How to buy a mattress

How to buy a mattress

On Monday, I mentioned that Kris and I are ready to replace our 15-year-old mattress. I don’t sleep well on it, though I sleep fine on other mattresses. I only mentioned this to illustrate a point, but I was surprised at how many readers commented on my situation.

Jason’s comment was typical:

I’ve found that sleep is the absolute root of everything. With decent sleep, I’m a better man, father, athlete, spouse, employee and all around person. With poor sleep, I’m just getting by at best, an irritable mess at worst.

I’d replace that mattress yesterday, as others have already said. Think of the other things you “just do” when they wear out and become unsafe or function poorly — car tires, toothbrushes, sponges, knives, ladders, etc. The mattress very easily fits into the same category.

Unfortunately, “an irritable mess” pretty much describes me lately, and I’m sure that a lot of this stems from poor sleep. I don’t need more convincing. I’m ready to purchase a new mattress. But how do I go about it without getting ripped off? For some reason, I think of mattress shopping in the same way I think about shopping for a used car.

In the same discussion, EBYT wrote that she sold mattresses while attending university. She offered the following tips for mattress shopping:

  • Mattresses are hugely marked up (at least here in Canada). I bought one for staff price (brand new, not a display model) that cost 50% less than what we were selling it for. They still made money off of me. Either wait till they go on sale, or make sure you ask for a good deal. Good mattress/box sets start around $1,500 “regular” price.
  • Make sure you buy a mattress pad so you get full warranty. The salespeople will try to sell you on the manufacturer’s 10-year warranty, but they don’t always tell you the warranty is void if you stain it.
  • To go along with the warranty thing, always buy the matching mattress/boxspring set. Mismatching usually voids the warranty. The boxspring is usually only about 10-15% of the mattress set’s price so don’t try to cut costs there, or by using your old “perfectly good” boxspring.
  • Don’t be afraid to test the beds on the showroom floor — that’s what they’re there for.

Another reader suggested buying a mattress from a warehouse club. Kris and I made a trip to Costco the other day to look at their mattresses. As always, the prices are great but the selection is poor. Plus, there’s no way to “sleep-test” the mattresses (which are just in a big stack in the middle of the store). Would it be bad form to sleep test at a mattress store and then buy from Costco? Could I even find the same models?

Then Garrison contacted me. “My home just flooded and due to renters insurance I was thrown into the market for a new mattress,” he said. “I called up my long-time best friend whose entire family is in the mattress business. I used his advice in my purchase and I’ve been completely satisfied.” Here’s what Garrison’s friend, Justin, had to say.

I’ve written a lot here to help you buy a mattress. Once I started thinking about this, all sorts of information came back to me. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Make sure there is at least a 30-day trial period. This is a deal-breaker and you should absolutely not purchase a bed without this guaranty, no matter what else they are offering. Most beds take 4-6 weeks of sleep to really break in and feel how they are going to feel long-term. Don’t give up on a bed after a few bad nights right away. Your body will have to adjust to the new bed.

You should only use a bed about 10 years. Don’t pay more for a bed just because it has a warranty longer than that. The one exception would be a Tempurpedic-brand bed. Those come with long warranties and should last longer than 10 years.

Remember that if you need to get rid of your old bed, a lot of places will do that for you if you have your new bed delivered.

Beds are expensive. For a decent king size, you’ll spend anywhere from $1,200 to $4,000, depending on what you are willing to pay for. Realistically, I’d recommend closer to $2,000 than $1,000, especially for a king size. King sizes typically run about $300 higher than queens. Keep in mind that over 10 years a $2,000 bed is only like $15 per month, and you spend 1/3 of your life in bed, so it is probably the best “value” of anything you purchase. You get what you pay for when it comes to mattresses.

Ask for a “low-profile” box spring. They will make the bed 6 inches lower to the ground than a regular box spring and should be the same price. You usually have to specifically request that sort of thing. You might have to wait a few extra days to get the bed then.

Remember that you will need a new bed frame for a king size bed. A frame is going to run about $50 at the low end, to $100 at the high end. I’ve never heard of a frame breaking, so I don’t know why you would need a high-end frame. The salespeople get bonus commissions on those though, so they will try to sell you one if they have them.

They’re also going to try selling you a “mattress protector” or “mattress pad.” If it is a cushioned pad, then don’t bother; you are getting a new bed so why in the world would you need a pad for it, right? But, if it is a waterproof style that comes with a stain warranty for the bed, then it is worth thinking about. We used to sell mattress protectors that cost $80, and they had a 10-warranty that if the bed stained through the mattress protector, they would give you the purchase value of the bed so you could get a new one.

The reason this is important is because if the bed gets stained or ripped, you will lose the 10-year warranty and will lose the 30/60/90 day trial period. They won’t take back a stained or ripped bed. Also, you can take the protectors off and wash them and they prevent mold from forming inside the bed and get keep the bed fresher overall. They really are a good buy.

Here are the brands to focus on:

If you venture outside these brands, you are taking a chance. In my opinion these are the best four, and are considerably better than the alternatives. Serta is popular at the lower price points, but I don’t think they’re really worth their price, from a value perspective, especially at higher price ranges. Simmons and Sealy are better options at the upper ranges.

Bed Tips

The most important thing is that you lay on the bed for a couple minutes in the store the same way you would lay on it at home. If you don’t like it in the store, you won’t like it at home (you wouldn’t believe how many people think they will like a bed better at home even though they don’t like it in the store).

If at least one of you spends a lot of time sleeping on your side, if you go with an innerspring mattress I recommend a Simmons Beautyrest. The coils are uniquely designed and are great for side-sleepers because they are “individual pocketed” rather than all connected together like on most beds. Also, if either of you move around a lot and disturb the other person, the Simmons Beautyrest will cut down on that disturbance some. Second choice would be a a Sealy Posturepedic, which is what I have. It is a brand more designed for back-sleepers, but they make great beds.

On the other hand, if you are willing to try something new, Tempurpedic or Stearns & Foster are great brands. They aren’t innerspring though. [Note: The author says that Stearns & Foster does offer innerspring mattresses now.]

Tempurpedic is made from visco memory foam, and Stearns & Foster is made from latex foam; no springs in either one. People either love them or hate them. They are very unique. They are fairly firm, but I know plenty of people who prefer soft beds who absolutely love these even though they are firm. Plus, you won’t feel the other person moving around on the bed at all. The Tempurpedic is the bed that has the infomercials where a person jumps up and down on the bed and the glass of wine doesn’t spill that is sitting on the bed. That actually works.

If either of you get hot during the night, then you will want “natural fibers,” like wool, silk, etc. Polyester is bad if you get hot. But, if you spend over a $1000, then all the beds at that price range are probably natural fibers.

Dealing With a Salesperson

If the salesperson is any good, he will actually be your best resource.

Mattress salespeople are pretty good at finding the best fit for customers — if you are willing to answer their questions. If you return the bed they lose the commission, so they do want to find the best fit for you. They might try getting you to spend some extra, but if you stay firm to your price max then they won’t push it because they are all so desperate right now that they won’t want to make you leave. The more information you give them, the more they’ll be able to help. The worst thing that can happen is that you spend a few extra bucks and get an even better bed. No big deal.

If the salesperson starts talking about “coil counts,” they either don’t know what they are doing or are just trying to sell you on the bed. Coil counts don’t matter unless that is the only difference between two beds. The coil type and steel gauge are much more important.

If you are looking at an innerspring mattress, ask whether the bed has any kind of “edge support.” The edge where you get out of bed is the first place that will break down, so the mattress should either have some type of heavier steel gauge for the coils or some sort of heavier foam around the edge.

The salesperson might want to do a “comfort test” with you by laying you down on two or three beds as soon as you get in the door, and the price might be really high on those couple beds. Go ahead and do it. It is just going to help him and you narrow down the options by eliminating a bunch of beds based on their firmness/softness levels.

Here’s some advice about specific stores:

  • Ashley Furniture is a decent company, but their furniture tends to be overpriced. I’m not sure whether their mattresses are also overpriced, but that is something to keep in mind.
  • Sears sometimes has a good mattress sale. Looking at their prices online, it looks like their “regular” prices are overpriced, but their sale prices are very good, so that might be a good place to look as long as they are still on sale when you purchase. Sam’s Club and Costco don’t have the trial periods, and they don’t let you lay on the beds in the store, so I’m wondering if Sears is the same way.
  • Macy’s is majorly overpriced. Avoid them. They overprice their beds more than anybody else in the business. I’m talking several hundreds of dollars too high.

If a store is willing to negotiate mattress prices, then they are overpriced, so make sure you get them down a considerable amount. Mattress manufactures contractually set minimum prices that they allow retailers to sell their mattresses at, so they either have to price them at that minimum or overprice them and negotiate. Most of the larger chains just price them at the minimum right away.

Sleepy’s photo by The Truth About. Bed photo by Caterina, one of the founders of Flickr!

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