Shopping for a New Mattress 101
February 5, 2021 1:12 PM   Subscribe

My husband, S, and I have been sleeping on the same bed for many (many!) years. We're now in a financial position where we can afford to get a new mattress (or maybe an entire new bed). But how to choose? Firm, medium, extra firm, memory foam, covered confusing, and is it really preferable to go to the actual mattress showroom to make an informed decision? (more inside)

S and I have both pretty much remained quarantined since the beginning of the pandemic, so I'm reluctant to go out to a store (even masked up) to lie on sample mattresses. Plus as I recall when we purchased our current bed, you can't really get a feel by lying down for a minute or two on a floor display. So that's why I'm thinking maybe we can do this strictly online...?

S and I are both over 50 years old, and both have autoimmune conditions that sometimes cause joint/spinal pain. We definitely need a King mattress. S is a light sleeper and we have different sleeping schedules, so I frequently (unintentionally) disturb him when I come to bed hours after him and shift around a bit to find my "comfy" position. This factor makes me wonder if one of those "motion isolation" mattresses would be best for us. But I've also read reviews about foam mattresses and how they need to be "aired out" for a day or two before using because of off-gassing (and we don't have room in our home for this process). Neither one of us is particularly slender, so I'm looking for something that would support a combined 400 lbs. S varies from side-sleeping to back sleeping; me, I'm almost strictly a side-sleeper.

Hive mind, I'd appreciate your input as far as your personal mattress experiences, what type of bed would suit my needs as described above, and do you think it's necessary to try a mattress in person before purchasing?
posted by Oriole Adams to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
You remind me of summer me! We had each left the house three times for groceries in sixteen weeks and decided to go to an empty home we bought to keep in the family for a month and needed a bed. I had bought our current mattress in the store ten years ago and was unsure of only reading reviews/specs online.

We relied on wirecutter and a few other mattress recommendation posts on sites we read (nymag might have been one) to narrow it down to a few brands. We ended up going with the luxury firm one from Winkbeds and also bought their platform instead of a box spring. We liked that it had coils and could be delivered touch less in the compressed box (the platform came separately and was also left outside, albeit in a much larger package). If it had a smell it was minor and went away quickly. I joke that my partner is like a bloodhound and don’t recall him commenting much, if at all, on a smell.

I believe we were also considering a saatva, but it wouldn’t arrive soon enough. The price for both was higher than my last mattress and there are lower priced options on the review sites that I mentioned.

We returned to that empty home for two months over the holidays and are now back in our uncomfortable old bed in the city. Surprisingly no regrets about the online only process.

We are side/back sleepers and combined 350-400 lbs.
posted by icaicaer at 1:30 PM on February 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

I had to buy a new mattress a couple of months ago. For all of my life, I've preferred mattresses that are on the firmer side of the sliding scale. I had it in my head I wanted a basic coil mattress without any of the latex cushioning that is layered over the top--exactly the kind of thing I'd been sleeping on for decades.

Trying a number of different mattresses in three different stories (everybody was masked), I quickly realized that whatever has changed with in my aging body has made it nearly impossible to lay on a new coil spring mattress without immediate discomfort and mild pain. I was shocked because the mattress I had been sleeping on was a simple coil spring mattress. I don't know if the older ones had a bit more padding on top of the coils or what but coils-only was a no-go this time around. So I ended up with a coil mattress with a (supposedly) natural latex cushion on the top, even though that was exactly the kind of mattress I was convinced I didn't want.
posted by sardonyx at 1:45 PM on February 5, 2021

We are happy with our new Ghostbed Luxe. We got the split King with individually adjustable bases.

All arrived in the mail, zero smell to the mattresses, and we were sleeping on them the same evening they arrived. Easy assembly.
posted by BeeDo at 1:52 PM on February 5, 2021

I don't have a specific recommendation (I find it to be such a personal topic that it's impossible for me to guess what someone else will like), but I can say that we bought and ended up returning a Tuft & Needle and the process was very, very easy. I suspect most of the major online mattress brands are the same. So don't be too afraid of trying one, as long as the return policy is good.

BTW, the Tuft & Needle was very nice, so I don't mean to discourage you from trying that brand. It just wasn't quite right for us (a bit too firm).
posted by primethyme at 2:11 PM on February 5, 2021

You could DIY a straw mattress. It's like “memory foam, with a really good memory”.
posted by aniola at 2:37 PM on February 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Go to a higher-end furniture store that also sells mattresses, not to a big-box mattress store with a 100 units on display. The latter will have all kinds of apparent deals to sell you, and a fairly slick sales approach, and will confuse the hell out of you. At the high-end furniture store, they could care less whether you buy a mattress from them, because it's not their bread and butter — BUT, they stock a limited number of REALLY GOOD mattress styles, ranging from soft to hard. Go there, try them out. The staff will just show you where the beds are and won't bother you as you decide. They only stock mattresses because they sell bed frames, and their customers trust them to supply excellent quality mattresses to go along with them.

Around 20 years ago, we bought a certain style Shifman mattress in such a store. Like you, we were in the financial position to invest in a great mattress. It ran a little north of $2,000, as I recall, and was the bottom of the Shiffman line. But it lasted 15 years and we only decided to replace it because we both were having some back problems and thought that maybe the mattress was at fault. It still felt fine, though, but maybe a little less springy. So we called the same store (which was now 60 miles away because we had moved), and asked if they still had that particular style of Shifman mattress. The answer was yes (maybe a little cosmetic change, but the same thing). We purchased it over the phone, they delivered it. That would never happen in a big-box mattress store — all the makes and models would be different after 15 years. We're still sleeping on it, our backs are better, and we expect to get another 10 years out of it.

All in all, those mattress investments have worked out to around $150 per year or 3 bucks a week. Not bad for the thing you spend a third of your life on. Don't skimp.
posted by beagle at 2:42 PM on February 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

I agree, avoid mattress stores. Macy's. Costco will deliver mattresses, and accepts returns. Hybrid coil & foam layer example.
If movement transfer is an issue, you might consider two XL twin beds side-by-side to create a king (+2" width).
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:08 PM on February 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We got a hybrid mattress a few years back (coil inside, memory foam on top) and I recommend them. We have a king size and I never get jostled by my husband. It has a cooling layer and we got a medium firmness. We are both mostly side sleepers. We checked both mattress stores in town and the difference was at least $500 with delivery, so shop around even if only locally.
posted by soelo at 3:27 PM on February 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

S and I are both over 50 years old, and both have autoimmune conditions that sometimes cause joint/spinal pain.

I think you should hold onto your old mattress for awhile in case 'new mattress smell' bothers either one of you and you need to let it outgas a bit or in a worst case scenario return it.
posted by jamjam at 3:58 PM on February 5, 2021

Previously on the blue.

If you have one nearby, Ikea can be a low pressure way to shop for a mattress.

Some hotels sell their brand of mattress.
posted by oceano at 4:19 PM on February 5, 2021

We got a hybrid mattress a few years back (coil inside, memory foam on top) and I recommend them. We have a king size and I never get jostled by my husband. It has a cooling layer and we got a medium firmness.

This sounds a lot like the mattress we purchased in 2019, and are super happy with it. I remember it was the Serta iSeries hybrid but not sure of the exact model. We bought ours at Mattress Firm and the shopping experience was reasonably pleasant. Our sales guy wasn't super pressure-y, he let us wander around and try out beds without being all up in our business the entire time. But actually, he did guide us to the mattress we eventually bought, saying that it was a nice compromise for when one person liked a firmer mattress and one liked a softer one. I'm not sure we would have tried that particular mattress out on our own, but he was absolutely correct in that we both really liked it.

The no-movement feature is especially nice. I am light sleeper and my husband is like a bull in a china shop. He used to flop himself onto our old bed and wake me up every single night. Since getting the new mattress it doesn't jostle me at all when he gets in.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 6:09 PM on February 5, 2021

We have had a number of different mattresses over the years - conventional with box spring, memory foam, futon - but for the last 17 years we've had an air mattress. A year ago we moved our old air mattress into the guest room and got a new one for us. Old mattress is a Comfortaire, new is a Sleep Number. Comfortaire was bought by Sleep Number and now sells only to institutions I believe, but parts are still available. There is no functional difference - air is air. Separate bladders on each side of the bed can be inflated to different firmness levels. Movement in one side does not translate to the other side. Comfort level is also adjusted by adding mattress pad of type and thickness that feels best. Air does not wear out or sag over time. One side of the Comfortaire developed a tiny leak after 15 years. It took me 30 minutes to find the leak, and 10 minutes to patch. Otherwise, there has been no maintenance. Sleep Number beds have a trial period, but returns are not free. We bought the cheapest model, $900 for a queen I believe. Don't know anything about other brands. Definitely not for everyone I'm sure, but has been rightfor us.
posted by Jackson at 7:01 PM on February 5, 2021

I love our Sleep Number king sized mattress. It sounds gimmicky--it's essentially a high end air mattress--but we tried a number of traditional and foam mattresses, and felt that this one was the most comfortable. Despite being an air mattress, it feels like a traditional coil mattress to me. We have a basic model. Partner and I can separately adjust firmness on our respective sides. I do not notice movements on my partner's side, but YMMV. They have a return policy (something like try it for 90 days--check for current policy--we bought several years ago), so it seems pretty risk free in terms of ordering one, even w/o trying in advance. One hitch is that a person did enter our home to set it up, which could be an issue for your in these covid times (perhaps you can mask, ventilate, and stay in another room).
posted by smokyjoe at 7:03 PM on February 5, 2021

Best answer: We got a Tempur-pedic mattress topper and we love is a lot cheaper than a mattress ! A king size is on sale now too for $269
posted by lobstah at 7:26 PM on February 5, 2021

Off-gassing isn’t just about smell. The chemicals being off-gassed are flame retardants, and maybe adhesives, which are not healthy to breathe in. If you are concerned about this, you might consider mattresses made of more “natural” materials. Wool qualifies as a flame retardant, and boric acid is also used for this purpose.

With joint pain and a desire to reduce motion transfer, natural latex might be a good material for you to consider. I don’t personally have experience with it, but it gets recommended for both things.
posted by Comet Bug at 8:18 PM on February 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

It was pricey, but Mrs REH was really into 'green' stuff, so we got one from My Green Mattress without even sleeping on it (because they don't have locations). This was after 'testing' near a hundred mattresses in stores (pre Covid).

(1) The mattress, a King, is just awesome and has worn well for at least 5 years. I'm never not getting one of these again. (We already bought another for the guest room).
(2) Testing may help you understand types of materials you like or if you're clearly a firm of soft type. But the mattress you see in the store is just not a good comp for what you'll end up getting and how you'll sleep on it. Stick to reviews and get the option to return.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 8:27 PM on February 5, 2021

Best answer: If you're inclined to spend some serious reading time on the decision, there is an entire specialty forum for your geekly pleasure.
posted by tangerine at 10:11 PM on February 5, 2021

Best answer: I purchased a new mattress a year ago, just before Covid. Like Sardonyx, I went in thinking I preferred a firmer coil mattress. I was wrong. My body has changed, and the back issues and pressure point pain I was feeling was just as bad on a new firm coil mattress as it was on my old mattress.

I also went to a Mattress Firm. You are right that you can't really tell in a couple of minutes lying on a bed. The sales guy at MF had me compare a firm, medium, and soft bed and then I spent a looonnnnggg time lying on mattresses. I narrowed it down to 3 beds, including a conventional coil spring with a pillow top, a hybrid, and the Purple hybrid. I liked the pillow top but that's what I had before and the pillow top breaks down faster than the rest of the bed so that was a no go for me. I ended up with the Purple, and was rather surprised because I came in with a prejudice based on the Wirecutter reviews. It definitely is an odd feeling bed, but a year later I still absolutely LOVE it and look forward to going to bed every night. No telling how long it will hold up, but the pain-free sleep has been worth it.

The sales guy at MF wasn't too bad - yes, he wanted to sell me a mattress and he would have preferred that I purchase it on my first visit, but I was firmly polite and the deal that he wasn't sure he could extend past that first night was miraculously still available when I went back. It gave me time to "sleep on it," do a little extra research, and then come back to confirm my choice. When it was delivered, the mattress itself had a slight odor but I was able to let it air out that day and when I put the sheets on and slept that night, I didn't notice any disturbing smell...and I am very sensitive to odor.

All this is difficult during Covid, but maybe you could check around to mattress stores to see when they aren't busy? Otherwise I second others suggestions to do a lot of research and try ordering online from places that have good return policies.
posted by Preserver at 8:36 AM on February 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

I have a Sleep Innovations 12" memory foam mattress that I got ages ago and is still just as good as new -- its firm but not too firm, there's no movement when someone rolls over or gets out of bed, and my morning back pain has completely disappeared. It's seriously so comfortable! My full size cost $350ish on Amazon with free shipping.

I'm never getting anything else. I just replaced the old mattress at my cabin in Canada and got a Zinnus 10" (same type.of foam, just a but shorter, it feels identical) and I love this one too.
posted by ananci at 12:14 AM on February 7, 2021

I have printouts from a Consumer Reports issue, a couple years old. Their top Innerspring recommendation was Avocado Green (stability was just “good”). The top Foam was Casper. One thing I learned, for side sleepers, softer is recommended over firmer and softness ≠ sagging.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 11:29 AM on February 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

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