Buying A Mattress - Get Best Value By Knowing What To Look For

Buying a mattress can be a nightmare of a process. There is so much information to get your head around before you make your decision.

Manufacturers don't help. They rant and rave about how wonderful their product is but obviously don't give you the unbiased perspective you need.

So how to buy a mattress without falling prey to a sales pitch? The answer is good research and objective thinking.

I'll show you what to look for in a mattress so you have an easier time making the right decision. These mattress buying tips will make purchasing a mattress as smooth sailing as it possibly can be.

When buying a mattress there are four things to consider:

  • The base
  • The core
  • The padding
  • The upholstery

The Mattress Base

There are two main types of bed bases to consider when buying a mattress.

The box spring base and the slat base. Slats bases come in either fixed or flexible.

The Box Spring: This acts as a shock absorber to your mattress. When there is downward pressure the box spring will give.

This supports the mattress and reduces wear. A new box spring won't necessarily offer any extra comfort to you. This is why people often try to save a buck by buying a mattress and continuing to use their old box spring. 

However it is a bad idea because it will seriously reduce the longevity of your mattress. When buying a new mattress you should always get the accompanying box spring. A new one means you will get the most life from your new mattress.

It would be a waste to invest in a mattress only for it to deteriorate quicker than it needs to by using an old box spring. In the long run a new box spring is an investment in the lifespan of your mattress.

The Slat Base: Fixed slats are screwed straight into the frame of the bed. The problem with them is that they don't offer any give. If you elect a slat base it is better to go with the flexible option. Flexible slats aren't screwed down. Instead they slide into flexible anchors which allow some give.

Another option for high end products is a dowel foundation. This works on the same principle as slats except you have cylindrical pieces of wood rather than rectangular ones.

Box Spring vs Slats: A box spring has more give and therefore will add more life to your mattress than a slat base. However the main benefit of slats is that you don't need to get new ones every time you are buying a mattress, the way you should get a new box spring when buying a mattress. This means it is possible to invest in a good slat base just the once and only replace the mattress when needed.

It also depends if you need any storage space under your bed. If you don't need the space then it's best to go with a box spring.

The Mattress Core

A mattress is constructed in three basic layers: the inner core, the padding around the core and the upholstery cover

What the core is made from really determines the feel and support of the mattress. There are three options when it comes to organic mattress cores:

  • Freeform
  • Latex
  • Innerspring

Freeform: In reality a freeform core isn't really a core. It is better to describe it as a lack of a core. Instead the inner part of the mattress is made with a natural fiber filling such as wool.

Rather than wrapping padding around a core freeform mattresses are all padding. They will often have more than one layer in order to provide enough support.

Latex: Latex mattresses can come with an innerspring core or a latex core. In my opinion if you are looking at a latex mattress you should get one with a latex core. The latex is comfortable, extremely supportive and improves back pain. It's main benefit is that it is a motion isolator. Movement on one side of the mattress will not disturb the other.

Innerspring: With an innerspring mattress the quality of the spring unit determines the amount of support the mattress provides. There are many different factors that determine the quality of an innerspring unit, including the number of coils, the shape of the springs, how many turns there are, the thickness of the wire and whether it has been double tempered.

It is very hard to weigh all these factors up to determine which innerspring unit is the best. For example a mattress might have a high coil count but thin wire and be less supportive than a mattress with a lower coil count and thicker wire. So you cannot rely on one measure alone.

Yet you can rest assured that every premium innerspring mattress has a quality spring unit.

There are however a few general guidelines that you can follow that will help you in your assessment of innerspring units:

  • Coil Count: In general the higher the coil count the higher the quality. However this is not always the case. Ideally look for 400 coils and up.
  • Spring Shape: Bonnell springs and continuous coil springs tend to be found in lower quality mattresses. Open ended coils and pocket spring systems sit at the higher end of the spectrum. This is because each individual coil has a higher degree of independence and can adjust better to the different weight distribution of your body.
  • Wire Quality: Different wires have differing levels of quality and strength. The quality of the wire is measured by a gauge system where the lowest number is the best quality.
  • Number Of Turns: The more turns in the coil the more support it offers and the higher quality it will be.
  • Double Tempering: In order for coils to retain their shape they go through a process known as tempering. This is where the coils are heated and then cooled. Luxurious high end mattresses have been tempered twice so the coils are more durable and longer lasting.

The Mattress Padding

The core of the mattress exists to support your body and assist with correct alignment of the spine. On the other hand the padding is all about luxury and comfort.

Low quality and non organic mattresses will use poor materials such as chemically derived foam or cheap cotton. Top mattresses use only the best quality organic wool or cotton.

It's not just what's in the padding. It's how the padding is crafted. With inferior products the padding is only stitched into the side of the mattress. This means that it can shift over time, leading to uncomfortable lumps and pockets.

The best mattresses are made by a process called hand-tufting. This is where each layer of padding is hand stitched together in the perfect place in order to prevent the cotton or wool from moving around and forming lumps.

If you want the best when buying a mattress look for hand-tufting.

The Upholstery Of The Mattress

The outer cover of a mattress is known as ticking. Ticking is the least important factor when buying a mattress. The base supports the mattress, the core supports you and the padding provides the comfort. You are going to put a sheet over your mattress anyway, which makes the ticking less important.

What is important with ticking is that it is of a sufficiently high quality that it won't wear out too quickly. You don't want to start developing holes in the top of your mattress.

However when buying a mattress get one with organic ticking because you don't want it off-gassing while you are sleeping.