Wednesday, 26 February 2014


Way back when…actually 40-50 years ago or so, buying a mattress was a straightforward matter since there was only one choice - the innerspring mattress. Even choosing the size was easy, either single or double, so the decision really came down to finding the right price. Fast forward to today and things aren't quite that simple anymore.

Today there are a number of different types of mattresses on the market – innerspring, memory foam, latex, hybrid (innerspring topped with memory foam), airbed, waterbed, organic. Since a mattress is a fairly good sized investment, one that is intended to provide a comfortable sleep for quite a few years, it deserves some research before making the final choice.
For information about pillowtops, scroll down as that topic warranted a paragraph of its own.

We just purchased a new mattress set and found things have really changed. One of the worst changes, to my way of thinking, has to be the no-flip mattress, now pretty well standard across the board. The mattress is only padded on one side which means it can't be flipped, thereby greatly decreasing its lifespan. Double sided ones are still available from specialty manufacturers, but of course come with higher price tags.

The other major change is mattress size.  Now you can get Single, SingleXL, Double, Queen, King, KingXL and more. They can be as much 20 inches thick, something that needs to be considered before buying to ensure the mattress can be carried to where its suppose to go - it may well be impossible to carry that 20" deep mattress up a narrow flight of stairs. The depth also impacts fitted sheets, as the standard ones found in department stores are made for 6-7 inch mattresses. Our old mattress and box-spring were each 7 inches deep while both pieces of the new set are 9 inches deep, adding 4 inches in height to the bed. That's quite a difference and takes a bit of getting used to.

There was way to much information to include all the different mattresses, so this post just deals with the two most popular ones - the innerspring and memory foam mattress.

Some general information:
  • A mattress is something you need for sleep and we all know how important sleep is to our overall health, so the number one priority is COMFORT – how well the mattress contributes to a good night’s rest. Brand name, looks, and price are all minor considerations to that.
  • There is a fair bit of disagreement as to whether or not a new box-spring is needed. According to some, a matching box spring is imperative to prolonging the life of the mattress; other views are to buy a cheaper box spring and put the saved money into the mattress; while the third view states that if the box spring you now own is still good, just buy a mattress. A big decision maker here could be the warranty, so its important to find out what the warranty requires.
  • Having polyester padding or egg crate foam in the top layer will make the mattress feel softer than a solid sheet of foam will.
  • A cover with a large quilt pattern feels more cushioned than one with a smaller pattern.
  • The label must list the material inside the mattress (good to use as reference with the cutaway section). It lists the percentage of each type of material used. The label should not be removed as doing so will void the warranty.
  • Don't be fooled by greener options, such as soy-based foam. Like many other "natural" claims, this is often more hype than actual benefit, either to health or the environment. True organic products are available, but cost thousands of dollars and that's not what we're looking at here.
Below I've described the innerspring and memory foam mattresses, what to look for and the pros and cons of each.

THE INNERSPRING is made up of wires twisted into the shape of springs, then covered with padding and a quilted cover
What to know:   Ask to see the cutaway section to check for the following:
Coils made of high quality steel, tempered with heat and covered with enamel or plastic coating to prevent corrosion. Coil gauge (thickness) goes from 12-18, the lower the number, the thicker the wire, the firmer the support.13-15 gauge generally good for support. Springs should have between 5-8 turns.
Number of coils – full size mattress should have no less than 310, a queen 400 coils. More coils do not mean a better product - this will often increase the price while reducing support since to squeeze more coils in thinner metal is required. Additional support is required around edges where greatest wear occurs.
Inside layer – next to springs is an insulating layer made from sisal or synthetic fibers or polypropylene netting.
Top layer (upholstery) can be cotton batting or polyurethane foam (most common) or wool. Price determined by type and amount of padding.
Outside cover- often a stretch knit fabric, treated with special soil, stain and flame resistant finishes.
Excellent initial comfort and support;
Wide selection, readily available;
Reasonable prices;
Low heat retention;
Low odour (more when higher density or memory foam is used in the layers);
Traditional, better known to consumers;
Generally lightweight.
The mattress sags with aging, putting spine out of alignment causing back pain;
More pressure point problems;
High motion transfer (less so with pocket coil construction);
May collect dust mites and allergens;
Less durable – recommended they be replaced every 6-8 years.
Preferred by stomach and back sleepers.
Owner satisfaction 60-70%. 

THE MEMORY FOAM is made up of a foam core, which may be a solid sheet or made up of multiple layers, then topped with a polyurethane memory foam and quilted cover. Formaldehyde is the most common chemical flame retardant used.
What to know:  Ask to see the cutaway section. The density of the foam is what provides the support and durability. Low density is 3 lbs. anything less means poor quality, more than 5 lbs. may make it hard to move and turn over.
Need to know the thickness of the memory foam, not just of the entire mattress, as the non-memory foam has less give.
Provides even support, forms itself to the contours of the individual;
Great spine alignment;
Good pressure point relief;
Good motion isolation;
Very durable;
More resistant to mold and dust mites;
Highest in owner satisfaction;
Several brands/models affordable.
Petroleum based – contains chemicals, adhesives and flame retardants;
Initial odours (gassing off chemicals);
High-density foams can restrict sleeper’s movement;
Higher than average heat retention;
Sensitive to moisture which increases breakdown of foam;
Higher in cost than innerspring.
Not for everyone, is generally preferred by side sleepers. Some complain about feeling like they're just floating on the top, while others feel they are sinking in way too deep.
A fairly new product so its still too early to know how well they will stand up under normal wear.
Manufacturers not legally obligated to disclose which chemicals are used.

Trial period/comfort guarantee – Retailers may want you to try the mattress for a specific period before returning it - what is this time period? This comfort guarantee is the best way to find out if this is what you really want - even works for online or warehouse purchases. How long to return or exchange it, is there any cost involved like restocking or pickup fees? Will this cost be deducted from the price of a replacement mattress? Is there any reason why returns wouldn't be accepted?

The warranty – Warranties only cover defects in materials or workmanship, not wear and tear on the mattress. Get the exact details of the warranty before purchase. Ask questions. Know what it covers – full replacement, annual usage prorated, how to make a claim, where to take the mattress if its defective, who pays the expenses to and fro. Does it cover sagging, which is the main problem with aging mattresses and for how long? Do you need to buy a mattress protector for the warranty. What would void the warranty? 

Delivery – Any charge? How soon can you expect it? Will they dispose of old mattress and is there a cost? What happens if the product is out of stock, what kind of replacement would you get and when.

Price – NEVER PAY FULL PRICE. Mattresses have huge markups and there are regular sales where you can save at least 50% - Click on promo codes and coupons at the bottom of this blog to check with Retailmenot for coupons and sales. If you find a good deal online, negotiate with the local store. I received an additional 10% off - in addition to the sale price - at the store because of the online price. Owners of reasonable priced mattress are often just as satisfied as are owners of the more expensive options. Try the mattress out. Start with a mattress one or two levels above the cheapest and work your way up. Grab a pillow from home, wear slip-off shoes, lay down on the bed for at least 15 minutes, just the way you sleep, toss and turn a bit. When you find one that makes you say "ahhh, that feels good", then that’s the one you choose, no need to look for anything more expensive.

And finally, some other stuff. 
Pillowtops - I found out a lot of negative stuff about pillowtop mattresses. The pillowtop adds hundreds of dollars to the price but don't seem to stand up well under normal wear. They tend to flatten and/or sag in the middle, which means they no longer provide enough support and they can get lumpy. If made of foam, they often have serious offgassing problems and they tend to sleep hot. If the additional padding is wanted, its much better to buy a less expensive, replaceable mattress topper which will actually help extend the life of the mattress.

A mattress protector may be required for the warranty, but its a good idea anyway since it keeps the mattress clean and prevents mites from entering. It is recommended that you vacuum your mattress - or protector - every time you change your sheets. I don't vacuum, I prefer to wipe it down with a barely damp cloth moistened with baking soda/water or my lavender vinegar. Several times a year, remove and wash the protector.
  • Rotate the mattress once a month. 
  • Don't let looks influence your buying decision. A mattress is not a display item and is meant to be covered, so looks really don't matter.
  • Buying a well known brand name mattress is smart - they've become well-known because of reputation. However, a specific brand name doesn't mean all that much since all their mattresses are pretty well made the same way.
  • Don't let terms like firm, medium-firm, etc guide your buying decision. Terms are not standard across the industry and one brand's firm may be another brand's medium-firm. Check it out for yourself.
  • Medium-firm support is now recommended for the general population.
And there you have it folks. Everything I learned about mattresses. Bottom line - be influenced only by what feels right for you.

If you found this information helpful, please leave a comment.

Talk to you again next week, 


  1. You have provided more details on buying a mattress than I would have ever thought to consider. I know that I sleep best on a very firm mattress and prefer a queen size. Those details plus warranty information, is usually all I look for. Still, I appreciate all the information you provided. For someone buying their first mattress or wanting to be a more savvy mattress shopper, this article is invaluable.

  2. Thanks for commenting Michelle. I know I was surprised about all the things I found to consider. Very much appreciate your comments.

  3. Wow, you've really done your homework on this one. My Dylan could use a new mattress for his bed. He's still sleeping on his bunkbed mattress. It's pretty much shot.

    1. Well Bev, now you know what to look for when you go shopping. You'll have to take Dylan with you to try them. Should be fun. Appreciate all your comments.

  4. A lot of nice information Lenie. You have provided each and every minute detail. Tack sa myket


    1. Hi Faisal
      Didn't know there was so much to consider when buying a mattress, did you? It was fun to find out!
      Thanks for commenting, appreciate it

  5. Hello Lenie
    Well there can not be more on this.
    You know while reading this i was continuously thinking about my father as he always use to give instructions like , flip the mattress , rotate it , buy good quality mattress and stuff.
    This all can be learned with experience of years but with your blog now all will know about a comfortable and sleep with sweet dreams :)
    thanks for sharing your research.

    1. Hi Anna
      Things have certainly changed, haven't they. I hope you have sweet dreams.
      Take care

  6. I'm fortunate that I haven't had to buy a mattress lately, but if I had to, I'd go to the Original Mattress Factory here. They seem to still be the only place here that has the double sided mattresses. They also manufacture their mattresses on site, so it's a local business, and the mattresses have held up very well for us, and our kids, cats, dogs, and even a mastiff who took a liking to the box spring and ate a chunk out of the corner...
    It might sound like I'm an ad for them, but really, I think that there are SO many rip-offs out there. I mean c'mon 8K for a mattress? You have got to be kidding me! A mattress shouldn't cost as much as a car, guys!

    1. Hi Haley
      I wish we had an Original Mattress Factory here. I did like the double sided mattress.
      Thanks so much for your comment.

  7. Lenie - I am sure the information is wonderful, but I have to be honest - way too long a blog. My recommendation is to take your research, add some fantastic pictures, and write a series instead of a novel! 400-600 words tops!

    1. Laurie, I so much appreciate your comments. Constructive criticism is always good and I thank you for taking the time to review it.

  8. Hi Lenie,

    While I'm not in the market for a mattress today, if I were I'd be looking through my bookmarks trying to get back to this post! I love "comprehensive" articles.

    Laurie's idea is not bad -- doing a series when there is lots of info to share on a subject. (I sometimes do that after I've written a very involved article -- break it up into a couple of posts.) But I'd be the last to tell you how many words to write as many of my posts are 800+ words. :)

    Thanks for sharing this. I'll push it out on the social media airwaves.

    1. Hi Vanessa - thank you so much. I know both sides have a great deal of merit and I have so much to learn that I love hearing them all. I very much appreciate you sending it out on the social media airways.

  9. That's some good info. I will be in the market for a new mattress soon. Thanks for sharing.


I want this blog to be interesting, informative and current. Your comments let me know if I'm on track, so comments are greatly appreciated.
Thanks - Lenie