leesa, Tuft and Needle, Casper and others are providing consumers with more information and better pricing than ever before.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through the mattress buying process, from deciding if you need a new mattress to comparing mattress types and other factors to pricing. We’ll also outline the pros and cons of purchasing a mattress in-store vs. online as well as common mattress myths to watch out for. By the end, you’ll understand the basics and be ready to find a mattress that’s the perfect fit for you.
When Should You Replace Your Mattress?
Conventional wisdom will tell you to replace at the end of a specified number of years, but the truth is that the right time is more complicated. Below are some considerations to help you decide.
While mattress longevity varies by type and how often it’s used, the typical mattress will last between 8 to 9 years. According to a 2016 survey from the Better Sleep Council, consumers are beginning to recognize they should replace their mattresses sooner than they once did. Survey respondents kept their last mattress for 8.9 years, down from 10.3 in 2007.
Mattresses begin to sag over time as their components break down. This is especially true for innerspring and hybrid mattresses. If you notice yourself rolling toward the middle of your mattress, it’s time to replace it.
Memory foam mattresses are made to conform to your body and to return to their original shape once you get out of bed. If body impressions remain after you get up, it’s a sign that the foam is breaking down and the mattress needs replacing.
Sometimes sleepers simply want a new mattress, even if their current mattress isn’t that old. With new technologies and so many options from which to choose, who can blame them? Now’s the time to take advantage of developments in the industry.
Do you toss and turn in the night or wake up with aches and pains? Your mattress may have started to deteriorate, or maybe it wasn’t the right fit for you in the first place. A new mattress can offer you the comfort and support you’re currently lacking.
About 80 percent of adults will experience back pain at some point in their lives. A worn-out mattress—or one that simply isn’t the right fit—can exacerbate back pain. If you wake up with a sore back, or your doctor recommends a new mattress, it’s probably time to replace your sleep surface.
What Types of Mattresses Can You Buy?
There are four main types of mattresses you’ll find on the market, and each has unique qualities.
Innerspring mattresses are made with a support core of metal coils plus a comfort layer of 2” or fewer of polyfoam or memory foam. Coil gauge, or thickness, is measured on a scale from 18 (thinnest) to 12 (thickest). Lower gauge coils last longer and are firmer.
- Lifespan: Quality innerspring mattresses can last up to 10 years or so, but many sleepers experience sagging after a few years.
- Who is Best Suited: Innersprings have a traditional “springy” feel that many prefer, and they can appeal to a variety of sleep styles.
- Availability: Innerspring mattresses remain the most widely available mattress type, comprising about 60 percent of beds on the market.
- Average Price: $800 - $1,100
Hybrid mattresses have a traditional coil support core with a comfort layer of memory foam or latex. A true hybrid features pocket coils and has a comfort layer that is 2” or thicker.
- Lifespan: Similar to innersprings, well-made hybrids can last up to 10 years, but many sleepers experience sagging after a few years.
- Who is Best Suited: Sleepers who prefer the traditional bounce of innerspring but like the contouring of memory foam or latex.
- Availability: Hybrid mattresses are fairly widely available both online and in retail stores.
- Average Price: $1,300 - $2,000
There are two main types of foam: polyfoam and memory foam. Polyfoam is made from petrochemicals, and memory foam is a type of polyfoam that is viscoelastic, meaning it changes shape when pressure or heat is applied. Foam mattresses typically contain multiple layers of different types of foam. Memory foam is common in the comfort layer.
- Lifespan: Foam has a longer lifespan than many mattress types and can last 10 years or more.
- Who is Best Suited: Foam has excellent conforming qualities, so is a good fit for side sleepers and others who struggle with pressure points.
- Availability: Foam mattresses are the most common type sold by online retailers.
- Average Price: $900 - $1,400
Latex mattresses can be made from natural latex, which comes from rubber tree sap, synthetic latex, made from petrochemicals, or a blend of the two. Mattresses often feature layers of various densities to provide different firmness and comfort options.
- Lifespan: Latex is one of the most durable mattress materials. All-natural latex mattresses can even last 20 years.
- Who is Best Suited: Eco-minded customers may opt for natural latex, and the material is great for allergy sufferers. Latex offers superior support and body-contouring.
- Availability: Latex mattresses are not widely available in brick-and-mortar stores, but can be found online.
- Average Price: $1,400 - $2,000
What Factors Should you Consider?
There are a variety of mattress qualities you’ll want to consider when choosing the mattress that’s right for you.
Firmness is a measure of how soft or hard a mattress feels. It’s measured on a scale from 1 to 10, which 1 being the softest and 10 being the hardest. Most sleepers prefer a medium-firm (5-7) feel, but your ideal firmness depends on sleep position and body type (as well as what just feels right to you). Side sleepers tend to need a somewhat softer mattress for pressure point relief. Lighter individuals, under 130 pounds, tend to also prefer softer mattresses, while heavier individuals, over 230 pounds, like the feel of firmer mattresses. We’ve often been told that back pain sufferers need a very firm mattress, but studies show medium-firm is ideal.
Support and firmness are often conflated, but they are actually two different qualities. Support is provided by the bottom, support layer of a mattress and is intended to ensure spinal alignment. Our spines naturally form an S-shape, and a supportive—or responsive—mattress maintains this shape by controlling how much different parts of our bodies sink into the mattress. Heavier parts of the body, like the shoulders and pelvis, need more support.
Some individuals naturally sleep hot, and some mattress types exacerbate this issue. Hybrid and innerspring mattresses tend to sleep the coolest, while memory foam has been known to sleep hot because it envelopes the body. If you often wake up hot, you might want to opt for a mattress that sleeps cooler or look for cooling technology, like open-cell foam. Gel memory foam is often marketed as sleeping cooler, but this is largely a marketing ploy.
If you sleep with a partner, motion isolation is key, especially if you’re a light sleeper. Some mattress types will cause you to feel every movement your partner makes. Others, like memory foam and latex, are excellent at absorbing motion so you won’t wake up when your partner changes positions or gets up.
Some mattresses provide a consistent sleep surface right up to the edge, meaning you won’t feel less support if you sleep toward the edge of your bed. Hybrids and innersprings tend to have the best edge support, with edges reinforced with foam or coils.
How Much Should You Spend on a Mattress?
How much is too little, or too much, when it comes to purchasing a mattress?
- $0-200: Foam, hybrid and innerspring mattresses can all be found at this range, but materials will be the lowest quality (think thin coils and low-density foam). Mattresses in this range will only be found online. Consider avoiding mattresses in this range as they will provide little support or comfort and won’t last long.
- $200-400: Mattresses in this range might be well-suited for an area that doesn’t get much use, like a guest room. These mattresses will likely be thicker (8-10 inches) than those in the previous range, but will still use lower quality materials. Many will have shorter warranties, around 1-5 years. Expect to find these online.
- $400-600: Quality will start to improve at this level, but perhaps not for every component of the mattress (e.g. an innerspring might have a plush comfort layer but thin coils). Warranties will likely be in the 10+ years range.
- $600-1000: This is the sweet spot—not too much, not too little—for many buyers and is the average range. Good-quality foam, hybrids and innersprings can all be found at this level, as well as lower-quality latex. Warranties will be in the 15-20 year range, and you’ll find a variety of firmness and height options.
- $1000-2000: Many of these mattresses start to get into luxury territory, at least for foam, hybrids and innersprings. Expect longer trial periods and a larger variety of options. For those who can afford it, this is a good range to shoot for in terms of quality and longevity. Do your homework, though, to ensure you’re truly getting the quality you’re paying for.
- $2000-5000: These are very high-end mattresses and tend to offer a large degree of customization. High-quality mattresses of all types can be found at this level, and a variety of firmness and thickness options are available. Still, customer satisfaction tends not to be higher for this level than for the previous level.
- $5000+: These beds tend to be almost entirely customizable, but this level definitely has diminishing returns. While a mattress is an investment, the incremental increase in performance at this level will almost certainly not justify the high price tag.
Should you Buy in a Store or Online?
These days, you have several options for where to buy your mattress, but how do they compare?
Mattress Specialty Stores
These stores exclusively sell mattresses and accessories. For that reason, they often have the best selections and most knowledgeable salespeople. National chains have the biggest markups, but that also gives you more room to negotiate price than you’ll find in mom-and-pop shops.
Big Box Retailers
The big advantage of retailers like Costco and Sam’s Club is price. Because of their volume, big box stores can keep prices down, and they’re the least expensive brick-and-mortar option. That said, it’s unlikely you’ll find a salesperson who can give you much information. You won’t be able to try the mattress either.
National furniture stores tend to offer mattresses to go along with bedroom sets. Again, because mattresses are not their main focus, salespeople are not as knowledgeable, and selection is usually smaller. Still, you’ll likely be able to get a good deal if you add a mattress to the bedroom set you’re already purchasing.
Department stores like Macy’s usually have a good selection of mattresses, but they also have high markups. Some may allow you to price-match. Salespeople may not be as knowledgeable as those at specialty mattress stores, but they’ll know more than those at big box and furniture stores.
In Store Pros
- Ability to try the mattress: Most stores will let you try the mattress for 5-10 minutes, which will give you a sense for what materials and firmness you like.
- Price negotiation: In-store mattresses tend to cost more than those sold online, but you also have the ability to negotiate, especially at specialty stores.
- Knowledgeable salespeople: Purchasing a mattress in a store allows you to ask questions about specific models.
- Lack of transparency: Most stores don’t provide as many specs or other details about their mattresses as online retailers.
- Unhelpful salespeople: Especially if you’re at a big box or furniture store, it’s unlikely that you’ll find a salesperson who knows very much about different mattress models.
- No comparison shopping: You’ll need to drive to multiple stores to compare brands and models, and models often vary from store to store.
- Difficult returns: Retailers usually charge a fee if you decide to return your mattress, and sleep trials tend to be shorter.
- Inability to try mattress: Big box retailers don’t provide the opportunity to test mattresses. Even if you are able to test in a store, you might feel rushed or awkward.
Market share for direct-to-consumer, online mattress companies was 5 percent in 2016 and expected to double last year. This growth is for a good reason. By cutting out middlemen and avoiding high overhead, consumers can find a mattress online for a great price. Add to that the convenience of shopping online and generous sleep trials, and it’s no wonder purchasing a mattress online has become increasingly popular.
- Pricing: Online retailers have low overhead, meaning they can keep their prices down.
- Transparency: Online brands tend to provide more detailed specs and information, making it easier to gauge quality.
- Ability to comparison shop: Comparing brands and models is as simple as clicking between browser tabs.
- Longer sleep trials: Online retailers usually offer 100-night or longer sleep trials, compared to 30 that is common in-store. Returns are simpler and usually free.
- Customer service: You can chat with knowledgeable salespeople via live chat, phone or email.
- Inability to test mattress: You won’t be able to try your mattress before you buy it, which is why most online retailers offer generous sleep trials and easy returns.
Common Mattress Myths
There are a few myths that persist when it comes to buying a mattress:
- Coil count matters: Many retailers boast about their high coil counts, but the reality is that coil type and gauge (thickness) are much better determinants of support and durability.
- Gel foam sleeps much cooler than regular memory foam: Consumer Reports found that gel foam doesn’t necessarily sleep cooler than traditional memory foam.
- Special lumbar support helps alleviate back pain: Retailers often use special lumbar support as a differentiator, but there’s no evidence showing it makes any difference.
- Height matters: Unless you are a heavier individual, mattresses that are 8 to 10 inches thick should work just fine.
- You need a new box spring for your new mattress: Unless you’re switching from an innerspring to memory foam, your old box spring should work just fine.
- One size fits all: Body type, sleep position, preference and other factors will determine the mattress that’s right for you.
- Laying on a mattress for 5 minutes in a showroom is enough: You simply need more time to evaluate a mattress—you need to sleep on it. Be sure to find a mattress with a decent sleep trial and return policy.
- Comparison shopping is easy in stores: Mattress companies often make minor component changes and then rename and reprice models in different stores, making it almost impossible to comparison shop.
To summarize, here’s what to keep in mind when purchasing a new mattress:
- Different mattress components work together, so do your homework and check for support from top to bottom.
- Comfort is key, and it’s also subjective, so be sure to test your mattress. A long sleep trial is a better way to test than 5-10 minutes in a store.
- Currently, purchasing a mattress online will give you the best price and most transparency.
- If you do prefer an innerspring mattress, pocket coils will perform the best out of all coil options.
- You should expect to spend at least $750 for a good-quality mattress that will last between 8 to 10 years with daily use.
- Check out our comprehensive mattress information to find more information about the mattresses and companies that interest you and help narrow down your list.