Learn all about the different mattresses you can buy for your bed. Many options, materials, sizes and more. Ultimate mattress buying guide.
You may also find that you’re waking up with aches and pains, or you’re not sleeping well at all. If you have lumps or bumps in your sleep surface, these are all signs that it’s time to go shopping.
Table of Contents
- Mattress Buying Guide
- A. Types of Mattresses
- B. What Type of Sleeper Are You?
- B. Mattress Considerations
- II. More Details
Mattress Buying Guide
There are lots of options to consider when you’re in the market for a new mattress. Construction technology has come in a long way in recent years, and now you have different materials and firmness ratings to choose from to maximize your comfort.
Other factors, like the position you sleep in, can also influence which type might be best for you. Here we’ll explore the different options available, and discuss other considerations to help you make the best selection for your needs.
A. Types of Mattresses
The five most common types of mattresses are memory foam, innerspring, hybrid, latex, and adjustable air. Here we’ll give you details on each one to help you weigh the pros and cons and pick which is the right fit for your bedroom.
1. Memory Foam
Memory foam is found abundantly in pillows and mattresses today, but it was actually invented back in the 1970’s by NASA. Its original purpose was to provide better seat cushioning and crash protection for passengers and pilots on airplanes and is still used in that capacity today.
The material might be the perfect bed padding for you for several reasons. Also called Visco Elastic foam, it conforms to the curves of your body while dispersing your weight evenly over the surface.
This feature provides pain relief for sleepers with achy joints or pain in the mornings from laying in one spot for too long. Memory foam is also a heat activated material, causing it to soften and contour in direct response to body temperature.
If you’re someone who gets cold when sleeping, memory foam could help keep you warm. The same technology that makes it moldable when it touches your body can make the bed seem warmer.
If you are a warm sleeper, you may want to consider a foam with some of the new technology innovations designed to keep you cooler like gel-infusion. These advances improve air cumulation through the support layers to keep you cool when you sleep.
Unlike traditional construction, memory foam is inherently resistant to bacteria and allergens. You won’t need to worry about mold, bed bugs, or dust mites with this type of bed.
Expect to pay anywhere from $100 to $4000 for a memory foam model depending on the brand name and quality you select. The average cost of this type is around $1400.
Memory Foam Layers Diagram
Inside of a gel foam mattress (diagram)
Source: Mattress Firm
Innerspring is the oldest and most common design. They’ve come a long way from 1857 when they were first invented, and modern upgrades make them more comfortable and stable than ever before.
Innerspring models use a steel coil support system to provide support to the sleeper. The coils can be arranged in one of two ways, connected or individually wrapped.
In a connected design, the coils all feed into a single unit, and the bed has a bouncier feel. When you sleep on this type, you might feel the movement of your partner because the coils will respond as one unit.
In an individually wrapped and pocketed design, the coils function independently from one another. When you’re in this bed, it’s possible that you won’t feel any bounce if your partner rolls over in the middle of the night.
The coils are covered by padding or upholstery to provide comfort, softness, and additional support.
Generally, the more coils the innerspring model has, the more points of contact the bed has to the sleeper, and the greater support and counter it can provide.
Unlike memory foam, innerspring options aren’t always hypoallergenic and can collect dust, mold, allergens, and even bed bugs over time. There are ways to combat these problems, including regularly washing bedding in hot water and using an electric blanket to reduce humidity.
Innerspring models are some of the most affordable in the market. You’ll pay anywhere from $100 to $2000 for this option, and the average purchase is less than $1000.
Hybrids are an example of how the sleep industry has combined the best of both worlds into one comfortable product. Most options pair the sophisticated memory foam technology with an advanced innerspring core to create a surface that offers excellent support, durability, and comfort.
There are several advantages to a hybrid design. First, by using the stand-alone pocketed coil technology, the sleeper experiences less motion transfer at night which results in a more restful sleep.
Finally, by combining the two technologies, the mattress retains the look and feel of a traditional sleep surface. If you like your bed to have a little bit of bounciness, this is a perk.
This option also has a traditional shape rather than the straight lines and low profile you see in strictly memory foam models.
Because they are topped with foam, you’ll get all the hypoallergenic benefits of that type. Your bed will be resistant to mold, bed bugs, allergens, and dust mites.
Cost wise, hybrids are one of the most expensive options. They can range from $550 to $4000 or more, and average around $2,200.
Latex options were first invented in the 1930’s and went mainstream to consumers in the 1960’s. Because of extremely high material and production costs, latex options were more expensive than their competitors and were far out of reach for the average person.
In the past 20 years, advances in technology have brought down the price of producing latex beds, and now they are a more affordable if still high-end sleep option.
Made from plant or petroleum-based materials, latex is popular among the eco-conscious because there are options that are environmentally friendly. The resilient material offers support similar to memory foam, providing a comfortable surface that keeps the pressure off of areas like hips and shoulders and helps the sleeper maintain proper alignment.
Latex beds are a popular choice among people who are looking for a solution to lower back pain.
The material is also a good choice if you sleep with someone who moves a lot at night. Latex suppresses motion, making it less likely you will feel it if they toss and turn helping you both to get a more restful night of sleep.
5. Adjustable Air Mattress
Source: Sleep Number
Air mattresses have long been used by outdoor enthusiasts to improve the camping experience. Recent innovations have brought air technology into the bedroom, giving you the option to fill the independent air chambers to your desired firmness providing and adjustable sleep experience.
The air chamber is then covered by padding and upholstery materials, which might include things like memory foam or latex, to create a comfortable sleep surface.
While they are designed to look like a conventional bed, most air beds come with a remote control that will allow you to adjust the firmness. Because they have numerous air chambers in their construction, you can usually adjust each side of the bed separately, providing a customized sleep experience for couples who prefer different sleep settings.
You might think that, since they’re made of air this would be an affordable choice. Unfortunately, with adjustable air beds, you pay for the technology.
This is one of the most expensive options, with entry-level models starting in the high $500’s and then going all the way up to as much as $10-$15k. The average bed in this category sells for around $2200.
They provide support through a water chamber system and come in either a hard-sided or soft-sided design.
Hard-sided waterbeds have their water chamber housed inside a rectangular wood frame while the soft-sided option stores theirs inside a rectangular rigid foam frame that is then zipped inside a fabric casing.
In both types, the water chamber is then covered with upholstery materials and paddings like foams and fiber. They then rest on top of a platform.
If you like the idea of the motion of the ocean, you can choose a free flow chamber system where nothing will obstruct the movement of the water. If you prefer a little less rock in your boat, you can pick a waveless model that reduces the ability of the water to flow through the chambers.
Waterbeds are generally inexpensive, ranging from $50 to $1800 with the average one costing around $200.
The biggest drawback is that your mattress may develop a leak over time. Keep a close eye on the bed, and be sure to check underneath and behind it regularly for puddles to make sure that it’s in good condition.
7. Futon Mattress
Many people, especially in small living areas, use a futon for a bed which doubles as a sofa. This is a great option in studio apartments.
Futon mattresses are fairly firm, but are made to fold to accommodate the sofa configuration.
What are futon mattresses made of?
Here’s a diagram courtesy of Futonland.
As you can see, futon mattresses are made from a variety of materials including cotton, foam, polyester and springs. Many are combination.
B. What Type of Sleeper Are You?
An important question to ask that will help you determine which is the best mattress type for you is how you sleep. Your sleep position may require that your bed provide specific types of support to various areas on your body, and one may be better suited for the job than another.
If you share your bed with a partner, it might be tricky to select an option that matches both of your sleep styles. However, there are some models that are a good fit for more than one position.
Here are the three most common sleep positions and recommendations for each.
1. Side Sleeper
If you’re someone who sleeps on your side, the chances are good that you’ve experienced pain or discomfort in your shoulders and hips upon waking up in the morning. That’s because these are the primary pressure points in that position and if you aren’t adequately supported, the areas can become compressed overnight.
These are the widest areas of your body, so it’s important to choose a bed that provides extra softness and cushioning to the spots to relieve pressure and manages discomfort.
Memory foam or latex designs are particularly adept at getting this job done, but hybrid models may also offer extra padding around the shoulders and hips. You could also consider adding a padded topper to provide an additional layer of comfort and relief to your joints.
2. Back Sleeper
If you sleep on your back, your primary consideration should be to choose an option that provides support to your spine. If you sink into the bed at your heaviest point, which for most of us is our backside, you can end up over-extending your spine which will lead to lower back pain over time.
Back sleepers will want an option that is firm enough to prevent that sinking from occurring. Search for innerspring or hybrid choices with a high firmness rating, or consider an adjustable air bed to achieve the level you need to support your spine.
3. Stomach Sleeper
If you sleep on your stomach, it’s possible that you experience problems with your back and neck. While it’s been shown to help reduce snoring and sleep apnea, the position isn’t recommended by back specialists because of the strain it puts on your spine.
That said, we’re not here to convince you to change the way you sleep. If sleeping on your stomach makes you happy, be sure to choose a very firm mattress to prevent your stomach and hips from sinking in too far which can exacerbate problems with your spine.
Pick an option that is as firm as you can handle, but still comfortable, to minimize the damage. In this case, adjustable airbed options are helpful as you can increase the rigidity over time as you become used to the firmer settings without compromising your short-term comfort.
B. Mattress Considerations
Now that we’ve reviewed all the different types available we want to point out a few special considerations that may help you to decide which manufacturer, brand, or store are the right one for you to use to make your purchase.
Nearly every retailer provides some type of warranty on your purchase, but they can vary widely and may not include important factors. Take the time to read the fine print, and if you’re shopping at a retail location, ask questions about the guarantee.
It can range from anywhere from 10 to 25 years and might be prorated over time. Usually, it will only cover manufacturing defects like loose or broken coils.
Some choices, like adjustable bed platforms, may not qualify for warranty coverage at all. If you’re choosing an option that includes a lot of technology, consider the potential costs if it stops working and isn’t included in the guarantee.
Ask about delivery fees and policies as part of your shopping process. Some retailers can charge large amounts to deliver and install your new mattress.
When your delivery arrives, carefully inspect the entire product to make sure it’s intact and doesn’t have any damage or staining. Check the label that indicates that it’s constructed of “all new material” before signing for the delivery.
Keep all of your documents and paperwork in case you need them in the future for a warranty claim.
3. Return Policy
With all the research you’re doing before you buy, it’s very likely that you’ll be completely satisfied with your purchase. However, it’s important to make sure that the retailer you choose offers a full refund or store credit towards another purchase in case you’re not happy.
Ask about the return period, which is sometimes called something cheesy like a “comfort guarantee” so that you know how long you have to decide. Most times you will have a few weeks up to 120 days before it is no longer valid.
Be prepared that many larger retailers, like Sears and Macy’s, may charge a restocking fee of up to 15 percent of your purchase. You may also be charged if you need to use their services to transport the bed back to the store. However, some sellers may also offer perks or incentives, like a free pickup for refunds or exchanges, to sweeten the deal.
While there are a lot of affordable options available, extras can add up quickly causing you to break the bank on your purchase. If you’re shopping online, it’s less likely that this will happen, but in store, salespeople can offer you attractive upgrades that could cause you to go over budget.
To combat this, determine what you’re able to spend ahead of time and consider potential fees for delivery, extended warranties, fabric guarding, and more.
If you’re shopping in-store, you may also have some room to negotiate. Warehouse clubs like Costco or Sam’s won’t have any wiggle room, but at specialty chains and furniture stores, there may be large markups on their products which give them room to give you a better deal.
Ask about available discounts, and don’t be afraid to look online for a comparable model and ask for that pricing. Some sales associates will take off up to 30 percent of the ticketed price to secure the deal.
II. More Details
There are a few additional factors to keep in mind when you’re shopping for a new mattress. While these won’t be the primary things that affect your decision, they do provide you with additional options, so they are important to mention here.
A. Mattress Size
There are five different sizes of mattresses that you can choose from. It’s crucial to both pick one that fits your bedroom and space, but also one that works for your needs and your lifestyle.
The bed that’s perfect for your 10-year-old child likely won’t be the same size that works best for you and your partner. Here we’ve outlined each of the sizes and who they fit best.
Twin size measure 39 inches across and 75 inches long. They are the perfect size for one child sleeper, but could also accommodate an adult.
Anyone taller than six feet probably won’t be comfortable in a twin sized bed as it will be too short.
Twins are most commonly found in children’s rooms and are the standard size for bunk beds and daybeds.
Source: Mattress Firm
A full size is 54 inches wide by 75 inches long. Also called a double mattress, they are twice as wide as a twin. They are a good choice for one person who is less than six feet tall.
Full sized beds are commonly found in guest bedrooms and are also popular in apartments and college dorm rooms.
Queen beds measure 60 inches across and 80 inches long. They are the most popular size purchased in the US and provide 5 inches more length than a twin or full sized option.
Queens are a good choice for couples, as well as taller adults or growing teens.
One of the largest options available, king beds measure 76 inches wide by 80 inches long. If this size appeals to you, first measure your bedroom to make sure you have enough space to accommodate it.
This is a popular choice for couples as each person gets the equivalent of a twin mattress of sleeping width. Pet owners also like this size as there is room for a couple and a pet.
5. California King
California king beds are 72 inches wide and 84 inches long. If you’re tall or need more length in your sleep surface, this might be the right choice for you.
These beds are four inches narrower than a traditional king, which also make them a good fit in a space that might not be able to accommodate the width of normal king sized bed.
B. Box Spring
If you choose an innerspring model, it’s essential that it sits on top of a hard, flat surface to preserve the life of your bed. A box spring provides that surface.
While many modern constructions don’t need a box spring per se, just a supportive surface, many manufacturer warranties will require that you also purchase the corresponding box spring.
They come in two sizes. Standard-sized box springs sit 9 inches tall while low profile options are between five and 5.5 inches tall.
They are a combination of a wooden platform supported by springs and are the same dimension as the mattress that sits on top. It may be possible to use a platform bed or adjustable bases instead of a box spring depending on which model you purchase.
Smart beds might be the wave of the future, and much of the technology is available today. In addition to mattresses with adjustable firmness and elevation settings, some models track biometric markers like your temperature, movement, breathing, and heart rate and make real-time adjustments to improve your sleep.
If you love all these bells and whistles, be prepared to pay for them. Models go from $2,500 up to $50,000 depending on just how fancy you want to get.
Can mattresses be rolled up?
While most mattresses cannot be rolled up, some memory foam mattresses do come that way. Typically referred to as “Bed-in-a-Box” mattresses, these are specifically designed to be rolled up without compromising the quality of the mattress itself. This sort of mattress is usually compressed to 25% of it’s original size, and will take on it’s original shape once again once unwrapped. “Bed-in-a-Box” mattresses are easily shipped meaning customers can skip the process of having to go in-store. Rather, customers can simply order their mattresses online and have the them shipped directly to their door, making this an easy and convenient option for both the customer and company alike.
Are mattresses harder when new?
Yes. As a general rule, most mattresses will come much firmer than they will actually end up in the future. As such, you may need to buy a mattress that is just slightly firmer than what you would like so that, over time, your mattress will soften to your preferred feel. Just like you “break in” shoes by walking, you can also break a mattress by sleeping in it every night. However, if you wish to have your mattress broken in sooner, try walking on the mattress or even increasing the heat in your home to help the mattress soften up a bit. Whatever you do, just be sure to be gentle… you won’t want to cause any irrevocable damage.
Are mattresses sold with box springs?
Not always. Although mattresses are often sold in sets with the box spring included, they can also be sold separately. This is especially true for “Bed-in-a-Box” rolled mattresses, as the box spring is generally sold separately. Some mattresses are even sold on platforms or other foundations won’t actually require a box spring, so it will ultimately depend on the style and type of foundation you are looking for.
Are mattresses double-sided (reversible)?
While most mattresses today are single-sided, mattresses that are double-sided are indeed still being sold. Not long ago, most mattresses were double-sided which added to their durability and longevity. Since year 2000, however, one-sided mattresses have become popular and are now dominating the industry. If you are unsure about whether or not your mattress is single or double-sided, there is an easy way to check. Flip your mattress over. If the mattress has padding on both sides, it’s probably safe to assume it can be flipped. However, if you flip your mattress and find the opposing side to be flat and without padding, then it is not reversible and you should only sleep on the padded side.
Can mattresses be steam cleaned?
Yes! Steam cleaning helps to kill bacteria and to deodorize your mattress. You may first consider vacuuming the mattress beforehand though…this will help loosen debris. Some even suggest sprinkling a little baking soda on the mattress before vacuuming to further eliminate odor. Next, simply grab your steam cleaner and go for it. Allow your mattress to dry at least 3-4 hours before putting your linens back on. You can also pay to have this professionally done if you are unsure about doing it yourself.
Can mattresses be washed?
No, a mattress cannot be “washed” in the traditional sense of the word, however, there are plenty of things you can do to ensure a clean mattress. You might first consider a few preventive measures such as covering the mattress with a protector to shield it from spills and unwanted debris. If you don’t have a mattress protector and a spill occurs, you can clean the spot by simply mixing a mattress-safe cleaning solution (such as hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and dish soap)and rubbing it into the spot. You can (and should) also vacuum and/or steam clean your mattress for a completely deodorized, fresh-smelling bed. Also, don’t forget to launder the linens! These can harbor bacteria and odors as well.
How are mattresses measured?
Strip your bed of all linens, accessories, and pillows. Once your bed is bare, grab a tape measure and measure from the top of your mattress to the bottom for the length, and from one side of the mattress to the other to get the length. Be sure to measure using only the widest sections of the top, bottom, and sides of the bed and not the curved edges, as this will skew your results. These measurements will be helpful for many things such as picking a bed frame, figuring out if a mattress will fit through your door, and for general sizing of your bed (king, queen, full, twin, etc) if you were unsure to begin with.
Can mattresses be recycled?
In some regards, yes. While a mattress cannot really be recycled in the traditional sense (though some parts such as the springs, stuffing and fabric may be), most mattresses can be donated to various places that have need such as the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, and Goodwill to be used again by others in need.
How long do mattresses last?
The general consensus is that a mattress will need to be replaced between 7-10 years after purchase. However, some can last beyond that depending on how the mattress was cared for. Latex and foam mattress may have a lifespan of even longer.
Related: Mattress alternatives
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