I want to know just enough to be dangerous (savvy) in the marketplace.
Just enough mattress-shopping know-how for those who want to feel smart & savvy when walking into a mattress store.
HERE’S EXACTLY HOW TO SHOP FOR A MATTRESS
MAKE A PLAN
How long do you need the mattress to last? What’s your budget? How much off-gassing are you willing to put up with — a tiny bit? a significant amount? Are there any allergies or chemical sensitivities you need to take into account? Budget enough time to try out new mattresses, dress comfortably, and prepare to ‘test rest’ 2-3 different mattresses.
DECIDE WHERE TO SHOP
Reputation matters. Use Yelp, Google Reviews, and other third party review sites to research stores. Look for positive reviews that discuss a no-pressure shopping experience, sales people who listen and answer questions sufficiently, clear return and/or exchange policies, and the integrity to quickly address any problems that occur after purchase.
COMMIT TO BUY 2-SIDED
Nowadays, most mattresses made for the consumer market — as in, the private individual like you who’s not purchasing for a hotel — are one-sided. This means only one side has comfort layers that can be slept on. What many people under the age of 40 don’t realize is that up until 20 years ago, all mattresses were made 2-sided. People flipped and rotated their mattresses a few times a year to even out the wear pattern. Then the mainstream mattress industry was taken over by private equity, who started selling half-mattresses as ‘no need to flip,’ thus saving up to 25% in manufacturing costs. This didn’t save consumers any money (!), and forced them back into the market every 3-5 years for a replacement. 2-sided mattresses are harder to find nowadays, but they’re still being made and sold to consumers. The reality is, 2-sided mattresses last up to 3 times longer than ‘can’t flip’ mattresses, saving you hundreds or thousands of dollars while maximizing your comfort over time.
FAMILIARIZE YOURSELF WITH COMMON MATTRESS MATERIALS
Repeat after us: there are no magic mattress materials. Any “new mattress technology” you hear about is a chemical compound made in a lab, no matter how dreamily-named it is. Traditional mattress materials are still the best for sleeping because of their durability, breathability, sustainability, and health benefits. These natural fibers include cotton, wool, and botanical latex. Non-earth-friendly and non-people-friendly but commonly used components include polyester (poly foam or poly fill), memory foam, gel foam, and synthetic and “natural” latex (both of which contain chemicals). Most likely, you’ll want to avoid these materials as much as possible.
CHANGE SURFACE FEEL GRADUALLY
Most people have a preference for a certain type of surface feel, meaning, how the mattress feels to them when they lie on it. Surface feel is extremely subjective. What feels firm to me might feel extra firm to you, or even plush! This is why you need to try before you buy. The biggest mistake people make when buying a new mattress is going radically firmer or plusher than their previous mattress was. Small tweaks are best. If you’ve been sleeping on something rather plush and think you want to firm up, try a “Cushion Firm” (between a Plush and a Firm) or a Firm mattress, not an Extra Firm. The body adapts to what it sleeps on, and a drastic change in surface feel can do you more harm than good. Make gradual changes so as not to ‘shock’ your body.
INNERSPRING COIL VS. FIBER ONLY VS. HYRBID
Until the industrial revolution, mattresses were made with fibers only, usually whatever fibers were available in a person’s region (straw, feathers, etc.). The rise of industry introduced tempered coil springs to manufacturing, and someone had the idea to use them in a mattress. The idea that mattresses, which traditionally were rather thin and hard, should bounce a bit became more commonplace. Figure out what feels best to you.
TRY BEFORE YOU BUY
Your goal while shopping is to narrow down the selection to just two models, three at the most. You’ll want to give each model in your top lineup a 10 to 15-minute test rest. Be sure to lie down in the position(s) in which you normally sleep. Don’t be shy; feel free to ask the sales person for a pillow. If you sleep with a partner, bring that person with you so they can try out the mattresses, as well. You’re looking for pressure points. Does one mattress make your lower back twinge? Are you unable to get comfortable in the side-sleeping position on another? While it’s important to basically agree on the comfort level of a mattress, don’t worry about finding a model both of you feel is 100% perfect. Much can be done to adjust for comfort preferences through mattress toppers and mattress pads placed strategically on one side of the bed but not the other. An experienced sales person should be able to help you with customizing the feel of the mattress to suit two partners’ preferences.
BOX OR NO BOX?
Depending on the type of bed frame you’ll be using, you may or may not need a box underneath your mattress. A good, well-built box is essentially a wooden frame with wooden slats across the top, covered by fabric material. Back in the day, boxes were referred to as ‘box springs,’ but not all boxes contain springs. A box gives you more height under your mattress, as well as flat, sturdy support. If you’re using a simple metal bed frame or bed with inadequate support, you’ll want to use a box for support and maybe additional height. But if you have a platform bed frame with adequate support built-in, a mattress may be all you need.
UNDERSTAND THE WARRANTY AND RETURN/EXCHANGE POLICY.
Most manufacturers’ warranties typically cover only defects in the mattress. Wear and tear due to normal usage is not covered by the warranty, even if it’s an expensive mattress that wears out in 2 years (which is common these days). Make sure the terms of the warranty are clear to you before you buy. Also be sure to get clear on the retailer’s return/exchange policy. Most good mattress stores have a Comfort Exchange program, in which you’re able to sleep on the mattress at home for 30 or 60 days and then exchange it for something else if you prefer.
ALLOW 28 DAYS OF SLEEP BEFORE DECIDING TO RETURN OR EXCHANGE.
It typically takes the body up to a month to adjust to the feel of a new mattress. If you aren’t totally delighted with the feel of your mattress on the first few sleeps, consider giving it a few more sleeps…up to four weeks of sleeps, actually, before returning or exchanging.
There you have it: 10 tips for finding a mattress you’ll love sleeping on tonight, tomorrow night, and for years into the future. We hope these tips serve you well and lead you straight to the mattress of your dreams!
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