In the second instalment of our 2-part mattress buying guide we look at how to make the right decision when it comes to choosing between types of mattresses.
>> See also Part 1: Exposing the sneaky sales tactics of the mattress store
We also stressed that you can be aware of every trick in the book and that still doesn’t mean that you’ll make the right choice – you need to be “armed” with the knowledge about the mattress type you have your eye on.
That’s what this guide is about. Here’s what we’ll go over:
- Buying a mattress online – PROs and CONs
- Mattress in a box – the one-size-fits-all mattresses are all the rage these days. We’ll take a moment to clarify the issues surrounding the trend.
- The nitty-gritty of each mattress type – the blind sides hidden on the label and in the layers of marketing talk – how to cut through it and ask the right questions
Buying a mattress online
If you haven’t already cruised around the mattress shops, found and tested “the one” in person, buying a mattress online is rarely a good idea.
The one advantage
User reviews of the mattresses – that’s the only thing that comes to mind when I think about buying a mattress online.
The system of user reviews wasn’t as reliable just a few years back because it could be “gamed”. You could leave a review if you’re not a verified buyer, which left room for companies to hire people to review their products.
Almost every major retailer fixed the “bug” in the system and nowadays, the reviews can be trusted. But making a decision that’s solely based on these is a gamble.
It might be commonplace to say it, but that doesn’t make it any less true – the reviews you’re reading are from people with different bodies and sleep habits.
What you can do about it
The closest you can get to getting valuable info from the reviews is filtering them to find the ones coming from people in circumstances similar to yours.
If you see a mattress with thousands of reviews and an average rating of, say, 4.5 stars – that’s still not good enough to make a judgment about the current quality.
Companies change their manufacturing practices, they outsource, they change their suppliers – I know examples of mattresses that became a totally different product within a year. All that’s left at the end of the process is the label and the name.
What you can do about it
If you are reading the reviews online, always filter by “most recent”. Take a sample of 50 recent reviews and see if the average rating is different than the overall (the one that includes all the reviews since the mattress hit the market).
If the difference in rating is more than 20%, move on. It might be a statistical margin error, but it’s not worth spending your time trying to figure it out.
Notice how the abundant source of leads narrows down
First, you narrow down the reviews and use the most recent ones. Second, you take the recent ones and you pick those of people whose needs are similar to yours.
Suddenly, what looked like a pool of information that would be enough to make an informed decision comes down to a few or a dozen reviews at best.
What you can do
There is no doubt that the e-commerce and online shopping era works in favor of the customer. But in the case of a significant, yet intricate purchase with so many variables like that of a mattress, the advantages are limited.
You can still use the online resources to narrow down your choices, but making a decision based on what other people are saying online is not the practice of a cautious buyer.
Mattress in a box
A trend that hit the market with a bang in recent years are mattress brands that make only one mattress that’s somehow supposed to be so good at adjusting to the sleeper that it’s a one size-fits-all.
The concept behind this trend is that most people belong to a chunk of the market that likes “medium” firmness.
The issue is that the choice of a mattress should (and must) go beyond the firmness.
We mentioned body type as a significant factor – a medium firm mattress will not mean the same thing for a bodybuilder and an average or an overweight person.
It’s all about spine alignment.
The way weight is distributed across a sleeping surface of the same firmness will be different for two people with different body types.
Take a moment to read that one again.
What this means for you
This doesn’t mean that these mattresses can’t be right for you. But, in my opinion, they are only an option for a person with an “average” body type.
If you are on either end of the body type spectrum (very thin, athletic or overweight) trying out the mattress before you buy is a must.
Blinds sides of choosing a new mattress – by type
So, you took your time and you made the decision about the type of mattress you want.
Below, we dig deeper and explore some of the pitfalls that you still might fall prey to after making the decision.
Types of mattresses
In this section we’ll look into:
- Memory foam
Let’s get straight to it – where they could “get you” here is the number of springs.
If the mattress arena was the 19th-century world, the innerspring niche would be the Wild West.
In this clumsy metaphor, marketing and sales department of each company are the guns for hire, and the duels are not fought with bullets but with coil numbers.
Here’s the bottom line – once you pass a certain number (I’d say 1000) the number of springs makes much less of s difference than you think.
Yet, it is and will continue to be a powerful marketing tactic.
Because there’s little regulation and because it’s relatively easy to make a 2000-coil mattress just to be competitive with that other guy that just pushed out a 1500-coil model.
How would that work in real life?
Let’s say that I own a mattress company, and I decide to make a mattress that I’ll advertise as “orthopedic”.
The first thing I’d do is use springs that are so highly ratcheted they wouldn’t give in if a rhino slept on the bed.
Then, I choose the highest density foam or sturdy latex layer and “slap” it on top.
As an elegant finishing touch, I take special care to use faux-medical fabric to wrap it all in and label it as “Orthopedic.”
What did I do?
I made the firmest mattress I can and gave it a dazzling name…let’s call it “Cloud 10 100 % Latex Orthopedic VigorTech Spring”.
Let’s break that down, shall we?
I just made it up.
What 100% latex?
In this case, it might mean that the top of the mattress is covered in latex. Notice that I don’t mention the word “natural.” It’s not an omission; I might have used a cheaper synthetic form of latex. Notice also that I haven’t mentioned how thick the latex is.
What this means for the buyer
It means that you might get caught in the hype, be dazzled by the big words and forget to ask the important questions:
- Are the “VigorTech” springs made from better steel or just more ratcheted?
- How thick is the latex?
- Is the latex natural?
- What proof is there that this new mattress has any medical benefits?
This is just an example, not based on any specific product and, I admit, used to add a peg of drama to make my point.
What you can do
If you are looking for a good spring mattress and all your options have 1000+ coils, you can forget the number of coils and focus on the kind of coils used and, more importantly, what’s on top of them.
If you’re shopping for a mattress for specific medical needs (like back pain) ask about proof, was there any 3rd part testing to support the claims. Don’t stop there, make a note of the 3rd party company and checked they are the real deal.
Bottom line – don’t be lured into making a decision based on the number of coils.
We presume here that if you decided to go with Latex, that’s exactly what you want – the luxury of a firm, supportive latex mattress.
You are looking for a “100 % natural, top to bottom, latex mattress”…and each of the words here carries some wiggle room for the companies to sell you something that you didn’t sign up for.
Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen.
It might sound complicated but if you cut through the clutter and ask the right questions, it get’s really simple.
Questions you should ask right off the bat to let them know you know your latex:
- Is the whole mattress, top to bottom, made of latex?
- Is the latex “all natural” and what does the claim “100% natural latex” mean?
First things first – there is no such thing as “100% natural latex mattress”
If there was you’d be sleeping in liquid.
Let me explain that one.
Strictly speaking, Latex is completely natural only in liquid form as it oozes from the Para rubber tree. Once the liquid is collected, to make a mattress, it’s treated with fatty acid soaps, zinc oxide, sulfur and a few other chemicals.
That’s perfectly fine – that’s how natural latex mattresses are made.
Bottom line – don’t be confused if you find that the label or the small print says that the % of natural latex is 95, that’s pretty much as good as it gets.
What you should be wary of, as we mentioned, are two issues:
- Are you being sold a latex mattress that only has a layer of latex
- Is the mattress in front of you synthetic latex when you’re looking for natural?
Issue 1 – top-to-bottom latex vs. part latex
Once you know that you are looking for an all-latex mattress this becomes a non-issues and comes down to reading the label right and asking the right questions.
Ask if the mattress is completely made of latex or only includes a layer of it
If a salesperson tries to steer the conversation in another direction by saying, for example, that only a layer of latex is actually better, get them back on point. Say that you’re not interested in that and you only want a yes or no answer to the simple question you asked.
Issue 2 – all-natural vs. synthetic latex
We’re not arguing here that synthetic latex doesn’t have its rightful place in the industry.
The argument is that you, the customer, should be completely clear on what you are paying for.
Again, once you know the lingo of the industry it’s easy to ask if the mattress is all-natural or synthetic latex. If you are clear on what you’re asking about, there’s little room for error in the response.
What’s the difference between synthetic and natural latex
The issue of comparing natural vs. synthetic latex is not complicated. For the sake of simplicity, let’s just say that natural latex is better and more expensive.
When we say “better”, it covers the facts that it’s more durable and lives longer, it’s not associated with any health concerns like chemical compounds, and adapts to the shape of your body much better.
I won’t go all technical on you here since it can be confusing; we can talk at length about densities and ILDs indexes (stands for Indentation, Load, Deflection) but that’s beyond the scope of this guide.
Once you know the answers to the questions above, you have all the bases covered and it all comes down to what feels right.
We won’t go into the information that’s already out there – the densities, the thickness and the whatnots.
We’ll talk about why knowing these basics is not enough.
It’s not enough because it doesn’t tell the whole story about the foam – starting from where and how it’s made to how resilient it is.
My point is – a memory foam mattress that might feel perfect at the shop might “break” and form lumps or indentations that will make it a nightmare to sleep on.
What to look for instead?
The warranty on the foam – that’s where the answers are.
If the foam used to make the mattress is sub-par, there’s no way the company will offer a solid warranty.
Here’s what to look for:
- Make a note if the warranty mentions a “minimum sag requirement”
- Notice of the warranty is pro-rated
The first one means that you can’t make a warranty claim until the “sagging” in the area where the foam broke is over a certain depth – the best foams will not have a minimum sag requirement.
The second one means that you cover part of the cost of repairing or replacing a faulty mattress. If possible, look for a non-prorated warranty – this means that the company covers the full cost and you don’t pay a dime. These are not common, but when you do find a memory foam mattress with a non-prorated warranty of 5 or 10+ years, you got yourself a winner.
If you know the blind sides of the mattress types above you are as prepared as you can be to tackle the choice of a hybrid mattress (one that’s a combo of the materials we talked about).
That doesn’t mean that you can’t make a mistake – it means just what I said – you are as prepared as you can be and know more than 99% of buyers will ever know.
To be a bit more specific – of all the materials we listed, getting a hybrid mattress will be closest to choosing memory foam.
Because what was true for memory foam is also true here – if they can cover the potential quality issues on the label and in the conversation, they can’t do it in the warranty.
You’re now a salesperson’s nightmare
I’ll admit this much – taking the time to read and, more importantly, understand what we talked about in the prequel and this guide took some patience and not all who started reading had it in them to go the length.
But if you are one of the people who did, you are now a mattress-buying ninja.
Be careful about bragging about it…I know this first-hand, there will always be that one couple on a weekend barbecue looking to buy a new mattress. They will have zillion questions for you when you just want to relax and enjoy your burger.
James Menta is editor in chief of 3Beds.com, a website where his team a few handpicked testers review air mattresses and other sleep products. His wellness and sleep-related articles have been published in a number of reputable online publications such as the ElephantJournal, WorldOfLucidDreaming, HikingTheTrail, PlanetD and many others.