"Consumer advice for mattress shoppers...
....and support for local retail businesses.
How To Compare Mattresses
by Graham Challenger
Buying a new mattress is a major household expense, so how can you compare mattresses and make a wise choice? Shopping is easier if you are an educated buyer. Before you begin, it's best to know what you want and need. Wants and needs aren't always the same thing. In this article, we'll list and define the mattress types, styles, and sizes you can choose from in most retail environments. The bedding industry defines and rates mattresses and foundation sets by five criteria (i.e., comfort, support, construction materials, size dimensions and price). Let's look at each one in detail, starting with:
A mattress should be comfortable. That is obvious, but there are differences in how that comfort is achieved. The surface padding on a mattress is one way you'll judge comfort and quality. The more layers of padding and/or the quality of the foam, the longer a mattress will last. The best building materials and fabrics hold their shape, won't bunch-up, and are more durable. The traditional mattress surface is called a "smooth-top" face. There are new Pillowtop style mattresses that have a 2-5 inch pillow of comfy padding above the traditional mattress surface. This extra Pillowtop of padding adds an additional layer of softness to the sleep surface.
Some mattresses have a fabric sleep surface that covers a new "visco-foam" mattress material, sometimes called "memory foam" or "pressure-relieving" foam. This is the highly advertised padding developed for NASA, which cradles your body as you recline. As you've seen on countless TV commercials, this high-tech padding "remembers" to return to its original shape when you rise. Some other mattress manufacturers use a quilted material to provide a deep, soft surface layer to the mattress. The exterior fabric cover of any mattress must be durable to resist the daily wear and tear over time. It's also the point of initial touch on a mattress and is what determines how a mattress feels. Each surface padding choice is a personal preference.
If the comfort level of a mattress is judged by the type of surface padding, the support comes from the "innerspring" structure within each mattress. A great mattress needs good support to hold your spine in place. Correct posture during the day carries your body weight efficiently. At night, a good mattress supports your resting spine evenly, spreading your weight and preventing sagging at the hips and shoulders. You should never awake feeling stiff and sore. Support comes from the internal structure and coils inside your mattress under the surface padding described above.
Quality mattresses have very strong, individual spring-coils hidden deep inside your mattress in an area called the innerspring. A large number of these spring/coils in a mattress doesn't always mean the mattress will be "firmer". Bedding manufacturers build mattresses as a complete set to acheive a level of comfort for a certain retail price. This is why you see many different models, made by the same "name brand". A standard orthopedic mattress may have as few as 300 coils. Some mattress brands justify a higher price by advertising as many as 800 coils inside a mattress. A larger number of coils may, or may NOT offer firmer support, but will improve the durability of a bed, in the form of a longer life. You can choose mattresses with soft, plush, firm, or extra firm support and surface padding of a Pillowtop or the popular, new visio-foams. It is a personal preference.
Don't forget the foundation, commonly called a "box spring." A good foundation helps to evenly distribute your weight and helps a mattress do its job. Expensive foundations use steel internals, but wooden parts are more common and do NOT indicate a poor quality bed. Remember, the "job" of the support base is to distribute weight evenly. A good rule of thumb is to always replace your old mattress and the box spring when buying your new bedding. New, modern mattresses are thicker and heavier than what you purchased just a few years ago. They need the matching foundation support piece for best results and maximum durability. All quality mattress manufacturers design the box springs in conjunction with its matching mattress and sell the bedding in matching, two-piece sets.
You may also need new frame rails if you are moving up in size. King size mattresses, and many Queen size mattress sets need frame rails with a center railing down the middle to give the units proper support and to distribute the weight over a wider area of your floor.
3. Good Components
A quality mattress is built with good components. Deep inside every mattress are support coils, padding, and a frame structure held together by the exterior fabric you see. Fabric and padding are cosmetic choices but contribute to the comfort mentioned above. The structural frame must be strong enough to support your weight as you move in the night. You don't want sags in your "regular" sleeping spot or mattress edges that droop because you sit on the edge of the bed each night. Strong edge support protects the sides of your mattress and maximizes the sleep surface. You won't feel as if you are about to roll out of bed as you approach the edges. If you start with a well engineered mattress / foundation architecture and build it with quality materials, a mattress should provide years of comfortable sleep.
4. Correct Size
Your bedroom is a fixed-size space and may limit your choices, but buying the correct size mattress is important. Mattresses come in the standard sizes you know: Twin, Full size, Queen size and King size. Some makers build odd sizes, but we'll keep the explanation simple. You will sleep better when you have room to move during the night. If you are a couple, space is doubly important. It has nothing to do with romance, or whether you "cuddle" or "spoon." Generally, couples sleep best on at least a Queen size mattress, and you might find a King size mattress is worth the few extra dollars. In another example, very few Twin beds are long enough for a single, 5 foot/10inch adult to sleep without feeling cramped when sleeping. Are you tall or "heavy?" Make sure the mattresses you consider have the size, length, and support you need.
For reference, mattress manufacturers build bedding to industry standard sizes.
Twin size mattress- 39" x 75"
Twin size "Extra Long" mattress - 38" x 80"
Full Size mattress - 54" x 75"
Full size "Extra Long" mattress - 54" x 80"
Queen size mattress - 60" x 80"
King size mattresses - 76" x 80"
Your final consideration is price. All mattress manufacturers make two or three "price point" mattress sets in each size. A Queen size mattress that will be wholesaled to the department stores will be designed/priced for heavy "end-of season" discounting. The very same Queen size mattress (from the same manufacturer), but sent to specialty or chain stores will show more cosmetic features to justify a higher price. The mattress is essentially the same basic mattress. Did you ever wonder why you couldn't find and compare the same mattress at two stores? Now you know why. This industry secret allows mattress makers to encourage the retailer's ability to legally stifle the consumer's ability to shop for the best price on matching products?
Competition lowers prices. Each major name brand mattress manufacturer is willing to compete against all the other brand names, but no one wants you comparing prices from store to store. The profit margin is lowered. What is your defense? Shop by features and price instead of by famous brand names. Always buy the best quality mattress you can afford in the size that fits your needs. That is the best deal when shopping for a mattress and foundation set.