Mattress Buying Guide

Mattress Buying Guide

Assuming you get a minimum of 7 hours of sleep a night, you spend roughly one-third of your life in bed. So it’s important to find a great mattress—one that offers solid support while also providing the pressure relief that feels most comfortable to you.

But shopping for a mattress isn’t so simple. Nearly every mattress touts that it’s the best, or that it’s the most comfortable. And there are hundreds of mattresses to choose from in today’s market.

Read on to learn how CR assesses mattresses in our rigorous lab tests, the different types of mattresses, strategies you can use to find the right mattress for you at the right price, and other important mattress intel.  

How We Test Mattresses

We test queen-size mattresses (60 inches wide x 80 inches long) because they’re the most common size purchased. (For your reference, the other standard dimensions are king, 76x80 inches; California king, 72x84; full, or double, 53x75; and twin, 38x75.)

We subject each mattress to a battery of lab tests and use human subjects of small and large stature to gauge how well the mattress supports people in a range of body sizes and who sleep on either their side or their back. We also have a machine push and pull a 310-pound wood roller across the mattress 30,000 times to simulate someone tossing and turning for eight to 10 years.

Although our scientific ratings for support are a good proxy for how well you might sleep on a mattress, we also provide ratings for comfort and satisfaction that come from people who’ve actually lived with these mattresses—for up to 10 years in some cases.

Our comfort and owner satisfaction ratings are based on data from recent surveys on CR members’ experiences with almost 67,000 mattresses purchased within the past decade. We asked members to rate the comfort of their mattress, and we used the data to generate ratings by brand and type of mattress. Note that a brand’s comfort score for its innerspring mattresses can be different from its score for its foam mattresses. Owner satisfaction is based on a member’s overall judgment of factors, such as firmness/softness, value, quality of sleep, and more.

Types of Mattresses

If you’re shopping for a new mattress, you could be overwhelmed by the variety of choices and prices, ranging from too-low-to-believe to astronomical. Our years of testing have shown that, whichever type you choose, you can get a comfortable, supportive mattress for around $1,000. Most mattresses are one-sided. But a handful in both the innerspring and foam categories are two-sided, with slightly different firmness levels on each side, so that you can flip the mattress to what you prefer.

Here are the major types of mattresses you’ll see. 

Foam Mattresses

Foam Mattresses

Many manufacturers use polyurethane foam (a general category of foams that includes memory foam) to create their layers; some use latex instead, and we note that in our features-and-specifications tab on each model page. Other mattresses might include both types of foam.

Memory foam softens with body heat as you lie on it, and, depending on the mattress, you might sink a little or a lot in it. Some people like this huggy feel, but others might find it too difficult to shift sleeping positions in. Non-memory-foam polyurethane foam provides a similarly cushioned feel, but without that quicksand sensation. Latex, which is a foam made from the milky liquid of the rubber tree plant, cushions, too, but has a springy feel. 

Mattresses Ratings
Innerspring and Hybrid Mattresses

Innerspring and Hybrid Mattresses

Traditional innerspring mattresses are composed of a layer of steel coils topped with fiber padding (such as cotton or wool), foam, or both. Innersprings paired with significant layers of foam are known as hybrid mattresses. Those with an additional fluffy layer of foam or padding right at the surface are known as pillow-tops or Eurotops; those without are called tight tops.

Coils can vary in number, thickness, and placement, which, in turn, affect the feel of the mattress. Innerspring mattresses may include coils that are individually wrapped (pocketed), which help limit motion transfer; or they might not (in which case, you’ll feel more vibration when a sleep partner tosses or turns). Innerspring mattresses have more resilience than foam mattresses, so unless it’s a hybrid with thick layers of foam, you’ll have an easier time shifting positions in it. 

Mattresses Ratings
Adjustable Air Mattresses

Adjustable Air Mattresses

Adjustable air mattresses consist of an inflatable layer topped with foam. They allow sleepers to adjust their mattress to the desired firmness level using an electric pump attached to the bed, a remote, or a smartphone app. Most also let you inflate each half of the bed individually, so if you and your sleep partner prefer different firmness levels, these mattresses might be a good option. 

Mattresses Ratings

Mattress Buying Guide Video

For more, watch our video.

Mattress Myths

Gel Provides a Cooler Sleep
Less than half of the innerspring mattresses in our mattress ratings have a layer of gel-infused foam that’s claimed to provide a cooling effect. Overall, our tests have shown that innerspring mattresses containing gel did tend to sleep slightly cooler, but the reverse was true with gel-infused foam beds.

Firmer Is Better for Your Body
People often think that sleeping on a firm mattress is better for your spine, particularly if you have back pain, but that’s not backed up by science. The best mattress is, in fact, one that provides a nice balance of support and pressure relief, however you might define that. That might mean medium-firm for some people but medium-soft for others. You can filter beds based on firmness scores in our mattress ratings.

A More Expensive Mattress Is Better
Some mattresses cost a small fortune. We know—we’ve tested hundreds of mattresses in our labs, including one model with a price tag just shy of $5,000. But our lab tests show that price and quality don’t always align. Plus, we found some great performers in our ratings of budget-friendly mattresses.

A Note About Comparison Shopping

If you like a mattress at one store and ask elsewhere for something similar, you’re likely to be steered toward a same-brand mattress claimed to have identical construction, components, and firmness. Mattress makers offer some lines nationally, but when those brands are sold through major chains such as Macy’s or Mattress Firm, they’re typically exclusive to those chains. And manufacturers don’t publish a directory of comparable mattresses. So use our ratings as a guide, and insist on the precise make and model that scored well in our tests.

Not sure where to shop? Browse our ratings of mattress stores, which are based on the Consumer Reports 2021 Winter Survey of 5,990 CR members reporting on their mattress purchase experiences during 2020 and the first two months of 2021.

Mattress Shopping Tips

Try It Out
If possible, lie on any mattress that you’re considering. Wear loose clothes and shoes you can slip off. Make yourself comfortable, shoo away the salesperson if you’re feeling pressured, and take your time—spend at least 5 or 10 minutes on each side and on your back (your stomach, too, if that’s a preferred sleeping position). Shopping online or at a warehouse club? Tryouts aren’t usually an option, so checking return policies before you buy is extra important.

Check Return Policies
Make sure the store offers a full refund or credit toward another mattress. Return periods, often called “comfort guarantees,” typically range from a couple of weeks to 120 days. Some retailers, including Macy’s and Sears, charge a 15 percent restocking fee. Some sellers provide free pickup if you want a refund or an exchange, but otherwise, you’ll have to pay for it—or cart the mattress to the store yourself. Macy’s, for example, charges an $85 pickup fee. And you’ll be responsible for any damage.

Look for a Green Certification to Avoid Harmful Chemicals
A new mattress can give off volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, chemicals that come from solvents used in mattress manufacturing and that can cause health issues when inhaled. If you want to buy a mattress that has low or no VOCs or other harmful chemicals, the best label to look for is the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), a certification that ensures a mattress is made of 95 percent organic material and that no chemical flame retardants or polyurethane were used in its manufacture. For latex mattresses, the Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS) ensures that the latex used is 95 percent organic and that no chemical flame retardants or polyurethane were used. You can read more about mattress certifications in our guide to organic mattress labels.

Haggle
Once you’ve settled on a model, try to negotiate the price down. Many businesses, such as warehouse clubs, have fixed prices and won’t budge. But for retailers that do negotiate—particularly specialty chains—huge markups allow them to lower prices by 50 percent or more during their frequent sales. Our recommendation: Any time of year, insist on a sale price you’ve seen for the mattress you know you want, and don’t be afraid to walk out if you feel you’re getting a raw deal. Though it’s a little tougher to negotiate online, there are still ways to save. Plus, CR members who tried to haggle online were about as successful at getting a discount as those who shopped in a store (62 percent vs. 63 percent). 

Don’t Feel Bullied Into Buying a Box Spring
You might not need it. If your box spring is still structurally sound, consider keeping it and saving money (roughly $150 to $300 for a queen-size). One caveat: Some brands require you to buy their box spring to receive full warranty coverage. Many foam manufacturers recommend a platform base or a strong slatted-wood foundation.

Understand the Warranty
Most warranties range from 10 to 25 years and cover only manufacturing defects such as sagging and loose or broken coil wires. Coverage is frequently prorated, meaning that it decreases over time.

Do Your Due Diligence on Delivery Day
Never accept delivery without inspecting the mattress (and the box spring, if you buy one) for stains and other damage. Also make sure the mattress has a label that states “all-new material” before you send the driver on his way. (If it’s not there, refuse delivery.) Keep the label on afterward in case you have to file a warranty claim in the future. If you bought a mattress-in-a-box, inspect the mattress as soon as you unroll it, and call customer service immediately if something appears to be wrong with the mattress or if it’s dirty. Take photos with your smartphone in case the customer service representative asks for proof of the damage.

Need new bedding for your mattress? Check our sheets buying guide and sheets ratings to find out how we rate and review cotton sheets. We also have pillow ratings and a pillow buying guide to find the pillow with the best support for your body and sleep style.

Mattress Brands

Below is a quick look at some of the most well-known and widely available mattress brands.

Beautyrest (formerly Simmons) lines include Beautyrest Black, Beautyrest Harmony, Beautyrest Hybrid, and Beautyrest Silver. Beautyrest mattresses are available nationwide through mass-market chains such as Sears, sleep specialty chains, and furniture stores. Prices for a queen range from around $1,000 to a few thousand dollars.

Casper mattresses are sold mostly online, with free shipping, though the company also has showrooms in New York City, Los Angeles, and other locations. Although you can’t try out the mattress in most parts of the country, you get a 100-night trial with free, no-hassle returns. Prices for queen range from the low $1,000s to the mid-$3,000s.

A regional seller with its own manufacturing facilities, Denver Mattress began as a waterbed manufacturer and today makes innerspring, foam, adjustable air, and specialty mattresses, with sales both online and through stores in about 30 states. The company also sells other brands: Purple, Sealy, and Tempur-Pedic. Among its better-known home-grown lines is the Doctor’s Choice innerspring. The retailer sells queen mattresses from just a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars.

Novaform, made by Innocor Comfort (formerly Sleep Innovations), is a line of memory-foam mattresses, mattress toppers, and pillows sold exclusively at Costco and on its website. The mattress line averages medium firmness and has performed fairly well in our tests. The store won’t charge for shipping and handling if you contact it about a return within a reasonable period of time, such as a few months after purchase. (You don’t even need to save the box.) That goes for the website and the stores. Its queen mattresses generally sell for under $1,000.

The Original Mattress Factory makes its own innerspring and foam mattresses and sells them in more than 100 stores in nine states, offering shipping to most states. No returns are allowed. But up to a year after purchase, you can exchange your mattress for a different model—though you’ll also be charged 25 percent of the less expensive mattress’s price. Original Mattress Factory’s queen mattresses range from just a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars.

Sealy, one of the largest manufacturers, makes the Sealy and Stearns & Foster brands of mattresses. The company also markets itself as a maker of orthopedic, back-friendly mattresses with its Posturepedic line. The national brand is available in mass-market chains such as Sears, sleep specialty stores, and furniture retailers. Sealy makes models in a wide range of prices, from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars for a queen.

Serta, the largest brand of mattresses in the U.S., is available at mass-market chains such as Sears, sleep specialty chains, and furniture stores. Prices for a queen range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars.

Sleep Number, from Select Comfort, is best known for adjustable air beds with DualAir technology, which lets users set the degree of firmness on each side of the bed. The brand is sold nationally in more than 650 retail stores and through the company’s website. Prices range from just over $1,000 to several thousand dollars.

Tempur-Pedic’s proprietary memory-foam layers have generated a loyal following and a number of knockoffs from the other leading mattress manufacturers. It’s available at sleep specialty stores and its own stores and website. Prices for a queen range from just over a couple of thousand dollars to several thousand dollars.

Tuft & Needle offers only three models (a foam mattress, a "cooling" foam mattress, and a hybrid) and sells them mostly online. They’re also available in the brand’s showrooms and partner stores across the country. If you buy directly from the company, there’s a 100-night trial, during which you can return your mattress for a full refund if you don’t like it. Queen-size prices range from just under $1,000 to around $2,000.

How We Test Mattresses Video

Testing Mattresses to Find the Best