How to Shop for Mattresses

How to Shop for Mattresses

Did you know that we spend about a third of our lives sleeping? Well-rested adults, on average, sleep six to eight hours each night and have lower rates of depression and high blood pressure than those who are sleep deprived. While many of us drift off on couches, airplanes and sometimes (don’t tell) our desks at work, most of us do the majority of our sleeping on mattresses. Because we spend so much time in bed, it’s important that we’re comfortable and get the best sleep possible.

Experts recommend buying a new mattress every 10 years, at least. Over time, they can begin to sag or lose firmness and collect dust and other allergens. However, mattress shopping can be such an expensive, confusing process that many of us avoid it for as long as possible.

Shopping for a mattress is difficult for a number of reasons. First, it’s a big purchase, and you don’t want to blow a lot of money on something that’s only so-so — your bed should be perfect! But mattress shopping is also highly subjective. What feels comfortable to you may be unbearable to someone else. If that’s not enough to make you nervous, recent scandals have made consumers question the materials inside their beds. Some people find the experience akin to shopping for a used car (think pushy salespeople, confusing discussions about optional features and good deals gone bad).

Although shopping for this product has its challenges, it isn’t a hopeless endeavor. With some simple research and a little legwork, you can find and purchase the bed of your dreams.

The Basics of Mattress Shopping

First, when shopping for a new mattress, make sure to take your time. You’re about to make a big purchase, so don’t rush into it. To get the best deal and bring home a quality mattress that works for you, you’ll want to compare prices and try out the products (yes, that means lying on several beds on the showroom floor).

Before you go to the store, try to decide what kind of mattress you want. The most common type is an innerspring. As the name suggests, innerspring mattresses have coils inside them that provide support while you sleep. They come in a variety of styles, options and price ranges.

Foam mattresses, on the other hand, rely on foam rather than springs for support and cushioning, they conform to your individual shape. They’re popular bedding options but are more expensive than innersprings, and some foam owners have complained that the beds retain too much heat and can make you hot while you sleep. However, many people swear by foam mattresses and wouldn’t think of switching back to an innerspring.

If you and your partner can’t seem to agree on a mattress, you may want to consider one with adjustable firmness levels. Mattresses containing air chambers can inflate or deflate — allowing you to adjust the firmness of each side at any moment. Like foam options, these air mattresses tend to be more expensive than traditional innersprings, though they remain a popular alternative.

Regardless what kind of mattress you’re looking for, you should decide how much you’re willing to spend before you walk into a store. Just like when you purchase a car, if you go in with a spending limit in mind, it’s less likely a salesperson will convince you to buy something you can’t afford. Stick to your budget, and don’t let salespeople bully you into spending more than you want.

Once you’re in the store, start trying out products. You may feel silly, but lie down on the bed in your usual sleeping position and see how it feels. Consumer Reports recommends spending 15 minutes on each mattress that you’re interested in purchasing. If you tend to change sleeping positions during the night, consider spending some time on your back, side and stomach to see how each one feels.

How to Compare Mattresses

If you haven’t bought a new mattress in a while, you might feel overwhelmed by all the options and choices you’ll be presented with. With labels that contain words like plush, ultraplush, firm, ultrafirm, cushion-firm, pillow-top, no-flip and posturepedic, how should you decide what to buy?

One way to compare products is by firmness. If you’re interested in purchasing a soft mattress, look for plush and ultraplush beds. Similarly, firmer mattresses typically will be labeled firm or ultrafirm. Deciding what kind of firmness you want is the most subjective part of the mattress-shopping process, so don’t be alarmed if your opinion on this is different than someone else’s. If you’re not sure what level of firmness you prefer, spend a little extra time on store model beds to help you decide what’s right for you.

Some innerspring mattresses are pillow-tops. Pillow-tops have have extra padding that makes them feel softer, but they still provide firm support. Keep in mind that you won’t be able to flip mattresses with these cushiony tops (since the soft part is missing on the other side). If you’re a big proponent of flipping — and most experts are — but still want the softness of a pillow-top, consider purchasing a mattress pad or topper separately. That way, you can have the softness you desire but retain the ability to flip your mattress.

Speaking of flipping mattresses, no-flip options are exactly what they sound like: mattresses you can’t flip over. Most no-flip beds don’t even have a reverse side (it’s just the frame and springs), and despite what the salesperson might tell you, they’re not a better bargain. They’re usually as much or only slightly less expensive than flippable numbers, but they won’t last as long because — that’s right — you can’t flip them, so they’ll wear more quickly.

If you’re on a budget, you’ll also want to compare mattresses by price. While you want to buy a quality product that you’ll enjoy for several years, you don’t want to spend your hard-earned money needlessly. Get a sense for mattress prices before you go into the store so you’ll be able to recognize a good deal when you see one. If you want to be a truly frugal shopper, be willing to visit multiple mattress stores to compare their prices.

Some retailers let you compare mattresses in your home. To do this, purchase your mattress from a retailer that offers a 30- or 60-day trial period. Take the mattress home and see how it feels. If you’re not satisfied, return it and try another.

Mattress Shopping Tips

Any time you make a big purchase, it’s worth asking for recommendations from people you trust. You may be able to avoid difficult retailers if you ask around before hitting the stores. Find out what stores people trust in your area and see what products your friends recommend.

Once you’re in the store, don’t pick a mattress based on the way it looks. Remember that you’ll take it home and cover it with sheets, blankets and pillows, so it doesn’t matter if it’s blue, gray or striped — you’re not going to see it very often. This may seem obvious, but it can be easy to forget when you’re in the store and all the beds are bare and uncovered. Instead, pick your mattress based on the way it feels. You’ll most likely have this product for several years, so you want to buy something comfortable.

You also want look for sales. Some mattress stores have big blowouts on holiday weekends, so you may want to time your shopping trip accordingly. Even if a store is advertising major discounts, though, you’ll still want to be aware of the average, non-sale prices so you know if you’re getting a good deal or not. Sure, that tag may say it’s 40 percent off regular retail, but it’s really only a 15 percent discount on the price they were advertising just the week before.

You should also dress appropriately for mattress shopping, and that means leaving your fancy clothes at home. You don’t need to walk into the store in your pajamas, but it’s a good idea to wear comfy garb. If you wear a pair of tight jeans or an office-ready skirt that doesn’t resemble anything you normally sleep in, you may not get an accurate sense of how the bed feels. It also helps to wear shoes that you can take off easily. The more you’re dressed for bed, the easier it will be to imagine yourself sleeping on each mattress.

Of course, some online retailers offer great deals on mattresses, so you might want to make your purchase over the Internet. While you may find a good sale online, remember how important it is to try out your new mattress in person. Therefore, if you’re interested in buying via the Web, you should still consider visiting some mattress stores beforehand so you can be confident that you’re getting a comfortable, quality product. You can also look for retailers that offer trial periods so if you’re not satisfied with your purchase, you can return or exchange it (though you may have to pay for shipping fees).

Regardless what mattress you decide to buy, have fun, don’t stress and — most importantly — rest easy!

Related Articles


  • Barnett, Laura. “An Afternoon Nap is Good for Your Health.” The Guardian. March 2, 2011. (Nov. 20, 2011)
  • CBS Atlanta. “Dirty Mattress Investigation Part 2.” 2011. (Nov. 14, 2011)
  • Consumer Reports. “Mattress Buying Guide.” 2007. (Nov. 20, 2011)
  • Kaufman, Scott Barry. “Take that Nap! It May Boost Your Learning Capacity Among Other Good Things.” Psychology Today. Feb. 22, 2010. (Nov. 20, 2011).
  • Mayhew, Elizabeth. “Tricks of the Trade: Shopping for a Mattress.” Today. Jan. 18, 2008. (Nov. 20, 2011)