Getting Ready to Buy a Bed? Learn How to Choose a Mattress

How to choose a mattress

If you are about to buy a bed, you should take a few moments and learn how to choose a mattress that is best for you. After all, you may be spending a lot of time on your new bed and there are many to choose from.

Savvy shoppers want to have all the information before making a decision. This handy how-to should help fill in the gaps of your mattress knowledge.

How to Choose a Mattress for Your Needs

It can be easy to be overwhelmed by all the options when buying a bed. Learning how to pick the right mattress will make your decision much easier. Here are a list of questions to consider when shopping for a new bed.

What will the mattress be used for?

The bed’s purpose is the first thing you should consider when starting your hunt. Beds that will be used infrequently or by a reasonably light person don’t have to be as durable as those that will be used more frequently or by heavier people.

If your bed won’t be heavily used, you may be able to get away with a cheaper, less durable mattress. However, if a person over 200 lbs will be using the bed regularly, you will probably need a more durable bed. Higher quality materials may cost a bit more, but not much if you shop well. Remember, you may save money by buying a mattress that will last longer instead of having to buy a new mattress sooner. 

What type of mattress is best for you?

Best and Worst Mattresses by Type

Data from independent reviewer

As you can see, latex and memory foam mattresses have better owner satisfaction rates than innerspring beds. Spring beds tend to have more problems with durability and longevity. Latex and memory foam bed owners report more pain relief. They may be slightly harder to find than innerspring beds, but with internet access it should be no problem.

Let’s take a closer look at these different mattress types.

Memory Foam This material developed by NASA in 1966 has come a long way. Originally designed to cushion astronauts during flights, these foams have found their calling in mattresses. Memory foam used in mattresses comes in three varieties, traditional, gel and plant-based.

  • Traditional memory foam is derived from synthetic, petroleum-based oils and tends to have problems with heat retention and odors.
  • Gel memory foam is essentially just like traditional foam with the addition of gel either mixed throughout the foam material, or with gel layers in the upper comfort layers of the mattress. These gels have been implemented to keep the mattress feeling cooler, but have had limited success.
  • Plant-based memory foam is made from oils derived from soy and castor beans. They naturally have an open-cell structure which allows for better breathability. Better airflow throughout the foam helps keep temperatures cool. Plant-based foams also have fewer complaints of odors and offgassing, as they are made from natural, not synthetic materials.

Latex – This material can also be made from either natural or petroleum-based components. Natural latex is made from the sap of the Hevea brasiliensis, or rubber tree, and can be sustainably and organically produced. Latex made this way rates better in owner satisfaction. Be careful, not all latex beds labeled “natural” are derived from 100% natural sources. There are few regulations regarding a natural label and many companies take advantage of this by mixing petroleum-based latex and natural latex together and keeping the natural label. If you are looking for organic latex, check for organic certifications.

Innerspring – Spring beds are the most commonly available on the market currently. Most people are familiar with the way these are constructed. Innerspring beds have one or more metal spring frames covered in softer materials. There are three different types of coil systems found in spring beds.

  • Pocket coil systems have each spring encased in a fabric pocket. These systems are the most highly rated for owner satisfaction and pressure relief. The individually-wrapped coils help to dampen the motion from a sleeping partner.
  • Continuous coil systems are made by weaving one continuous wire into many interconnected coils. These beds are durable and responsive, but have motion transfer problems. Continuous coil systems tend to be less expensive than their pocketed systems.
  • Bonnell coil systems have many individual hour-glass shaped coils. There are many different coil counts and gauges available. Lower gauge coils are more more firm than higher ones. Bonnell coil systems are much less expensive than the other options.

How much can you spend?

This is an important determination. Everyone has a different financial situation. Consider what the bed will be used for and your own personal budget. There is no reason to go over budget when buying a bed. Figure your upper limit early on and don’t go over budget or use credit without a good reason.

Take a look at our recent budget shopping guide for ways to save money on your search: Affordable Mattress Hunt: Finding the Best Bed for the Money.

Did you do your research?

If you’ve made it here, you have likely been looking for information on how to choose a mattress. The internet is filled with mattress reviews and many retail sites allow customers to reviews their beds. Check customer reviews to see if they are verified through a third party. Retailers have been known to tamper with reviews for their own benefit. As you do your research, take your time and keep track of the information you find. There is bound to be a lot.

What firmness is best?

Choosing the right firmness can be the difference between great rest and no rest. Your sleeping position is a big factor when figuring how to choose a mattress.  

  • Side sleepers put more weight on a smaller area, which can lead to pressure points.  They need a bed with enough give to allow their hips and shoulders to sink in for proper spinal alignment, but with adequate support. Side sleepers should look for a more plush mattress.
  • Stomach sleepers or front sleepers do well with a medium firmness. An overly firm sleep surface will put too much pressure on the hips and knees. An overly soft mattress will allow the sleeper to sink into a poor spinal alignment and make breathing difficult by creating an unnatural neck/head alignment.
  • Back sleepers prefer medium to firm beds. Pressure is more evenly distributed for back sleepers. They don’t need the mattress to allow some parts of the body to sink in order to support others.
  • Combination sleepers, or someone who sleeps in a variety of positions, find medium firm is good choice. This is a good middle ground for all sleep styles, not to firm and not too soft. 

If you sleep with a partner with a different sleeping style, try to make an intelligent compromise. Some mattresses can be customized on each side. Try a medium-firm if you are having trouble making a decision. Most people are happy with that level of firmness. A study demonstrated a mattress of medium firmness improves back pain, too. 

What is in the bed?

People are more aware than ever of the chemicals present in our daily environments. We spend one-third of our lives on mattresses, so knowing what is in them is important. In order to comply to with fire safety standards manufacturers may add chemicals or components to their beds. No one wants a toxic mattress, so make sure you find out what is in your bed. If a retailer isn’t forthcoming with the information, think twice.

Can you try the mattress in your home?

While it may have sounded like a silly concept a few decades ago, more and more mattress companies are offering extended in-home trial periods for their beds. You should get at least 30 days to try the bed without risk. You can’t tell if a bed is right for you until you sleep on it. A recent study actually demonstrates this.

Are you shopping online?

With in-home sleep trials and cost-effective shipping techniques, buying a bed online is a great option that is available nearly everywhere the internet is. You can actually shop for a new bed from your old bed and you don’t have the pressure of a salesperson. You can always call the company if you do have questions, but if you’re feeling pressured, take some time to think about it.

The Right Time to Buy a Bed

Are you having more trouble sleeping or waking up with pains? A poor mattress may very well be the culprit. Check your bed for sagging or indentations on the areas you sleep. If sagging is significant, it is likely causing you pain.

Mattress sagging of half an inch or more can cause pain. Bigger indentations correlate with more pain, typically. If your bed isn’t too bad you may be able to get by with a mattress topper for some time and not have to buy a bed. 

If it is time to consider buying a bed, make careful considerations about what you want and what you can spend. It is a great time buy a bed because there are so many options and retailers are competing for your business.


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  1. Jenna Hunter

    We have had our mattress for 10 years and we think it is time for a new one due to my husband’s back pain. I was astonished to know that latex and memory foam bed owners report more pain relief. We are no experts, so we will be sure to get an expert’s opinion when we go to buy a mattress next week!

  2. Bob Lowe

    Thanks for the post. This is all really great information. I wish I had known these things before I bought my first mattress. I will not make the same mistake again. I like that you posted about the different spring types and I will be buying a pocket coil next time.

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