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It’s Not Rocket Science

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Since 2009 I have taught a class on “How to Shop for a Mattress”. I started it because more people had said they would rather shop for a used car than shop for a mattress.  Some went so far as to say they felt they needed a shower after being in some stores. That is a sad commentary on a purchase that should be, if not fun, at least pleasant. Buying a good mattress is not brain surgery nor is it rocket science. The materials in mattresses are not newly developed, and the performance of those materials is predictable. In my class, I go into the features of different mattress components and what you can expect over time. Every mattress you test in a store will feel better than your old mattress. The question is, what will it feel like in 90 days, 6 months, 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 springs or botanical latex, hold up well and are unlikely to be a problem.

Soft comfort layers are used on top of the core to make the mattress more comfortable.

All soft materials 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 or visco foam, super-soft and others. (eco or soy foams are usually 80 – 90% petroleum based).

Polyurethane foams are cheaper than other comfort layers so are more likely to be found in mattresses.

Pillow-top, Euro-top, Box-top and very plush mattresses use more comfort layers and thus break down sooner and to a greater extent. Six inches of poly foam means a 1.5 inch depression in five years. Eight inches ends up six inches thick where you sleep – a 2” depression which is unsleepable.

The core system of a mattress is usually about 6-8” thick. Everything else in the mattress is comfort layers.

Flipping a mattress (2 sided only) 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 correspond to longevity. Retail markup can sometimes take your breath away, especially at those stores doing lots of advertising (someone pays for 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 70’s, 80’s and even the 90’s had very little padding 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 break down or showing of impressions and people kept them 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 Goodhousekeeping) tell you to replace your one-sided mattress in 5 to 7 years! Many people are not even getting 5 years out of theirs.

Lots more is covered in the class every Saturday morning at 9:30. All are welcome.

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