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How to Buy a Mattress

Buying the right mattress is important. How well we are prepared to face the day depends on how well we slept the night before.

The first question that might spring to mind when purchasing a mattress is what is the correct size. But there are other things to conider, such as firmness, construction and overall functionality.  Mattresses can be divided into two main categories, innerspring and other alternatives, which include foam and futon. An innerspring mattress is  still probably the most popular style. These are constructed by placing metal coil springs between layers of padding of varying thicknesses, depending on the comfort level. The following is a brief guide to help you figure out what you need for the best night’s sleep when purchasing an innerspring mattress.

Before You Begin

  • Plan to spend as much as you can afford; a quality mattress should not need replacing for 7 to 10 years.

  • Know the dimensions of the room so that you can get a better idea of just how much space you will have for the bed.

  • The size of the room should dictate the size of the bed. A bed that is either too small or too large will spoil the overall look of the bedroom.

  • If you are buying a mattress for a headboard that you already have, make sure that it will match your existing bed frame. The width of the headboard determines the size of the bed, for example, single, full or queen.

  • If you do want a larger bed in a small space, choose one with a simple design, like a platform bed. This will lessen the visual impact of the bed, preventing its size from overpowering the room, while allowing you a little more floor space to work with.

What Size of Mattress Do I Need?

While most bedroom furniture manufacturers conform to standardized measurements, they also might offer “custom” sizes that are smaller or larger by several inches than industry standards. Since these custom size mattresses are not typical, if you decide to purchase one, make sure that you will be able to buy bedding for the size you have selected. Are you buying the mattress just for yourself or will you be sharing? When selecting a mattress, take into consideration how much personal space each of you will have.

A twin mattress, also known as a single, is 39” wide and 75” long. They are a popular choice for a child’s room or a dual purpose room such as a den/guest room. A variation of the twin mattress is the extra long single. It is the same width as the twin but is 5” longer. Because of the additional length, it is better suited for a teen or an adult when furnishing a teen’s room or a guest bedroom.

A double mattress, also called a full mattress, is 54” wide and 75” in length. It is a popular choice for a single person or a couple furnishing a small or standard sized room. Sleeping area for each person is 27”. When buying a double bed or headboard, note that many of them will be able to accommodate a queen mattress.

A queen mattress is 60” wide and 80” long. A popular choice for two people needing more sleeping room, the actual sleeping area of a standard queen mattress for each person is 30”.

The standard king mattress is also known as the eastern king. The width is 76" and the length is 80”. It is the widest standard sized mattress available. The sleeping area per person is the same as for a twin bed, 39”.

The California king mattress, also called the western king, is 72” wide and 84” in length. It is the longest standard sized bed available; sleeping area for one person is 36.” Box springs for both standard king mattress and the California king mattress are available from some manufacturers as two half-width box springs, also referred to as a split box spring, to make moving the bed more manageable.

How Firm Should a Mattress Be?

The firmness of a mattress depends on personal preference and comfort level. For a good night’s sleep, the mattress should make you feel relaxed in addition to providing you optimum support. Firmness directly relates to how your body feels when lying down, whereas support refers to how the mattress will cushion you at contact points like the hip, shoulder, stomach or back.

  • A firm mattress does have a layer of padding as do other models, but is not as soft. It will not have as much “give” as softer mattresses. Many people with back problems choose to sleep on a firm mattress maintaining that a mattress with less give prevents the back from shifting into an uncomfortable position.

  • A plush mattress falls into the mid-range comfort zone. It is measurably softer than a firm mattress, while being harder than a pillow top. Typically, they contain four inches more padding than a firm mattress. Because of its medium softness/medium firmness, it is well suited for someone who regularly sleeps on their stomach.

  • A pillow top mattress resembles a quilted pad that is attached to the top of the mattress. This adds even more padding, giving it a feather pillow feel. Pillow tops can be made of a variety of materials, including foam and down.

  • A euro-top mattress provides additional layers of cushioning. Rather than adding it on top, the euro top incorporates extra wadding into the mattress itself. Since there is a noticeable amount of material separating the sleeper from the coils, this type of mattress might be ideal for someone who experiences painful joints.

What is an Innerspring Mattress Made Of?

The outer layer of a mattress is called ticking and is usually made of a cotton/polyester blend. Some manufacturers offer more expensive quilted options that enhance the general appearance of the mattress. However, keep in mind, that any such aesthetic features will be hidden from view when bedding is added.

Underneath the ticking are several layers of quilting and top padding. The quilting is made of either foam or batting. These layers directly dictate the mattress’s firmness or softness.

Middle padding consists of any one or a combination of garneted cotton (thick wads of batting), foam and convoluted foam. Convoluted foam, also referred to as egg crate foam, is usually one of the first layers of the middle padding, because it distributes weight more evenly over wider surface areas than rectangular slab foam. This will enhance the overall comfort level of the mattress.

Insulated padding is the layer that lies directly on top of the springs, preventing them from being felt while you sleep. Materials used to make up the insulated padding section can be one or a combination of matted fabric, plastic fibers and coconut husk fibers, called coco padding. Depending on the brand or manufacturer, the insulated padding may be placed on a plastic webbing or metal grid to protect it from being damaged by the springs.

Most manufacturers add extra dense foam at the edges of the mattress to give it additional support and help it keep its shape when a person sits on the edge of the bed.

The actual coil component of the mattress is approximately 6” high. Coils can be configured in a variety of ways including sense and respond, hourglass and individual pockets. Coils insure the even distribution of your body weight throughout the length of the mattress. The average full size mattress can have from 312 to 400 coils. Trying to compare the quality of a mattress based on coil count is difficult due to several varying factors in manufacturing processes such as spacing between coils, the size of coil used and the thickness of the wire.

The traditional box spring is a coil spring system encased within a wood or steel frame. A box spring is designed to act much like a car’s shock absorbers, providing give and support when weight is applied to the top of the mattress. A well-constructed box spring will prolong the life of your mattress. A foundation resembles a box spring in appearance, but does not have the inner coil spring system that gives the box spring its shock absorbing qualities. Today, because of increased mattress thicknesses and improved construction methods and technologies, a foundation is considered to be a viable option to the traditional box spring. A foundation has the added benefit of having no workable parts that can wear out.

What Else Should I Keep In Mind When Choosing a Mattress?

  • If you have a medical condition and want to know if a certain style of bed or specific mattress type might be more beneficial than the one you are currently sleeping on, consult a physician before buying a new mattress.

  • Couples should select a queen or king-size bed for increased personal sleeping space and comfort.

  • The pillow top feature adds thickness to your mattress. Depending on the manufacturer, some pillow top mattress pads can add too much height for standard fitted sheets. Keep in mind that standard fitted sheets will fit mattresses under 9” thick. For mattresses 9” to 13” thick, you will need “deep pocket” style fitted sheets. If you purchase a mattress over 13” you will need X-deep pocket or custom sheets.

  • The most obvious sign that you need a new mattress is that it has become uncomfortable. Other signs include visible dips and lumps, or if you consistently wake up stiff.

  • Sagging occurs when the padding wears out, looses shape or otherwise becomes defective in some way. A regular flipping/rotating routine will help prevent the mattress from wearing unevenly.

  • For the first two months of owning your new mattress, you should flip and/or rotate it every two weeks. After the first two months, it should be flipped/rotated every three months.

  • Not as crucial to the longevity of your box spring, it is still a good idea to occasionally rotate the box spring as well.

  • The handles on a mattress are designed to facilitate the flipping/rotating process and are not meant to bear the full weight of the mattress. If a mattress needs to be moved, ideally it should be supported at the corners.

  • A mattress needs to be flipped and rotated because the top upholstery layer settles. No flip mattresses have upholstery only on one side, and a solid base that allows the coil structure to give you better support. Since there is only one upholstered layer, the mattress technically cannot be flipped.

  • When shopping for the best quality mattress, check manufacturers’ product descriptions for how thick the padding is, what materials were used and coil wire thickness. Take note of the gauge of the wire; the lower the number the thicker it will be.

  • To ensure longevity of your new mattress set, your mattress and box spring should be properly supported by a strong bed frame. A well constructed, solid steel frame should last through several mattresses. For mattress sizes above a full/double, make sure, when buying a new bed frame, that additional middle supports are provided; these will help bear the extra weight of a larger bed set such as a queen or king.

  • If you are not quite ready for the expense of a new mattress, consider purchasing a mattress topper. A gel or foam mattress topper can extend the life of an old mattress or can just add an extra layer of comfort to a regular innerspring mattress.