We're Going to the Mattresses
October 20, 2013 9:14 PM   Subscribe

We're upgrading from an old Ikea queen-sized mattress to ... we don't know what. We know very little about proper mattresses. What should we look for in a mattress?

Are expensive mattresses really better than medium-cost ones? How much should we count on spending? Where do the returns diminish? Mattresses seem to be about $1000 at Sears. Is a $2000 mattress better? Should we go to a place that sells only mattresses? What should we ask them about?

How important is a box spring? How important is the bed frame?

Bonus points: we're in Montreal. Where should we go?
posted by musofire to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
Two good places to start reading are sleep like the dead and the mattress underground .
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 9:51 PM on October 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

We just bought a new mattress. I did a ridiculous amount of research first. Ultimately, I concluded several things:
  • Comfort/memory foam mattresses are wildly popular. However, they sleep very hot. Even memory foam mattresses with gel beads are likely to sleep hotter than conventional mattresses. We are sweaty people who sleep warm, so I decided to avoid this, though you might not care.
  • Latex foam mattresses are supposed to be better in this regard and have the best longevity, but they are quite expensive. They seem to be favored by those who prefer very firm beds.
  • The big "S" brands--Serta, Sealy, Simmons--now only make innerspring mattresses that cannot be flipped. They try to advertise this as a feature--"you no longer have to flip your mattress!"--but it's actually a bug. These mattresses, which often feature a cushy pillowtop, have half the lifespan of older mattresses because they have only one usable side. Within a few years, they often bear body impressions of the sleeper. But prices are identical to what they used to be! This struck me as annoying and scammy. Common internet advice was to find a very cheap, firm, double-sided innerspring mattress and put a pillow-top topper over it. However, I couldn't find any "cheap" models available at a retailer who would deliver and also cart away our old mattress (necessary for us for a bunch of reasons).
Ultimately, we went with a high end double-sided innerspring mattress from a small family-owned company in Newark, NJ. There might be other small manufacturers outside of the big-S brands where you live. It took about 3 weeks to deliver because they're made to order. Our mattress is a medium-firm, double-sided, non-pillowtop. It is incredibly comfortable, and based on what I've read about it online, can be reliably trusted to last 10-15 years, as opposed to a standard single-sided innerspring, whose average lifespan is about 5-7 years even for a more expensive model. The total cost was $3,000, which is more than we've ever spent on anything but cars--but since similar single-sided models were around half that at Sears, and reports online suggest we can reliably expect this mattress to last twice as long, we figure it's a worthy investment.

Box springs are necessary if you don't have a real platform bed, but even our schmancy innerspring doesn't require one to keep its warranty. We're short, so I prefer a platform over a box spring. YMMV.

Seconding the links from still_wears_a_hat.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:54 PM on October 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

You want whatever mattress you like best after spending 30 minutes lying down on it at the mattress store. Book a whole day for your mattress shopping. People do the little test lie-down at the mattress shop and bounce on it slightly a few times, it usually takes a minute and tells you fuck all about anything.

Ideally you actually want a mattress that you can sleep on for those 30 minutes. How many times have you tried on a pair of shoes in a store and done a lap and thought "yeah these are good" and two days later your feet are shredded and swollen? Well, a lot of times the shoes will stretch, so that isn't a big deal and you should harden the fuck up about it, but I've never seen a mattress get firmer/softer depending on your body and the way you lay on it.

Lie down on the mattress for 30 minutes. Have a nap if you can. If the salesperson tells you to get off the mattress, I recommend urinating yourself and it, then making a scene and leaving the store and getting in your car, where you have Wet Wipes and a change of pants.
posted by turbid dahlia at 10:30 PM on October 20, 2013 [5 favorites]

We just finished shopping for a mattress and quickly discovered that the prices listed--even the sale prices--were much higher than they ever hoped to get. We bought out tyke a bed list at $599, $329 on sale... for $150. This did not even require any special haggling, just bluntly stating that we were shopping around and needed to get a good deal.

Also: Yelp reviews can be scurrilous. One salesman told us he'd pay for the tax if we'd log in to Yelp and write the place a glowing review. Later, he told us, with no apparent irony: "And you know you can trust us, because our Yelp reviews are terrific!"
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:34 PM on October 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, and a warning, to echo DirtyOldTown: expect mattress salespeople to be used-car-salesman slimey. They'll do things like tout imaginary health benefits, have you look at cut-outs of mattress materials, and start you lying down on the most expensive mattress model in the store. We got a thousand dollars off our mattress just by walking out and calling back to order several days later. They miraculously "found" a sale. Go figure!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:37 PM on October 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

We also just bought a mattress a month ago. I did tons of research as well, and ended up with a latex mattress Foam Sweet Foam. I was attracted by the durability of latex (FSF comes with a 30-year warranty), and a friend had had good experiences with latex. We had the benefit of being local (they have a showroom near Los Angeles) so we could try the mattress in person. Latex is definitely expensive, but a labor day sale brought the price down from ludicrous to merely ridiculous, which is not thatmuch more than the outrageous prices innerspring mattresses were going for locally. In the end we paid something like $2,300.

After a few weeks on it, I'd say that our feelings are generally positive. It's pretty heavy (which is a minus) which means it doesn't slide around much (which is a plus, as I'm a pretty active sleeper). It's pretty comfortable and we sleep well. I don't find it to be the sort of overnight sleep revelation that foam mattresses are sometimes presented as, but I find it comfortable, I don't wake up with an achy back, and I like sleeping on it. If that's still true in a couple of decades, I'll consider it to have been a worthwhile investment.

Note that I didn't wet myself at any time during the shopping process. Maybe I should have...
posted by captainawesome at 10:38 PM on October 20, 2013

Do not overlook a princess-and-pea series of toppers. Right now I'm on an Ikea mattress, which is decent but nothing special. I put two memory foam toppers on it, and a featherbed, and a big fluffy lambswool mattress pad. It's lovely, now.

I also have a very expensive mattress; it too is lovely (only a memory foam topper on it) but the price of it vs the price of the Ikea gives me pause, even if the expensive one is now getting on in years but showing no signs of that. If I had another bed to soften I'd go with Ikea and first-rate toppers. A good wool topper or featherbed can have a life span of many decades; in my view, that is the place to splurge.
posted by kmennie at 10:46 PM on October 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Looks like you are out of my area. But for those in the SF Bay Area, I love my European Sleepworks bed.
posted by artdrectr at 11:55 PM on October 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

We're mattress shopping too, so I've just been reading the mattress underground site linked above. Introduction to the explanatory part of the site:

1. Mattresses serve two main functions: the lower part ("support layer") needs to support your weight to keep your spine properly aligned, and the upper part ("comfort layer") needs to spread out your weight to prevent discomfort from pressure points.

2. Different materials fulfill these two functions differently, and have other pros and cons including price. Mattresses are available in many mix-and-match configurations. So you'll want to get familiar with the basic material choices, thinking about it in terms of what you want for your support and comfort layers. You may end up with two layers, or more, of materials.

3. Overview of materials you can choose for the two functions: support layers and comfort layers.

4. The choice is influenced by your own sleeping positions and weight and shape and whether you sleep "hot" or have other idiosyncrasies.

5. Roughly what you can expect within certain budgetary ranges.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:21 AM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think the problem calls for a journalistic investigation that would cover human anatomy, historical trends, analysis of the contribution of new technology, a literature review of authoritative sources and some objective experimentation. The one web site that I would associated with this sort of problem is theSweethome - and they don't appear to have done it yet. Maybe it is time to request that they do?
posted by rongorongo at 2:36 AM on October 21, 2013

If you're like me:

1. Read Sleep like the Dead
2. Get overwhelmed.
3. Read A Year in Bed
4. Give up, order a bed from Keetsa.
posted by gregglind at 6:06 AM on October 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

Like kmennie, when I needed a new bed this year I got an Ikea spring mattress (I think it's the Sultan Hallen) and a 3" memory foam topper from Overstock. Total cost was around $500 or so, and it's super comfortable. It's as comfortable, to me, as the $1000+ pillowtop set it replaced. We have this combo on an Ikea Hemnes bed with slats.
posted by cabingirl at 6:26 AM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

My husband and I finally grew up a few years ago and bought our first real (and expensive) mattress, a Serta foam memory mattress the salesman told me sleeps very cool. As odd as it sounds, I love this mattress so much that I am almost hesitant to travel. I love this mattress almost as much as I love my husband. I love this mattress so much I place it on my Top Three list of possessions, right up there with my wedding band. (On preview, this makes it sound like I don't love my husband enough. But I do! I adore him! And he feels strongly about our mattress too, and whenever we come back from traveling, we sink into bed, hold hands, sigh, and say "Oh, I love our mattress." It's a love trio that works.)

To give you some practical advice (and not just a love song) here's what I did:

- I went to an appliance and mattress store during the middle of a business day, so there weren't many customers or salesmen around. I spoke to two salesmen, felt more comfortable with one, and spent a couple of hours with that one.
- I explained to him all I knew about my sleep habits: husband and I have different sleep temperatures, both sleep on our sides, both like firm mattresses, both hate pillow tops (they give us back aches).
- I told him I was wary of buying something that would end up in a landfill soon, and wanted a mattress with the longest possible life expectancy and the lowest environmental impact overall.
- I tried out several for 1-2 minutes each, and was able to reject several right away.
- Of the remaining, I spent at least 10 minutes on each, curled up on my side, while the salesman read a magazine over at a desk. I'd explained to him that I found it uncomfortable and weird to lie there with him watching me, and he was relieved to be able to read instead of making chit-chat with me as I just lay there.
- As I lay there, I tried to not think about the mattress, but instead to think about something entirely different. After a while, I then asked myself if I was feeling pressure points, if the part of me touching the mattress was hot or otherwise uncomfortable. Again, I was able to reject a couple as being too soft. (I never found a mattress that was too hard.)
- The mattress I bought was the one where, after 10-15 minutes on it, I didn't want to get up.

I didn't concern myself with price, as I figured that, amortized over the life of the mattress, whatever I spent would be worth it. That said, of all the mattresses I looked at, this one was priced right in the middle. Also, the various mattress names and appearances change from store to store, making price shopping almost impossible. This means that you'll have to haggle, but luckily there's a lot of wiggle room in their pricing, so don't be afraid to play hardball.

I wasn't persuaded that I needed box springs going in, but the salesman explained that the warranty is only good if I use them, and they weren't that much money, and they put the mattress at the right height for me. Also, the Serta box springs that I bought were so pretty that I couldn't resist. The reason the warranty is only good with them is because the surface the mattress sits on is highly dependent on the bed frame, and if it's uneven, it can make wrinkles or waves, or let the mattress sag. Having slept on a futon on a wood-framed bed and felt every single slat push through over time, I totally believe that the box spring is necessary unless your bed frame is a flat board.

You asked about bed frames too. My advice is:

- Get one with as flat a surface for your mattress as possible (see wrinkles, above).
- Get one that doesn't squeak and groan when you're having sexy times.
- Don't get one with sharp corners. Ours has those and I've gouged my thigh going around the corners way too often. (The frame came with the house; it was custom built to match the house, and it's kind of stuck there. Not as stuck as Odysseus's bed, but close.)
posted by Capri at 6:31 AM on October 21, 2013

If you're at all concerned about lower back pain, you may want a medium-firm mattress, rather than a firm one.
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:07 AM on October 21, 2013

We spent two grand on the basic model of Tempurpedic mattress. At the time we thought it was kind of a lot to spend (this was 6 years ago now), but it is hands down the BEST purchase I have ever made in my entire life. No exaggeration. And 6 years later it's exactly the same as it was on day 1.
posted by corn_bread at 10:05 AM on October 21, 2013

I stayed at a Westin and realized "holy shit they were right about their beds being fucking amazing."

I then bought their bed through Nordstrom in their annual (near July, usually) anniversary sale, for 25% off, which is basically the only time they see a sale. Mattress was $1200 and it's completely amazing, two years later. Absolutely love it. Ruins me for other beds. And I had the benefit of having slept on it for two or three nights at their hotel to know how awesome it is.

Going up to my family's cottage, the wife and I are kind of amazed how awful the mattress is. Bouncy, in a trampoline-every-movement-felt-everywhere kind of way, and just... hard. Not contouring. It's like sleeping on a boxing mat.

Huge quality of life improvement with the Westin, but there's so much personal variability in these things and your preference that you really gotta see for yourselves.
posted by disillusioned at 11:44 AM on October 21, 2013

Strongly seconding fancy mattress topper. I have a thick memory foam one from ikea that was about 300$ and it's amazing - transformed my super basic 500$ mattress into one I like more than any other bed, including hotels etc. Plus you can try out different ones if you don't really like the first one, for way cheaper than a fancy new mattress. Feather bed, pillowtop-ish, latex, memory foam, etc etc. (also: I'm a warm sleeper and haven't noticed that the memory foam feels too hot, maybe because it's in a cloth "bag" so it isn't directly touching the sheets. ymmv)

Box spring is mostly to add height and give a flat surface. If you get a platform bed which is at a height you like, it's not necessary (also, drawers underneath are awesome for storage!). If you have a slat-type bed with enough support it isn't strictly necessary but it might put some strain on your mattress/feel uncomfortable. If you just have one of the standard metal frames, a box spring is definitely necessary to hold up the mattress.
posted by randomnity at 12:50 PM on October 21, 2013

I also did tons of research here, as I've been through three mattresses in four years. I've paid well over $1,000 for innerspring mattresses, and they invariably sag in a year or two.

Many of the top comfort layers on brand name innerspring mattresses are cheap crap. They may feel comfortable in the store, but they're going to sag in a couple of years and you're going to replace the whole mattress.

I don't know that more expensive mattresses are necessarily better. I bought a latex mattress and it sagged in a year. Mattress warranties are worthless, because the sag has to be visible, which they never are. You only feel them when you lay down.

After having fought mattresses for quite some time, I'd do one of two things:
1. Find a local, small business mattress manufacturer who knows and will tell you EXACTLY what components go into the top of the mattress. Mattress components aren't unique or special. I don't think you're in the area, but Bay Mattress in Santa Cruz does this. Find someone like that.
2. Buy an inexpensive memory foam mattress from Amazon, Costco, Sam's Club, etc. Customer satisfaction on these is EXTREMELY high (see Amazon reviews) and they're dirt cheap. I have one of these with a latex topper. The mattress was less than $400 and the topper was less than $200. Theoretically, I can just replace the topper and save myself a lot of money in the long run. The mattress is nice and firm and has been much better than the other beds I've slept on.
posted by cnc at 1:35 PM on October 21, 2013

We replaced our mattress a couple of years ago - I have back problems & wanted firm, Mrs. Vino is a side sleeper & wanted something that would conform to her shape. We ended up with a latex foam mattress, which I thought would be too soft, but which is not. As I recall, it was around $1000, not cheap, but not in the league of the memory foam (which we did not like, btw).

Another issue is whether the mattress will be on a platform or on a springy foundation (formerly known as "inner springs." Ours is on a platform & that may be why the relative softness of the latex doesn't bother me.
posted by mr vino at 2:23 PM on October 21, 2013

I did a ridiculous amount of research as well. And I ended up.....at Ikea and bought 4 of their highest end mattresses. 1 king, 1 queen, and 2 singles. All for less that 2k. I sleep like the dead and spent the 3k I saved on bedding, pillows, and 2 massive TV's.
posted by jasondigitized at 6:48 PM on October 24, 2013

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