Looking for the best mattress to fit your lifestyle? You're not alone and it's not the kind of decision you want to take lightly. Purchasing a mattress means making a big investment in a product that's going to directly impact your quality of life. You'll spend a third of your next decade or so on the mattress you choose. So you need to find the right mattress for you that fits your comfort, your shopping priorities, and your budget.
But finding the solution for your circumstances can be more than a little overwhelming. Suddenly you're bombarded by foams, fabrics, organic vs. conventional options, and page after page of companies obviously marketing their own mattress as the best choice for everyone. Except here's the problem: no one mattress size, type, or style is right for everyone. It's just not that simple.
This guide will walk you through the types of mattresses you can expect to find--from traditional innerspring options to memory foam, pillow top designs, organic options, box springs, beds for kids, and even nontraditional Japanese futon styles--so you'll have the information you need to make find the top mattresses for your home.
How to Pick the Best Mattress for You
This is a loaded topic, so we're going to break it down into a few different categories: function, firmness, and material. Thinking through where you need the mattress, who will sleep on it, and what your priorities are when it comes to mattress construction will help narrow your options so you can shop with focus and cut through all the marketing clutter.
Choosing the Top Mattress By Function
The amount of mental effort (and money) you'll be willing to invest in your new mattress has everything to do with its function. Shopping for a guest bedroom that needs to be comfortable for the widest variety of people as possible, but that won't be used as often? You'll look at a different, more budget-friendly set of mattress options than when shopping for your own bedroom as a single person. You'll look for different options still if you're looking for a bed that you and your partner can both agree upon. No matter what space you're mattress shopping for, keep in mind that the lifespan of even the finest mattresses is about ten years, so even your seldom-used guest room might need an upgrade.
Choosing the Best Mattress Firmness
The firmness of your bed should depend on those using it. Crib mattresses and mattresses for young children are designed to be on the firmer side for safety reasons, so all crib mattresses are designed to be firm enough to keep an infant's nose from sinking into it. The best kids' mattresses are typically fairly firm, as well, to reduce the risk of suffocation. In a guest space, it makes sense to choose a middle-of-the-road mattress to keep everyone as comfortable as possible; a softer innerspring mattress with a light pillowtop is a popular choice for these spaces.
When you're choosing a mattress for yourself or for yourself and your partner, your best bet is trial and error. The firmest mattresses on the market are innerspring models. Typically a higher coil count correlates to a firmer mattress, while fewer coils mean a bit less support and a softer feel. But that's just a general rule of thumb. Sometimes a higher coil count mattress with a plush pillowtop is a softer option than a 300-coil count model. You'll have to feel it for yourself or, when shopping online, take time to read comparative reviews to make the best choice.
Keep in mind also that the coil count isn't reflective of the mattress's overall quality. Top-of-the-line, cutting-edge mattresses are available in coil counts as low as 300 and as high as 700 or more. It's not the only way to compare mattresses, but it's one aspect of mattress construction that's good to know.
Choosing the Best Mattress by Material
Fifty years ago, innerspring mattresses were the ultimate mattress of choice, with anything else (like wool or feather-tick mattresses) generally looked at as old-school and backward. Today when mattress shopping, you're going to be bombarded by a variety of options, ranging from the traditional innerspring mattress to the much older-school futon mattress styles, which are coming into vogue among minimalists and those who prefer all-organic materials. Somewhere in between, you'll find memory foam and latex mattresses as well as mattress styles that blend materials, like innerspring beds with a memory foam top.
Most commonly used materials in mattresses today:
- Polyurethane foam
- Memory foam
- Steel coils
- Polyester blend fabrics
- Organic cotton fabric
- Organic wool fabric or batting
- PBDEs (flame retardant chemicals)
Want a more detailed breakdown? Keep reading to find out more about these materials and how they're used in today's top mattresses.
What Type of Mattress is for You?
What's a mattress made of? The answer varies greatly, but knowing what materials you prefer will make finding your bed a lot easier. Narrowing down the type of mattress you want makes the shopping process feel far more organized and less helter-skelter. Not sure what's out there? Here's a quick look at today's top mattress materials and construction techniques--and how they may affect your sleep.
1. Innerspring Mattresses
Innerspring mattresses consist of steel coils with interconnecting wires holding them together, preventing them from slipping around or becoming misaligned. Better mattresses feature a higher number of these interconnecting wires. That means the manufacturers invested more time when crafting each mattress to ensure the coils stay where they should be.
The gauge (thickness) of the wire used to craft inner coils varies, and it impacts the amount of support they provide. A higher gauge means a thicker coil that isn't quite as "springy." Higher-gauge coils offer more support than lighter ones. Like we mentioned above, most mattresses contain between 300 and 700 coils. Mattresses with fewer coils tend to be a little less supportive and offer a softer, more pillowy feel. More coils typically make for a firmer, more supportive mattress.
Good innerspring mattresses are then finished with supportive, structured edge wires. The edge of an innerspring mattress shouldn't be so rigid that it's uncomfortable, but it also shouldn't be so unstructured that you roll right off the edge. Sturdy edge materials, cushioning, and upholstery surround the coil frame to create the surface you stretch your bedding over and cuddle up into. Pillowtops are just that: pillowy, usually polyurethane- or polyester- filled top sections that add cushiness to the innerspring core.
Qualities to Look for In the Best Innerspring Mattresses:
- Sturdy, firmly-stitched upholstery and finishing
- Steel spans in the box spring/foundation, a far more durable choice than just wood
- A structured edge that you don't feel like you're going to roll right off of
- A long full replacement warrantee against defects; a 30-day (or longer) no-questions-asked trial period
2. Memory Foam Mattresses
Originally invented by NASA engineers in the 1960's, memory foam has come a long way in terms of versatility and affordability. Because it's heavier and more expensive than most other mattress types, it's often considered the "premium" bed choice--and memory foam mattresses are definitely a good choice for some people. The combination of supportiveness and malleability is attractive to many buyers, who find them the perfect compromise between the support of a firm mattress and the cushy comfort of a soft one. Many people also say they have less back and joint pain when they sleep on a memory foam mattress.
Memory foam mattresses typically consist of a special type of polyurethane foam called visco-elastic foam. Chemical additives make visco-elastic foam denser, thicker, and heavier than typical polyurethane. This is what gives memory foam its uniquely supportive feel that easily molds to your body shape. But the foam does have its drawbacks. It tends to off-gas for a while, releasing fumes that some find irritating and that may cause respiratory problems in some people. By law, in the U.S. memory foam must also be treated with fire retardants to mitigate the risk of fire danger, and those fire retardants may also cause respiratory issues for some people.
Many people question the safety of prolonged exposure to these chemicals, which aren't used (and in some cases, aren't legal) in Europe and developed countries in other parts of the world. Other people say that they have fewer respiratory issues when sleeping on a memory foam mattress, because there aren't as many places for dust mites and allergens to hide. Our conclusion? Memory foam is a great option for some people, but it's not for everyone. For those who love the feel of a foam mattress but aren't on board with the chemicals that come along with it, latex mattresses are an attractive (but expensive) Plan B. Click here for more details about the benefits and drawbacks of memory foam.
Qualities to Look for in the Best Memory Foam Mattresses:
- Top-layer materials that resist dust mites and allergens
- Foam density that fits your needs; more dense memory foam is typically heavier, longer-lasting and firmer
- Breathable, comfortable fabric
- A full replacement warrantee and a 30-day trial period
3. Organic and Latex Mattresses
Organic mattresses have come a long way in the last decade, as conscientious consumers have begun demanding more economically-sourced materials for their mattress choices. Organic mattress options run the gamut from traditional inner-spring mattresses made with all organic upholstery and cotton and/or cotton and wool upholstery to cutting-edge latex mattresses, which mimic the support and cushion of memory foam without the extensive processing required.
Though latex foams still require a significant manufacturing process, they don't give off VOC's (volatile organic compounds) as they age like petroleum-based foams do. Some organic mattresses incorporate both latex and innersprings to create a supportive but soft sleeping surface. Find out more about the best latex mattresses here. As with all mattresses, the best organic mattresses include a long warranty with a full replacement guarantee. Many organic mattresses also fall into our last category of mattresses: the non-traditional futon styles that are slowly but steadily making in-roads into the mattress market.
Qualities of the Best Green Mattresses:
- Mattresses claiming to be organic should be GOTS certified
- Mattresses designated as "green" or "eco-friendly" should clearly disclose their fiber content and where they source their materials
- Green mattresses should not be treated with PBDEs, flame-retardant chemicals that aren't friendly for your body or the environment
- As with other mattresses, green mattress options should offer a full replacement warrantee and a 30-day trial option
4. Futon-Style Mattresses
Traditional Japanese mattresses are making a comeback and slowly finding their way into the homes of many Western consumers. The simplified design and materials, low profile, and versatility of traditional futons make them the perfect choice for many minimalists and conscious consumers, who value an eco-friendly mattress they can thoroughly clean, air out, and use for years.
Futon mattresses are found in a wide variety of sizes, but they're usually 4-6" thick and filled with a combination of wool, polyester, foam, and/or cotton batting (and sometimes feathers or down). The best futon mattresses are then finished in durable cotton ticking fabric and tufted every few inches to prevent the inner layers from clumping and moving around too much; they typically also come with removable cotton covers to make them more resistant to dust and allergens and easier to clean. Wool is a particularly popular choice for these traditional mattresses because it retains its loft remarkably well, regulates temperature and breathes generously and is naturally fire resistant, with no chemical additives needed.
Many people choose to have an extra futon mattress rolled away for guests to use; some people roll them up off the floor daily to clear the floor space for other activities. These futon mattresses are typically used directly on the floor or on a platform bed.
Qualities to Look for in the Best Futon Mattresses:
- An easily-removable, machine-washable cover
- Clearly disclosed fill materials so you know exactly what you're sleeping on
- Ties and/or a storage bag that allow you to roll the mattress up when not in use
- A full replacement warranty against defects
5. Air Chamber Mattresses
Air mattresses aren't just for guests or camping anymore. The best air mattresses today combine structured support with many built-in air chambers that allow you to adjust the firmness based on personal preference. Multi-zone air chamber mattresses are popular with those who share their bed with a significant other, because each side can be adjusted for personalized comfort. In some ways, air chamber mattresses are comparable to memory foam; they evenly distribute your weight, relieving pressure on joints. Because of this, some people swear by them for relieving back pain. Keep in mind that because air chamber mattresses have air pumps and operate in a closed, pressurized system, they do require some regular maintenance to keep them functioning in tip-top shape. Ask what maintenance is recommended when considering air mattresses for a long-term sleep solution, and what happens if the chambers start to leak.
Qualities to Look for in the Best Air Chamber Mattress:
- Durable, flexible fabric that's comfortable, tough, and offers enough stretch and resilience to accommodate both firmer and softer settings
- An easy-to-navigate control remote that allows you to quickly adjust the mattress pressure to your preference
- A maintenance schedule that's manageable for your lifestyle
- A comprehensive warranty that covers the air pump, control remote or panel, and the mattress itself
Choosing the Best Mattress Size For Your Space
The top mattress for you might be as large as a California King or as small as a twin. Here we'll give you the breakdown of the different mattress size options available--and how to choose the right bed for your kids, your guest space, or your master bedroom.
There are more mattress sizes out there than you might expect, but the most common are King, California King, Queen, Full XL, Full, Twin XL, and Twin. If you're looking for other sizes to fit an existing bed, you might have to look a little harder.
King and California King Mattresses
The ultimate in spacious luxury, king-sized mattresses and California kings, their slightly larger counterparts, offer plenty of space to spread out for couples or even families who bedshare. King-sized mattresses measure 76" x 80", while California kings accommodate taller sleepers, at 72" x 84". These sizes are perfect when your partner tosses and turns all night and you just want to stretch out without being bothered (or vice versa). If you're sizing up to a king from a smaller mattress, make sure you'll be able to get a larger mattress into your space, especially if you're navigating tight twists and turns.
Most king-sized mattresses are available with split box springs so they're easier to transport and finagle into tight spots; box springs can be particularly difficult to get into tight spaces, because unlike mattresses, you can't bend them around corners. The best king-sized foundations incorporate steel supports to keep them rigid and sturdy even with years of use.
The most popular mattress size in the industry today, queen mattresses are the most frequently stocked and a crowd favorite for singles and couples alike. Large enough to share, but not so large they overwhelm a smaller space, queens are the perfect middle ground for many families. They're also a solid choice for a guest space, because they fit in most guest rooms beautifully and accommodate both singles and couples who stop by to visit. Queen mattresses measure 60" x 80".
Full and Full XL
Also known as a double bed, full and extra-long full mattresses were once the size of choice for couples. Today they're considered a bit too small to comfortably sleep two, but they are a roomier choice for a single person. Full beds measure 53" x 75" or 53" by 80" for the extra-long lengths. They're great for singles, for teenagers, or for guest spaces that are just too small for a queen-sized bed. If you're on the fence between getting a full vs. a queen, it's smart to opt for the larger mattress. Full mattresses are usually almost exactly the same cost as their queen-sized counterparts.
Twin and Twin XL Mattresses
The mattress of choice for college students, children and teenagers, and those living the tiny house life, twins and twin extra-long mattresses are ideal spaces for one person to sleep comfortably without taking over a space. Most bunk beds, day beds, and children's beds are twins or extra-long twins, and although they're most often used by the under-21 set, twins provide space for a single adult to sleep comfortably as well. Twin mattresses measure 38" x 75", and XL Twins add an extra five inches in length, measuring 38" by 80". Many people recommend purchasing an XL mattress for growing kids and teens--future-proofing in case they end up taller than would be comfortable on a standard twin.
Crib mattresses are a breed of their own, designed to specific safety and size specifications to keep infants and toddlers safe. The standard crib mattress as regulated by the federal government is 27-1/4" x 51-5/8" and no more than 6" thick. Crib mattresses are designed to be firm enough to provide a comfortable sleeping space without allowing an infant's nose to sink into the sheets; no pillow-tops or memory foam options here, although you'll find a variety of organic and green crib mattresses on the market. Smaller portacrib mattresses designed to fit miniature or portable cribs measure about 25" x 39" and usually only work for infants under a year old.
Custom Mattress Sizes
Sometimes the best mattress to fit your needs doesn't come in a standard size. Antique beds, built-in daybeds, beds in RVs and tiny houses, and other unique situations call for custom mattresses made to fit. You'll pay a premium for custom sized mattresses, but you'll also be able to choose exactly what you want, down to your mattress's core. Custom mattress makers also allow you to select your preferred materials, whether you're looking for GOTS Certified organic options, conventional mattresses, or the lightweight options for a recreational vehicle or antique bed frame.
How to Find the Best Mattress for Your Kids
Parents often look at infant and toddler mattresses with far more scrutiny than they would their own--and for good reason. The safety concerns surrounding sleeping arrangements for our littlest family members is a matter of controversy and loads of scrutiny, and it can feel like recommendations change practically overnight. Should you be more concerned about fireproofing or VOC's from the chemicals used to treat conventional mattresses? How can you make sure your babies and young children are both comfortable and safe? And what about mattresses for older kids, teens, and college students? Keep reading for the rundown.
Organic Crib and Toddler Mattresses
Many parents have concerns about the gases released by plastics, foams, and fire-retardant chemicals used to treat mattresses that infants and small children sleep on; the stakes are higher when it comes to younger, less mature respiratory systems. The good news is that organic crib mattresses are far less expensive than their adult-sized counterparts, and a standard-size crib mattress can be used from infancy well into toddlerhood. The best organic mattresses use GOTS-certified fabrics and materials and eschew the polyurethane and other synthetic materials known to off-gas into babies' sleeping space. So you can rest in peace that your child is sleeping on natural fibers, not questionable chemicals.
Getting As Much Life as Possible out of a Crib Mattress
Crib mattresses are versatile in that you can use them in a crib, then continue to use them as you transition to a toddler bed. Most children can use the same mattress from birth through three or four years. Consider choosing a two-sided crib mattress; many options have a firmer side for newborns and young infants, and a softer, cushier side for toddlers. A well-cared-for, good quality crib mattress could work well for multiple children, too, so it makes sense to invest in quality.
Choosing the best mattresses for kids once they outgrow a crib mattress can be a little harder. Most of the time, parents choose to transition toddlers from a toddler bed to a twin or twin XL. Young kids often prefer a mattress that's on the softer side, and the best kids' mattresses are durable enough to handle the inevitable jumping, wrestling, and slumber-partying that they'll endure during their years of service. That means durable fabric that won't rip or come unstitched, firm, sturdy bindings and edge construction, and allergen-resistant materials that keep beds as clean and dust-free as possible for your kids.
Let kids try a few different mattresses to see what type of feel they like the best, and choose one with a solid warranty. Also, a parent-mattress pro tip--consider keeping kids' mattresses protected with a waterproof cover at all times, and having backup waterproof covers in the linen closet. That is one mattress investment you'll never regret making.
Best Mattresses for Teenagers
When kids get old enough to form distinct opinions on their sleeping surface, it might be time to go mattress shopping again, this time for a mattress that will serve them for their last several years in your home. Sometimes this means upgrading to a full sized bed or an extra-long length for comfort. We suggest outlining your budget and mattress priorities for your teens, then letting them take the lead on the mattress shopping themselves; after all, they’re the only ones who can determine the best mattress for their comfort and preferences. They’ll be sleeping on it for several often-stressful years of their lives, so invest in the best quality you can.
Choosing The Best Dorm Room Mattress
Although many colleges and universities provide their own mattresses, many students (and/or their parents) opt to bring their own mattress along instead. And that’s a good choice. You can only be sure of the cleanliness and quality of a mattress you purchased new, and a mattress that hasn’t been well cared for can be both remarkably uncomfortable and a melting pot of undesirable smells and substances.
Before deciding on the correct mattress for your college-bound student, check with the school to find out if your child’s dorm room comes with a bed and if so, what size it is (many colleges use XL beds as standard). Dorm room mattresses should be finished with durable fabric and stitching (and we recommend topping with a waterproof cover, always). If you’re not planning on using the bed after your student graduates, this is one instance where it might make more sense to choose a budget mattress option, since it will likely only be in use for a few years. But you'll still want to make sure it's covered by a solid warranty and that it's constructed soundly so your student has the best sleep possible when he or she can.
What's in a Box Spring?
Box springs are easy to overlook. You just get whatever comes with your mattress, right? Yes and no. It's important to evaluate the quality of the box spring when you're choosing your mattress, as well. Unless you're purchasing a mattress for a platform bed, your mattress is only going to be as comfortable, durable, and long lasting as the box spring (also known as the foundation) you use it with. So it makes sense to make sure the foundation that comes with your bed meets the same quality standards as your mattress. Here’s what to look for.
What does a box spring do?
Here’s a hint: it doesn’t necessarily contain springs (although box springs once did). Box springs basically act as a platform for your mattress. Your box spring raises your mattress to a comfortable level, keeps it from sliding around on your frame, and makes your bed arrangement look more aesthetically pleasing and balanced.
The least expensive box springs consist of a simple wooden frame covered with fabric to protect from dust. High-quality box springs include steel spanners to add durability and strength; there’s nothing worse than a great mattress that sags in the middle because a thin wooden support or two broke in the middle of your foundation.
What to Look for in a Great Box Spring
When shopping for mattress foundations, check for a grippy top fabric that won’t allow your mattress to move around too easily, ensure that the foundation is covered with a fabric durable enough to withstand being moved around a bit, and check the sturdiness of its frame, whether it’s all wood or a combination of wood and steel. Make sure your box spring is covered by the same warranty as your mattress or an equivalent one. One of the most common issues with box springs is breakage and sagging in the middle.
Do you really need a box spring? Probably not. Most modern mattresses work equally well on a solid surface like a platform bed. Some mattresses, like latex and some memory foam models, are designed to be used alone, mostly because they're so heavy. Whether or not you need a box spring depends on your bed and sleeping arrangements. But if you do decide to get one, don't skimp.
Adjustable beds were once relegated to hospitals, but more are hitting the consumer market. Most types of mattresses can be used with an adjustable foundation, which replaces a box spring and allows you to raise or lower the head or foot of your bed at the push of a button. Adjustable foundations are considered a luxury addition to your bedding setup and they won’t work with every style of bed/headboard, but they’re a pleasure to use and are often recommended for those with back or joint pain. When looking for an adjustable foundation, look for options that have easy-to-use adjustability interfaces, and double-check that the mattress you're considering fits the weight and style restrictions of the foundation itself.
Still have questions about improving your sleep and finding the best mattresses for you, your guests, and your kids? Take some time to explore our comprehensive mattress guide, hop over to our forums to ask our community what their favorite options are, or contact us! We’d love to help you make the best mattress choice for your home, no matter what style of mattress you’re looking for.