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Mattress Buyers Guide: Everything You Need to Know

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Shopping for a new mattress should be easy. After all, you're getting something you'll use every single night, but in reality, many find the experience to be confusing. Where to buy a new mattress? Which mattress is right for you? and what's the story with online mattress stores? These are likely some of the questions you're asking yourself.

Our mattress buying guide will help you make an informed buying decision so that you can bring home the best mattress for your needs. As the competition among mattress retailers continues to rise, you'll have more shopping and competitive pricing options than ever before. This guide will give you the information you need to buy a new mattress.

Mattress Buyers Guide

There are 5 factors to consider when shopping for a new mattress: Support, comfort, durability, motion transfer and edge support. Let's take a closer look at each.


Finding a mattress with the proper support should be your top priority. Your new mattress needs to actually "push up" on your body in order to keep your spine in alignment. This doesn't mean you need a firm and stiff mattress, but you do need a mattress that can support all of your body's curves and crevices.

A new mattress should be able to provide you the right type of support you need. Since your body is not made to lie in a straight line, your mattress needs to hug and support every curvature in order to be effective.

With that said, don't overlook the firmness of a mattress. A mattress that is too firm or too soft may leave you waking up in the morning with an aching back or a stiff neck. The level of firmness a mattress provides is a contributing factor in keeping your spine in alignment. 

Look for a mattress that keeps your spine in alignment


Comfort is referred to as pressure relief in the mattress world. When a mattress is able to relieve the pressure points on your body you'll relax and change positions less frequently.

Look for a mattress that doesn't create pressure points (shoulders, hips, and elbows are some of the main pressure points).


How long a mattress lasts is also a consideration. Each type of mattress has a different lifespan, not to mention the quality of materials used and the workmanship. The typical innerspring mattress will last up to 8 years.

Many mattresses come with warranties for 5, 10 or 20 years, but with everyday use, your mattress's useful life may not reach the end of it's warranty. This is something to be aware of since normal wear is not typically covered under the manufacturers warranty.

  • Read and understand what is and isn't covered under the warranty.
  • Purchase a mattress from a manufacturer that will allow you to test the mattress at home.

Motion Transfer

Motion transfer is simply when one person in the bed moves and the other person feels the disturbance through the mattress. If you're trying to create an uninterrupted sleeping environment, you'll want a mattress that allows for little movement on the other side of the bed.

Look for a mattress that allows for little motion transfer when 2 people are in bed.

Edge Support

Edge support is a term within the mattress world that refers to the amount of support the mattress provides around the edges. A mattress that provides acceptable edge support will prevent the user from easily rolling out of bed, deter the mattress from "collapsing" when you sit on the edge, and help maintain comfort and support even if you sleep near the edge.

Look for a mattress with firm edges. 

Memory Foam Mattress

Four Mattress Types

There are 4 major types of mattresses available on the market today. Finding the one that works best for you largely depends on how you sleep and the amount of support you require. 

Memory Foam

Foam mattresses have become wildly popular over the past few years. One of the reasons they've gained in popularity is the mold-ability of the foam. Because the material is able to mold to your body so well, the mattress is able to provide optimal support and comfort.

Memory foam is made with polyurethane and many manufacturers also include layers of foam mixed with latex. For individuals suffering from joint pain, a foam mattress is a great choice. Although, changing sleeping positions can sometimes be more difficult. 

A variation of memory foam is the gel mattress, where the support system or upholstery layer of a foam mattress contains gel. Gel mattresses have a different "feel" than memory foam and they are also more efficient at dissipating body heat.

Another variation is the latex mattress. These mattresses replace the memory foam with latex foam. The latex can be made from petroleum or natural materials. They tend to be less dense than memory foam and offer a cooler sleep.

Foam mattresses work well with all different sleep positions.


  • Joint and back support
  • Long lasting / durable
  • Many manufacturers to choose between
  • Limited motion transfer
  • Pressure point relief


  • Difficult to change sleep positions
  • Tends to "sleep hot"
  • Off-gas odor with new mattresses

Popular Manufacturers of Foam Mattresses


Innerspring mattresses were first available in the 1930's and make up two-thirds of today's mattress sales. Their durability, affordability and excellent user comfort and support have helped make innerspring mattresses a long-time favorite.

All innerspring mattresses use a steel coil support system, however there are 4 different types available that vary in spring shape and coil gauge.   They are the following: Bonnell coils, offset coils, continuous wire coils, and pocket coils.

As a general rule of thumb, the more coils a mattress has the higher level of comfort and support it will be able to deliver.

Pocket coils are considered to be the top of the line, and are made of thin non-tempered steel and encased within a cloth pocket. They're designed to minimize motion transfer. Pocket coils are also the most expensive coils support system, but unfortunately, have the shortest lifespan. 

Many of the complaints that users have regarding foam mattresses are nonexistent with the innerspring design. Innerspring mattresses tend to sleep cool because they offer excellent air flow. They also have more of a traditional "feel" that is similar to a classic mattress, and replace the "sinking in quicksand" feel with a bouncy, quick responding experience.

To tone down the bouncy feel of an innerspring mattress, many manufacturers place an extra layer of soft pillow-like material on top of the comfort layer. The added pillowy plush softness is where the pillow top mattress gets it's name. 

Innerspring mattresses work well for a variety of sleepers. They are especially good for overweight individuals, or those who suffer with back pain. 


  • Offers excellent bounce
  • Very little off-gassing
  • Wide variety
  • Excellent airflow / cooling
  • Wide price range 
  • Most affordable option


  • Motion isolation
  • Can be noisy
  • Shorter life span (5.5 yrs)
  • Too firm for many users

Popular Manufacturers of Innerspring Mattresses

Water Bed

Although their popularity has diminished, water beds are still around. Today's water beds have a rectangular chamber of water with a padded upholstery comfort layer.

Water beds are either soft or hard sided. The water chamber in a soft-sided water bed is zipped within a fabric casing inside a rigid foam rectangular frame. Hard-sided water beds have a rectangular wood frame that contains the water chamber.

There are 2 types of water chambers used in water beds. The free-flow chamber allows the water to move throughout the mattress without obstructions. The waveless waterbed contains layers of fiber material or baffles to reduce the motion of the water.

The comfort layer consists of foam or fiber material and it covers the water chamber to add padding. Each type provides a different level of support and flexibility.

Best for back sleepers


  • Water can be heated to desired temperature allowing for seasonal adjustments
  • Good choice for those with allergies
  • Comfortable
  • Very relaxing


  • Some find the water movement distracting
  • Possibility of leaks
  • Finding sheets can be difficult
  • May develop an unpleasant odor

Popular Manufacturers of Waterbeds

Adjustable Air Bed

An air bed mattress works much like a waterbed, except air is used as the primary support instead of water. The air chamber is padded with either fiber upholstery or foam, and it can be filled with more or less air to adjust the firmness of the mattress.

There are models available that will allow each side of the mattress to be individually adjusted, so that each user can have the perfect amount of support. 

Best for back sleepers and couples with different support requirements


  • Ability for 2 sleepers to have different support
  • Easily adjustable support levels
  • Lightweight. Making it a great bed for upstairs bedrooms
  • Very durable


  • Center of the bed can be uncomfortable
  • May look "saggy" at softer support levels
  • May develop leaks or pump malfunctions

Popular Manufacturers of Air Beds

Mattress Myths Uncovered

Coils: "More coils means more comfort"  -  This is simply not true. Coils can have different densities and depths, which alters the number of coils in the mattress. 

Gel: "Memory foam with gel is cooler than other mattresses"  -  In theory, this is a great concept, but in reality it's not true. The gel can be used to attempt to keep the mattress cooler, but it's not guaranteed.

Extra Lumbar Support: "Extra lumbar support will help support the sleepers' back better than other mattresses" -  Studies have actually not proven this to be true or false. Your body will react to the lumbar support differently than someone else's body.

Box Springs: "Mattresses with innersprings (and other types) are pushing out the need for box springs" -  Technically, this isn't true. There's room for both types of mattresses on the market. However, many mattresses are moving to an innerspring technology that eliminates the need for box springs.

Mattress Shopping Tips

If you've decided to purchase your new mattress from a retail store, here are a few quick tips to help you find the perfect mattress for you.

Do Your Homework - Before hitting the store, spend some time doing research. Just being familiar with the basic terminology can give you a great head start. Reading customer reviews can also be very helpful, particularly if you have several mattresses in mind. 

Lay Down - The best way to get a "feel" for a mattress is to actually lie down on it as though you are sleeping. Spend at least 5 minutes in each sleep position. If the sales person is persistent and won't allow you the time to try out the mattress, you may want to go to another store.

Box Springs - Here's where your research can really pay off. Box springs are great if you need them, but they're not required for all mattresses. Also, if your current box spring is structurally sound you may not need to replace it yet. Although, keep in mind that some manufacturers void their warranty coverage if you don't buy the mattress with the matching box springs at the same time. 

Warranty - Look beyond the fancy headline of the warranty. Warranties typically range between 10 to 25 years and it's not uncommon for the coverage to decrease as the mattress ages. In most cases, broken or loose coils and other manufacturing defects are covered, but normal wear and tear is not.

Return Policy - Find out the store's return policy. If you need to return your mattress because it isn't the one for you, the time to know how the retail store handles returns is before you make your purchase. Some stores offer credit for another mattress and others offer a full refund. Many times there's a time limit, typically not longer than 120-days. Ask if they charge a restocking fee? or a pickup fee?

Negotiate Price - Not everybody is comfortable negotiating, but keep in mind that there are huge markups, especially in specialty chains. If you know you'll be buying a new mattress soon, start paying attention to mattress sales. When you're ready to buy, ask for the sales price. You'll have a great starting negotiation point that you know is a reasonable price for the store. 

Delivery - Whether you pick up the mattress yourself or have it delivered, always inspect it for damage and stains. There should also be a consumer label stating that all new materials were used. If you do accept the mattress and notice something isn't right, take a few photos right away so you can provide proof of damage if needed.

Buying a Mattress

Five Standard Mattress Sizes

Mattress sizes come in 5 standard sizes. The size that best works for you will be dependent on your height, room size, and whether you are a couple, and/or if you have pets. 


Twin beds are great for small children or a single person.

  • Size: 38 x 75 inches
  • Advantage: Great for saving space, perfect size for children, typically the lowest priced mattress
  • Disadvantage: Too small for more than one sleeper 

Extra-Long Twin

Going off to college? Many colleges provide students with mattresses, and frequently the mattress size is extra-long twin. Be sure to use extra-long twin sheets for a perfect fit. 

  • Size: 38 x 80 inches
  • Advantage: Great for taller heights. Common dorm mattress size
  • Disadvantage: Must use extra-long twin sheets 


Full mattresses used to be the most common mattress size, but over the years the queen bed has taken the lead. Full is also considered the smallest of the standard sizes (besides the twin).  

  • Size: 54 x 75 inches
  • Advantage: Inexpensive sheets and accessories
  • Disadvantage: Many couples find a full sized bed a bit tight


Slightly wider and with more legroom than the full sized mattress, the queen bed has become the United States most popular bed.

  • Size: 60 x 80 inches
  • Advantage: Good for couples. Many accessories available
  • Disadvantage: Heavy and more expensive


The king mattress is commonly found in large master bedrooms. It is also referred to as the Eastern King. 

  • Size: 76 x 80 inches
  • Advantage: Plenty of sleeping space for couples
  • Disadvantage: Might not fit in a standard sized bedroom

California King

Also known as the Western King. A common misconception is that a California King is larger than a King Mattress, but it's actually longer and not as wide. 

  • Size: 72 x 84 inches
  • Advantage: Best suited for tall people. Plenty of foot room
  • Disadvantage: Very heavy. Sheets and accessories are expensive
Teddy Bear on a Mattress

Mattresses for Special Needs

With so many mattresses to choose between you should be able to find the right mattress to help you get a good night sleep . . . even if you have a specific issue. 

Sleep Apnea - If you suffer from sleep apnea your best bed choice is an adjustable mattress. An adjustable mattress will allow you to find the optimal bed position to help open your airways.

Back Problems - One of the more common causes of back pain is the lack of support your mattress provides. A memory foam mattress is an excellent choice for those with back pain because they contour to your entire body and allow you to rest in the most natural position. If you suffer from back pain, purchase a medium-firm mattress.

Circulation Problems - Poor circulation can negatively affect your health and cause future health concerns. Contrary to other recommendations for mattresses, poor circulation requires a softer mattress. A softer mattress will help prevent cutting off or hindering circulation. Although, don't confuse "soft" with lack of support.

Couples - If you find that you and your sleeping partner require different levels of support, you're an excellent candidate for a split firmness mattress. These mattresses allow you the flexibility to adjust each side independently to best meet each individual's needs for support and comfort.

Constant Movement - If you or your sleep partner is constantly moving, you may find getting a good nights sleep challenging. Generally, memory foam mattresses are the best choice for minimizing motion transfer. 

Sleeping on a Mattress

Best Mattress for Specific Sleep Positions

Since everybody sleeps differently, there isn't a one-size-fits-all mattress that will meet all needs. The mattress that fits you best, may not be the one that fits someone else. 

Side Sleeper

The majority of people are side sleepers. Surprisingly, side sleepers need to be very careful about the mattress they choose because of the weight placed on the hip and shoulder.

A slightly softer mattress allows the hip and shoulder to sink into the mattress and helps maintain the natural curvature of the spine. Also, if too much pressure is placed on the hip, you may develop a tingling sensation if the capillaries become obstructed. 

  • Memory foam or latex mattresses that are slightly softer are an excellent choice.
  • If you choose to purchase a spring bed, it should have a pillow top.

Back Sleeper

Sleeping on your back is probably the healthiest sleep position for your body if you don't use too many pillows. Your neck is in a healthy, neutral position, while your spine is in alignment. Keep in mind, if you snore or have sleep apnea, sleeping on your back is not your best choice.

Back sleepers have lot's of options when it comes to selecting a mattress, but it's generally best to lean towards low to mid-range firmness. This will help keep your hips and spine in alignment. Just be sure that there's cushioning to mold to the arch of your lumbar region.

  • Medium firm with adequate cushioning on top is generally best for back sleepers.
  • Stay away from mattresses that are too firm or too soft.

Stomach Sleeper

The amount of support a mattress provides is always critically important, but especially for stomach sleepers. A mattress that is too soft will place a tremendous amount of stress on your spine if you sleep on your stomach. A medium-firm mattress is generally best, as it should still be able to accommodate the contours of your body and not place too much pressure on your hipbones and ribs.

In most cases, medium firm with adequate cushioning is your best choice

Combination Sleeper

If you can't define which type of sleeper you are because you sleep on your back, then your side, then wake up on your stomach, you're a combination sleeper.

If you fall into this group, the best mattress for you is one that will offer medium-firm support because it will provide the most comfort and support in all of the sleep positions.

However, when you select the comfort layer, focus on the sleep position you tend to sleep in the most. One word of caution, going too plush with the comfort layer will make it difficult to change sleep positions.

  • A mattress that provides medium-firm support with a comfort layer that reflects your most common sleep position.
  • Be careful not to buy a mattress with a comfort layer that is too plush.
Buying a mattress online

Where to Buy Your Mattress

The days are over where your only option is to buy your mattress from a retail store. Today more consumers are purchasing mattresses directly from manufacturers online without even trying the mattress! In fact, Consumer Reports has found that "non-traditional sellers are rated highest in overall satisfaction."

Retail Stores

Having the opportunity to physically lay on a mattress to test for proper support and comfort is something that is only available if you buy from a retail store. This, of course, is the biggest advantage of puchasing from a brick and mortar store.

Another advantage is face-to-face customer service. If you're unsure or have questions, having a salesperson guide you thru how to choose a mattress can be a huge help. In addition, if you require assistance after your purchase, it's nice to have someone to talk to in person.

However, buying a mattress at a retail store isn't for everybody. Many people don't feel comfortable testing the mattresses in front of others. In addition, the entire experience can be intimidating. If you can negotiate, you can likely get a mattresses cheaper at a retail store than you would if you purchased it online. But if negotiating isn't your thing, there's a good chance you'll pay more.

Then there's the sales person. Their job is to not only sell you a mattress, but to sell you the most expensive mattress possible. Some sales people can be pretty pesky and hard to shoo off when you just want to look by yourself.

Online Stores

An online store, such as Amazon or Sleepys is a convenient way to buy a mattress. The convenience of hands-on, in store mattress testing is quickly overlooked by a few keystrokes. Sure, you can't actually "feel" how the mattress fits, but you can compare dozens in the amount of time it would take you to get dressed and drive to the store. 

There's also no pressure. No need to deal with the salesman. All the information is listed on the website and you can even read user reviews.

But one of the biggest advantages of buying a mattress online is the price. There just isn't much overhead when you take away the fancy showroom and the salesman. You'll be able to find a quality, top-notch mattress (many are the same you'd find in a retail store) for more than half the price in many cases.

With so much upside, there are a few disadvantages about buying a mattress online. You won't be able to try the mattress before you bring it home, although there are showrooms in a few select cities for some of the brands.

However,  a common practice for online manufacturers is to offer a sleep guarantee. Layla mattresses offers a 120 Night Trial - that's nearly 4 months, and more than enough time for you to know if the mattress will work for you.

Also, you won't have a salesman right by your side to answer your questions. The majority of online retailers have excellent customer service, but it's not the same as having someone right there.

If you're worried about not liking your new mattress, you can rest at ease because many online mattress companies have a very simple return policy. Each manufacturer is different, but it's not uncommon for them to pick up the mattress and donate it to the Salvation Army or another group. 

Factory Direct

The stagnant world of mattress shopping got a shot in the arm a few years ago when a few start-up mattress companies defined a new business model and began selling their products online directly to the consumer. 

Comparing mattresses is a little more difficult this way, unless you already know the brand, but it may be worth the hassle because in many cases, you'll find this to be your best price.

Since there are only a few of these companies, you'll have a limited selection of mattresses to choose between. Shopping tends to be more cumbersome, especially if you are looking for specific features. Still, if you know what you want, this is a great way to buy a mattress. Layla mattress would be an example of this type of direct to consumer store.

When to buy a mattress

When to Replace Your Mattress

Mattresses don't last forever and eventually you'll need to buy a new one. But when? Here are some clues to help you determine when it's time to replace your mattress. 

8+ Years Old - Just because you purchased a mattress with a 20-year warranty doesn't mean that you should be sleeping on it for 20-years. Parts of your mattress (like the comfort layer) wear out faster than others (like the springs). Consumer Reports recommends replacing your mattress every 7 to 10 years. 

Stiff and Tired - As a mattress ages it loses it's ability to provide the proper support. In addition, the comfort layer wears down and isn't able to deliver the same level of softness. Over time, it will not be able to relieve the pressure placed on your pressure points and you'll toss and turn throughout the night. 

If you wake up with back or neck pain and find that it gets better as the day progresses you're most likely ready to buy a new mattress. If you already have a new mattress and you wake-up stiff and tired, then your mattress is either too soft or firm for you.

Wake-up Feeling Tired - When mattresses are no longer able to provide the necessary support needed, it's not uncommon to wake-up tired after a full night's sleep. This is because your body is adjusting positions while you're sleeping trying to find a comfortable position, and since the mattress is unable to provide adequate support, your body is unable to find the perfect position.

You'd Rather Sleep Some Place Else - If you sleep better on vacation than in your own bed or you find other places in your house more comfortable, there's a good chance it's time to start thinking about buying a new mattress. When you have problems falling asleep it's often because you aren't comfortable. Buying a new mattress will not only improve the quality of your sleep, but it will also help you sleep longer.

Squeaking Springs - If you have an innerspring mattress or a box spring you may notice squeaking, sagging, or other signs of wear. These types of mattresses depend on the spring structure to provide support, when the support system fails, the mattress won't be able to deliver the support and comfort you need. You may also notice that the mattress sags, either thru wear or lack of center support in the frame.

Sagging - When a mattress sags you'll notice pain in your back, joints and/or muscles. Sagging is a common symptom of wear in mattresses that use springs, as they lose their resiliency and begin to break down. Foam and other materials will begin to show impressions, and even pillow tops will break down and sag. 

You may be surprised that sagging or impressions of less than 2 inches in depth can cause pain.

A Hammock Feel - Even if you don't notice sagging in your mattress, you may feel as though you are sleeping in a hammock. This happens when the core of a foam mattress begins to soften. Your sleep and how you feel can be significantly affected once your mattress reaches this level of wear. 

Allergy Symptoms - If you have a spring mattress, you may notice that your allergy symptoms worsen when you go to bed or wake-up in the morning. Dust mites thrive in bedding and mattresses. They hibernate and reproduce in the cotton felt layer of spring mattresses. A dust mite resistant mattress cover can help, as well as frequently laundering your bedding and pillows.

Body Weight Changes - If your weight has significantly fluctuated since you purchased your mattress it may not be providing the support you currently require. Even if the mattress is still in great shape. You may be able to purchase a mattress topper if the issue is firmness or pressure points, but if the mattress is too soft or lacks support, you'll need to buy a new one. 

Mattress Buying Tips

Just as there are a large variety of mattresses available, there's also a wide price range. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when you start shopping for a new mattress.

Mattresses Under $500

It's not to say that a mattress under $500 can't meet your needs in the short run, but chances are it won't hold up over the years. Cheaper mattresses tend to use lower quality materials and the manufacturers have found other ways to cut costs.

If money is tight or you just need something to get you by on the short term, a mattress in this price range could be a good choice. But be cautious and don't expect it to last.

Low Cost Foam Mattresses

When it comes to buying a foam mattress you definitely want to stay away for the bargain basement priced mattresses. Low cost foam mattresses will almost certainly not be able to provide the necessary level of support and comfort you require.

In most cases, the manufacturer will use low quality materials and the mattress will off-gas high levels of toxic fumes. We recommend staying away from cheap foam mattresses at all costs.

Retail Store Prices

There's nothing wrong with buying a mattress from a retail store, but expect to pay a premium. Due to overhead expenses, retail stores typically mark up the price of mattresses quite significantly.

If you decide to buy from a brick and mortar store, be sure to do your research and don't be afraid to negotiate.

Online Prices

If you're looking for the best bang-for-your-dollar buy your mattress online.

Without the overhead costs of a retail store, you'll be able to find a higher quality mattress for a much lower price . . . in many cases, 50% less than buying in a retail store! 

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