Since 2009, as a resource for mattress shoppers, I have taught a class on “How to Shop for a Mattress.” I started it because so many people told us they would rather shop for a used car than a mattress. Some people went so far as to say they felt they needed a shower after being in some mattress stores.
That’s a sad commentary on a purchase that should be fun, or at least pleasant. I mean, a mattress is for sleep — and let’s be honest, sleep feels good! It’s nourishing and relaxing and sets us up for a better life all around.
Thing is, mattress retailers have made mattress shopping a LOT more complicated than it should be. Selecting a good mattress is not brain surgery, nor is it rocket science. There needs to be a reliable resource for mattress shoppers. That’s where we come in.
No magic mattress materials
Despite some manufacturers’ fancy claims, the materials in mattresses just hitting the market are NOT newly developed, and the performance of those materials is predictable. Nothing is ‘revolutionary.’ In my class, I go into the features of different mattress components and what you can expect from them over time.
When you’ve been sleeping on an older or worn-in mattress, every mattress you test in a store will feel better than what you’ve been sleeping on at home. The question is, what will it feel like in 90 days, 6 months, or two years down the road? What will you do if you experience depressions in the surface and what can you expect from a warranty if you need it? Why is one mattress a thousand dollars more than another?
These are all important questions, and furthermore, not difficult to answer.
The Best Resource for Mattress Shoppers
- Core support systems, if they are innersprings or botanical latex, hold up well and are unlikely to be a problem, but there is much more to mattress shopping.
- The core system of a mattress is usually about 6-8” thick. Everything else in the mattress is comfort layers. Have you seen those 12 or 14-inch thick mattresses in stores or in ads? Yeah, those are mostly comfort layers – layers used on top of the core to make the mattress more comfortable in the early days of use.
- All soft materials used in a mattress eventually break down, but some do so much faster than others.
- Soft materials only break down where a body sits or lies, thus accentuating divots where one sleeps.
- Polyurethane foam loses 20 to 25% of its thickness every 5 years. Polyurethane foams often have other names to throw you off such as eco foam, soy foam, memory foam or visco foam, super-soft foam, and others. (Interestingly, “eco foam” or “soy foams” are 80 to 90% petroleum-based).
- Polyurethane foams are cheaper than other comfort layers, so are more likely to be found in mattresses. Manufacturers like using them because they’re cheap, but they often market them as luxury materials that achieve near-miraculous things for the mattress shopper.
- Pillow-top, Euro-top, Box-top and very plush mattresses use more comfort layers, and thus, break down sooner than mattresses without a special top, and to a greater extent. Six inches of poly foam means a 1.5 inch depression in five years. Eight inches compresses down to six inches thick where you sleep – a 2” depression, which most people will find unsleepable.
- Flipping a mattress — but only a 2-sided mattress, which is built for flipping — allows the area facing down to refresh and even out, thus extending the life of the mattress significantly.
- If you have read any of my other posts, you already know that I think that can’t flip, one-sided mattresses, are a con on the public. My recommendation is always to get a two-sided, flippable mattress.
- The retail price of a mattress does NOT — I repeat, NOT — correspond to longevity. Retail markup can sometimes take your breath away, especially at those stores doing lots of advertising, or Bed in a Box companies (Caspar, Tuft & Needle, Purple, Avocado, etc.). Someone pays for that advertising. Our resource for mattress shoppers (the class) will teach you all about this upon request.
Warranties & More
- The warranty of a mattress does not correspond to longevity. Warranties are for manufacturing defects, not comfort or how long it will last. A high percentage of the people attending my class are there after finding out their “warranty” did not cover the divots in their almost new mattresses. A mattress with a 20 year warranty may wear out in 5 years. Ignore the warranty when mattress shopping.
- Many times people in my class will say they had their last mattress for 20 years or more and it still looked fine. Many mattresses made in the 70s, 80s, and even the 90s had very little padding (comfort layers) on top of the core support system (remember, firm – firm – firm was the mantra of the day) and that padding often looked like compressed cotton-fiber carpet pad, quilted tightly into a cover on each side of the mattress. These beds often had labels sewn into the cover showing the turning and rotating schedule to follow. There was very little to no break down or showing of impressions, and people kept their mattresses long after the manufacturers suggested they be replaced.
- Manufacturers used to tell you to replace your mattress in 10 to 12 years. Now they (and Consumer Reports and Good Housekeeping) tell you to replace your one-sided mattress in 5 to 7 years! Many people are not even getting 5 years out of their mattresses.
When it comes to the mattress industry there’s more going on than meets the eye. Want the true story on how mattresses are made, why, and what it means for consumers? This inside story and lots more is covered in our class every Saturday morning at 9:30am. All are welcome. When you come to our resource for mattress shoppers, enjoy complimentary coffee & fruit while you learn. Feel free to bring a family member or friend!