How To Buy A New Mattress

Elizabeth Mayhew of the Today Show gives a primer on mattress shopping, including the basics on types of mattresses, cost differences, what to look for, and when to replace your old one. “If you are a couple, shop together and if possible bring your pillows with you. Make sure you lie on a mattress for at least 10 minutes in your normal sleep position. Cuddle on it, and engage in light foreplay through your street clothes.” Okay, we made up that last sentence.

About innerspring vesus foam mattresses, she writes, “Neither is better, it’s just about personal preference,” but you can expect to pay considerably more for foam, “at least $1000 for a queen mattress.”

You should also be careful to not “let a salesperson convince you that a mattress is good based on the number of coils it has — it’s not important. What is important is the gauge of the wire the coils are made from.” The lower the gauge of a coil, the thicker it is, and the thicker the coil the firmer the mattress. In other words, a 12-gauge coil mattress is going to provide more support than a 14-gauge coil mattress.

“Tricks of the trade: Shopping for a mattress” [MSNBC]
(Photo: Getty)

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  1. lightaugust says:

    All well and good for them to focus on selection, but someone needs to help the average consumer crack the price code on these things. I just shopped for a new mattress, and it was seriously more difficult and confusing then any car I ever bought. Comparison shopping is made impossible by industry collusion, the pricing is ridiculous, the salespeople are worse. (Although one of the few good articles on it advise that haggling should get you around 45% off of the in store price.)

  2. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    The best mattress I’ve owned (and I used to sell them) is the most firm foam mattress Ikea sells. Great quality, lasted me 5 years now, and was cheaper than getting it elsewhere. I have no idea what they sell now, but if you are near an Ikea, I’d suggest checking it out. I also suggest getting foam :)

  3. FullFlava says:

    Costco baby. The selection ain’t that great but hooooly shit I snagged a really, really nice Sealy Posturepedic queen set for about half what it would have cost at a mattress store. And if the thing sags or I’m otherwise “dissatisfied” with it, I can take it back whenever. So far it’s been amazing.

  4. RottNDude says:

    If you don’t own a home, don’t buy a nice mattress. You’ll wreck it the first time you move, even if you’re careful.

  5. Trai_Dep says:

    Wait. You’re supposed to keep your clothes ON while trying out a store bed?!
    Boy, am I chagrinned!

  6. faust1200 says:

    I’ve had my Tempur-pedic for over 6 years and it’s just as comfy as when I bought it. I could rave on and on about it but then I’d sound like a lunatic.

  7. UpsetPanda says:

    Don’t develop back problems and don’t be paranoid. My parents spent the GDP of a small country buying firm mattresses because they thought we were all going to develop back problems due to overly soft mattresses. On one hand, a firm mattress holds up really well after years of abuse because it just gets a tiny bit softer, but on the other hand you have to sleep on a flat slab of rock for a year.

  8. MercuryPDX says:

    Cuddle on it, and engage in light foreplay through your street clothes.

    My stifled laugh just startled three cube mates.

    I’ve been tossing around the idea of getting a new one. Mine has about 9 years on it, and one end is completely collapsed.

    The local place is having it’s annual year end clearance sale…. as opposed to it’s Annual Mismatched inventory sale, where you can get a blue mattress and non-matching green box spring on sale (apparently people DO care if they match?).

  9. amyjay says:

    I bought a foam mattress that came in a box from Costco. What was really nice was that the box had wheels.

  10. themediatrix says:

    My fantasy is to someday own a built-to-order McRoskey mattress, hand assembled, hand tied, and made of cotton and wool batting.

    [www.mcroskey.com]

  11. chiieddy says:

    I haven’t bought one in a while, but the last time I did, I went shopping at a standard department store and found one I liked, then called 1-800-MATRES and told them the brand and model and they sold me the exact mattress with the branding they have for a much lower price.

  12. MercuryPDX says:

    @trai_dep: That’s like when I went to “test drive” a hot tub for the back yard, and the salesman looked at me funny when I asked if he could close the blinds so the people on the highway wouldn’t see me naked.

  13. Landru says:

    I just bought a new mattress for the first time about six months ago, a Beautyrest “Imogene”

    I’d got my last mattress 10 years ago and it was a hand-me-down then.

    When I bought my new one, I talked them down a couple of hundred dollars, but I probably still paid too much. That said, the thing is a dream, and to me, worth every penny I paid for it. Every time I lie down, I’m grateful to have it.

    The weird part is that it is one-sided – you don’t flip it over, you rotate it if you want. The salesman said they were all that way now. I didn’t really believe him about that, but I bought it anyway. Later, I talked to my sister and the new mattress she bought was one-sided as well.

    I’m a satisfied customer and I wish I’d bought it years ago.

  14. jamesdenver says:

    don’t forget to bring a bowling ball and a glass of red wine.

  15. Kaix says:

    This is how to buy a new mattress:
    [www.youtube.com]

  16. CharlieFogg says:

    This site: [www.mattresshotline.com]

    tells you the different names used for the same mattress by each manufacturer. I spoke to them when I was buying my last mattress and they’re very nice. (I ended up buying from Macy’s during a sale that included no sales tax.)

  17. Sherryness says:

    These are good tips to have, especially since mattress prices rose to be about the price of a cheap, used car. It’s rather insane.

  18. bohemian says:

    We thought about getting a new mattress. Anything decent was used car priced. We ended up getting one of those huge 1970′s waterbeds and put a memory foam topper on it.
    foam topper, new bladder & heater plus the bed cost us about $200

  19. Andywsea says:

    I kinda sorta almost work with a mattress manufacturer. I work close enough to receive a discount. The mattress we chose was $3500 in the store. My cost, including box spring and frame, was $750. Mark up on mattresses are crazy! When shopping for mattresses its best to haggle the shit out of them or they will screw you!

  20. robotprom says:

    the ultimate in mattress extravagance:

    [ultraking.com]

  21. pyloff says:

    I read the thread and thought Meg Marco…

    I’m disappointed.

    I would offer up killer links but the majority of consumerists have douchebagitis.

  22. frowelishnu says:

    I’m totally surprised to be telling you this – go to Walmart.

    I know it sounds horrible but if you’re looking for foam, they have queens for about $280. I can’t tell the difference between it and the Tempurpedic (sp?).

    It is firm, so you have to like that but what a great price. As always, YMMV.

  23. mantari says:

    overstock.com has some good prices on memory foam toppers (if you don’t go for the name brand)

  24. SuperJdynamite says:

    @pyloff: “I would offer up killer links but the majority of consumerists have douchebagitis.”

    It appears to be contagious.

  25. rachaeljean says:

    Costco’s solution to Tempurpedic is hands down THE best deal you will ever get. Foam mattresses are the best because they DONT wear out.

  26. FullFlava says:

    @rachaeljean:
    I don’t know about that. My girl’s got a “memory foam” mattress and the damn thing sags like you wouldn’t believe. It wasn’t always like this, and it’s only about two years old. I literally can’t even sleep on my side in that thing cuz it bends my spine to the point of pain.

    Costco’s is probably much better than the knockoff she got though, but I’m still wary of them.

  27. balthisar says:

    Try Sears Appliance Outlet if you have one near you. I haven’t bought a mattress there, but they always have plenty when I’m there (I furnished my kitchen there). The prices always look dirt cheap compared to the mattress stores and local circulars.

  28. jonnyobrien says:

    I bought a Hastens because the wife and I are:

    A: Gluttons for punishment
    B: It is the source of endless Godfather references
    C: The salesman was named Mads, you can’t go wrong with a dude named Mads.
    D: It was bonus time and we were feeling flush

    So yes, I bought a $20,000.00 mattress and box spring made of horsehair.

    Best damn nights sleep ever. Plus it has a lifetime warranty. I plan to take advantage of it. But in 24 months it has not sagged, or done anything but keep me damn happy every night. Plus I sleep on horse.

  29. faust1200 says:

    @FullFlava: There’s a good chance that the sag is originating from beneath the mattress. You are supposed to have something solid under foam, and NOT a normal box spring. This is where a lot of people go wrong with foam. I can’t speak about your gf’s foam maybe it is cheap and crappy but you can try throwing a piece of plywood under it or you can throw it on the floor and see if that makes a big improvement. If she is using a normal box spring, that is most definitely part of the problem.

  30. Pithlit says:

    @faust1200: Hmm, I didn’t know that. I’d heard about the sag problem, too, so decided against it, but now I’ll look into that. I’m sure even foam mattresses will eventually lose their support and get saggy because no mattress will last forever, but if they last at least as long as a regular mattress it might be worth it.

  31. lockdog says:

    A few notes on mattresses: it should be common sense, but never buy a pillow top. The light weight batting just won’t hold up and you’ll wind up with a sagging, lumpy pillow top permanently stitched to a still perfectly good mattress. Go for a featherbed or synthetic topper instead and replace as needed. Bonus in that you can remove and wash it.
    Also, in addition to the above note on not using a box spring as a foundation for a foam mattress: If your bed frame is the old style with wood rails that hook into a headboard and footboard, a foam mattress is too heavy. You can either use an all steel hollywood style bedframe simply bolted to the head and foot board, or you can purchase steel rails and footed braces that will hook into you existing headboard. The extra set of feet in the center is the important part. They’ll put the weight of the mattress on the floor instead of on your expensive wood furniture.

  32. Rode2008 says:

    I own a Tempurpedic – it’s the best mattress I’ve ever owned. I’ve been married now for 10 years. When I first got married we bought a King Coil – it failed after 3 months. The retailer gave us full credit toward a new Sealy – that failed after 1 year. The we got a Simmons – that failed after 18 months. We had been married less than 4 years and had gone through 3 mattresses. The retailer kept replacing them for us at full credit.

    Ultimately, we bought the Tempurpedic and it’s been woking just great.

  33. Rode2008 says:

    I;m no shill for Tempurpedic, however, it doesn’t make sense to me that “traditional coil mattresses” are designed such that without the proper padding, it would be torture to sleep on. I mean, why the hell not design a mattress (as Tempurpedic has) where there’s am inherent structural flaw – steel coils – that have to incorporate an elaborate cushioning system to protect you from the structural flaw of metal coils????

    I like the elegance of simplicity.

    Sure – we paid about $2500 for the mattress and foundation – but we spend almost a third of our life on it.

  34. Rode2008 says:

    I meant:

    Why not design a mattress (As Tempurpedic has) where there’s NO inherent structural flaw……

  35. Rode2008 says:

    Another bit of mattress buying advice. If you buy a traditional coil spring mattress, do NOT buy one that cannot be flipped over (ususally marketed as never having to be flipped over). Some mattresses have the bottom totally flat and NOT meant so be slept on. This is NOT good because with traditional coil spring mattresses it’s essential that you “rotate” them regularly – top to bottom and flipping it over once in a while.

    Do NOT buy into the marketing hype. Interpret “no need to flip” as :not able to be flipped” which means, costs were saved in designing the mattress.

  36. Rode2008 says:

    I agree with Faust. Tempurpedics (and I assume their “knock offs”) require a SOLID foundation. A box spring foundation “gives” – this is not good for foam.

    Yet another oddity of traditional coil spring-based sleep systems. With them, you’re also sleeping atop what would be considered implements of torture (metal springs).
    To me, metal springs should only be on automobile suspensions.

  37. Rode2008 says:

    When I saw a demo of a steamroller rolling over a Tempurpedic mattress 300 times with absolutely no damage to the mattress (or its support integrity), that sold me. Imagine what a steamroller ride-over (just once) would do to a regular mattress!?!

  38. Rode2008 says:

    BTW – Tempurpedics (and the way they support your body with no motion dispersion – remember the ad with the woman jumping on the Tempurpedic within 2 feet of a glass of wine and the wine glass doesn’t even move?)offer a whole new level of experience when in bed, however, not sleeping (if oyu know what I mean). We’re loving doing the “Tempurpedic Tango”.

  39. lightaugust says:

    … but thanks for clarifying that you’re not a shill for tempurpedic! I think I was with you until the sixth fawning comment. Except I bet that “Tempurpedic Tango” bit kills at the annual convention.

  40. SOhp101 says:

    @Rode2008: You might not be a shill for Tempurpedic, but nearly all of your ‘pros’ are exactly what they say in the infomercials.

  41. FLConsumer says:

    @Rode2008: Um….what the heck are you doing on those beds to wear them out that quickly?

    On second thought, I don’t want to know.

  42. Slate ran a good article about matress scams back in 2000. But it’s not as if mattress technology has changed a great deal since then.

  43. mamacat49 says:

    @amyjay: I’ve seen that mattress at Costco. Worth it?

  44. junkmail says:

    @robotprom: Holy crap, I’m mortgaging the house and buying one. Maybe then I can get some sleep when both daughters crawl into bed with us.

  45. waldy says:

    @lightaugust: Yeah, the mattress industry really is the biggest scam ever. Last time I bought (about four years ago), I had done my homework ahead of time and was asking a bunch of questions about coil gauge, # of coils, materials used, etc.–and the salesman ACTUALLY said to me, “Now why would a little thing like you worry her pretty little head over something like that?” Needless to say, the scumbag did not get my business.

    This is a topic I’d love to see more Consumerist articles about. Where is the “Confessions of a Mattress Salesman” when you need it?

    FWIW, I ended up buying from Denver Mattress. They’re like the Saturn of mattress companies–the prices and features are clearly labelled, no haggling. While this probably means I could’ve gotten a better price elsewhere, it was worth it to me to have salespeople who answered my questions honestly and treated me with respect. Plus, I LOVE my mattress, and really, the price was competitive with other places I’d looked.

  46. HolyRollerzC3 says:

    I have worked as a Mattress Salesman for a very long time, and customers like most of the people posting here are the reason why its so hard to buy a bed these days.

    Customer walks into my store, and immedietly, they want to tell me they are just looking, yada yada yada! A bed isnt something you can buy from jsut looking at a price tag.

    Then; they act as if you are trying to sell them a bed that they don’t need, and if you ask questions so you can try to help them buy the bed that will help them the most, they give you crappy lies for answers.

    Look; Selling the wrong bed to you does me no good where I work. As a matter of fact, we have an exchange program setup in case we do, but if we have too many exchanges, we get written up, and face losing our jobs.

    Quit trying to make rocket science out of buying a damn bed. If you have back pain, you don’t want a extra firm bed, trust me! If you toss and turn all night, you want memory foam or latex in that bed somewhere to help relieve you of pressure points.

    Also, if your bed is old and worn out, and you get a new one and your back hurts, GOOD! Get out of your chair, and walk hunchbacked for a few minutes. Now, imagine you’ve been walking like that for years, and all of a sudden, I made you walk standing straight up, think its going to hurt a little? Yes, but in the long run, you’re helping your body!

    Quit being a pest, and talking about haggling, a matress is worth the price of it. Thats like going to your financial advisor and asking him to waive his commission for making you money. I don;t deserve to feed my family by helping you live a happier, healthier, and painfree life? Of course I do! I am a consultant, I;m not selling cars which is basically, “OK, you like this one, want to get it?” My job requires alot more, and mattress salesman when they do their job and find you the right bed deserve to be componsated.

    It’s this attitude of haggling that has made retailers change the names, have compeltely different beds then anyone else, etc etc etc just so they can actually make some money! Thats right, its the consumers fault buying a bed is so hard!

    Like I said, quit making it rocket science!!!!

  47. snoop-blog says:

    @waldy: wow denver matress is part of furniture row and usually is the scammiest of all furniture stores. those sales people are paid commission (at furniture row), so chances are you still got ripped off. but the definition of a ‘good deal’ is a deal in which both parties are satisfied. louisiana purchase, surprisingly was a ‘good deal’. both parties felt the got over on the other.

  48. snoop-blog says:

    i prefer my couch vs. my bed. why hasn’t someone made a mattress out of couch cusions yet? just sayin.

  49. varco says:

    The mattress industry is the used car industry, but with less transparency. I’ve been in the market for a new mattress for a while and recently walked into a mattress place (one of the ones with the perma-sales) and browsed for a bit.

    While I was in there, the sales lady told a caller that IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE TO PRICEMATCH/COMPARE PRICES because EVERY MODEL GETS A DIFFERENT NAME DEPENDING ON THE RETAILER.

    How fucked is that?

  50. thatgirlinnewyork says:

    @themediatrix: And for others in the NYC area who’d like cotton/wool construction over synthetics (and custom sizing): [www.chbeckley.com] Hand-built in the BX!

  51. thatgirlinnewyork says:

    New Yorkers looking for high-quality, local hand-built mattresses check out: [www.chbeckley.com] Made in the BX, y’all!

  52. thatgirlinnewyork says:

    sorry for the double post! thought my first one disappeared…

  53. ZekeSulastin says:

    So you have to put cushions, however light, over the spring system. So? It’s worked for many people, it works now for a lot of people, and it’s worked for a long time. Springs make sense to me …

    As I am still semi-young and not yet have to worry about a partner, I don’t have to worry so much about the crazy-expensive mattresses especially of the soft variety. Heck, before I went off to college my ‘bed’ was one of those cheap $10 foam mattress toppers on the floor in the corner of a room. Best sleep I’ve ever had – extra-extra firm for the win!

  54. lockdog says:

    @Rode2008: While it’s no steamroller, I somewhat regularly get to crush up mattress and box springs with a skid steer. To be honest, even even the crappiest mattresses take the abuse pretty well. Just driving back a forth over them does pretty much nothing that’s apparent from the outside. To do some damage I usually have to pin it with the teeth of the bucket against the pavement and drag/ tear. On the other hand, box springs do yield a very satisfying crunch, as do sofas.
    @snoop-blog: Well, most couch cushions are made out of foam, so basically a foam mattress. And just like buying a mattress, the important thing to look for is quality foam in the cushions at a firmness you like, and a good foundation to support that cushion (strong joints, good wood, tight webbing and on some sofas, number and kind of springs.

  55. keith4298 says:

    Last time I went shopping for a mattress was a few years ago, but what struck me was the fact that they all say they will match their competitors prices. That makes you laugh when you ask them to actually do it. Seems that no two companies sell the same mattress…well, that’s not exactly true…they ARE the same, but seally will give a different name to the Sleepy’s mattress so that it’s impossible to compare it to the 1-800-mattres(s) brand. Thanks for price matching!

  56. kenyo says:

    All this debate about spring vs foam and only the sales guy mentioned latex?
    I bought my first “real” (non-hand-me-down) mattress a few years ago. I was so distraught from the shopping experience that I initially chose to sleep on the floor [for 3 weeks]. Then I had a nice weekend getaway in Las Vegas, where I stayed on an amazing bed. Upon checkout, I asked what mattresses they use and took that information to the web.
    Englander is the second-oldest American mattress maker in America (only to Stearns & Foster, which was out of my price range). I bought a latex mattress, like what I slept on, so I already knew how comfortable it was. Latex has other pros, too: no sag (as the core is solid), moving is easier (more flexible for stairways and tight corners), and no flipping/turning. I have been very pleased by it. In fact, a few people have told me that it is the most comfortable bed they have slept on. Yes, highly recommended!!

    • massageon says:

      “A few people have told me it’s the most comfortable bed they’ve ever slept on”

      Who else is sleeping in your bed??? LOL

  57. That70sHeidi says:

    The best and ONLY place we buy mattresses from is The Original Mattress Factory here in Pgh. The salesmen are WAY invisible unless you need something, the selection is not overwhelming and the prices are ALWAYS the same and ALWAYS the lowest.

    Levin’s on the other hand LIES AND LIES. The last time we went in there my brother got so mad at the salesman that he threw the advertised circular down and yelled “No, enough of your bullshit lies, I’m NEVER shopping here!” and we stormed out. Horrible place. Lies, crawling with salespeople who hound you and really shit furniture.

  58. czarandy says:

    My mattress was $200 at IKEA, and I swear it’s the most comfortable one I’ve ever tried. Maybe I am just strange.

  59. TheSeeker says:

    Beds/mattresses are just for sleeping. What mattress is good for the midnight aerobics?

    Having never been on one, I picture a foam/Tempurpedic mattress having no “bounce” like it would be the equivalent of doing it on the floor.

    I saw no mention of the Sleep Number bed. Does no one buy these? Also I do not see these as any good for baby making. You sure can’t be in the middle of the bed on these. Isn’t that a “no man’s land” place dividing the two air mattress sections?

  60. Bix says:

    My advice: Don’t buy your mattress at a mattress store like Sleepy’s. Buy it at a place that sells more than just mattresses, like a furniture store or an appliance/electronics store with a mattress department. From my experience in buying a new set last year, the prices are much better and the staff is much less wired and pushy.

  61. TheSeeker says:

    @TheSeeker: Was meant to say Beds/mattresses aren’t just for sleeping.

  62. Rode2008 says:

    re: THESEEKER and a Tempurpedic having no bounce and that it “…would be the equivalent of doing it on the floor.”

    Actually, the lack of motion transfer (bounce is one way of describing what it lacks) enhances the “activity” since one party remains stationary relative to the “upper placed” party, thereby eliminating the “unison bounce” (both parties bouncing rhythmically, reducing the thrust impact. It’s all sort of physics.

    Another benefit is that the foam softens (temporarily) to body heat. Your partner, essentially since into the mattress in conformance with their body shape. Essentially, your partner;s top of body becomes flush (level) with the horizontal plane of the mattress (in effect, a concave is created). In short, it’s almost like “doing it” (as you put it) to a picture lying atop the mattress. No balancing act (atop the other body) is needed. After “cool down” of the other party, the person assumes a normal position on the mattress (no longer in a concave, but, rather, convex.

    I strongly recommend Tempurpedic.

  63. Rode2008 says:

    Sorry – meant tosay (in oaragraph 2): Your partner, essentiall SINKS into the mattress…”