Mattress Comparison Guide: How To Decipher Value
When shopping for a mattress, do you often feel like most of your options look the same? While the differences may not be visible to the naked eye, the materials used and how they’re designed can create a world of difference to the sleeper. As such, shopping for a new mattress can be overwhelming. Before shopping for a new comfortable mattress, read this mattress comparison guide to learn how to spot crucial differences between beds and find the best value for your specific needs.
In this article:
- Navigating the Mattress Industry
- Getting the Facts When Mattress Shopping
- Questions to Ask Before Making a Purchase
Shopping for a new mattress isn’t something a lot of people look forward to, mainly because it can be hard to compare and research beds to find the right one. Further complicating matters is the fact that the right mattress for one type of sleeper may be completely wrong for someone else. If you don’t know what kind of mattress you’re looking for, it can be easy to make the wrong choice because many mattresses look quite similar on the outside and many brands have different names for the materials they use.
However, getting a grasp on the basics of beds—along with the most important things to look for when buying a new mattress—makes all the difference when you need to comparison shop. Whether you’re buying a memory foam mattress, latex mattress, or waterbed, you need to know if it’s the right one for you. After all, your bed is where you’ll be spending roughly a third of your life. In the next sections, we’ll teach you how to be an expert mattress buyer so you can breeze through your next purchase.
Navigating the Mattress Industry
Buying a mattress is often compared to buying a used car, largely due to the perceived lack of transparency, pushy sales tactics, and limited consumer knowledge on the products. Both beds and cars are expensive purchases, and neither decision should be rushed. Unfortunately, the sheer amount of details to weigh and compare can seem overwhelming. We previously covered mattress showroom tricks to avoid on the blog, but here’s a quick recap.
Mattress companies and retailers are businesses who of course want to sell beds and make a profit. Unfortunately, some retailers use deceptive techniques that can prevent you from easily comparing beds and brands. For some brands, limiting information on the quality and type of materials used works in their favor as it makes it hard for consumers to compare their products to competitors’ options.
It’s also difficult to determine the overall value of the bed if details about coils, mattress toppers, foams, and fabrics are missing; judging whether the price is a good deal depends on knowing what you’re getting for your money. Many of the top brands in the country provide only the most basic information on their beds, which is something you may have noticed while shopping. A lack of information can be frustrating and challenging when you are trying to compare mattresses.
Another confusing tactic: creating private collections for specific retailers, which has been referred to as the “name game”. Big mattress brands will change fabrics and minor details in their beds to give retailers “exclusive” lines that can’t be readily compared to similar models sold at other mattress retailers. Stores do this so they are not obligated to price match a competitor’s promotional sale. You may need to do some extra investigating to see if the bed you’re interested in is listed as a store exclusive or limited model. Before buying, ask what features set this line apart.
Getting the Facts When Mattress Shopping
As a consumer, the more information you have, the better equipped you are to compare mattresses and make an educated decision. Below are the most important pieces of information to gather when comparing and researching beds, organized by the type of mattress (memory foam, latex, etc.).
For each mattress or brand you are interested in, gather these details while you are in the research and shopping phase. Never feel pressured to commit to a specific bed before you’ve had the chance to research, you shouldn’t have to sacrifice comfort or sleep due to an aggressive sales pitch that is lacking in actual information. A bed is a major purchase—sleeping on the wrong mattress can lead to aches, pains, and poor sleep, which can then lead to a host of problems throughout the day. The right mattress ends and begins your days on a strong note.
When retailers or manufacturers can’t or won’t provide you with basic information on the bed, tread with caution. Usually, when a company builds mattresses using high-quality materials, they aren’t shy about promoting them. If a company refuses to tell you about foam density or springs but charges a premium price, there’s a good chance the mattress they’re selling doesn’t offer competitive value. Ask the following questions to make sure the mattress is as good as advertised.
Memory Foam Questions
Memory foam, also known as viscoelastic foam, is a space-age material that was originally developed by NASA several decades ago. Since then, this material has come a long way and is featured in a variety of modern mattresses. Memory foam mattresses conform and adapt to fit your exact body shape. When you press down on a memory foam bed with your hand and take your hand away, you should see an impression left behind. Before you decide on a memory foam mattress, make sure you have asked:
- What materials are used in this mattress?
- How thick is each layer?
- What is the density of the memory foam?
- Is the memory foam temperature sensitive?
- What fabric is the cover made of?
When shopping for a viscoelastic memory foam mattress, the key things that will differentiate beds are the thickness and density of memory foam and core layers, the type of memory foam, and the types of materials used in the bed.
Another thing to keep in mind during mattress shopping is the type of sleeper you are. People who sleep on their backs, stomachs, and sides will need different qualities in their mattresses. Make sure the mattress retailer you’re dealing with is taking these factors into account, along with any medical ailments like back problems, neck strain, or shoulder issues.
The top layer of all memory foam mattresses should be a thick enough to contour to your body and prevent pressure points. Most mattresses will have between two and four inches of memory foam, while some may have up to six or seven. Petite people and back or stomach sleepers will likely feel fine with two or three inches of memory foam, too much can actually feel overwhelming. However, larger people and side sleepers will need thicker layers in order to prevent pressure points.
Density is another important trait for memory foam beds. In the memory foam layers, density usually ranges from 2.5 pounds (low) to 7.0 pounds (high), with the majority falling in the middle (3.5 to 5.0 pounds). Low-density foams are cheaper, feel easier to move on and are less likely to feel hot, but higher density foams are more durable and better at pressure point relief.
One way that companies distinguish their offerings from other brands is to make their mattresses using different types of memory foam— traditional temperature-sensitive foams mold to the sleeper using body heat, gel-infused memory foams incorporate gel beads or swirls to offer a cooling sensation, and plant-based memory foams aim to offer a greener alternative with temperature neutral properties. Below, we’ll talk about the basics differences between these foam types; but for more information, check out our other memory foam mattress guide.
What is High-Density Foam?
Mattresses made of high-density foam are typically a worthwhile investment. High-density foam offers stronger support and usually last longer than foams of lesser density. In particular, if you are looking for a mattress that helps relieve aches and pains, consider choosing high-density foam because it provides pressure support and improves blood circulation. High-density foam beds are also recommended for heavier individuals who want a mattress that is extra supportive.
Gel Memory Foam
Gel memory foam is ideal for sleepers who find themselves getting too hot while sleeping. In gel-infused beds, cooling gel is either infused with or inserted into the layer of foam. The design of gel-infused memory foam allows for more air to pass through, and improved breathability reduces your risk of waking up hot when sleeping on this material.
Cooling gels are also thought to add extra firmness to the mattress, in addition to more versatility and comfort. As an added bonus, gel memory foam tends to be more resilient, adding extra time to their average lifespan. Gel also increases motion isolation, making it ideal for those who share a bed and don’t want to be disturbed when their partner tosses or turns.
Some gel-infused mattresses last longer than others, so pay close attention to the warranty and return policy if you buy one of these beds. In some cases, the cooling effects can wear off rather quickly. If you notice this happening during the trial period, you can return it and find something that has better, more permanent effects.
For those who prefer soft or medium-firm mattresses, this type of mattress might be uncomfortable. Additionally, the cost of these mattresses may put this out of the budget for some shoppers. If you’re looking for a firm, cool mattress; however, a gel memory foam mattress could be well worth the investment.
Plant-Based and Eco-Conscious Memory Foams
For some sleepers, the methods and materials involved with the production of the mattress have importance beyond comfort. Some may wish to avoid beds that are made with specific materials or treated with questionable chemicals. If you are looking for a particular type of mattress in this regard, make sure you know what to look for, and what to avoid.
To start, if you are looking for a greener alternative to traditional mattresses, keep in mind that plant-based mattresses are not 100% plant derived. Rather, a portion of the mattresses composition will be plant-based, anywhere from 30% to 70%, and the remaining percentage is usually made with petroleum.
Remember that terms like “green”, “natural”, and “eco-friendly” are largely unregulated, so many manufacturers don’t need to meet a certain threshold to use these terms. Research the materials and chemicals involved with all mattresses instead of simply taking the term at face value.
The term “organic” is a little different though. Any product claiming to be organic must be certified as such by a third party. For a mattress to be certified organic, it must be at least 95% organic to qualify for the USDA standard.
Additionally, if you see the word “organic” in the mattress’ description, it’s not necessarily a guaranteeing the mattress itself is organic. Rather it could apply only to certain materials, such as organic wool, or that certain components of the mattress meet the USDA organic standard.
To make sure your mattress is made with organic materials to the greatest extent possible, look for the GOTS certification. GOTS stands for Global Organic Textile Standard, and mattresses only receive it when it uses at least 95% certified organic fibers in the fabric.
You can also look for the GREENGUARD certification, an independent certification that verifies the mattress is free from chemicals like formaldehyde and low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
If you’re buying a latex mattress and want to ensure it’s organic, an easy way to check is to look for the GOLS verification. This stands for Global Organic Latex Standard, and it ensures that the latex used is at least 95% organic.
Green or plant-based mattresses have benefits beyond supporting ecologically conscious manufacturing. Owners of plant-based mattresses typically enjoy cooler temperatures during the night, as well as faster response time compared to non-plant-based memory foam mattresses. A fast response time means the foam bounces back to its original shape in a few seconds, compared to traditional memory foam, which regains its shape after 20-30 seconds. It should be noted the responsiveness of plant-based beds typically falls behind that of latex mattresses.
Other questions to ask would include: what is the mattress cover, and do any additional materials lie between the memory foam and the sleeper? For memory foam beds, cover fabrics should be breathable to allow good airflow and have a stretch in order to allow the memory foam to contour adequately. Memory foam should also be near the surface, just below the cover for maximum benefit.
If you are considering a latex mattress, make sure that you know the answers to the following questions before making a purchase:
- What is the breakdown of all the layers in this mattress? How thick is each layer and what type of material is it?
- How is the latex manufactured? Is it 100% natural latex or does it contain synthetic materials?
- What method is used to make each latex layer? Dunlop or Talalay?
- If the mattress has other foams – What are they made of, and what’s their density?
- What is the density rating for each layer or the mattress overall?
- Are the layers glued together?
- What fabric is the cover made of?
- Do you have proof of organic or all-natural claims?
When comparing latex beds, it’s important to get a full description of how the latex is manufactured and what materials lie below the cover of the mattress. Latex mattresses in the mid-to-high price range are generally made with only latex foam, while less expensive options generally contain latex foam over poly-foam or innersprings.
In each mattress layer, a brand should be able to tell you the latex content (whether the latex comes from natural latex trees or is created synthetically). A blend of natural and synthetic latex is most common, but some companies using blends will still call their latex “natural”. Ask or look for a percentage (for example 70% natural, or 100% natural latex).
Natural latex is more expensive but is generally considered superior since it doesn’t contain harsh chemicals and has better elasticity, durability and owner satisfaction than synthetic or blends.
Another aspect to consider is how the latex is made. Did the manufacturer use the Dunlop or Talalay method? Dunlop latex is the more widely used process and less expensive. Owner satisfaction is the same for both, but Dunlop is thought to be better for support while Talalay may be better at contouring in softer ranges.
Another thing you may see when looking at latex mattress is IFD or ILD ratings. These refer to the firmness of the material. IFD stands for indentation force deflection, and ILD stands for indentation load deflection— this is an important number to note if you’re looking for a firm mattress, a medium-firm mattress, or something softer. Some companies may provide this by individual layer while others may provide this for the mattress as a whole. This number is an objective way to compare firmness, but not quality. To provide a general scale, an IFD of 18 is soft, 25 is medium, 30 is medium-firm, and 40 is firm.
If the mattress contains other materials like poly-foam, high-density polyurethane foam, memory foam, or springs, check on their quality as well. Beds that use poly-foam over latex have significantly lower owner satisfaction compared to all-latex beds.
Additional things to look at when shopping for latex beds are glue, fabrics, and claims of being natural or organic. If you are concerned about chemicals, ask whether the layers are glued together. Even water-based adhesives have low levels of VOCs. An added benefit of unglued layers is that it gives you the freedom to customize the mattress feel or swap out layers for greater longevity. Talalay latex also usually has glued seams within the layers due to the nature of manufacturing. Latex beds commonly cater to natural and organic shoppers, but be sure to ask for proof of any claims such as natural, eco-friendly, chemical/VOC-free and organic, as some may be misleading.
Latex vs. Memory Foam: Which is Best?
These are the two most common types of mattresses on the market today. When comparing mattresses, it helps to have a thorough understanding of the key differences between each mattress type and which one might be a better fit for you.
While latex is quick to return to its natural shape, memory foam does the opposite. When you sleep on a memory foam mattress, it contours to match the shape and pressure created by your body. Memory foam creates a sensation of sinking into the mattress, as if it is hugging and conforming to your shape; and for some, is the ultimate way to sleep.
There are a number of memory foam mattresses, with different elements of cooling and varying levels of firmness. If you usually stay in one position throughout the night, a memory foam mattress might be a good fit for you because it lets you sink deep into your preferred position.
Latex, meanwhile, offers more elasticity, and it is quicker to bounce back. Latex mattresses can be natural, synthetic, or a blend of natural and synthetic.
Latex mattresses are ideal for those who want something lighter and less conforming to their shape. While you “sink into” a memory foam mattress, you won’t get this effect with latex mattresses because it has less of a “hugging” effect and more of a “lifting” affect.
A latex mattress may be a good fit for more restless sleepers who don’t stay in one position throughout the whole night. The faster response time means you can adjust to a new position much faster when compared to a memory foam mattress.
Innerspring mattresses date centuries back, and were the first mattress types made. These beds use a system of steel coils to provide targeted support and comfort. Before you pull the trigger on an innerspring mattress, ask yourself the following questions:
- What is the breakdown of all the layers in this mattress? How thick is each layer, and what type of material is it?
- What type of coils are used in the mattress?
- What is the coil count?
- What is the coil gauge?
- What is the density of poly or memory foam in the padding layers? If latex, what is it made of (natural/synthetic) and how was it manufactured (Dunlop/Talalay)?
Just as with other mattress types, it’s important to get a full breakdown of the layers in an innerspring bed, including the springs, foams, and fibers.
Coils provide support and durability, so they are an important area of focus. There are three aspects to consider here: type, gauge, and count.
There are four types of mattress coils: Bonnell, continuous, offset, and pocket. Bonnell coils are generally cheaper and fairly supportive but offer limited motion transfer, poor durability, and lower owner satisfaction. Continuous coils offer decent durability and owner satisfaction, but poor motion transfer and support. Offset coils tend to offer good support and motion isolation, decent durability and satisfaction, but average durability and higher prices. Pocket or individual coils excel at support, motion isolation, and satisfaction, but durability tends to be about average.
Coil count is often a main selling point in spring mattresses. A count of 450 to 750 in a queen is considered average. Some manufacturers will inflate this to 1000 or more by using small coils, layered or coil-on-coil designs. While very low coil counts indicate poor quality, support, and durability, there isn’t much evidence that high coil counts mean better comfort or lifespan. However, heavier individuals may want to opt for higher coil counts for the added support. When asking about the coil count, ask about the coil size, as well.
Coil gauge refers to the diameter of the coil wire. Smaller numbers, such as 12, generally mean a stiffer, firmer mattress and possibly higher durability. Higher numbers, like 15, generally mean a softer, springier mattress. Coil gauge and the topper layers will help provide insight into how firm or soft a bed feels.
Layers used to pad the coils are also very important to consider when comparison shopping. If a mattress uses low-quality foams or thick layers of fiber, the pillow top can wear out quickly leaving the mattress quite uncomfortable, even if the springs are still in good shape. Check out the density of poly-foams, memory foams, and the latex specifications of the top layers. Back sleepers, stomach sleepers, and smaller people may prefer beds with less padding, while side sleepers and larger people will generally be more comfortable with thicker layers that provide cushioning and alleviate pressure points.
The fabric surrounding the comfort layer, also called the “ticking”, may not be quite as important with spring mattresses, though beds with thick layers of foam will benefit from breathable fabrics like cotton or rayon. If fiber padding is used in the topper, baffling may be desirable since it can prevent shifting. “Baffling” refers to the square-shaped divisions sewn into some fabrics them to prevent the inner materials from bunching up.
Questions to Ask for All Mattresses
Here are a few additional questions to ask when you’re weighing your options, regardless of what type of mattress you are shopping for:
How long is the full coverage portion of the warranty? How deep must impressions be for warranty coverage?
Warranties are an important part of shopping, as they can clue you in to how the manufacturer perceives the quality and longevity of the mattress. However, most mattresses only have a useful lifespan of six to twelve years despite warranties that may exceed 20 years.
Rather than focusing on the warranty term, you should look into the “full coverage” or “non-prorated” period. This is the period during which defects are covered in full, sometimes minus shipping costs. Some warranties may also have extended prorated coverage during which the manufacturer will pay a portion of costs. For most mid to high-quality mattresses, warranties will have around 10 years of full coverage. Less expensive or lower quality options may have zero to five years.
Another thing to look for when scanning warranty terms are how deep impressions or sags must be in order to be considered defective and meet warranty guidelines. Some manufacturers, particularly with foam beds, may cover sagging as little 0.75 inches, while others may not cover sagging until the depth reaches 1 to 1.5 inches.
How long do I have to return this mattress? What is the process for returns, and how much does it cost?
Sleep trials are another way companies stand behind or guarantee their products. Since beds often feel different in stores or may take some adjusting to, having a reasonable return period can make all the difference between good sleep and buyer’s remorse.
Ideally, you should have a minimum of 30 days to determine if the bed is right. Getting used to a new mattress takes some time, and you shouldn’t rush to return it too quickly.
Make sure you know what fees are associated with returns and pickups or shipping. Some retailers may only allow you to exchange, while others may not accept any returns—you will have to weigh the risks.
How is the flame-resistant standard met?
Some people have concerns about the fire guard used in the mattress. If this is a concern for you, ask how the company achieves flame resistance. Companies are not required to disclose their methods, but the more transparent mattress brands will usually at least tell you if they use fiber barriers, treated fabrics or other methods. Materials that are considered most eco-friendly include natural wool, usually only seen on natural latex beds, and Kevlar/fiberglass fibers that wrap the bed as opposed to chemicals that are sprayed on foams and fabrics.
Are there any independent certifications for quality or eco-friendliness?
Since eco-friendly and healthy products are popular, many manufacturers make claims regarding chemicals, materials, off-gassing and other aspects. If they do, check to see if they have independent certifications or tests to back it up. For example, the Oeko-Tex, Green Guard, and other institutes test for chemicals and VOCs, while organizations like the Forestry Stewardship Council certify woods and others certify organic textiles.
Choosing the Best Value Mattress for Your Needs
Once you have the facts on the mattresses you are interested in, it becomes much easier to determine which beds are the better deals and which are most likely to provide you with lasting comfort. Keep notes in a notebook or spreadsheet as you shop to make it easy to compare when you are ready to start narrowing down candidates.
Aside from conducting your own research, check online for mattress reviews. Trustworthy reviews can offer quite a bit of insight into potential issues that you can’t glean from retailers. When possible, look for independently verified reviews.
Making an informed mattress comparison takes a little time, but considering your bed is a place you spend about 3,000 hours each year, it’s definitely worth the research in the long run.