Replacing your mattress can be an exhausting proposition. Not only are there hundreds of models to choose from, but a big part of what makes a good one is very personal: One person’s luxury is another person’s backache waiting to happen.
Further, there’s the matter of cost; mattresses can go for literally thousands of dollars. To some extent, it’s a category in which you get what you pay for, says Michael Magnus, CEO of goodbeds.com, an independent mattress review website.
“For something that you’re going to sleep on every day for 10 years, you want materials that are durable and high quality,” he says. “And most likely, you won’t find good materials that can withstand daily uses for under $1,000.” That said, you should never pay full price for a mattress — always shop the sales, and don’t be afraid to negotiate with the salesperson either for a discount or for extras (a bed frame, pillows, sheets) to be thrown in.
Here’s the savvy way to navigate a showroom full of mattresses with confidence:
Start with the right support
The first decision you have to make has to do with a mattress’s core, which provides the support. There are four common types: innerspring, foam, latex, and air-filled.
If you like a bed with bounce…
Innerspring mattresses have that familiar bouncy feel. Still, you can choose how springy you want it to be. The metal coils are typically gauged anywhere from 12 (the thickest and firmest) to 18 (the thinnest and most compressible). Heavier folks tend to prefer a thicker gauge’s support. Coils that are interconnected are extra-durable, but individual “pocketed” coils, each covered with fabric, reduce the ripple effect that happens when someone on one side of the bed moves.
Innerspring mattresses typically have either a fiberfill or foam outer layer, covered in quilted ticking. But even if you want an uber-plush feel, don’t be swayed by a thick-looking pillowtop.
“A really puffy layer might feel great in the store, but in a few months, you’ll see it compressing and not coming back,” says Magnuson. It’s often best to choose a firmer, well-quilted mattress, and then cover it with a replaceable mattress pad or feather bed.
If you prefer an extra-firm base…
Memory foam mattresses (which have a polyurethane core) have much less spring. “You sit on it, and it doesn’t really sink or budge beyond the topmost layer,” Magnuson says. To determine their quality, ask for the specs on a) how thick the layer of foam is, and b) the foam’s density. Thickness can vary from 2 to 6 inches, which will determine how deep you’ll sink. In terms of density, 5 pounds per cubic foot is considered very high quality, while down to 3 pounds per cubic foot is less so.
If you like a little buoyancy…
Latex mattresses are similar to memory foam models in terms of firmness, but have a bit more spring-back. Natural latex (some mattresses are synthetic) is also antimicrobial, resistant to mold and dust mites. These mattresses can be pricey, but claim to last up to 20 years or more.
There are two types of latex: Dunlop latex is more dense and heavier than the lighter Talalay latex, which has a softer feel.
If you like customization…
Consider an an air-filled vinyl or rubber chamber mattress, which has a remote that lets you to control how much air is inside. Many have two side-by-side chambers, which allow the mattress firmness to be customized separately for you and your partner. The top surface is similar to an innersprings: quilted fiberfill or foam.
Consider your lifestyle
Beyond the four types of mattresses, there are other factors in their construction that you’ll need to think about. From sleep style to body type, to negotiating with a bedfellow, your lifestyle can help you make the best choice:
If you tend to sleep on your side…
You’ll want a surface with a lot of “pressure relief” or the ability to disperse while supporting your body weight, and conforming to your shape.
“Imagine you’re lying on a hard floor and there’s a heat map showing the points at which your body is producing the most pressure,” Magnuson says.
Cushy memory foam or a mattress with a fluffy topper will have the most pressure relief, while a very firm mattress will offer the least. Innersprings may have more pressure relief than a foam or latex mattress. Test out mattresses lying down to get a real feel.
If you tend to sleep on your stomach…
Following that heat-map analogy, the last thing a stomach-sleeper probably wants is an enveloping memory foam — it would feel smothering! Instead, a firm top surface will provide the best support. Consider a dense innerspring, air-filled, or latex mattress.
If you tend to sleep on your back…
Here, you’ll want something in the middle — a surface that supports, but has some give so your spine is kept in a healthy alignment. You’ll find happiness with any of the mattress types, but you should do your best princess-and-the-pea impression to see what feels best to you.
If your partner tosses and turns all night…
Consider an innerspring mattress with pocketed coils, or memory foam, latex, or a dual-chamber air-filled mattress. These will all have good “motion isolation.” But remember, these models could actually be less comfortable on the body of a restless sleeper, as there’s little forgiveness against one’s movements.
If you and your partner’s preferences don’t match…
The air-filled mattresses with dual chambers are made just for you. If you find that the top surface isn’t comfy enough, you can add a separate topper.
If you tend to sleep hot…
Mattresses topped with foam or latex can hold in body heat, especially if they’re very soft and a lot of your body sinks in. For this reason, you may prefer a fiberfill-topped innerspring mattress. Or — even better — use a removable fiberfill or feather mattress topper that can be removed and washed.
If you have allergies…
Foam and latex are both inherently antimicrobial and resistant to dust mites and mold. If you opt for innerspring or air topped with fiberfill, be sure to encase it in an allergen-resistant cover to keep irritants at bay.
If you can’t pinpoint what matters most …
Some savvy manufacturers make a hybrid style mattress that combines the buoyancy of an innerspring core with the motion isolation of memory foam. It’s a best-of-both-worlds option that can satisfy many partner disputes and sleeping styles, though it comes at a cost — these luxury models can be pricey.
A note on warranties
You may think that a longer warranty shows a confidence in the product, or a promise of a certain lifespan. But, alas, that’s not the case.
“The warranty is a marketing thing,” Magnuson explains. “It generally covers manufacturer’s defect, which is most likely going to reveal itself in a year, when a spring pops, or the foam stops bouncing back.”
Plus, many warranties have lots of fine print: If the mattress is stained because you didn’t use a mattress protector, or if you don’t use a matching foundation (like a box spring) beneath the mattress, it could invalidate the warranty. Generally, the industry wants you to replace your mattress every five to seven years, though Magnuson says a good mattress should last you at least eight or 10.