The Complete Guide on How to Buy a Mattress

updated Aug 16, 2023
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We spend a third of our lives sleeping and roughly that same amount of time in bed each day. So why is that we tend to consign one of the most important elements of that setting to an afterthought? Maybe it’s because picking out a mattress isn’t the most exciting task — or that a mattress is rarely seen without layers of bedding and thus deemed not that significant. And how often do we default to a choice that’s just “good enough” or the least expensive? 

Let’s face it. Finding the perfect mattress is no easy feat. The sheer array of choices compounded by high price tags and the long-term commitment of owning one is enough to deter even the most determined shopper. It’s like buying a pillow but with so much more at stake. The silver lining is that if you arm yourself with the right knowledge, buying a mattress can be as easy as clicking an add-to-cart button. 

What to Consider Before Buying a Mattress

Avocado Mattress co-founder and CMO Mark Abrials likens a good mattress to good food: “They’re both only as quality as the ingredients that go into them.” Making an informed decision comes down to understanding the ins and outs of what makes an excellent product. Here’s what to consider.

1. The Type of Mattress 

A mattress is more than just a series of springs covered in layers of fiber and foam, and just testing one out by sitting on it in the store won’t cut it. You need to dig deeper. There are unique hybrid combinations geared toward various sleepers, organic alternatives, and those densely layered ones that are magically rolled and stuffed in a neat box. The inner makeup of a mattress is what will set it apart from the rest.

  • Foam: Foam mattresses are one of the most popular options on the market. The most common types are memory foam and gel-infused foam. Memory foam consists of very dense layers of foam (often polyurethane) that use body heat to conform to a sleeper’s shape; it isolates motion and reduces pressure on pain points. Similar to memory foam, a gel foam mattress is distinguished by the presence of cooling gels that provide a heat-diffusing element. If you sleep hot but prefer the feel of foam, definitely look for a gel-infused option.
  • Innerspring: The most traditional mattress, an innerspring has a set of steel coil springs that comprise its core. A quality piece can last years, offering solid support and great airflow — a plus for sleepers who run warm at night. 
  • Hybrid: Hybrid mattresses are a combination of innerspring and either memory foam, latex, or gel, offering the best of both worlds. 
  • Latex: This eco-friendly mattress is made from organic materials (latex is harvested from rubber trees) and is naturally cooling. It’s known for its comfort and low levels of allergens. 
  • Organic: A mattress is deemed organic when it’s free of synthetics, harsh chemicals, and polyurethane foam. Made from natural materials such as wool, latex, or cotton, they’re ethically sourced and often more expensive. 
Credit: David-Prado/Getty Images

2. Firmness Level

One of the distinguishing markers of a mattress is how firm it is. The scale is typically divided into three categories — plush, medium, and firm — but most brands break it down even further into extra plush, medium firm, and extra firm. It’s important to note that “firmness” is not the same as support. The former refers to the topmost layer of a mattress, which determines if a bed feels soft or not. Support, on the other hand, is based on the construction and core of the mattress, which can have an impact on spinal alignment. A bed with a weak support system that does not adequately conform to your body will override the firmness of a mattress.  

3. Mattress Certifications 

Given the investment of purchasing a mattress, having some assurance beyond customer reviews can make the process a little easier. Cue industry certifications. You’ve probably seen them, but do they actually matter? “Short answer is yes,” says Leesa co-founder and CPO Jamie Diamonstein. “Certifications like CertiPUR-US, “a non-profit that ensures foams are made without heavy metals, such as mercury, formaldehyde, flame retardants, and boast low VOC emissions, to name a few, “can be a great method to give the customer peace of mind that they are making a good purchase.” The most common certifications are:

  • Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS): Certifies that latex mattresses contain at least 95 percent organic raw material.
  • Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS): Ensures materials used in the production of mattresses, textiles, and related packaging are made from at least 75 percent organic fibers. According to Avocado’s Abrials, GOTS also prohibits toxic chemicals that can cause serious illnesses.
  • GREENGUARD Gold: Certifies sustainable products with low chemical emissions and VOCs.
  • B-Corp: A certification that goes beyond a product to a full audit of company practices and supply chain, examining the impact on its employees, community, and the environment.
  • OEKO-TEX: Verifies that products have been tested for harmful substances and crafted under sustainable and socially responsible conditions.
  • MADE SAFE: Certifies mattresses are made from non-toxic materials. 

Pro tip: “GOLS, GOTS, MADE SAFE, GREENGUARD Gold, B-Corp, and Climate Neutral are the most rigorous, independent certifications available to verify social and environmental responsibility through an extensive auditing process,” notes Abrials. 

Credit: Jessica Sharmin/Stocksy

4. Your Budget

So, how much should you spend on a mattress? It depends on where the mattress is intended for (a starter studio you’ll spend a year in versus a forever home), what your specific needs are (medical, comfort, posture), and how much you’re willing to shell out. Above that, the quality of materials, core structure, size, and construction will influence the price. Hybrid and latex mattresses often run significantly more than innerspring or all-foam ones. 

A mattress made with affordable materials usually rings in around or less than $1,000 for a Full or Queen, while “greener” alternatives composed of organic materials can average around $1,200+ and grow higher as you get to the luxury models. “Finding the right mattress for you might be expensive up front, but a quality mattress can support your health and wellness for years,” says Abrials.

Credit: BONNINSTUDIO/Stocksy

5. Buying a Mattress Online vs. In-Store 

Nowadays, it’s harder to make a case for buying a mattress in-store. While one of the major benefits is having the opportunity to physically test the mattress, your options are fewer and you’ll likely pay more due to added showroom costs. 

  • Buying online: If you have a solid idea of what you want, shop online. Most retailers offer full refunds and even a 100-day guarantee. Buying online also means you can find a solid deal (look out for flash sales and promo codes). You have the added benefit of reviews, so be sure to do your research.
  • Buying in-store: If you want to cover all your bases, go in-store, and when you’re confident in a choice, buy online. If you’re physically testing an option, spend at least five minutes on it to get a feel of what it’ll be like to spend an entire night on it. If the mattress is for you and a partner, make sure the two of you are on it at the same time. 

“Be patient,” says Abrials. “Some people love a new mattress after the first night. For others, it takes a little longer. Depending on the type and condition of mattress you’re transitioning from, your body might need time to adjust.” 

6. Return Policy 

So you found a mattress, but a week later it’s just not right. Now what? Reading the fine print on return policies is crucial. While each retailer has its own system, online purchases tend to be easier to return than in-store ones. Most retailers encourage consumers to try out a mattress for at least 30 days. Certain DTC brands, such as Casper, Purple, and Tuft & Needle have a 100-day trial period (Nectar and IKEA offer a whopping 365 days) and a full refund if you’re just not that into it. Most mattress-in-a-box brands make returns easier with free pickups that are then donated. If you’re purchasing from a retailer such as Walmart or Amazon, you’ll have to abide by their policies. With the latter, there will be a difference between products sold and shipped by Amazon (lenient refund rules) and third-party sellers (could be harder to get a refund). 

“Choose a mattress that has a trial period,” advises Leesa’s Diamonstein. “The ultimate test is sleeping on it in the comfort of your own home, dressed how you are when you go to sleep, with your thermostat set at your perfect temperature.”

How to Choose the Right Mattress for You

Credit: Sylvie Li

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to mattresses. Here are a few key components that will help you identify what’s right for you.  

1. What makes a good mattress?

While a good mattress can be defined by a host of characteristics, it comes down to how it’s made and how comfortable it is. “The quality of the foams, springs, cover, and building process will have a significant impact on the support, comfort, and durability,” says Diamonstein, who adds that the number of layers of foam and thickness of a mattress do not determine its performance. Beyond that, firmness, texture, and overall comfort inform the fundamentals of a good mattress. 

2. Which size is right for you?

Our lifestyles tend to influence the size of our beds. A King probably isn’t the best choice for a small-space dweller, while a family of co-sleepers (kids, pets, and all) could benefit from the added inches. If you sleep alone, a Full or Queen will do — a Twin might be too cramped. Think about the amount of space you’re willing to allot for the bed in a room and the number of people sleeping in it. If you and a partner share the mattress, are you okay with snuggling close or do you prefer room to roam? Your answer will dictate which size mattress is right for you. Make sure you’re going with a choice that will allow you to soak up all the R&R you can get. The most common mattress sizes are:

  • Twin: 38” x 75”
  • Full: 54” x 75”
  • Queen: 60” x 80”
  • King: 76” x 80”
  • Cal King: 72” x 84”

3. Which mattress is best for your sleep style? 

How you sleep can help determine the type of mattress that’s best for you. 

  • If you’re a side sleeper: “Because of the curves in your hips and shoulders, pressure relief becomes an important consideration,” says Abrials. A mid-firm innerspring or memory foam mattress that contours the body is key. 
  • If you’re a back sleeper: “With a slightly less ‘curvy’ profile than side sleeping, less plushness is required to ensure proper support and pressure relief,” says Abrials, who recommends Avocado’s responsive Latex Mattress or standard Green Mattress (without the pillow-top option). 
  • If you’re a stomach sleeper: “Stomach sleeping is the least common position and has the flattest sleeping profile,” says Abrials. “Stomach sleepers need the least amount of support in the hips and shoulders, and instead they require a gentle yet firm surface.” Go for a firm top to avoid sinkage and heavily curving the spine. 
  • If you’re always tossing and turning: “You’ll want a mattress that meets you in the middle, offering firmness while on your stomach and support for your hips and shoulders when on your side,” notes Abrials. Go for a hybrid or foam mattress that’s mid-firm.  
  • If you don’t want to be boxed in: An all-foam mattress from a box is your best bet. “Our sleep positions change throughout the night and during our lifetime. They are not static,” says Diamonstein. Cue mattresses with a “universal adaptive feel,” such as Leesa, which are optimal for sleepers who like to switch things up. 
  • If you’re feeling green: An organic latex mattress, free of chemicals and adhesives, or a hybrid one is the way to go. 
  • If you run hot: Opt for a gel-infused memory foam or hybrid, medium-firm mattress, preferably made from organic materials or with at least a breathable cover.
  • If you want luxury and good back support: Choose a hybrid innerspring or memory foam, made from premium materials such as wool and cotton, with a steel coil support system.   

The Best Time to Get a Deal on a Mattress 

If we know one thing to be true, there’s always a sale around the corner, especially online. From Cyber Monday and Black Friday to Labor Day or an ordinary Tuesday, there are no shortages of flash sales, store clean-outs, or promos to cash in on. While you can always expect a good bargain around holidays or long weekends (President’s Day and Memorial Day are the big ones), there are also seasonal periods worth keeping an eye out for.  

  • Late winter/early spring tends to be a solid time for scoring a deal, particularly in-store. As showrooms refresh their inventory with new models, you can often get a floor sample for a steal. 
  • May is regarded as the best time to buy a mattress because it’s on the brink of summer when brands release new lines. Avoid June to September, as prices will be at their highest. 

The Best Places to Shop for a Mattress

Credit: Lauren Kolyn

If You’re Looking for Variety

  • Allswell: Allswell carries three mattress types: an “entry-level” hybrid with wrapped coils and gel, and a charcoal topper; the “Luxe” hybrid with high-density foam; and the “Supreme” with a graphite and copper gel foam, a layer that relieves pressure, and a plush Euro topper. 
  • Leesa: Armed with a philosophy of creating beds with a “universally adaptive feel,” Leesa mattresses are designed for maximum relief regardless of sleep position. The brand carries an all-foam, hybrid, and a third foam mattress with a dual set of springs. 
  • Tuft & Needle: Tuft & Needle’s foam mattresses come in either two, three, or five layers (the latter is a hybrid) and include heat-absorbing graphite, ceramic cooling gel beads, and antimicrobial protection against odor-causing bacteria. 
  • Saatva: Saatva is a leader in luxury mattresses. Choose from a hybrid innerspring, an organic latex hybrid, a premium gel-infused memory foam, and the Solaire: a six-layer mattress that can be customized to 50 firmness options.
  • Zinus: The budget brand is a mainstay of Amazon, Walmart, and other mega retailers, but you can also buy directly from their site. They have an impressive inventory (17 mattresses in total!), running the full gamut of foam, hybrid, and everything in between.

If You’re Looking for Something Organic

  • Brentwood: This luxury brand has five styles including hybrid latex mattresses and even a charcoal-infused memory foam with temperature regulation and GREENGUARD Gold certification. 
  • Avocado: One of the most popular organic brands, Avocado creates mattresses with non-toxic and natural materials. Choose from an organic latex, vegan, or classic “green” version, a certified hybrid option made with cotton and wool. 
  • Naturepedic: From latex mattresses to classic coils quilted in organic cotton and wool batting, Naturepedic is all about bringing nature home. The eco-friendly brand offers choices for babies, kids, and adults, promising comfort and a cool night’s sleep.   
  • PlushBeds: Looking for latex? You’ll definitely want to check out PlushBeds, which has four different latex mattresses for the bed as well as a few options for sofa beds and RVs. You can also find memory foam mattresses, but their latex offerings are their standout category.

If You’re Looking for a Deal

  • Mattress Firm: Mattress Firm carries over 25 brands with diverse styles you can compare and contrast using the site’s handy tool. An out-front rating system and clever icons depicting a product’s firmness, support, and breathability (and various other characteristics) make it easy to sort through the selection.   
  • Amazon: Amazon carries a wide array of brands — Casper, Tuft & Needle, and Leesa, to name a few — and conveniently categorizes them by five firmness levels, eight varied sizes (including specialty mattresses), types, and top styles. 
  • Macy’s: Shop by price, style, comfort levels, and brands, then snag a mattress on sale. Macy’s carries all the big brands and has the benefit of an in-store experience as well. 
  • Walmart: If you’re looking for a bargain, the retailer has a rich array of diverse offerings, and most mattresses average around $500–$800.
  • Raymour & Flanigan: Sort by brand, size, and eight different comfort levels to find the right mattress for you. Their selection includes brands such as Casper, Beautyrest, and Stearns & Foster. 

If You’re Looking for a Solid Innerspring

  • Original Mattress Factory: OMF manufactures every mattress they sell. The primary offerings center around quality innerspring sets, but they carry memory foam and hybrid options as well. 

If You’re Looking for Something Personal/One of a Kind

  • Tempur-Pedic: Tempur-Pedic mattresses are built to adapt to your body’s shape, weight, and temperature. With reduced motion transfer (i.e., you won’t wake up every time your partner turns), the memory foam brand provides hybrid models as well. 
  • Helix: Take Helix’s sleep quiz to find your match. The brand categorizes its selection by sleeping styles, firmness, and desired support. With products that encourage breathability and airflow, their certified mattresses check all the right boxes.  
  • Bear: Bear’s focus is on sleep as a tool for recovery, whether you’re a professional athlete or just have lots of aches and pains. Their three mattresses have Celliant covers, which is an FDA-approved textile that converts body heat into infrared light and emits it into the body’s tissue and muscles. So although the technology is new and still being tested, studies suggest that Celliant can actually shorten recovery time and improve athletic performance.
  • Purple: Purple’s proprietary “grid” mattress system sets them apart from the rest. The unique technology entails a gel grid paired with either foam or wrapped stainless steel coils that are meant to give under pressure points for solid back support.