Mattress Shopping: It’s Not Rocket Science
Since 2009, I have taught a class here at my family’s store on “How to Shop for a Mattress.”
I started it because so many people had told us they would rather shop for a used car than shop for 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, if not a fun one, 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.
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.
In the class I cover these in much more detail, but here are some facts that will give you a basic understanding of mattresses:
- Core support systems, if they are innersprings or botanical latex, hold up well and are unlikely to be a problem.
- 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 foams, which are petroleum-based, will lose 20 to 25% of their thickness over 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 usually 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 sleeper.
- 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 break down 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. Someone pays for that advertising. Think about it.
- 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 20-year warranty may be on a mattress that will be worn out in 5 years.
- 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 in the U.S. in the 21st Century, there’s lots more going on than meets the eye. I see it as my job to give you the true story on how mattresses are made, why manufacturers make them that way, and what this means for you as a consumer.
This inside story and lots more is covered in the class every Saturday morning at 9:30. All are welcome.
Let’s Talk. We’re Listening.
What from this list is new news for you? What assumptions about mattresses were you operating under before reading this post?