How To Buy A Mattress: A Complete Guide

how to buy a mattressYou spend approximately one thirds of your life sleeping, so your mattress is one of the most important (and expensive) purchases you will make for your first apartment.  Navigating buying a mattress, however, can be confusing and frustrating as there are so many styles and sizes.  So we put together a guide to help you find the mattress of your dreams!

Generally, be prepared to spend $400 plus on a mattress.  I wish it weren’t so, but most mattresses under $400 are pretty crappy—wobbly, soft, and often filled with recycled materials—so unless you really don’t have the funds, shell out the extra $50-100. Don’t be penny-wise and end up losing sleep you so badly need.

Your sleep style is important when picking out a mattress

Do you sleep on your side? Then you probably prefer a mattress that conforms to your body.  That means either medium or soft firmness.  But a firm mattress with a pillow top is also a good option. Do you sleep on your stomach? A medium to firm mattress is your friend.  If the mattress is too soft, it might make you sleep with too much pressure on your spine. Do you sleep on your back? A pillow top is a good option. If the mattress is too firm, it won’t contour to your body resulting in back pain.

Couples: Does your significant other toss and turn? Look for memory foam or wrapped coils.  These mattresses absorb movement better. Does your SO produce a lot of heat? Find a mattress with less foam density if you are looking at memory foam.  Or look at spring mattresses with less padding — these are less likely to retain heat.

Decide what size mattress is right for you

First, measure where you will place your bed.  You don’t want to order a mattress only to find out it doesn’t fit in your bedroom. So measure first, then order.

Average measurements:
Twin-39 in × 75 in
Full-54 in × 75 in
Queen-60 in × 80 in
King-76 in × 80 in
California King-72 in × 84 in

Second, measure the stairwells, hallways and doorways your mattress must pass through on the way to your apartment. With mattress/box spring sets, bear in mind that while the mattress can bend a bit to go around tight corners, the box spring does not. If you order a queen or larger mattress, you can get a split box spring, i.e., it comes in two pieces, making it much easier to handle.

Pro tip: Box springs come in different heights. Standard box springs are 9 inches  in height, whereas “low profile” box springs are between 4 and 5.5 inches. The mattress companies claim that difference is purely aesthetic and does not impact the support provided for the mattress. So, why does the height matter?  

If you put a pillow top mattress on top of standard box spring, your bed is high and overpowers a typical tiny first apartment bedroom or a studio. So visually, lower is better. Also consider that most first apartments need to maximize the under bed storage area, hence bed lifts. If you have a combo of pillow top/high box spring/lifts, you’ll need a ladder to climb to your bed. And don’t ever have a nightmare and fall off!

Where to buy the mattress

Mattress specialty stores:  This is an old school way to buy a mattress, but it has it’s benefits. You can actually test out the mattress before you buy.  This is great because descriptions (firm, pillow top, plush, etc.) can differ from brand to brand.  Also you CAN negotiate. Look online first and use these prices to figure out if there is any wiggle room in the price.  At the minimum, you can try to get them to include discarding your old mattress, including a bed frame and delivering the new one for free.  While you can’t do this at department stores, if you go to a smaller chain with what you can spend, and are prepared to walk if you don’t get what you want, you’ll be surprised at how far the prices will fall.
Sleepy’s is an example of mattress specialty stores.

How to buy a mattress

Photo credit: Macy’s

Department stores:  Many major department stores (Macy’s, Sears, Bloomingdale’s, etc.) have mattress departments. If you are not in a rush to get your mattress, you can get a great deal when these stores run their seasonal sales.  Also, you will be able to test out your mattress and talk to a knowledgeable (but usually high-pressure) salesperson.

Warehouse clubs: These membership clubs, such as Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s, with gigantic warehouse-like stores, cost around $50 a year to join and they offer brand-name products at discounts.  (Before you sign up, check if your parents already belong!)  You can pick up your mattress right at the warehouse or order online and have it delivered. You cannot test your mattress or find a salesperson to talk to, so do your research before you hit the store. Here you are only shopping for lowest price.

Online mattress stores: 1800mattress started out pre-internet as a store where you could just call, order a mattress and have it delivered the next day at a time when next day delivery was rare. You can still order your mattress by phone and talk to knowledgeable sales people, but they have also moved online and their convenient and fast delivery continues to be their big selling point.

how to buy a mattress

Photo credit:

The newest breed of mattress stores sells online, with a very limited selection, making the purchase decision really simple. One of the best know of these stores is Casper that sells only one type of mattress in different sizes.  Casper has a lot of great buzz and reviews (Leo DiCaprio is an investor in the company).  Its mattresses have a layer of memory foam over a latex mattress and they don’t retain as much heat as other memory foam option. The prices start at $500 for a twin and they have a 100 night return policy and 10-year guarantee.  Casper also has showrooms in NYC and LA where you can try before you buy.

Another online seller is Tuft and Needle.  Just like Casper, Tuft and Needle sells one mattress in different sizes. Their claim is that their mattress was developed for universal, cool and breathable comfort.  Their prices start at $350 for a twin and they also have a 100 night return policy and 10-year guarantee.

Leesa, still another online start-up, has a simple design with 2 inches of memory foam topper. They claim that the memory foam really contours to your body. They also offer a 100 night risk free return policy and a 10-year guarantee.

These mattress are all delivered to you through the mail and they shipped to you in a large box!  (When the box arrives, you’ll think that you ordered a small refrigerator by accident.) This video shows how a Casper mattress gets unpacked.

Cheap mattress sources: is a good place to look for cheaper mattress options.  You might not be getting the best quality, but if you don’t have the cash to buy a $400 + mattress, and still need somewhere to sleep… seems to have some good options.  I saw a full mattress for $170.

Buyer Beware

The corruption within this nation’s mattress industry stems largely from an imposed consumer ignorance. Each chain has mattress names that are chain specific, making it impossible to comparison shop. It will be a Sealy or Serta or Simmons or ___ but you will have to trust your gut and your own research, or your salesman, in terms of comparison pricing, and I’d highly encourage the former.

Make sure that your mattress is returnable, if it is not what you expected, or does not fit through your doorway. Online sellers typically have good return policies, as have warehouse clubs. Department stores and mattress specialty stores often have more restrictive return policies.

Beware of pseudo-warranties. Those one year price guarantees that state that if within one year, you find your mattress anywhere else for less, you will get money back. Well, that’s nice and all in theory, but you probably won’t ever see a dime. Invariably, proving that the other store’s mattress is the exact match to yours will be incredibly difficult as the mattress will have a completely different moniker.

Remember when you buy the mattress to find out what type of bed it works with.  Does it need a platform, slats, box spring?  This is important because after spending big money on the purchase, you don’t want to ruin it by putting it on the wrong bed frame.

Finally, unless your have a very flexible work situation, make sure the store can arrange the delivery to fit your schedule.

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Author My First Apartment

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Jennie is a recent business school graduate living in NYC. She lives with a roommate in a quaint 2 BR brownstone apartment. Jennie is currently working as a start-up/digital marketing consultant while looking for a full time job. She loves bargains and her guilty pleasure is reading the

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Comments (1)

  1. Avatar Michelle Henry

    I definitely agree that your sleep style is very important when picking out the right mattress. Thanks for sharing!