Tell me how much a mattress cost.
April 14, 2019 8:24 PM   Subscribe

I'm (unfortunately) mattress shopping, and discussions with friends and family about my trials have provoked a question. Is there any tangible value to a $1,000-$1,300 mattress over a sub-$600 mattress? Assume that size, firmness, type, and comfort level, and financial impact doesn't play a role.

I knew coming into this process that mattresses are unilaterally a high-margin, shady business, and most brands legacy and newer (Sertas and Sealys to Caspers and Leesas) go hard on the markup. But I had assumed that generally, a mattress in a $1,000+ range would net you markedly better durability (as in, 8 years of good use than a sub-3 years on a cheapo), refined quality materials that made a difference to your health long term, and better customer service / in-person testing. The markup on a lower cost mattress would proportionally be the same as a higher priced one. The price difference came in the above things, which I'd be willing to drop the cash for.

Everyone I've talked to keeps arguing, however, that the price increase is pure markup. Higher price tags only get you a well-designed name brand, a storefront, your salesperson a commission, and "higher quality" materials that have little bearing on sleep quality. Also, cheaper mattresses, they argue, can go the distance durability-wise if treated right and don't play into the cost. Because of this, there's no real advantage to spending more than $500, so just buy the cheapest thing that's a good fit for you.

Aaaaaand now I'm confused. I've budgeted $1,200 for a mattress, but on principle am not privy to spending $600 extra on millennial-tinged marketing hype. I'm not insanely concerned about the commission an in-person salesperson would get (from Mattress Firm to boutique single brand stores, everyone's been friendly, helpful, and not sleazy upsellers). I just want a mattress equivalent of my Mazda (reliable, well-made, suits me well, without the frills of luxury car offerings), but trying to determine that price range has been frustrating. Most posts about mattresses compare specific ones, and I've lost faith in all mattress review sites. Did I drink the gel-infused Kool-Aid or is there some honest value to a $1,200 mattress over a $600 one?

I want an assessment as to how screwed up (or not screwed up) mattress companies' pricing schemes are. BUT, if anyone's curious, I was gearing towards a Nest Bedding Alexander Signature Hybrid (which I've tested in-person and suits me well), versus a similarly-spec'd hybrid from Zinus, Allswell, or Sweetnight (all sub-$600).
posted by galleta monster to Shopping (35 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
You don't want to do online ordering? I got a $400 California King with free shipping and it's amazing.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 8:30 PM on April 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I sleep on a roughly $600 mattress and this question plagued me. I did not want weird marked up mattresses and did not want memory foam. So I agonized. I do feel, however, like there's some merit in the idea that super cheap mattresses are probably not what you want (the ones you can buy in a box from Amazon or whatever for a few hundred). So yes you want that sweet spot. For me I basically went into a mattress store on a sale weekend and kept walking towards the back, around where the salespeople wander off, until I found a mattress that I felt was comfortable for me and bought it and paid for it to be delivered. It's been great, durable so far (it's only been a few years) but I'm also pretty kind to my mattresses. If you're looking for more than just anecdata, this is the website everyone I spoke with suggested, sort of a Consumer Reports for mattresses. I read up a little bit on what I'd be looking for. I am also someone who sleeps on a lot of different beds in a year (travel and visiting) and there's really only one bed I've been in that I've liked more than my bed and it's got one of those pillow tops that would be impractical for me on a day to day basis but is nice for right now. Good luck, I know this is a pain.
posted by jessamyn at 8:46 PM on April 14, 2019 [8 favorites]

I used to stress about mattresses. Then I fell in love with a $200 6” thick piece of high density furniture foam and never looked back. And yes, it is just fine with old back/neck injuries.
posted by executive_dysfuncti0n at 8:54 PM on April 14, 2019 [6 favorites]

We bought an Ikea mattress for 500 or less back in 2013 and we're still pretty happy with it. I actually haven't noticed any noticeable degradation at all yet.
posted by nakedmolerats at 8:57 PM on April 14, 2019 [4 favorites]

Just get the one that feels best to you within your budget and don't worry about people saying you spent too much or too little. Mattresses are just like shoes, cars, and desk chairs in that you spend a lot of time in it every day, it's very important that it's comfortable, and there's no prescription or formula that can predict which one will be comfortable for your own personal body that no one else has. It's impossible to spend too much on a mattress you like unless it's money you don't have.
posted by bleep at 9:05 PM on April 14, 2019 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Mattress retailer here. The markups are actually much thinner on low-end mattresses vs high end mattresses, and even those are generally about 50% which is... basically typical retail. The price difference is not all markup; my costs are substantially different on a high-end Queen that sells for $3000 vs a Queen that sells for $699.

There are construction differences reflected in the price:
-Coil count. Higher-end beds have more coils, which gives a much more responsive and conforming feel.
-Coil type. The cheapest mattresses have a "tied coil" design where it looks like a grid of springs. Better mattresses have individual pocketed coils, which are more conforming and reduce motion transfer.
-Foam types. Better mattresses will have better quality foams, and often cooling material. Gel memory foams provide a slower reaction time, so there's less bounce.
-Edge type. Cheaper mattresses will often just have a solid high-density foam edge, while better mattresses will have a double-row of mini coils around the perimeter. This makes for a firmer edge (less sag when sitting), and also helps provide a feeling of a larger bed, cause you can sleep closer to the edge without sagging.
-If you're using an adjustable base (head up/foot up adjustment), tied-coil mattresses are generally not compatible with adjustable bases, and cheaper mattresses with a foam edge support don't conform as well.

And honestly, yeah, some of it is bullshit. Who cares if the outer quilt layer is made with natural wool and silk instead of a synthetic blend, you're putting sheets on it anyway. Some of that is really face-palmy marketing wank.

Our shop doesn't work on commission. A lot of shops don't. Mattresses are just a small part of what we sell. It's our job to answer questions and help you narrow your search, but ultimately it comes down to whatever feels the most comfortable to you. When we first started carrying mattresses, we all spent a lot of time trying them all out to get a feel for them, and at the time, the bed that was the most comfortable for me was one of our high-end models, a cushion firm pillow top that was about $2500 queen size. Now, a few years later, the model I find most comfortable is a firm hybrid that is $999 queen. One of our salespeople says her most comfortable model is a $699 plush, while another guy bought the $3500 luxury firm pillow top. It's a very individual and personal choice; we're all different shapes and sizes. But considering most people spend 1/3 of their lives in bed, I think it's important to take the time to really make sure you find the right one for you, whether that's a $600 mattress or a $2600 mattress.

And whatever you get, put a good quality mattress protector on it. The mattress store will probably have them, but they're seriously 30-50 bucks on Amazon. Sweat and skin oils get into the foam which causes it to deteriorate and collapse, and this is what makes body impressions or "troughs" in mattresses. It's usually the foam that fails, not the springs, and it's usually preventable. Use the mattress protector, follow the washing instructions, and replace it after 3-5 years, when it starts to look worn. It's worth it to protect your investment, which should last 8-10 years. It helps protect your mattress warranty, too, because most brands won't cover a failure if there's a stain in the failure area. This could be pet urine, spilled coffee, even sweat will eventually make a stain.

And, buy one on sale. We have like six sales events a year, and while not all of our beds go on sale, pretty much everything mid-grade and up does. Especially on the high-end models, it can mean $600 - $1000. Once you know what you want, it's worth waiting for a sale, if possible. The sales are less common with the online-only sellers, but are pretty standard with brick-and-mortar retailers.
posted by xedrik at 9:16 PM on April 14, 2019 [137 favorites]

Best answer: Surprisingly Awesome did an episode on this exact question. IIRC basically you want to spend about $900-$1500, past that the diminishing returns make it not worth the extra expense.
posted by axiom at 9:32 PM on April 14, 2019 [6 favorites]

xedrick: when you, as a retailer, are choosing which mattresses to buy for resale, what information source do you go to to compare them on those measures of coil count, coil type, foam type, and edge type? Is it just your supplier's catalogs, and if so is there any way for non-mattress-professionals to get hold of cross-retailer comparison specs like that?
posted by XMLicious at 10:00 PM on April 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

Buying a cheap mattress at the same place that sells expensive ones is more likely to get you a bad one than a place that just sells "better" for less.

However, Ikea is where it's at. Cheaper, better, no millennial hype.
posted by flimflam at 10:08 PM on April 14, 2019 [8 favorites]

XMLicious, for the brands we represent, it's basically "Here are the lines available to you; put together a list of the models you want to carry (16 for us) and that is what will be available to you." We have specs available on the models we carry, but don't really have much on competitor's models.
posted by xedrik at 10:13 PM on April 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

I've always hated innerspring mattresses. In case your body is similar, I wanted to point out that there are alternatives.

I slept on a Japanese-style shikibuton for several years until a partner complained about how uncomfortable it was. (It started out good, but by that time, the cotton had compressed and they were right, it was a pretty miserable sleeping experience.) After that, I decided that I wanted something a little more substantial, and so I got a queen size wool/cotton/fiber batting mattress from Cotton Cloud that cost $600 or so. It was very comfortable, but required me to flip it and rotate it periodically for maintenance. I was not great at remembering to do that, and it shortened the life of the mattress (weird butt divots in the middle after 5 years).

Recently I switched to (and fell in love with) a 6" latex mattress with a 3" wool topper, which seems totally decadent compared to my previous, much more affordable mattress. (For the latex mattress and the topper it's in the $1300 range for the twin size, so not cheap.) But... it's incredibly comfy to my body. Every time I lay down in it I am so happy. Also apparently latex mattresses have a 20 year expected lifetime. No more weird sag / butt divots, hooray!

So, long story short, go lay on some mattresses made of different materials and see what your body even likes before you start looking into what things cost. Also think about whether you're a back sleeper, a side sleeper, or have any other specific sleeping patterns that might influence what material / firmness are a good idea for your body.
posted by cnidaria at 11:09 PM on April 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

I have terrible buyer's remorse that causes me to do things like take two years to find the right slotted spoon, so for my current mattress I set myself a similar budget as you ("around $1000") and did a tiny bit of research, as much as was available 10 or so years ago.

I went into two different local chains, saw that their offerings and prices were too similar to judge, came to the conclusion that the entire industry is probably all mobbed up and impossible to escape, so at the second one I looked at a few different hardnesses of individual-coil no-pillowtop no-boxspring queen mattresses of brands I recognized (Simmons, etc.). Found one I liked, asked for one step harder, and paid them whatever the ticket price was: $1200.

They delivered it and took my old one and I've been quite happy with it, so it's been nice not to have to think about this purchase! I have also slept on a memory foam mattress, which was "fine." Squishy and hot. I think most people have too-soft mattresses, so a hard memory foam might be more tolerable but then again, "I asked for one step harder."

I've also heard of people walking in with cash and offering 50% of the list price and having that deal accepted, so :shrug:.

Lastly, some day ($3500)
posted by rhizome at 11:14 PM on April 14, 2019

I bought a higher-end hybrid mattress (springs and foam both) at the local mattress store with a "free" adjustable base within your mattress budget. I just asked if they had anything they could give me at a discount, a return or a floor model or something, and I got a basically new mattress with a torn handle on the side (who cares? not me). I was sick at my stomach spending that much on a bed, but the difference between it and bed in a box and Ikea both is so huge I got over the regret pretty quickly.
posted by hollyholly at 11:17 PM on April 14, 2019

Used mattressses are required by law to be impeccably sanitized. I've furnished an entire apartment in a day for the cost of a new mattress by using Cort Furniture's outlet store where they sell the furniture that is no longer being rented. That included delivery and set-up.
posted by Skwirl at 11:18 PM on April 14, 2019 [5 favorites]

I bought an expensive for me (~£1000) mattress online 10 years ago and it's amazing - loads of pocket springs, layers of natural fillings - it supports each bit of you with just the right pressure. Not worth spending loads in store on ones that are just big lumps of plastic/latex foam but definitely is for something built to last with craft and decent materials. Look for a manufacturer with a long standing reputation not a no-name or brand tied to a retailer.
posted by JonB at 1:51 AM on April 15, 2019

We have fancy handmade mattresses made locally, and they are so much better than the cheap mattresses and mid-range IKEA mattresses we had years ago. We do rotate them and they all have mattress toppers, but they are on 8+ years and still excellent.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:03 AM on April 15, 2019

I bought an IKEA mattress from the higher end of their range and after two years, it's pretty saggy. I wouldn't buy one again.
posted by lollusc at 3:17 AM on April 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

I paid more to have a 100% wool mattress sent to me (handmade in Bulgaria) it was slightly more expensive than a nicer regular one. It was 600 for a twin mattress. I bought mine because I am a wool lover and was convinced it would help my overheating at night (it did! yay!), however, in my research I also learned that these mattresses can last for 30 years and are completely biodegradable- and no flame retardants. My husband gets cheaper mattresses and has to replace them every few years and to me that is a lot of mattresses being sent to a landfill.
posted by catspajammies at 3:36 AM on April 15, 2019 [7 favorites]

In 2008, I moved out of dorm living into an apartment, so I went mattress hunting. I ended up buying a $600 Sealy from Sears, which was really expensive given that I was a student, but oh my god that mattress is/was amazing. I took it through one local and three interstate moves, and turned it about every 6 months or so. It's only now, 10+ years later, starting to sag a bit.
posted by basalganglia at 4:06 AM on April 15, 2019

For under $300 you can get one delivered from online;

We got this for my son's apartment and he's in love with it. It's a hybrid (so springs and memory foam). you can get just traditional spring, or just memory foam, but I'm finding these hybrid ones comfortable. I really don't understand paying thousands of dollars for a mattress nowadays.
posted by rich at 5:58 AM on April 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

FWIW, I love-love my $250 mattress from Ikea. I replaced my first one with another after eight years, but at this rate it's the same as keeping a $1000 mattress for 32 years.
posted by booth at 6:10 AM on April 15, 2019 [9 favorites]

In my personal experience, the mattress that I spend $2,000 on was unusable within a year (traditional coil mattress, Simmons Beautyrest, everyone rolled to the center) and we replaced it with a $500 mattress off Amazon (Sleep Innovations memory foam) eight years ago and it still feels like it did the day we bought it. That Simmons still gives me buyer's remorse almost a decade later. Price and quality don't have any correlation when it comes to mattresses.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 6:27 AM on April 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

FWIW, I love-love my $250 mattress from Ikea. I replaced my first one with another after eight years, but at this rate it's the same as keeping a $1000 mattress for 32 years.

Same here. My Ikea mattress is twelve years old and probably *should* be replaced, but it still rides just fine. I occasionally sleep on high-end mattresses, and while there is a difference, I find it minimal.
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:38 AM on April 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I didn't name the mattress I got but it was a Linenspa. It's a bit firm. It was this one:
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 7:51 AM on April 15, 2019

I ended up with a mid range $350 IKEA I liked, then added a 4” gel topper from BBB for another $150 or so.
posted by tilde at 8:06 AM on April 15, 2019

I bought a ~$300 mattress on Amazon a few years ago and it is still sleeping fine. It's true that you can feel a difference when laying down on a higher-end mattress, but it has never seemed to correlate to quality of sleep.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:51 AM on April 15, 2019

I wanted memory foam but didn't want to deal with a giant box from Amazon, so I bought a $600 queen size memory foam mattress from Costco. It's normal mattress thickness and *so* comfortable despite being firmer than the super cushy memory foam. I'm a soft mattress kind of person and I now like it better than the double pillow top innerspring mattress that I picked out as a teenager from a traditional mattress store. I sometimes travel and stay in niceish hotels (4 star) and don't find the mattress as comfortable as my own mattress.

Mattress preferences are super personal, but I just want to put Costco on your radar if you haven't already looked there. They usually have out-of-the-box samples that you can touch but not lie on; however, you can easily return the mattress to the store after unboxing if you don't like it, without dealing with shipping.
posted by serelliya at 9:30 AM on April 15, 2019

Jumping on the Ikea bandwagon.

Also, Slate did a piece on mattress pricing years ago.
posted by fso at 9:53 AM on April 15, 2019

Response by poster: Thank you everyone! I really just want to go the fuck to sleep and this is getting me there.

This is what I seem to be taking away from all of this:

- I didn't drink the Kool-Aid. The sweet spot exists, and its $800-$1400.
- Coil count, coil type, foam density, and foam type are the materials that jack up the price and are worth it. Everything else is meh, or pure subjectivity.
- Great sub-$600 mattresses definitely exist, but you just have to hunt harder for them. The price cut mainly comes from peace-of-mind during buying time, customer support, and less-great (but not necessarily shit) build quality.
- None of the above matters unless you can bear to lay on it comfortably for 15 minutes.

I'll try out some sub-$800 hybrids. If anything beats my original $1,200 choice in terms of comfort level (which I thought was damn well nice), I'll go with that one. Otherwise, the $1,200 one it is. I'm not opposed to online buying, but the risk-averse / tactile-kinesthetic learner in me prefers to try objects before buying.

Also, I have a "no 2nd floor shopping" policy at IKEA, but based on feedback here, am willing to make an exception. It's just that even the sleaziest mattress store seems more attractive than the Burbank IKEA on a Saturday morning.
posted by galleta monster at 10:03 AM on April 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

Given a choice between talking to mattress salespeople, sweating into a foam mattress, and having to replace your Ikea mattress every decade or so. . . I've committed to exclusively buying from Ikea until they cease to exist. We're on number 3 (in two homes, after three moves and two decades). The not-the-cheapest ones are exactly as good as anything available at the mattress store and you don't have to waste time with asshole salespeople.
posted by eotvos at 12:31 PM on April 15, 2019

I bought a mattress from Tuft & Needle and it instantly solved my issues with back pain. They have a 100-night trial period so if you don't like it, there's no risk to returning it. I do think there are a lot of markups along the distribution and sales chain of mattresses, so if you order one direct from somewhere, it should be cheaper. The only drawback is it can hold onto body heat quite well, but I am a warm sleeper anyway so I've always turned on my air conditioner at night anyway, regardless of the type of mattress I have.
posted by AppleTurnover at 3:41 PM on April 15, 2019

My mom went to a mattress store to buy a mattress for a guest room and ended up spending around $600-700 CAD for a Kingsdown mattress. It was much better than the mattresses I had used up to then. When I had to get a mattress for myself I ended up getting one from them as well for a bit more, maybe $800 CAD, because it had a pillow top. It is a more comfortable mattress but I regret getting the pillow top because I can rotate it but can't flip it over. Next time I'd probably just get a regular mattress and put a topper on it.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 3:50 PM on April 15, 2019

I agree with the first comment. I'm sleeping on a $400 King and have been for six years. It is, by far, my favorite mattress I've ever used. I'm 42 years old, so I've had quite a few.
posted by tacodave at 4:10 PM on April 15, 2019

For what it’s worth, the Simmons Beautyrest that I’m still sorry I bought nine years later was the mattress we picked out after laying on every mattress in our local mattress store. The mattress I have loved for the past nine years was bought off the internet purely based on recommendations (from Ask). Trying in the store isn’t necessarily a good predictor of how well it will last or how much you will like it.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 5:28 PM on April 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Chiming in to say, I too have buyer's remorse about Simmons Beautyrest. That was an expensive mistake. And I tried it in the store and loved it. We recently updated Boy's room to Manly room, with No Kid Stuff, which entailed a suite of furniture and a mattress. He chose the higher end Ikea, (firm), and he loves it. He's a pretty big guy, and it's shown no signs of wilting or sagging or sinking spots.

I'm looking for a new mattress too, but without any foam or pillowtop, which is harder to find that one might think.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 10:09 PM on April 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

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