I need help buying a new bed
March 28, 2014 9:17 AM   Subscribe

I have never in my life bought a bed. I have never in my adult life owned a new mattress. I have always slept on hand-me-downs or give-aways. I am ready to invest in a new, top-quality mattress and box springs but I don't have the first idea of how or where to start.

Husband and I are perfectly happy in a queen-sized bed. We do not need the frame or a headboard/footboard. We just need a top-quality mattress and box springs, preferably something good for people with allergies. We both kinda like a hard bed but I'm sure those details come later in the shopping process.

I feel overwhelmed because I live in Houston and there are a thousand strip mall and discount mattress stores in this city and they kinda skeeve me out. We also have gigantic locally-owned box furniture stores and they also skeeve me out, for the opposite reasons. I do not want a discount roadside mattress, nor do I want a way marked-up, overhyped mattress. I just want a simple, really nice, top-quality mattress and box springs that don't come from any kind of weird-ass store. Also do not want this to turn into a car shopping type experience where we're hassled like crazy during the process.

Also, are those sleep number mattresses worth a damn?

I have ready these two threads but am more looking for advice on what stores to try first, I guess.
posted by Brittanie to Home & Garden (33 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
I got a Tempur-pedic last fall, the Contour Select (which is looks like they have since discontinued - it was their firmest one at the time). When we went mattress shopping we had no intention of going with a Tempur-pedic but it was by far the best of all the ones we tried, and with six months of sleeping on the bed I can tell you I would happily pay twice as much for this thing if I had to. It is fantastic. They are pricey for a reason. If you have the cash, they're worth every penny.

Also - like you, I dreaded mattress shopping because I expected a car salesman-type experience, but that never happened once in all the different stores we visited. We ended up getting ours from a local place but I visited Mattress Firm and some other chains and we never had an annoying experience. The salespeople were genuinely helpful and non-aggressive.
posted by something something at 9:22 AM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Apartment Therapy has done a bunch of mattress reviews. The "Year In Bed" series was pretty informative.
posted by kimdog at 9:22 AM on March 28, 2014

I randomly ended up buying my mattress (which I love) at Sears, of all places. They have a big selection, and I didn't feel pressured.
posted by three_red_balloons at 9:27 AM on March 28, 2014

Here's how I did this.

Went to local chain mattress shop. This was New York, so Sleepy's. I'm sure there's a comparable chain in Houston. Not a "discount mattress store", not some tent in a parking lot. Just, like, a store that sells mattresses. It seems to me that Yelp would be a good source for this if you have no idea where respectable people go to buy mattresses. IKEA also sells mattresses, and I have friends who swear by them, but who knows.

I bought the second cheapest mattress. You may want to aim higher than that, but as a guideline you don't want either the cheapest or the most expensive, just something in the middle.

Then there are all kinds of options. Do you want a pillow top? (I regret getting this because it made my bed insanely tall, but YMMV.) It sounds like you are opting for a box spring. Do you want that little metal frame with casters? I'm sure the sky is the limit on things like memory foam toppers, hypoallergenic whatever, blah blah blah. It's like buying a car, where the choice of mattress is pretty easy (and seems affordable enough) and then they get you on the extras.

I had the mattress delivered to my apartment. It was 100% seamless and perfect.
posted by Sara C. at 9:28 AM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

This old Slate article is worth a read. It will give you the Fear, though.
posted by thelonius at 9:29 AM on March 28, 2014

Sleep Like The Dead is very useful for general mattress info and reviews.

If you're interested in memory foam, I can specifically recommend Bed in a Box as having fair prices and amazing customer service.
posted by asperity at 9:29 AM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

You should take a look at this post by jkottke.
posted by Dr. Zira at 9:29 AM on March 28, 2014 [10 favorites]

I was in this situation about a year and a half ago, and got overwhelmed reading online advice about mattress buying. After all that, I ended up asking a friend who had recently moved where he got his mattress, and he directed me toward a nondescript mattress store where I found something in my price range that I'm super happy with. So my advice would be to maybe poll your local social group for shop ideas and try not to read too much (:

Also, ikea's high end mattress are very nice (out of my budget) and they seem to have a policy of not hassling you as you try them out.
posted by justjess at 9:32 AM on March 28, 2014

Every spring mattress I've ever bought has been terrible, because the foam at the top wears out, the mattress hammocks and then it's uncomfortable. (The springs essentially never wear out).

I would either go with a mattress that's made for the top layers to be swapped out - I believe Bay Bed in Santa Cruz, CA does this, go with something relatively inexpensive, like an Amazon Memory foam mattress for less than $400, or understand that your mattress is probably going to wear out relatively quickly and you're going to replace it.

Mattress are a really, really individual thing, so YMMV.
posted by cnc at 9:33 AM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well, if you want anecdotal evidence, I absolutely love my Sleep Number.

It comes with a 20-year warranty, so if you price out good mattresses, which you will likely replace every 7-10 years, the cost comes out to be about the same over the lifetime of the bed.

I went with it because a) hubby and I like different mattress firmness, and b) I have slept on foam mattresses and found them to be too hot.

Sometimes I wish we'd gone extra fancy and gotten the features where you can raise the foot or the head of the bed, but overall those features are really not necessary, propping up with pillows works just fine too.
posted by vignettist at 9:37 AM on March 28, 2014

I bought an Ikea mattress because I'd slept on the same mattress in a friend's guest room and liked it. So, if you've slept on any mattresses lately that you liked, that might be a good way to go.
posted by mskyle at 9:56 AM on March 28, 2014

I'd highly recommend my combo of a bottom-end mattress (mine was from Sears) and a fancy memory foam topper (mine was the most expensive one at Ikea). I think they were each around 250-300$ for a queen, so the combination was cheaper than even an average-priced pillowtop. I got a platform bed at the same time so I could avoid a box spring, but it'd work equally well with a cheapo box spring instead - box springs don't really do much other than provide a surface for the mattress, and a bit of added springiness.

I was really hesitant about the memory foam because it initially felt weird to me and I'm a warm sleeper, which is why I went with a topper instead of a full mattress, but I absolutely love it - it's more comfortable than any other bed I've slept in since, including a couple fancy hotels.
posted by randomnity at 10:03 AM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ugh mattress shopping. Such a racket. Do not get sucked into analysis paralysis. The best thing to do is pick a place that has mattresses in your price range and just go there - you can't really compare across stores.

When we bought a bed about a year ago, I went first into one of the chains that happened to be near my house (Sleep Train, which is big-ish in California) and talked to them. The guy there was really nice and he basically told me that there are basically two price points - over $1000 and under. I was looking to spend about $700 and he said they were in the $1000 and I should try Mattress Discounters. So I went there, we tried out a few. It was a little gimmicky but they didn't wheel and deal too much. There was one we liked and it was on sale and they could deliver when we needed it. Sold.
posted by radioamy at 10:04 AM on March 28, 2014

There are two industry-wide problems that make buying a mattress a little complicated these days.

First, a bunch of the major manufacturers have been acquired by hedge funds over the last few decades. A lot of them were losing money (for reasons I don't really know about, but there you go). Read about Simmons. Simmons introduced a major change to the industry with the introduction of the "no-flip" mattress around 2000 and marketed it as an innovation which was good for consumers. No more flipping your mattress every few months! That's what people had been doing with spring mattresses

Yeah, well, what they didn't publicize as much was the fact that older mattresses needed to be flipped periodically because they were reversible and had enough springs etc. in them to work both ways. Simmons' new corporate overlords realized they could knock a bunch of the cost out of mattresses by eliminating that "redundancy." So yes, you don't have to flip your mattress anymore, but you can't either, meaning that it's going to last about half as long as it otherwise might have. The entire industry has followed suit.

Now I'm speculating a bit, but I think this may be partly how pillow-top mattresses came about. Once manufacturers stopped making mattresses that were intended to be flipped, they could start doing things to just one side of them. Adding a layer of stuffing or whatever is still cheaper than doing what amounts to double the internal works. Again, speculation on my part, but as the two things seemed to happen about the same time, I'm suspicious.

Second, there's a growing move towards memory foam, either as a topper or the whole thing. Conventions and consumer preferences are still developing there, but the manufacturers think they'll be doing a majority of memory foam by the end of the decade. A lot of their products in that range are thus still basically experimental. They do testing and all, but no one has slept on any of these things for more than a few years. Makes it hard to know what's a good long-term item and what isn't.

So yeah. Mattresses. At this point, other than Select Comfort Sleep Number stuff, for which you will pay a serious premium, I'd avoid buying something all that high end. Market is undergoing too much change.
posted by valkyryn at 10:22 AM on March 28, 2014 [6 favorites]

Oh, and box springs are basically all the same. They're just glorified wooden slats. Usually cost about $100 or so. Get whatever they offer.
posted by valkyryn at 10:23 AM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Figure out if you like memory foam or not. Some people say it makes them feel overheated while sleeping. I personally don't care for it.

Also, I had a pretty low budget, but one thing I appreciated about mattress shopping at Ikea was that I knew the prices listed were what I would pay. They seemed lowish compared to list prices for regular mattress stores, which presumably I could have haggled down. But I don't think I could have haggled down the price of any decent firm mattresses all the way to the $249 I ended up paying for a Hanestad at Ikea. Jury's still out on how long it'll last, though, and while it's comfortable, it doesn't look as solid as the mattresses I grew up with.
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:33 AM on March 28, 2014

We started searching for a new mattress last month and learned from a relative who works for Big Mattress Store that May is the best time to buy - there are usually friends and family events and other clearance sales as the new models come in. His advice is backed up by Lifehacker.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 10:42 AM on March 28, 2014

I bought a mattress online for $300 including cost of delivery. Sleeps fine.

As valkyrn alludes to above, the mattress industry is a racket on par with glasses frames. Feel free to shop around in person and try things out, but I'd at least give a look online to see if you can find something acceptable once you know what features you like. Materials and quality wise, for the most part $2,000 mattresses are about even with $500 ones.
posted by Diablevert at 11:11 AM on March 28, 2014

word of warning - if you are a hot sleeper then stay away from Tempurpedic/ memory foam type beds.. the foam tends to hold in heat and you can wake up sweating even if you don't have many blankets on top. consider my lesson learned :/
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 11:15 AM on March 28, 2014

Yes memory foams are usually love it or hate it. The family I housesat for had one, and I felt awful after sleeping on it. Even though they had a king sized bed I would end up sleeping in the daughter's twin!
posted by radioamy at 11:29 AM on March 28, 2014

I bought my mattress from Amazon and love it:

16" LUCIDĀ® by Linenspa Natural Latex and Memory Foam Mattress Plush Four-Layer with Bamboo Charcoal Bed

IMO you don't need a boxspring with it, just a simple frame:

2-in-1 Bed Frame (No Box Spring Required)

I recommend buying a good protective casing:

Sleep Tite by Malouf ENCASEĀ® Mattress Protector

Bonus: If you get cold in the winter, a heated mattress pad is wonderful:

Sunbeam Quilted Polyester Heated Mattress Pad

I can personally vouch for the quality of the above products. And the great thing about buying everything from Amazon is it's all delivered to your door a few days later without you having to drive anywhere, deal with salespeople, or even put on pants.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:42 AM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, I also tried a Sleep Number mattress a few years ago and hated it. And while they claim you can return it for free after the trial period, what they don't tell you (except in the fine print somewhere) is that it costs several hundred dollars in return shipping.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:44 AM on March 28, 2014

Oh, I just realized the links I posted went to the Full size versions (since that is what I purchased), so you'll want to click Queen on everything before adding to cart.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:48 AM on March 28, 2014

I don't have a Sleep Number bed and have never slept on one, but in researching this I found people who said that if you're a close sleeper, the foam piece between the two airbags tends to sag over time, and the bed becomes V-shaped. (The airbags don't cover the whole bed).

That could be wrong, but it's why I ruled out Sleep Number a few years ago.
posted by cnc at 12:08 PM on March 28, 2014

I think you missed this previous thread.

It mentions Shifman mattresses; high end, but flippable. Their top models run tens of thousands of dollars, but they can be as low as $1200-$1500 at Bloomingdales. If your budget permits it, definitely check them out. (Did I mention flippable?)
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:36 PM on March 28, 2014

Are you a Costco member? They've got basically 4 mattresses: good traditional, swanky traditional, good foam, really good foam. They deliver and they warranty.

If you don't quite like the firmness/softness of the mattress you buy, you can buy a topper to adjust it.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:48 PM on March 28, 2014

If you don't quite like the firmness/softness of the mattress you buy, you can buy a topper to adjust it.

That's only half true. Here's what I wish I had thought through on my first mattress purchase: you actually can't make a mattress firmer and they tend to soften up over time. Plywood under the bottom (tried it!) does not help. Cushioning on top obviously just makes it even softer. I kept my first eventually too-soft mattress for five years (with about four years of slowly declining happiness and one year of outright dissatisfaction) and then sold it cheaply on Craigslist.

With my second mattress, I got the second-most firm one available. It felt good to lay on my back atop this mattress for 15-20 minutes in the store (unlike the firmest one, which hurt my joints even for a short time). When trying to sleep on it for hours however, especially on my side, it is so firm it actually hurt my ankles and shoulders the first night I had it. It is perfect.

I bought a foam topper for it which makes it the ideal level of comfort now, and if ever it starts feeling too soft or my back starts acting up again like it did with my previous too soft mattress, I can just pull that foam off and it will miraculously become firmer.

Also, both times I have bought mattresses it was in a confrontational sales-y store. Both times I started to leave the store despite wanting the mattress set due to cost, and both times got a couple hundred knocked off the price (and I was only shopping in the below-$700 bracket of beds, anyway).
posted by vegartanipla at 1:42 PM on March 28, 2014

If you're buying from a chain, try the same mattress out in different stores. I did this with mine (orthopaedic sprung mattress with a memory foam pillow top) and it felt the same in the three stores I tried it. The other mattress that was in the running was super firm and comfortable in one store but less so in the other two.
posted by essexjan at 2:58 PM on March 28, 2014

There's a lot of information on The Mattress Underground. Not only on what to look for and how to figure out and evaluate mattresses, but also how to shop for them. And in the forum, there are recommendations for stores in pretty much every city. I highly recommend it. There's a lot of information, but it's really worth the time.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 3:20 PM on March 28, 2014

I was so discouraged and disgusted by the racket that is the mattress business that when I could no linger stand the 20-year-old thing I was sleeping on, I just went online and ordered a Costco mattress in medium firmness. It was delivered and installed, they hauled the old one away, the price was more than reasonable, and you cannot beat Costco's return policy, even though I didn't need to use it. That was five years ago and I am still very, very happy with my purchase.
posted by caryatid at 9:46 PM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Girl, I have so much information to share. I have done this a total of four times in the last 12 years in Houston.

12 years ago I needed a mattress for our guest bedroom. I needed the box springs and frame, as well. I saw an ad in the paper that led me to the Finger Furniture outlet on I-45 near UofH (since closed). I rolled around on a few floor models, and decided on a mattress. That mattress is now at my in-laws' house. It's a pillowtop; in spite of this, I still find it a little too firm for me.

The purchasing process was a little unpleasant. I don't remember all the details, but I remember that I had to finance the purchase, and that involved some back-and-forth with the store. I felt like I got hosed.

About 8 years ago I needed two twin beds for my kids. I went to a strip-mall mattress store. I think I was attracted by a "free box springs with mattress purchase" promotion. We ended up buying pretty much the cheapest mattresses, reasoning that little kids don't need any particular kind of support. The mattresses were the "no-flip" variety, which I came to regret--even though wear wasn't an issue, nighttime "accidents" were, and I wish that we had been able to rotate the mattresses better. I'm sorry, but I don't remember much of the financial details on that purchase.

About 4 years ago I needed a double bed for my daughter. I went to IKEA, where the mattresses are pretty cheap, indeed. We bought an innerspring mattress and a box spring. [This mattress is flip-able, but I don't think IKEA is making that kind any longer.] The mattress came rolled up and vacuum packed in plastic. Every time I sit on it with my, uh, ample haunches, I feel like it's going to collapse beneath me. However I will say that it's pretty comfortable to sleep on.

The purchase was a standard retail experience--we paid the price on the ticket. Since it was rolled up, we were able to get it home ourselves. One downside: IKEA mattresses are pretty thin. Our daughter complained about the bagginess of the sheets on her bed, so I ended up having to hunt down a set of "low-profile" sheets, which cost more than I would normally pay for kid sheets ($50 vs. maybe $25-30).

Finally, this month I was looking for another double bed, this time for my son. I had been reading some of the advice referenced above--the Slate article, Mattress Underground, etc. I decided to seek out a local manufacturer to see what that process was like. There are two or three of these outfits in town; the one I went to was Texas Mattress Makers, near the Port of Houston. They actually build the mattresses on site after they are ordered. Once I established that I wanted a regular, innerspring, non-pillowtop mattress, there were only a couple of models to choose from. The starting price was very reasonable (about $300) but there were extras that added to the total cost: making it flippable cost $120, I think; with box springs, a frame, sales tax and delivery, the total came to $750. I am pretty happy with this purchase. The bed actually feels a little too firm to me, but this is something that can be remedied with a topper, I think.

Other options I considered:
Craigslist--you can purchase a "new" (actually returned to manufacturer and re-sold) mattress from Craigslist. If I were really up against it I would consider this; the mattresses are usually sealed in plastic long enough to kill any bedbugs. But the downsides on that are fairly obvious.
Costco--the advantage here is the good return policy, but it was a non-starter for me because all of their models were "no-flip."
Tuft and Needle--an online seller I heard about since my latest purchase. It looks like their prices come out similar to those I found at the local manufacturer, but I will definitely look into them next time.

Options I did not consider:
memory foam--I've heard that it sleeps hot and is bad for, uh, marital relations. Obviously it had its fans, though.
sleep number--I didn't really explore it because it seems gimmicky and expensive, though again, it has its fans
pillow top--previous experience showed me it wasn't that comfortable, and as explained above:
"no-flip" mattresses--it halves the lifetime of the mattress if you don't flip it quarterly.

Sorry about the novella! TLDR:

furniture store:
pros: none
cons: sales pressure; negotiating the financing was obnoxious.
cost: don't recall

strip-mall mattress store:
pro: they had the very low-end stuff we were looking for
cons: low quality; sales pressure
cost: don't recall

pros: inexpensive; no delivery fee (ahem); flippable
cons: feels insubstantial; requires special sheets
cost: +/- $180 for the mattress, $100 for box springs; sales tax

local factory:
pros: low pressure; glad to support local folks
cons: not the most comfortable thing ever, which might be remedied for even more $
cost: $300 mattress+$120 to make it two-sided+frame, delivery, tax=$750 total
posted by Jane Austen at 11:08 AM on March 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

For allergies, my doctor recommended a latex mattress, which I got late last year here and I love. The only downside is that there are not a lot of places where you can try them out in Houston and they are expensive (but have a 30-year guarantee). I tried out the general concept of latex in person here, then called the place in CA and they customized the firmness based on what I told them and sent it to me. I wound up not needing box springs, which helped with the cost.
posted by *s at 1:28 PM on March 29, 2014

Two other threads that might be helpful. I love my IKEA mattress (firm, springs, top of their line).
posted by amusebuche at 3:56 AM on March 30, 2014

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