Mattresses Made Simple

There have never been more options available to consumers in the market for a new mattress, but wading through so much information can make buying a mattress confusing and overwhelming.

Prices range from surprisingly cheap to hard-to-believe expensive. There are different styles of construction, different thicknesses, different densities—foams and springs and air levels. And industry jargon, lots of industry jargon: from “off-gassing” to “Euro-top.”

Experts, however, say a lot of manufacturer gimmicks and industry-speak can be largely ignored when looking for a quality mattress at a reasonable price.

Most of the mattresses on the market are among the following types:

Memory foam. Made of polyurethane, memory foam softens and conforms to the body, and springs back to its original shape when you get up. It’s often recommended for those who suffer from back or joint pain. Consumer Reports notes that a common complaint among those surveyed who use memory foam mattresses is it “sleeps hot.” Another effect of the form-fitting foam can be difficulty shifting positions while sleeping. Some memory foam mattresses come with infused gel, which is designed to keep it cool.

Be aware that new foam mattresses can give off a chemical-like smell when taken out of packaging and should be allowed to “breathe” (or off-gassed) until the scent dissipates. The smell is caused by a large group of chemicals common in many products and doesn’t last long.

Innerspring. This is the classic mattress with metal coils inside and is the least expensive. There are many types of innerspring mattresses, including those with layers of cushioning, a pillow-top, or Euro-top (which is similar to a pillow-top but includes a firm edge). Hybrid innerspring mattresses have one or more layers of foam on top of the coils. Individual or “pocketed” coil innerspring mattresses are designed to reduce movement felt from other areas of the bed.

Adjustable air. These mattresses use air as a supportive core with materials such as foam or other cushioning on top as a comfort layer. The air core’s firmness can be adjusted with an electric pump that is attached to the bed. Most of these allow you to inflate individual halves for sleep partners who prefer different degrees of support. Potential negatives for this style of mattress include noise or mechanical issues associated with the pump.

Latex. Latex mattresses have become increasingly popular, particularly among those consumers who want a natural, “green” product (latex is derived from rubber trees). Latex mattresses are manufactured using either Dunlop or Talalay processing. Generally, Dunlop mattresses are firmer while Talalay products are softer and springier. Latex mattresses can be all-natural, synthetic, or a blend of the two. All-natural, or organic, latex mattresses are more expensive—sometimes much more—than synthetic or blended products.

Shopping for a mattress used to automatically mean going to a department store or chain mattress store, but that no longer holds true. Warehouse stores and a burgeoning online marketplace give consumers many more options.

Comparison shopping is nearly impossible when searching for a mattress. If you find a mattress you like at a department store, odds are very small you will find that same mattress at a chain store or warehouse for price comparisons. When mattress makers sell models at chain stores or department stores, they are for proprietary lines exclusively.

For testing purposes, Consumer Reports said it went to three bedding chains and asked for mattresses similar to those it had purchased at three department stores. Five of the six were “way off the mark.”

When shopping for a mattress, first and foremost, industry experts agree, be prepared to lie on the mattress you’re considering for at least 10 minutes. Make yourself comfortable and lie the way you most often sleep (on your back, on your side, etc.), and don’t be intimidated by a pushy salesperson who may be rushing or upselling you.

Testing a mattress is obviously not possible when buying from an online retailer that delivers the bedding to your doorstep. Thoroughly checking return policies is critical, but particularly when buying online. The vast majority of retailers, including traditional stores, now allow mattress returns—often dubbed a “comfort guarantee”—up to three or four months after the purchase.

Online retailers will pick up a returned mattress for free, although CNBC and The New York Times each reported in tests a broad range of just a few days to a month for pickup. With brick-and-mortar returns, ask who will be responsible for the effort and cost of getting the mattress back to the store, and be aware that many outlets charge a restocking or processing fee (10 to 15 percent is typical).

While many consumers may not be comfortable haggling unless they’re at a flea market, negotiating at chain mattress stores is commonplace. Large markups allow them to have frequent sales and also give them flexibility to negotiate. Consumer Reports recommends insisting on a sale price no matter what time of year it is.

Quality mattresses are not cheap and there is the potential for sticker shock. But if you take into account you are likely to spend about one-third of your time in bed, it’s an investment that should pay healthy dividends.

To check the license status of a mattress retailer or to file a complaint, visit the Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation website at

California’s used mattress recycling program was established to keep foam, steel springs, and wood frames from used mattresses out of landfills

How to Dispose of Your Old Mattress

A big trade-off when ordering a mattress online and having it delivered to your home is not having your old mattress taken away. Brick-and-mortar retailers will typically remove your old mattress when they deliver a new one. For a fee, some online retailers will take away your old mattress or arrange for a third party to take it away.

If you get stuck with an old mattress, it can be dropped off for free at a collection site that participates in California’s used mattress recycling program (Bye Bye Mattress), which took effect January 1, 2016. The program was established to divert the foam, steel springs, and wood frames from used mattresses away from landfills to recycling facilities that can repurpose it into useful products such as carpet padding and landscaping mulch.

To find a mattress collection site, recycling facility, or collection event, visit





Reprinted from Consumer Connection Magazine – Winter 2017.  To read the latest issue of Consumer Connection Magazine, click here.

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