8 mattress mysteries

Last reviewed: May 2010
May issue cover This article appeared in
May 2010 Consumer Reports Magazine.
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Consumer Reports gets hundreds of mattress questions from readers each year. We put some of the most frequent ones to our in-house experts and our consultant on this project, who has worked in research and development, manufacturing, and product design for several major mattress companies.

1. Why do mattresses cost so much?

Because they carry hefty markups. In a furniture store, for example, the margins are usually higher for mattresses than any other product. Mainstream innerspring mattress sets from major labels carry gross profit margins of 30 to 40 percent each for wholesalers and retailers. More luxurious models are even bigger moneymakers, with margins for the retailer of around 50 percent.

2. What's the difference between a $2,000 mattress and a $1,000 one?

Less than you might think. Generally speaking, you get more of the same, maybe six inches of cushioning instead of four, more coils, heavier wire, fancier fabric, and extra support around the edge or lumbar region. A lot of the niceties are overkill for many people. A queen-size mattress set from a major manufacturer with a list price of $1,000 is a satisfactory product that should last most people eight to 10 years, the same as a pricier model.

3. Are those really cheap mattresses advertised in store ads worth considering?

Probably not for everyday use. They often skimp on support and comfort, even durability. The padding might be so thin that you can feel the springs. Often, the foams and fabrics are of an inferior quality. The spring systems are usually just enough to get by. Stores use promotional or subpremium mattresses to draw customers in and upsell them to a fancier model.

4. What's most likely to go wrong with a mattress?

Most of the time it's the cushioning materials. Plush pillow-tops and euro tops, which add layers of foam and other soft padding to the top, are usually more prone to sagging and indentations. Also, king-size mattresses can get a ridge down the center (head to foot) because their foundations come in two pieces.

5. How can someone return a defective mattress?

Call the retailer where you bought it or the mattress manufacturer. But bear in mind that aside from obvious flaws such as a broken spring or ripped seam, a mattress has to sag at least 1½ inches before it's considered defective and eligible for replacement. If you file a claim, the manufacturer will send a representative to your home to measure the indentation. An estimated 5 percent to 8 percent of new big-brand mattresses are returned either because the mattress was defective, damaged in delivery, or just plain uncomfortable.

6. Will pairing an old foundation with a new mattress void the warranty?

Not necessarily, but check with the store or manufacturer. As long as it's in good shape-no cracks, rips, warps, or dips-the old foundation ought to provide adequate mattress support and perform as it's supposed to. But when in doubt, replace it.

7. What's the difference between the warranty and comfort guarantee?

A warranty covers manufacturing defects, while a comfort guarantee allows dissatisfied consumers the opportunity to exchange a mattress if it doesn't live up to expectations, typically within 21 to 100 days. But note that most comfort guarantees carry a penalty of as much as $400 or 15 percent of the purchase price, and there could also be a redelivery charge. So be sure to ask. The models we tested from Sealy, Serta, and Simmons offered a non-prorated 10-year warranty; the Select Comfort and Tempur-Pedic warranties were for 20 years. The Select Comfort warranty was prorated after a few years, and the Tempur-Pedic was prorated after 10. Prorating refers to a warranty that covers less and less of the original purchase price the longer you've owned the mattress. If your mattress is stained, that could also void the warranty.

8. Are all mattresses flame-retardant?

They should be. On July 1, 2007, the first new federal flammability regulation for mattresses in more than 30 years took effect, requiring all mattresses to have a much slower burn rate if they're ignited by a lighter, match, or candle. That's supposed to allow you more time to discover a mattress fire and escape from it.