There are three versions of the tutorial in this article. The first section includes the most detailed and comprehensive version of the 5 steps involved in making the best quality/value choice. For those who want a less detailed and comprehensive version you can scroll down past this section for a simpler and less comprehensive version or you can scroll to the last section for the simplest version of all.
Buying a new mattress is one of the most important purchases you can make and there are few things that will have as big an effect on your overall well being over the next decade or so. Unfortunately … for most people, a mattress is a completely blind purchase and the vast majority of consumers know little to nothing about what really makes a good quality mattress or what to believe about the many claims and confusing and conflicting and even misleading information they will be exposed to. Even worse is that most “typical” salespeople also know very little about the quality of the materials in the mattresses they sell and are trained to sell mattresses using marketing techniques and “stories” they have been taught instead of specific and accurate information that gives consumers a way to make more meaningful comparisons and choices.
If you start to ask for meaningful, factual information from most retailers about the quality of the layers in their mattresses (such as foam densities) … especially if it is a major brand (the ones that you will see advertised) … you will usually see eyes start to roll or glaze over as they realize that you probably know more about mattresses than they do. There are very few major purchases that are as blind as a mattress or where the people who sell them know so little about what really makes a good quality product. An hour or two spent on this site though reading some of the basics can give you more meaningful information than most of the salespeople in the mainstream industry that sell mattresses.
There is a great deal of information in this tutorial (and there is a shorter summary at the end) and the posts and information it links to and I would encourage you to read it like you would a good book rather than “study” it like you would a textbook. Too much technical information that you “study” in too much detail can quickly lead to “information overwhelm” and “paralysis by analysis” and too little information can lead to a blind purchase and buying a mattress that is either low quality for your budget range or poor value. Both can lead to poor choices.
I would start with reading the complete tutorial itself to get a general sense of the steps involved and then going back and reading the linked pages that it also includes. The goal is not to turn you into an “expert” but to provide you with enough basic information that you can recognize when you are dealing with an expert who already knows what you would otherwise need to learn and can provide you with the information you need to make an informed decision and has your long-term best interests at heart. There is little point in learning what they have taken years to learn and already know and are happy to share with you.
The forum search can also be a very useful tool to help you find the information you are looking for or if you come across information or claims that you are unsure about and you need a “fact check”. There is more about searching the forum in the help section here. Of course if you can’t find the information you are looking for then questions on the forum are always welcome and I (or another Expert Member of our site) will be happy to answer any questions you have or link you to a post or article that has answered your questions previously.
There are many “needs” and many “preferences” in a mattress purchase and post #4 here outlines the ideal “end result” of a mattress purchase that is “perfect” for you.
A mattress is only as durable as its weakest link and knowing that every layer of your mattress uses good quality materials that are appropriate for your budget and weight/BMI range is one of the most important parts of buying a good quality/value mattress. You can’t “feel” quality or durability because even the lowest quality materials can be very comfortable in the highly managed environment of most mattress showrooms. The quality or durability of a mattress can only be predicted if you know the details about what is in the mattress and have a way to know what these details mean or someone to “translate” them for you. Many foam materials such as memory foam or polyfoam have higher quality/density and more durable versions and lower quality/density and much less durable versions even if the actual type of material and how it feels is the same (see the durability guidelines here)
The good news though is that there are some steps you can take to greatly shift the odds in your favor of finding a high quality mattress that fits your needs and preferences (what I call PPP or Posture and alignment, Pressure relief, and Personal preferences) and has much better value than what you will find if you only “follow the advertising” or shop for major brands at mass market retailers or chain stores. The “secret” is knowing where to look and what to look for.
We are each unique in our needs and preferences. As one of our members recently wrote in this thread … there really are no shortcuts … only ways that you can eliminate the frustration, confusion, and “information overwhelm” of mattress shopping and perhaps … with the right help … turn it into a pleasure.
So for those who want the best possible quality and value and want to find and work with “experts” that have the experience, knowledge, service, and integrity to give you good information and help you find your “perfect” mattress … these steps are for you. The time you spend reading them, the confidence they will give you, and the time and money they will end up saving you will help you more than anything else you could do when you are first starting out with your mattress research.
STEP 1: Gather some basic information about mattress materials and construction which can help you ask better questions and help you to identify the people who know what they are talking about. Scanning (not studying) the overviews in the mattresses section will help with this. For those who wish more detailed information, the additional pages in each section may also be of interest along with questions on the forum may be helpful but they may be more complex than you need and this is not really necessary if you connect with people who already know what you would otherwise need to learn. An hour spent reading the overviews will give you more knowledge about mattress materials and construction than many of the salespeople who sell mattresses at mainstream outlets and will give you the knowledge to ask more meaningful questions.
STEP 2: Know how to eliminate the worst choices so you can focus on the better ones. I would start with this overview of the industry which along with this article should help you bypass many of the retailers or major manufacturers that are really not worth your time and effort or the frustration and confusion they will cause trying to track down meaningful information that you need to make an informed decision … especially the chain stores and mass market or mainstream retailers. It’s also a good idea at this stage to decide on the mid range of your budget (see this article). This is the price you would prefer to stay under for a mattress purchase but would go slightly over if there was a particularly compelling reason to do so (based on the quality/value of a mattress or because it was so much better in some way than anything else available to you). Keep in mind that a mattress is not primarily a luxury item but something that is necessary to help you sleep as well and deeply as possible and “luxury” has little to do with how well you sleep or what your body feels. I would also decide at this stage about the general types of mattresses and materials that you are most interested in testing (see this article).
STEP 3: Do some initial research into the local manufacturers and better sleep shops within reasonable driving distance. This article (or the fact that they are a member of this site or comments on the forum) will help you identify them (if you buy from one of the Trusted Members of our site make sure you let them know you are a consumer member of the forum so you can receive your discount or bonus). For those who don’t know of any better options or possibilities in their area … a forum search on the nearest major city will often provide you with some “listings” of options that have been discussed in particular geographical areas, which we will occasionally update. We have decided to discontinue the provision of listings of potential retailers in various geographic regions (unless they are already approved site members), because of the difficulty in maintaining such lists in a retail landscape that is constantly changing, and most importantly the confusion it was creating with the consumer members who incorrectly assumed that these businesses had indeed gone through the strict qualification process and were approved as members of The Mattress Underground. Such an assumption is unfair to both the consumers seeking assistance, as well as the very businesses and manufacturers who meet the criteria to become Trusted Members of The Mattress Underground.
Who you buy from and their knowledge and ability to help you make the most suitable and high quality/value choices that best match your needs and preferences can also be one of the most important parts of a successful mattress purchase. I would always phone and talk with any retailer or manufacturer you plan to visit before you actually visit them so you have a reasonable idea of the level of knowledge and service you can expect when you go there. The information you will need about any mattress you are seriously considering is in this article (you can print this out and take it with you).
STEP 4: Connect with the “experts” at the better stores near you who are completely transparent about their mattresses and can help you identify the types of materials, components, and layering that best fits your needs and preferences and that will match all the most important parts your “personal value equation” (see post #46 here) and that have the best value within your budget range. When you can’t test a mattress in person then the most reliable source of guidance is always a more detailed phone conversation with a knowledgeable and experienced retailer or manufacturer that has your best interests at heart and who can help “talk you through” the specifics of their mattresses and the properties and “feel” of the materials they are using . When choosing something online, it’s important to deal with experienced, educated and helpful manufacturers who have the knowledge to guide you through the process and find something that they honestly think will fit your specific sleeping positions, somatotype, BMI and individual needs. Post #2 here and this topic have more about the pros and cons of a local vs an online purchase. Make sure you also check for the various policies or benefits of dealing with the merchant which may provide additional value with your purchase (including any return or exchange policies). Use their help and guidance to help you test for PPP (Posture and alignment, Pressure relief, and Personal preferences).
Remember when you are testing that comfort (pressure relief and subjective “feel”) is mostly what you feel when you go to bed at night, support (spinal alignment) is mostly what you feel when you wake up in the morning (either with or without back pain and discomfort), and quality/durability (the type and quality of each layer and component in the mattress) is all about how your mattress will feel and perform in a year or two (or hopefully much longer) down the road. There is more about primary support, secondary support, and pressure relief and how they are related to each other in post #4 here.
As you can read in post #174 here … warranties only cover manufacturing defects and won’t tell you anything about the quality, durability, or useful life of your purchase and are mostly about marketing. Post #2 here goes into more depth about all the important parts of a “successful” mattress purchase.
Some suggestions for testing for pressure relief are in this article and for testing for alignment (which is a little more difficult) are in this article and in post #11 here. There are also some great suggestions in Post #1 here. I would also remember that testing for more subjective perceptions of “comfort” alone has less than a 50/50 chance of making the most suitable choice (see this study) so more careful and objective testing is one of the most important parts of a successful mattress purchase.
Keep in mind as well that other people’s experiences on a mattress may have little to no bearing on your own and a mattress that is suitable for one person may be completely unsuitable for someone else. This means that your own testing or experience is the most reliable way to find a suitable mattress regardless of how well it may work for someone else. Post #2 here about making comfort choices along with post #13 here about mattress reviews would also be well worth reading.
Again … I would always make sure that a mattress you are considering uses good quality materials and there are no lower quality materials or weak links relative to your weight/BMI range in any mattress you are seriously considering that could compromise the durability and useful life of the mattress (using the durability guidelines here) no matter how it may feel in a showroom and then you will be in a good position to choose your “finalist” at each manufacturer or retailer you are working with.
There is also more about the most important parts of the “value” of a mattress purchase in post #13 here that can help you make more meaningful comparisons between mattresses.
STEP 5: Narrow down the list of “finalists” at each retailer or manufacturer based on all the factors and tradeoffs that are most important to you based on the suitability of a mattress in terms of comfort, firmness, and PPP, the durability of the materials in the mattress, and all the other parts of your personal value equation that are most important to you. At this stage all your choices will likely be good ones (and better than anything that most consumers end up purchasing or that you would have found with a major brand or at a mass market outlet). While narrowing them down to one can be difficult … in the end you may need to just close your eyes, grit your teeth … and pull the trigger based on smaller differences that are important to you. At this point it’s much more likely that any of your choices would be suitable and the one you choose may just have some fine detail that tips the balance. There is more about making a final choice in post #2 here.
OPTIONAL: In those areas of the country where there are no better quality and/or value choices available … then I would look online and use the experience and expertise of our Expert Members of the site or of any of the the members listed in post #21 here who are all very experienced and knowledgeable and specialize in providing the type of help and guidance on the phone that can help you make good choices. There are a wide range of latex and memory foam and other options included in the choices there and I believe that all of them compete well with the best in the industry in terms of their quality, value, service, and transparency.
Their detailed knowledge of their mattresses and how they fit with different body types and sleeping positions along with your feedback from local testing, a customer base of many people that they can use as reference points, and any exchange, return, or any options they have available to customize a mattress after a purchase can help lower the risk of an online purchase. These online retailers or manufacturers can also be a good “value reference” for local purchases to make sure that if you are paying a “premium” for a local purchase (in exchange for the kind of “in person” guidance, service, and value that comes with dealing with a local retailer that can help you make more “accurate” choices that you have tested in person) is not too high.
Post #2 here and this topic have more about the pros and cons of a local vs an online purchase.
In addition to the online members of the site listed in the previous membership link … post #12 here has some of the better online memory foam options for those who are looking for a memory foam mattress.
For those that have a more restricted budget then post #4 here and the posts it links to also include many of the better lower budget online options I’m aware of as well.
Posts #1 and #2 in this topic also includes more information about the new "breed’ of “simplified choice” mattresses (aka “one choice fits all” or “universal comfort” or “bed in a box” or “disruptor” or “millennial” mattresses) that are available online as well that are typically in a budget range of between $600 and $1000 (queen size).
There is also a list of online mattress sources for Canadians in post #21 here.
There is also more about the different ways of choosing a suitable mattress and how to identify and lower the risks that may be involved in each of them in post #2 here.
Hopefully this will help you bypass most of the misleading information, confusion, and frustration of mattress shopping, connect with people who put your long term interests above their own, and of course … you are always free to post on the forum if you have any questions along the way.
One step at a time (and not skipping any of the steps) is the most effective way to find “your perfect mattress” and has by far the highest chances of success
For those who want a SIMPLER VERSION of the 5 steps in this tutorial …
Step 1: Gather some basic working knowledge about mattresses and materials by spending an hour or two doing some preliminary reading of this tutorial and the information it links to. Read it like you would a good book and don’t “study” it like you would a textbook for a course.
Step 2: Decide on your budget range and the materials and types of mattresses you are most interested in testing, learn the most important things to look for and avoid (see the guidelines here).
Step 3: Use your new found basic knowledge to identify the most knowledgeable and experienced retailers or manufacturers that are within reasonable driving distance and who can help “educate” you and “inform you” about their mattresses and will provide you with the information you need about what is inside their mattresses rather than those that are only interested in “selling you” whatever they can convince you to buy. The “best” manufacturers and retailers will be completely transparent about the materials and components inside their mattresses and will already know what you would otherwise need to learn. Who you choose to deal with can be one of the most important parts of a successful purchase. You are always free to ask on the forum about any of the better options or “possibilities” in your area.
Step 4: Test the mattresses at the stores you decide to visit using the testing guidelines in this tutorial (the links to the testing guidelines are in step 4 above) to decide on the different types of mattresses and materials that you prefer and narrow the choice down to 1 at each manufacturer or retailer based on which one is the best match for you in terms of PPP (Posture and alignment, Pressure relief, and Personal preferences). Only you can feel what you feel on a mattress and people with different body types, sleeping positions, or preferences can make very different choices from each other (see post #2 here). Be very cautious about using reviews about how a mattress feels or other people’s experience on a mattress as a reliable source of guidance because each person is unique (see post #13 here). What is “way to firm” for one person can be “way to soft” for the next. The most important parts of the “value” of a mattress purchase are in post #13 here which can help you make more meaningful comparisons between mattresses.
Step 5: At this point you should be down to your finalists and be making a final choice between mattresses that are all a good match for you in terms of PPP, have no weak links in their materials or design, and are all choices between “good and good” that would likely work well for you.
Optional Step: If you are comfortable with an online purchase … talk with any of the online retailers or manufacturers that sell the types of mattresses your testing or local research indicates you are most interested in and include them in your finalists or use them as a “value reference point” for a local purchase. The optional online step includes links to several lists of the better online options I’m aware of. There is also more about the different ways to choose a mattress (either locally or online) in post #2 here that can help you identify and minimize the risks involved with each of them.
For those who want the SIMPLEST VERSION OF ALL …
Choosing the “best possible” mattress for any particular person really comes down to FIRST finding a few knowledgeable and transparent retailers and/or manufacturers that sell the types of mattresses (see this article) that you are most interested in (either locally or online) and that can provide you with all the information you need to know to make an informed choice and make meaningful comparisons between mattresses and then …
1. Careful testing (hopefully using the testing guidelines in this tutorial) to make sure that a mattress is a good match for you in terms of “comfort”, firmness, and PPP … and/or that you are comfortable with the options you have available to return, exchange, or “fine tune” the mattress and any costs involved if you can’t test a mattress in person or aren’t confident that your mattress is a suitable choice.
2. Checking to make sure that there are no lower quality materials or weak links in a mattress you are considering relative to your weight/BMI range that could compromise the durability and useful life of the mattress (see the durability guidelines here)
3. Comparing your finalists for “value” based on #1 and #2 and all the other parts of your personal value equation that are most important to you.