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Mattress shopping guidelines - finding the best quality and value

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I've had so many questions on the forum asking about major brand mattresses or mass market mattress retailers that I thought it would be helpful to put together a set of guidelines to help consumers bypass most of the traps and pitfalls of mattress shopping and to help cut through the confusion and frustration of finding your perfect mattress. While these guidelines will in most cases eliminate 75-90% of the mattresses that most people would normally consider or purchase (without realizing the poor quality or value of the mattresses they are looking at or which they were led to through misleading advertising and claims) ... it will also help to find the remaining 10 - 25% which is where real quality and value lives.

I will edit or add to these over time but for now here are my "top ten"...

 

1. Avoid buying a mattress made by any of the major national brands such as Sealy, Simmons, Serta, Tempurpedic. While they are not all "bad" mattresses and some may even be good quality, ... for most people and circumstances, none of them would have good value when compared to similar mattresses made by smaller independent manufacturers.

2. Buy a mattress based on the quality of materials that are in it and how it is constructed ... never by the brand. Every mattress manufacturer or retailer should be able to tell you exactly what is in every mattress they sell layer by layer (from a cutaway or spec sheet) and the benefits and qualities of each material and layer. This includes the density of any polyfoam or memory foam, the type and blend of any latex, the type of fabrics or quilting materials or fibers that are used in the mattress cover (ticking), and any other materials in the mattress. If they can't or won't provide this information ... pass them by unless you are willing to go through the time and frustration of trying to find out yourself and hitting the many roadblocks that may be involved in trying to research and discover this information if it is even available at all

3. Focus your attention on local factory direct manufacturer outlets or smaller sleep shops who carry alternative brands and have a direct relationship with the manufacturer. These will generally have the most knowledgeable salespeople and the best value and will be more interested in helping you find a mattress that is perfect for your own unique needs instead of selling you something they can get you excited about with a (mostly misleading) story. These are the places which usually will be open and transparent about the materials in your mattress and encourage comparison shopping rather than using sales techniques.

4. Never buy a mattress with more than around an inch or so of lower density polyfoam (less than 1.8 lbs or so in one sided or 1.5 lbs in two sided) or memory foam (less than 4.0 lbs or so) or unknown foam in the comfort layers (upper pressure relieving layers) and the quilting combined as this could become the weak link in your mattress and could be subject to early softening and body impressions. Warranties will not usually cover this because of their exclusions and because the softening of memory foam and polyfoam and the loss of comfort and support that goes with it is considered "normal". If you break this rule because of a very low budget, only break it with a local manufacturer or sleep shop like those in #3 who can tell you the exact quality and specs of the polyfoam they use (and why), use it in more appropriate layer thicknesses or designs, and will tell you truthfully how long you can reasonably expect it to last.

5. Never let a "major sale" create a sense of urgency. Quality mattresses with great value are available year round at better retailers and manufacturers and the so-called "sale prices" that are offered by most of the mainstream stores and major brands (and even some of the smaller ones) are often a complete gimmick. Sale prices of 30, 40, 50% or more off are a major warning sign (and never really end) since nobody ever buys these mattresses at regular prices anyway. These fake sale prices are meant to encourage you to buy based on a false perception of value or based on a sense of urgency when in fact they are often still very much overpriced based on the materials in the mattress. While even good stores or manufacturers will occasionally have a sale ... they will be discounted from selling prices that already have good value and be for a smaller discount and for a legitimate reason.

6. When you are mattress testing ... test for the two main functions of a mattress (pressure relief and spinal alignment) using the testing guidelines linked in the tutorial post here. Never test for the "overall comfort" of a mattress or put any faith in words like "supportive", "comfortable" "firm", "soft" and many other general or relative terms. Comfort is subjective and mostly about pressure relief in the top layers and support is mostly about how the lower layers keep your spine in alignment. Both are different for everyone and all mattresses need different degrees of firmness and softness in different layers to fit your body profile, sleeping positions, and preferences.

7. Decide on the midpoint of your budget (the price you want to stay under with everything included but could go a little over for your absolutely perfect mattress) but then test mattresses in any price range for "PPP" (Pressure relief, Posture, and Preferences) to find the general layering, materials, and feel that work best for you. Once you know the general layering and style of mattresses that tend to work well for your weight, body profile, and sleeping positions (thickness and softness of the comfort layers and firmness and makeup of the support layers), you can use this knowledge as a guideline to find an appropriate mattress in any budget range. Lower budget mattresses that use lower cost and less durable materials can provide very good sleeping comfort, particularly if you use higher quality materials on top. The tradeoff is that they won't do it quite as well or for as long as higher quality materials that will keep their original qualities for much longer.

8. Don't get involved with all the intricacies of mattress innersprings and coil counting if you are considering an innerspring mattress. Most of what you will hear is not much more than a story designed to impress you so you will buy the mattress they are trying to sell. A mattress is not about coil counts ... it's about pressure relief and correct alignment and your "lie on bed" testing will tell you about both. The weak link of almost every mattress is in the layers used above the innerspring (or a foam core) ... not the innersprings themselves. For those that are interested there is more about the different types of innersprings in this article.

9. Never buy a mattress on the same day you do mattress testing unless you are certain that you have found your perfect mattress at the best value available in the city where you live. Many mattress stores have very refined sales techniques which are designed to discourage meaningful comparisons based on materials and encourage you to make decisions based on stories and sales techniques.

10. Know that what you end up buying is what you want. Don't let warranties or comfort exchanges be a major or primary consideration in your final decision as these too are mostly gimmicks and used as sales techniques that are designed to keep your money in the store and have many exclusions, qualifications, restrictions, and fees involved. Buy a mattress as if you only have one chance to buy your best choice and don't rely on any exchange or return policy unless it is a complete no questions asked refund with few if any qualifications or fees involved.

In practical terms ... you will be looking at a comfort layer which is either polyfoam, memory foam (if you know for certain that you sleep well on memory foam) or latex (which is a higher quality and more durable material). Polyfoam (more than 1") as mentioned in #4 should be a last resort unless you know for certain it is a higher grade of polyfoam and your budget calls for it. If you wish to consider other non foam options in your comfort layers ... you can read about them here.

Also in practical terms ... you will usually be looking at a support core made of an innerspring, latex, or high quality polyfoam (high quality polyfoam is OK in the support layers of a "hybrid" mattress because it's denser and firmer and not subject to the same wear and tear as the comfort layers). You can read about the various support core options here.

These guidelines should help you avoid the biggest pitfalls and traps in buying a mattress. None of these guidelines are "absolute" of course but it is much better to stick to them than to try to find the rare exceptions where they may not apply.

Of course if you have any questions along the way ... feel free to post them in our forums.

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him7403's Avatar
him7403 replied the topic: #2 23 Jun 2017 18:16
Is this guide even updated? Or people are still skeptical about sealy/serta?
Phoenix's Avatar
Phoenix replied the topic: #3 24 Jun 2017 09:39
Hi him7403,

Welcome to the forum! :)

Is this guide even updated? Or people are still skeptical about sealy/serta?


The information presented here still holds true for selecting a mattress, regardless of brand. And unfortunately, the largest brands still tend to use less dense materials and not be very transparent to the consumer about what is inside of their mattresses.

This post was a bit of a precursor to the mattress shopping guide here , which lists in more detail the steps I recommend to select a mattress, regardless of brand.

I would be very cautious about brand shopping in general because you are buying a specific mattress, not the brand, and most manufacturers have access to the same or similar components and materials. Many manufacturers make a wide range of mattresses that can vary from lower quality and less durable materials to higher quality and more durable materials in a wide range of prices. The name of the manufacturer won't tell you anything about whether a specific mattress is suitable for you in terms of "comfort", firmness, and PPP (Posture and alignment, Pressure relief, and your own Personal preferences) or whether there are any lower quality materials or weak links in the design that would affect the durability and useful life of the mattress. There is more about the risks of brand shopping in post #5 here and post #12 here .

The major brands such as Sealy/Stearns & Foster, Simmons, and Serta all tend to use lower quality and less durable materials in their mattresses than most of their smaller competitors that will tend to soften or break down prematurely relative to the price you pay which is why I would generally suggest avoiding all of them completely (along with the major retailers that focus on them as well) regardless of how they may feel in a showroom along with any mattress where you aren't able to find out the type and quality/durability of the materials inside it (see post #3 here and post #12 here and post #404 here ).

If you have specific questions when reading through that guide, feel free to post them in the forum and I’ll be happy to do my best to answer them for you.

Phoenix
Marino's Avatar
Marino replied the topic: #4 29 Jan 2018 13:05
i purchased one of the original tempurpedic mattresses 20 years ago at 10 years it was badly sagging and replaced under warranty. same thing happened only sooner with the replacement. always slept well on it until it started sagging. prior to that i had what i believe to have been a latex mattress one of the reasons to originally have purchases the tempurpedic closest i could find to the original feel.
now just looking for something quality at a reasonable price. looking at charles p. rogers but without a local show room they are a long way from tampa, florida to know what direction to go, exchanges can get costly.
suggestions certainly appreciated
Phoenix's Avatar
Phoenix replied the topic: #5 30 Jan 2018 00:08
Hi Marino.

Welcome to our forum! :)

.i purchased one of the original tempurpedic mattresses 20 years ago at 10 years it was badly sagging and replaced under warranty. Same thing happened only sooner with the replacement. always slept well on it until it started sagging.


Athough all foam tends to soften over time, one thing that you may wish to check on is to make sure that whatever you are placing your product on is a firm surface that is still perfectly flat and that there are no parts that are sagging or that are bending under the weight of the mattress and the people sleeping on it. It should provide similar support to having your mattress on the floor and you can test this by putting your mattress on the floor to see if it makes any difference. If it does then it's possible that your support system could be part of the problem as well. You can find more information about this in

that i had what i believe to have been a latex mattress one of the reasons to originally have purchases the tempurpedic closest i could find to the original fee


If your original mattress was latex as you are probably aware latex and memory foam have very different feels and have very different characteristics. Latex is highly resilient, has a more "on the mattress" feel to it, and responds to pressure. What you feel on latex stays the same over time. You can read more about the pros and cons of latex in this article and more about the different types and blends of latex in post #6 here

Memory foam on the other hand has very low resilience, has a more "in the mattress" feel to it, and changes its feel and response with pressure, temperature, humidity, and length of time it is subject to compression forces. It can feel firm in some conditions or circumstances and soft under different conditions. You can read more about the pros and cons of memory foam in this article and more about the different formulations of memory foam in post #8 here .

Memory foam is more motion restricting while latex is more resilient and doesn't restrict free movement on the mattress.

Both are good at motion isolation because they are both very "point elastic" (one area can compress without affecting the area around it) but memory foam is a little better at this.

Latex is more breathable and tends to sleep cooler than memory foam.

Latex also comes in a wider range of firmness levels than memory foam and in firmer versions can be used in the deeper support layers of a mattress while memory foam is in a softer range and can't be used in the bottom support layers of a mattress (it needs a firmer material or component underneath it). Latex in general is also a more "supportive" material (gets firmer as you compress it more deeply) than memory foam.

Latex is also a more durable material overall than memory foam although higher density memory foam is also a very durable material.

The only way to really know or appreciate the difference between them is to test both of them in person at local retailers or manufacturers and if you let me know the city or zip where you live I'd be happy to share some of the better retailers

If you are interested specifically in latex or latex hybrid mattresses then this link in the tutorial is to a list of the members here that sell mattresses online and many of them sell latex and latex hybrid mattresses that use different types and blends of latex that have a wide range of different designs, options, features, return and exchange policies, and prices that may be worth considering.

Looking at charles p. rogers but without a local show room they are a long way from Tampa, Florida to know what direction to go, exchanges can get costly. suggestions certainly appreciated


I understand your concern regarding the CPR product as a good return/exchange policy is definitely part of most people’s personal value equation As you are looking at purchasing another mattress (whether online or testing in a local showroom) I suggest that you look at more than one option and try to understand what your needs and preferences are, You can certainly check our Trusted Members here which I think very highly of in terms of quality of products, knowledge, service, and transparency, but I would first make sure that you've read the mattress shopping tutorial here which includes all the basic information, steps, and guidelines that can help you make the best possible choice ... and perhaps more importantly know how and why to avoid the worst ones.

In its simplest form ... choosing the "best possible" mattress for any particular person really comes down to first finding a few knowledgeable and transparent retailers and/or manufacturers that sell the types of mattresses that you are most interested in (either locally or online) and that you have confirmed can provide you with all the information you need to know to make an informed choice and make meaningful comparisons between mattresses and then ...

1. Careful testing (hopefully using the testing guidelines in the tutorial) to make sure that a mattress is a good match for you in terms of "comfort", firmness, and PPP ... and/or that you are comfortable with the options you have available to return, exchange, or "fine tune" the mattress and any costs involved if you can't test a mattress in person or aren't confident that your mattress is a suitable choice.

2. Checking to make sure that there are no lower quality materials or weak links in the mattress that could compromise the durability and useful life of the mattress.

3. Comparing your finalists for "value" based on #1 and #2 and all the other parts of your personal value equation that are most important to you.

Once you had a chance to read through this information and decide what type of materials would best suit you and perhaps narrow down a few mattresses that use good quality and durable materials, if you have more specific questions I would be happy to assist you.

Phoenix

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