Mattress Buying Guide

How mattresses are made

Mattresses consist of a support layer and a cushioning layer and a foundation. The support layer is usually a coiled spring unit of varying quality. This spring action is designed to “push” the hips and shoulders into proper alignment to properly support the spinal column during sleep. This creates pressure on the protruding parts of the body like the hips and shoulders. The more a person is shaped like a cylinder the less pressure they experience. The more like an hour glass the more pressure on their hips and shoulders. That leads us to the cushioning layer which in today’s mattress world almost always means foam of some sort. The cheapest and least durable foam is convoluted, polyurethane foam. All foams are made from oil. The lower the grade of oil used, the cheaper the foam. The higher the density of foam and quality of oil used the more expensive the foam. All foams have predictable wear patterns. As they are used the slowly lose their ability to rebound or hold their shape. Mattresses are made in factories using different layers of springs, types of foam (firmer in the base and softer in the top), a cover of some type. These layers are placed on top of each other according to a product specification and the tope and side panels are then sewn into place to hold the mattress together. Most mattresses can therefore claim that they are handmade or hand crafted because the manufacturing process is the assembly of the materials added on a layer by layer basis

The difference between inexpensive and expensive mattresses

Mattresses perform based on the materials and the quality level of both the material used and how it is assembled and tested. Cheap mattresses us inexpensive foams and low quality springs with plastic edge guards. One of the places a mattress sees the most stress is at the sides (where people sit) and at the corners. High quality mattresses will use a foam encasement of high quality foam to provide a solid border upon which a person can sit without damaging the inner workings of the mattress. They will also use a coiled spring unit with high tensile strength steel that is welded in the proper spots to provide long-term durability. Cheap mattresses use low strength, inexpensive metal and plastic edge guards to protect the side of the bed. So with mattresses, you get what you pay for to some extent because part of the price difference is accounted for the different quality of materials that go into the mattress. These materials go from really cheap all the way up to very expensive as there are literally thousands of kinds and density levels of foams and different types of coiled spring units using different metals and numbers of coils and welds.

Why is buying a mattress so confusing

Mattress companies sell through a variety of different types of retail stores. They go out of their way to create product lines to meet the quality levels and price points of the customers who shop at these stores. Since mattresses are made from the same basic stuff it is hard to build value and protect the brand name. So the people who make mattresses go out of their way to not let the buyer know exactly what materials are used and the quality of them. They tell you a little bit about why their mattress if good, but not nearly enough to allow an accurate or thorough comparison between materials used, price and value. Keeping the consumer in the dark is how the manufacturer satisfies the needs of the retail channel. Unfortunately, this can be detrimental to the consumer. All foams off-gas. Some of the lesser expensive foams off-gas noxious and potentially toxic fumes. All mattresses are required by law to use a fire blocker to stop a mattress from burning up. The less expensive fire blockers use boric acid which is a known carcenigen and being outlawed for use in Europe. Also, the different types of foam have predictable wear curves which determine how long the mattress we provide support and cushioning.

What do you need to look out for when buying a mattress

Every mattress has a law tag. It is attached at the base of the mattress. It provides basic information about what materials were used to make the mattress. It is good to use this and questioning of the sales person to understand what the materials the mattress is made with. You can also do research on the internet to see how these materials perform in testing. Some manufacturers are starting to discover new materials to use in place of foams that reduce the off-gassing and wear better. Another this to watch out for is what happens if the mattress doesn’t work. What is the stores return policy? Most mattresses can’t be returned after they’ve been used for health reasons. Some states allow the resale of a used mattresses and some don’t. Most retailers who will take back a mattress charge a pick-up fee, a restocking fee and provide an exchange for another mattress not money back. So be clear what remedy you have if you buy a mattress that you can’t sleep on. Then there’s the warranty situation. Most mattresses have one, but they are extremely limited both in coverage and use. All warranties are automatically void if there is any sign of moisture or staining or smell on the mattress. Then there’s the fine print that discloses normal wear & tear. For most mattresses its a 1 1/2 inch indention when no one is on the mattress. Some its even greater in what they call “soft spots” which they say aren’t covered. Most don’t cover the softening of the mattress with use which is a problem since this also reduces the mattresses ability to provide proper support for your back. Warranties are also limited to the original purchaser, require a proper foundation and frame and are void if the mattress shows signs of scuffing or tearing due to moving. Mattresses that requiring turning are a sure sign of wear problems. They ask you to turn them so you can wear out both sides of the mattress. When you buy soft mattresses they are made that way by simply adding more layers of the cushioning material. Since these are the materials that wear our first, the softer and higher a mattress is an indication of how much cushioning is used. You more money for these layers of cushioning and they limit the real life of the mattress. The average life of a high quality mattress that uses foam for cushioning and/or support is about 8 years. This seems illogical since these mattresses usually have 20 years warranties or longer. The reality is that the wear data of the materials and the fine print of the warranty when researched show that the mattress won’t come anywhere close to working properly for even half of the warranty period.

How many mattress companies are there anyway?

There are 6 companies that manufacturer about 90% of the mattresses sold. These companies are Serta, Sealy, Simmons, Spring Air, Select Comfort and TempurPedic. The first four can be thought of as the traditional mattress companies who are older and normally make mattresses that use some type of spring system. Select Comfort is an air bed company and Tempurpedic is a memory foam company that have replaced the spring support unit with either air or memory foam. All of these companies market their products under hundreds of different brand names to meet the needs of different types of retailers and price points. They are reluctant to tell the consumer exactly what and how much of it is in each bed they make. They don’t want the consumer to be able to compare and price shop between products and stores. This makes mattress shopping very confusing at best and many buyers feel that they are deceived after they find that the mattress they bought either doesn’t do the job right or fails to last as long as they thought it would.