11 Steps for Stress-Free Mattress Shopping

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Thanks to the proliferation of mattress stores of both the brick and mortar and online variety, shopping for a new bed can be overwhelming. There are so many manufacturers, models, and material types that narrowing your choices down to a half-dozen could be considered an achievement.

Why the stress? Beds are both expensive—ranging in price from $300 to several thousand dollars—and seem to harbor the promise of a better life. Sleep well and you’ll be more productive, personable, and energetic; sleep poorly and that aching back dims all of your prospects. Those consequences are often played up by mattress manufacturers, who use indecipherable industry terms (“core support,” “baffled innerspring”) to try and stand out in a crowded market. Instead, they just create further confusion.

With a little knowledge, finding the perfect crash pad doesn’t have to be so frustrating: A good, dependable mattress can be had for as little as $600 to $700. Here’s how to avoid losing sleep over your next mattress purchase.


The easiest way to narrow down your choices in a store is to eliminate what you’re certain you don’t want. "Every mattress type has its own strengths and weaknesses," David Robinson, editor and publisher of the sleep-shopping tip site SleepLikeTheDead.com, tells mental_floss. "Because of familiarity, innerspring [coil] mattresses are still the most popular. Memory foam is an option, but if you have a tendency to sleep hot, they might bother you." Foam might be best, he says, if a couple is looking for less shifting of the mattress while one partner tosses and turns.

You might also decide to eliminate anything priced over $1000; certain mattresses made from wool, latex, or other materials you might have an allergic reaction to; or adjustable beds that rely on air bladders to tweak firmness. Some or all of these features you may find unwanted or uncomfortable: Getting rid of them can shrink a showroom fast.


Before you start jumping around mattresses at random, have a salesperson identify three models that represent degrees of firmness. In the lexicon of mattresses, “firm” signals a bed that will provide sufficient support and is unlikely to allow you to sink into it. “Plush” might have a polyester-stuffed top layer (sometimes called a pillowtop) that acts as cushioning, or may simply be designed to conform to your body’s imprint. Along the spectrum, there’s also medium-plush, medium-firm, extra-firm, and any number of labels that can indicate degrees of support. Leaning toward one side, however, will help narrow your choices. Back sleepers may like something more solid, while side or stomach sleepers will want to avoid firm mattresses digging into their shoulders and hips.

If you experience any post-purchase remorse over firmness, Robinson says that a mattress topper could help alleviate a stiff surface. "But not many toppers can firm up a soft mattress," he says, making it better to err on the firmer side if in doubt.


Many retail outlets will supply you with a pillow and a sanitary sheet to use as a pillowcase while you try out beds. Take advantage of them, as they’ll allow you to better replicate your sleep posture in the showroom and better identify where you might need more support. You may even want to bring a friend along to help assess whether your spine is straight when lying on your side.

Whether you bring one from home or get a loaner, Robinson cautions to make sure your pillow is the proper height. "A lot of pillows depend on a person's weight," he says. "The heavier you are, the more you'll sink into the mattress, and the higher your pillow loft needs to be." People who have comfort issues with new mattresses, he says, might benefit from getting a pillow better able to support spine alignment.


Once you’ve scouted the showroom, ask the salesperson for some time alone. You’ll need several minutes resting on each of your options to determine how they feel in different positions, if you have any trouble turning your body, or if your bed partner’s presence creates any change in comfort when both of you are present. (Some beds might sink in further with two bodies on top of them.) While it’ll never replicate a real night of sleep at home, being left to your own devices on the display models is crucial to finding the best fit.


You’ll often find placards in front of mattress displays touting everything from cooling gels to “hybrids” that combine foam and innerspring coils for maximum luxuriating. "Manufacturers want to seem different from competitors, but they all pretty much refer to the same ideas," Robinson says.

Read up all you like on features and materials, but try to do it after you’ve tested the bed out first. None of the manufacturer’s “patented” hype means anything if you don’t find it comfortable.


When your new mattress (which could be a foot in height) is placed on a frame or box spring foundation—or both—you may find that getting in and out of it becomes problematic. Be sure you can climb in and out comfortably, and consider whether older or smaller pets might run into issues sharing a nap with you at home. Also keep in mind that older fitted sheets may not accommodate newer, thicker mattresses.


While it can add another hundred dollars or more to your tab, you don’t always want to skip on a new box spring. These wooden frames support your mattress: Using the older, sagging model you already have could cause problems with your new bed. In some cases, manufacturers might even require you to buy a new box spring in order to maintain warranty coverage, although Robinson cautions that some salespeople might be exaggerating that missive in order to move more product. (Check with the supplier.) Also, decide whether your home's layout requires a split box: that’s a box spring split in half to make navigating tight household corners easier.

While there’s not normally much else to consider in a box spring, some salespeople might try to turn you on to the idea of an adjustable base, which uses motors to make the head and foot of the bed rise 40 to 70 degrees. "These are very popular," Robinson says, "and can help people who have difficulty getting in and out of bed" or who have health issues. But since they can also add hundreds to the cost of the bed set, carefully evaluate whether it’ll be of any real use to you.


As with cars, homes, and electronics, buying a bed can often mean deliberating over a store’s extended warranty. Most beds come with hefty 10- to 25-year warranties and are adequate for most consumers, Robinson says, but may not cover damage beyond premature sinking of the mattress. A store policy—which can sometimes cover spills, burns, or tears—might offer a little more. Ask for a brochure to read the fine print before committing.


Don’t just assume the store will haul away your unwanted mattress. Some retailers will refuse to take possession of used beds to avoid the potential for cross-contamination with pests in their delivery trucks or because they don’t want to bother disposing of them. If they do agree to take away your old mattress, make sure they keep new bedding sealed in manufacturer’s wrap until it’s set up in your home to avoid any cross-contamination with old bedding. If they don’t, they might still be able to put it out on the curb for you.


Before finalizing any deal, remember that mattresses aren’t easily returned. Furniture stores can take an “all sales final” approach to big-ticket items that are costly to transport, and used mattresses don’t normally make for attractive resale or discount items. Ask your salesperson what the return policy is, and whether buying the extended warranty allows for an exchange based on your desire for more comfort. (They'll sometimes call this a comfort guarantee.) Others will grudgingly take one back but slap you with a 20 percent restocking fee or ask you keep the mattress at home for at least a month to make absolutely certain it’s not for you.


If you’ve gone shopping and found that the options are too overwhelming, you may consider joining the increasing number of consumers who are opting to shop online for beds. Casper, for instance, has made it their business to appeal to non-deciders, offering just one memory foam bed in different sizes that they’ll ship right to your door. If you’re not satisfied, they’ll offer you a free mattress topper to see if that improves your comfort. If you’re still not happy, they’ll typically take a return at no cost. Other e-mattress companies like Tuft & Needle even offer to donate your unwanted purchase to charity while still offering you your money back. It's low-risk, but Robinson says that their one-size approach can't make everyone happy.

Whatever you decide, don't be swayed by salespeople who promise a perfect night's sleep only if you're willing to invest thousands. "You don't have to pay a lot to get a competitive mattress," Robinson says. "The average price for a new bed is $1600, but you can get something comparable in quality for half that if you do your research."

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