Mattress Buying Guide
Buying a mattress can be a difficult process, due to all the options on the market these days. Do you choose one of the big name mattress brands sold in the big box stores, or go with one of the many online companies offering direct shipping to your home?
What type of mattress do you buy? Memory foam, latex, or a hybrid model? How much should you spend? What features are important to consider? Read our buying guide below to learn more.
In this guide, we will outline what we consider to be the key criteria for selecting the best model which we use in our mattress reviews. Last updated
Key Considerations When Buying a Mattress
Construction and Materials
One key criteria to evaluate when purchasing a mattress is the construction and materials used. These days, mattresses are made up of the traditional innerspring coils, memory foam, memory foam and latex combinations, all latex, and more exotic hybrids utilizing memory foam, latex, and innerspring coils.
The type of materials used in the construction usually has a direct impact on the price as well.
Multiple layers of foam, latex, and cooling gels are often combined together to provide varying levels of firmness, support, breathability, and total depth.
Memory Foam Mattress
Memory foam models are known for their great support, pressure relief, and body contouring. Historically, memory foam has had a bad reputation for “sleeping hot”.
However, many newer more advanced memory foams have been designed with superior cooling properties, creating a much cooler surface than traditional memory foams.
Memory foam models are best for sleepers who want great hug, body shaping, contour, pressure relief, and support. There are a wide spectrum of foams classified as “memory foam” and not all memory foams are created equal.
A good option for sleepers who want a more pronounced hug (think “sleeping in”) than many hybrid or latex mattresses offer (“sleeping on top of”).
Built exclusively from latex foam, they are known for their cooling properties and comfort. Latex is known for its great responsiveness, comfort, bounce, and cooling.
Latex is often best for sleepers who want great bounce, cooling, and responsiveness. Also good for sleepers who want foam, but want to stay away from the hug and contour that often comes with memory foam mattresses.
A latex model will have more “bounce” than a pure memory foam one, for example, and may be something to consider if you are looking for a more springy feel vs. having the mattress mold to your body.
Latex models can be 100% latex, latex blends, latex hybrids (combined with foam or in some cases coils), and natural or synthetic latex.
Constructed from a combination of latex, memory, polyurethane foams, coils, and / or other materials, they usually are designed to maximize certain benefits, while also minimizing certain cons.
For example, a latex + memory foam hybrid is able to deliver great bounce, cooling, and responsiveness via the latex, but also provide great pressure relief and support from the memory foam.
Innerspring coil hybrids combine the support and cooling benefits of coil mattresses with the comfort of memory foam and/or latex.
These hybrids are best for sleepers who want the best of all worlds. Great bounce, comfort, support, and cooling. A good all around option that is a very good choice.
The cover of the mattress is another key feature in construction, with some manufacturers using organic fiber materials, wool, Tencel, Celliant, bamboo, cooling gel layers within it, etc.. to provide a comfortable sleeping surface and dissipate heat.
Firmness & Support
Firmness and support is probably one of the most important criteria used in evaluation, as the degree of firmness is directly tied to individual sleep preferences (lower back support, side sleepers, etc..).
The degree of firmness or softness is something that should be taken into consideration when choosing a mattress as different models will have varying levels of firmness based on their construction.
Memory foam as a rule is known for conforming to the body, and when combined with other materials such as latex or different types of memory foam itself, will create a large range of firmness and support levels.
Latex models are generally firmer than memory foam and provide excellent support and responsiveness. They are a good choice if you like your mattress firm.
Choosing the proper model should most definitely involve the evaluation based on its firmness and support levels for optimal comfort.
When we think of comfort as it relates to most mattresses, we think of how much do we want to get in the bed and spend half of our lives in it!
Is it comfortable and inviting, with a soft exterior and the degree of support and plushness we want, or do we sink in it, toss and turn, and detest the sleeping experience?
Before we started Memory Foam Talk, and began evaluating mattresses, we had a terrible degraded memory foam model that made us sink down in the middle and was hot and very uncomfortable. It definitely did not make the sleeping experience something to look forward to!
Having a comfortable, supportive product does wonders for your health and wellness, not to mention your happiness when you get a good nights sleep.
The degree of coolness is another big factor for evaluating mattresses. Some early memory foam models were known for being very hot and sticky in the summer, and would harden in the winter, causing uncomfortable sleeping conditions.
These days, memory foam and hybrid foam mattress manufacturers create different levels of coolness using a variety of different memory foam layers and utilizing gel layers in the construction and materials used in the covers.
Innerspring mattresses are known for sleeping cooler as well, so many of the hybrid models on the market use this in their construction to aid in maintaining cool.
Latex also does not trap heat by nature, so latex mattresses or those that use latex as part of their construction also tend to sleep cooler.
Breathability is another key component to sleeping cool, as it is important that airflow is able to circulate within the various layers of the mattress and contributing to keeping things cool.
Sinkage and Motion Transfer
Sinkage and motion transfer was one of the biggest issues for us. As a couple with the man (me) weighing over 200 lbs, and the woman around 120, inevitably she would sink towards me when I laid on our older mattress.
Needless to say, it was a constant source of complaints! Evaluating the sinkage of a model is an important consideration for couples as well as individuals.
Sinkage pertains to how much the mattress compresses with weight applied to it, both inside the mattress as well as when sitting on the edge.
A well designed memory foam or hybrid model will prevent sinkage from enveloping you and your sleeping partner, even if there is a significant weight differential.
Having sufficient edge support will also ensure an even sleeping surface when near the edge or when sitting on the edge of the bed.
Motion transfer pertains to how much motion you feel from the bed when someone else moves on it. Cheaply designed mattresses without the proper mix of different density levels of foam or other materials will enable your companion to feel every move.
However, a well designed one will do the opposite – insulate you from feeling the sensations of movement thus prevent being disturbed.
Smell / Off-gassing
A complaint that is often voiced about memory foam models is called off-gassing. Off-gassing is a chemical odor that you smell when opening a memory foam mattress that has been compressed and put in a box during the shipping process to reduce its volume.
The smell usually goes away, but some memory foam mattresses have an odor that lingers and in some cases doesn’t go away.
This was one of the early complaints of memory foam mattresses that utilize certain chemicals within the foam and for some people can be a real problem.
The degree of smell should be something to consider if you find this type of odor offensive, and if it does not go away after a reasonable period, may be reason to return your memory foam mattress back to the manufacturer. Luckily, most manufacturers have good return policies, and if you are not satisfied, you can return the mattress and get a full refund.
Customer service is important these days, as many popular mattresses are sold direct to consumers via online eCommerce stores.
Having an easy-to-order product with great communication regarding shipment and order status is extremely important when purchasing a $1000 mattress online, so it is a very important criteria for evaluation.
Being able to reach someone in customer service or having them reach out to you is a comforting factor when purchasing a large-ticket item.
Shipping and delivery is a key differentiator for some manufacturers. For example, some companies ship mattresses via truck and offer mattress removal and installation as part of their service, whereas most recent online companies minimize this cost by deploying a “Bed in A Box” delivery model.
This “white glove” type of delivery service is preferred by many vs. unwrapping a compressed foam model out of a box and having to deal with the mattress that is being replaced, however it does cost more and require setting an appointment with delivery personnel.
Many online companies offer trial periods of 75 to 365 days to evaluate the product with money back guarantees, which is extremely important as it is not possible to test out the product before purchasing.
The presence of these polices is a key consideration to take into account when choosing a mattress purchased online.
In addition, warranty for the model you purchase is also something to make sure you evaluate, with many manufacturers offering 10, 15, 20 year or in some cases even lifetime warranties for their products.
Price, in the end, is often what most people base their purchase decision on. However, this can be misleading when thinking about the traditional in-store mattress purchasing model.
The traditional retailers selling brands such as Tempur-pedic, Sealy, and Simmons have extremely high purchase prices due to their in-store distribution model which has to factor in a variety of margins and commissions for distributors, sales representatives, and other middlemen.
The new online retailers remove these middlemen and allow a premium product to be sold at a fraction of the cost by delivering direct to the consumer and selling via online channels only.
This results in a much lower cost for the same level of quality compared to department stores.
In fact, we recommend bypassing in-store retailers all together, as often being able to test out a mattress doesn’t help much when it is only 5 minutes in a store with conflicting sources of information (biased commission-based sales reps) and the fact that you are paying so much more for the same or often lower level of quality.
Some recommendations on choosing a mattress budget:
You Don’t Always Get What You Pay For: Price is not a good indicator of quality, as in-store brands are marked up significantly.
Don’t Skimp on Price, However: $1000 is ideal, as you can get a very high quality product at the price point from an online retailer that equates to a top in-store brand. Just don’t go below $500 or the materials get cheaper and quality suffers.
You Will Pay More for a King: While this seems obvious, the $1000 price point we recommend will more likely go to $1500 when you go up in size.
Buy Online: As mentioned above, you will get better quality for the money you spend using an online retailer vs. an in-store one.
Deciding on a mattress can be a daunting task for even the most informed and educated shopper due to the sheer amount of choices on the market these days.
Whether the choice is from traditional retailers such as Tempur-Pedic, Sealy, Simmons, or one of the many online retailers offering direct home shipping at affordable prices that we review on our site here such as Loom & Leaf, Nectar, Nest Bedding, Leesa, Casper, and many more, much of the decision to purchase should be made based on individual sleep preferences as well as an examination of the various criteria such as what we discussed above, with your budget also coming in to play as well.
In some cases, it may be possible to test out your memory foam mattress purchase if selecting one of the big brand retailers, while ordering from online retailers will often be made sight unseen after carefully reading reviews and consumer reports.
Our goal at Memory Foam Talk is to help make that purchase easier and less difficult of a decision, so please check out our best mattress section for a model designed for you.