How to Buy the Best Mattress for You

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Follow this guide to learn how to buy a mattress that'll keep you sleeping soundly for years to come.

A mattress is more than just a mattress. “You spend about a third of every day in bed,” says Russell Jelinek, senior director of engineering, quality, and compliance at Casper, a sleep company known for its mattresses. “It’s important to find a mattress that feels comfortable and provides the right level of support, specifically for you.” Of course, knowing you need a mattress is only the first step. From there, you need to know how to buy a mattress when yours becomes lumpy, saggy, or otherwise uncomfortable.

With all the options available these days, especially those you can’t test in person, it’s tempting to tough it out with your old mattress, mattress topper, and mattress pad. But a good night’s sleep is too important to settle for an uncomfortable mattress. According to a study in Science Advances, a good night’s sleep allows our bodies to recharge and recover, promoting concentration and energy when we wake up.

When figuring out how to buy a mattress that suits your specific sleep needs, zero in on a few key questions: Are you open to a boxed bed? Would a memory foam mattress be too soft? Our guide is here to help you find the answers to those and other conundrums, so you can purchase the best mattress for you and enjoy the deepest sleep of your life. The best part: Clean your mattress and treat it well, and it’ll last for years.

How to buy a mattress

You used to have to walk into a brick-and-mortar store and check out a floor model if you wanted a new mattress. But in the age of the Internet, you have more options. Whether to shop in-store or online is just one aspect of how to buy a mattress. You’ll also want to consider the best time to buy and how much you’re willing to pay for a better night’s sleep.

When to buy a mattress

You can get a lot of use out of a mattress before it needs replacing. “For the most part, a mattress will last seven to ten years,” Jelinek says. “However, this time frame depends on how often you use it and care for it.”

It’s time to buy a new mattress when your current one starts affecting your sleep. Maybe its sagging or damaged sections keep you tossing and turning all night. Maybe its noisy springs wake you up each time your sleeping partner shifts. Or maybe you can’t fall asleep on its lumps and bumps, despite using the best pillow and other sleep-inducing comforts.

Because you lay on this mattress every night, it’s easy for your body to try and adapt, so pay attention to how well rested you are when you sleep elsewhere. And look for other signs that your mattress is affecting you physically, such as an increase in allergies, asthma, and muscle or joint stiffness.

Where to buy a mattress

Asian man choosing for mattress while shoppingSellwell/Getty Images

Just as important as how to buy a mattress is where to look for one. As people have done for decades, you can buy in person from specialty stores like Mattress Firm or Sleep Number, department stores like Macy’s or Sears, and even big-box stores like Costco and Sam’s Club. But in the Internet age, you can also order from online retail giants like Overstock and Wayfair as well as brands like Zinus, Nectar, Casper, and Purple.

Shopping in stores

The in-store experience allows you to try as many mattresses as you want, getting a good sense of how you’ll feel while sleeping on each. It’s a good way to find out whether you prefer one type of mattress—say, memory foam or coils—over another. Plus, if you shop at a specialty store, you may be able to haggle for a lower price.

In-store options are ultimately limited, though, and the lingering salespeople may stress you out. That said, delivery is fast and easy. Bonus: While the movers are dropping off your new mattress, they’ll also remove your old one.

Shopping online

When it comes to shopping online, the obvious con is that you can’t try your mattress before buying it. That negative is balanced by some notable positives, namely “simple assembly and overall cost-savings by cutting out the middleman and additional fees that typically come up with the in-store shopping experience,” Jelinek says. And many online retailers offer trial periods, so you can dress it in some cooling bed sheets and a lightweight comforter, then snuggle up for a multi-night test.

Considering the ease of Internet shopping, the variety of price points, and the emphasis on customer experience, it’s no wonder the bed-in-a-box trend has taken off.

Tips for buying a mattress

Whether you’re buying in person or online, take a few steps before you hand over your credit card. For starters, check the warranty period. You’ll want to make sure that your purchase is covered in the case of defects or other issues because, unlike bed sheets and down comforters, mattresses cost a pretty penny.

Unfortunately, returns can be messy no matter how you shop, which is why it’s crucial to not only learn how to buy a mattress but also how to return one you don’t like. Step one: Check a retailer’s return policy prior to purchasing. And then be sure to inspect the mattress when it’s delivered to ensure it’s not damaged in any way.

How much to spend on a mattress

So, how much money can you expect to fork over for a new mattress? The short answer: It depends. “New mattresses routinely cost anywhere between $450 and $4,000,” Jelinek says. But as he points out, there are many technical aspects that can impact the price, including size and material.

Take a queen mattress for example. According to Jelinek, you can expect to pay around $860 for memory foam, $950 for innerspring, $1,600 for latex foam, and $1,850 for a hybrid.

How to choose the right mattress size

how big is each mattress size graphicRD.com

When deciding which mattress to get, it’s typically wise to choose one that’s big enough for you (and a partner) to spread out but not so large it cramps your space. Queen is the most popular size because it leaves plenty of sleeping space for one or more people but fits in most standard-sized bedrooms. So before you make a cozy bed, make sure you get the right size.

How to choose the right type of mattress

Let’s get one thing straight: There’s no single best mattress type. What someone else finds ideal might be incredibly uncomfortable to you. When deciding among the options below, consider details like softness, support, and cost.

Your weight is also a factor. If you’re on the lighter side, consider a soft to medium-firm mattress. If you’re heavier, go with a firmer one. You’ll also want to think about temperature regulation (a bonus of cooling mattresses), motion isolation (so you don’t feel your sleeping partner move), and mattress height.

Foam

Foam mattresses are softer than innerspring ones and more durable. Plus, the foam absorbs motion, so restless sleepers aren’t as disruptive. That being said, they can be more expensive and provide less-than-ideal support for some sleepers. Be sure to pay attention to the labels, too, because some kinds of foam can trap body heat.

Innerspring

Innerspring mattresses are the most budget-friendly option, made with steel coils and softer materials that provide great back support and vary in firmness. Unlike foam, they don’t provide as much pressure relief on joints and can wear out more quickly—you’ll know when yours is nearing its end because the springs will start making noises.

Hybrid

Hybrid mattresses offer the best of both worlds: innerspring mattresses with foam on top. They provide the softness of foam without the potential sinking feeling, which means you get pressure relief as well as significant back support. Other perks: Hybrids are quieter than innerspring mattresses and better at regulating heat than foam ones.

The biggest downside is that a good hybrid mattress is more expensive than most other options.

How to buy a mattress for your sleep position

Slim, perfect and beautiful crossed woman legs on bed at vacation and holidayProstock-Studio/Getty Images

Among the myriad things to consider when shopping for a new mattress is how you (and your sleeping partner) will use it. Do you spend the night on your back? Shift onto your side? Flop onto your belly? Your answers to those questions matter.

Stomach sleeper

A nice innerspring or memory foam mattress is best for stomach sleepers. Both provide the necessary support that levels out your spine while molding to your body to decrease pressure on your organs.

Back sleeper

Sleeping on your back is the most recommended position because it keeps the spine straight. But you’re still at risk for lower back pain. Specialists recommend two options: a latex foam mattress that’s cushioned yet springy or a memory foam mattress that perfectly fills in the natural gaps of your body.

Side sleeper

Because of the contours of your body, sleeping on your side creates ample opportunities for spinal misalignment. A soft to medium-firm memory foam or hybrid mattress, like Helix’s Midnight Luxe, with layers of foam in varying densities, is worth considering.

Health considerations when buying a mattress

There’s more to selecting a mattress than just size, firmness, and mattress type. “It’s always important to look into the materials of the mattress, focusing on mattresses with nontoxic materials that eliminate unnecessary chemicals,” Jelinek says.

VOCs and off-gassing

Ah, the smell of new products. Chances are, you know exactly what we’re talking about. Pull a new purchase out of its box, and often it’ll release a strong scent, particularly if it’s been wrapped in plastic. According to the Sleep Foundation, this is called off-gassing, and it happens when volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are released into the air.

Off-gassing isn’t necessarily dangerous, but it can cause headaches, nausea, and dizziness if you’re sensitive to smells. And if you have respiratory issues, you may experience airway irritation and difficulty breathing. To minimize this, choose a latex, hybrid, or innerspring mattress. Organic mattresses are smart picks too.

Set on foam but looking to limit VOC exposure? Look for one made from materials with CertiPur-US, Oeko-Tex, Greenguard Gold, or Eco-Institut certifications, like Avocado’s Green Mattress. You can also leave your new mattress in a well-ventilated room until the scent goes away.

Flame retardants

All mattresses have been required to contain flame retardants since 2007. At first glance, that doesn’t sound controversial. But as the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences notes, these flame retardant chemicals have been linked to problems with the immune and endocrine systems, neurological function, and reproduction. They also can increase your chance of cancer.

The good news is that there are other solutions, such as wool, that are much more natural.

How long a mattress will last

Orthopedic memory foam mattress with soft topperbrizmaker/Getty Images

An important thing to consider when learning how to buy a mattress is the product’s lifespan. While Jelinek says a mattress will last you seven to ten years, the actual length of time depends on a whole host of factors, including the three below.

Material

The materials used to make your mattress have a big impact on its longevity. Innerspring and hybrid mattresses should have thick coils that help reduce sagging. Memory foam mattresses are also prone to sagging, so look for higher foam densities.

Hybrid and latex foam mattresses tend to be the most durable. If you do go with a latex option, just be sure it’s made with natural latex instead of synthetic.

Sleeper size

It makes sense that your size and weight will affect the life expectancy of your mattress. One that holds heavier sleepers—and multiple people—will wear out quicker than one that holds a lightweight solo sleeper. It comes down to the amount of pressure you’re putting on your mattress every night.

Kids and pets

Kids and pets are typically the culprits when a mattress becomes stained, torn, or otherwise destroyed. And while you love ’em, they add extra weight to your bed, which also makes it degrade more quickly.

Best mattresses to buy online

If figuring out how to buy a mattress is stressing you out, narrow down your search with our top three favorites. Zinus’s best-seller is made of CertiPur-US-certified memory foam, is infused with moisture-absorbing active charcoal, and won’t break the bank. Allswell’s medium-firm option features a cooling graphite and copper gel layer plus individually wrapped coils that minimize motion transfer—all at a budget price. And Birch’s medium-firm mattress, while the most expensive of the bunch, is naturally breathable, moisture-wicking, cooling, and designed for every sleep position.

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Quincy Bulin
Quincy Bulin covers fashion and lifestyle. A believer in the positive impact the retail industry can make on both consumers and communities, she has a particular interest in women's apparel and female-founded brands. She has a B.A. in Sociology and Communications from The University of Texas at Austin. When she's not "researching" (shopping) or writing, you can find her hanging out with her family, reading too many books at once, and catching up on the influencer space.