Foam Mattress Reviews: How To Wade Through Hundreds Of Online Stores And Get A Great Deal On A Quality Bed...Without Being Scammed.
We've been writing mattress reviews and about products in the bedding industry for years now, and up until fairly recently, the mattress industry was much like a snoring middle aged man in a recliner. It lumbered down the tracks like a slow, sputtering locomotive, offering very few innovative products. All that has changed. Our CEO and senior editor Marc Anderson is a 25 year mattress industry veteran who was a pioneer in the "bed in a box" category that, out of nowhere, blew up the internet and turned mattress shopping into, well, an experience about buying a bed, not just buying a bed.
It's redefined the murky and stifled industry that was once limited to innerspring mattresses and water beds and made buying a sleep surface the coolest thing ever. Don't want to hear the whole story? Scroll down to find out how we created a carefully vetted list of just a handful of Trusted Dealers. Marc has carefully created this curated list to eliminate the anguish and confusion of shopping online and sorting through literally hundreds of e-commerce options. Want to cut to the chase and see our selection of best foam beds we recommend? Here they are (but read on if you want comprehensive info about buying a foam bed online).
TEN AMAZING INTERNET MATTRESSES THAT ARE SUPER COMFY, GET HIGH REVIEWS, AND WILL LAST
Unfortunately, what was just a handful of companies five years ago has now mushroomed into about three hundred companies using the identical business model. Industry masterminds like the team at Casper started the wave, with Tuft&Needle, Loom and Leaf, and Purple, to name a few, following close behind. Hundreds of others followed. The dust and cobwebs had been blown off of the lumbering and wheezing industry, and the mattress business was reinvented overnight. Home Depot, Costco, Wal-Mart, every where you look- except for grocery stores, at least for now, are in the mattress business. "It caught a lot of industry veterans off guard, totally, and I think a lot of them wondered, was there that big a market share sitting there all along, right in front of us?", speculates Anderson.
The hybrid mattress category is now known in the industry as the "mattress disruptor" segment. With some serious venture capital and a whole lot of marketing genius (using social media to drive sales, for example) and a fresh and vibrant take on advertising, a group of youngsters forged a new path for the industry that all but seemed to be on a ventilator. With over 300 hundred foam hybrid mattress retailers joining the market in the last five years, thanks to what is termed the "bed in a box" model, it's easier than ever to create a bed, find a fabricator, and launch a site with sweeping graphics of twenty somethings chilling in their lofty bedrooms with salvaged wood floors and rescued greyhounds. The image is the same from site to site, a gleeful couple falling into a cloud like mattress that dissolves all of life's problems away.
Though the bed in a box concept is not new, because of the machines involved, it's very easy to launch a mattress business. Our founder and industry maven was a pioneer in the bed in a box category, but back in 2008 when he created several revolutionary web sites, but cites "consumers didn't know what to make of the process. We had to educate them about it, and sell them a mattress on top of that". Everyone knows about the machines these days. It's reinvented the landscape of the mattress business.
The machines he mentions are giant assembly line devices that suck in a foam mattress on one end, mash it from twelve inches down to an inch, roll it up like a carpet, stuff it into a box, and slap a UPS label on it. The consumer receives the box, almost like a pizza delivery, and you simply open the box, cut the plastic, and the mattress magically reinflates to its original size within minutes. Five minutes later, you're napping with your cat. You've just received a foam hybrid mattress. But will it last?
"The real genius behind the mattress disruption revolution is the equipment used to roll and compress the product", says our expert, referring to the massive hydraulic machines, which can apply tons of pressure, and cost upwards of $400,000 each. Fabrication houses all over the U.S. have purchased these devices, and the number of mattress retailers that use these companies to fulfill and ship their products keeps expanding like a mushroom cloud.
Younger mattress buying customers today have no conception of sacrificing an entire Saturday traveling to a mattress store, listening to a pinky ring wearing salesman drone on and on about his opinions on foam vs. springs, hovering directly over you as you try to figure out what each bed is supposed to feel like while they are wrapped in plastic, and then wrestling a bed home strapped to the top of your car.
He speaks about the three hundred or so online stores that all compete for your dollar, and how easy it is to find a fabricator who has one of these roll pack machines, as they are called, and go into business with a couple of friends and two laptops. The end result is an industry that has made competing for your business so savage, so vicious, that many of the companies offering these beds are barely making enough money to survive, offering foam mattresses for a few hundred bucks, relying on huge volume to enable them to buy the materials in container sized loads, and more and more, many of these operations have been forced to less expensive imported foam to be able to stay afloat at all. Very few of these creative geniuses are foam experts, or bedding veterans, and guess what..? They don't have to be. The result: really awful hybrid mattresses that are timed to last just beyond the warranty limits, or at least after you are able to get a free replacement or proper warranty service without paying for it.
Because it is so easy to create a drop ship, bed in a box model business, Anderson warns that the competition is so intense that many hybrid bed retailers have been forced to import "absolute foam garbage" to fill out their product (filler layers are commonly used to increase mattress height and perceived value of the mattress in question).
He says, "I've built mattresses myself and have had to use materials that simply add height or visual appeal to the design, but the quality of the filler foam used today is vastly inferior to what I used even six or eight years ago. Yeah, you can buy a mattress for $400, or even less, but it'll be a door mat in two years".
Let's get to it, though. We know the brands. Their ads following us around everywhere we go, saturating our minds with an endless carousel of hyper-advanced marketing techniques on social media and YouTube, and lining the innards of every so-called third party "review site" that jockeys for position on the first page of your search results.. These companies have turned the sleepy brick and mortar mattress marketplace upside down. And they've done it with style and creativity like we've never seen. Ever.
What Is A Hybrid Mattress, Anyway?
A hybrid mattress is very simply a mattress made using two or more different kinds of unique materials so that you can capitalize on the benefits of all of the components used, even better than say, if you had purchased two separate beds with just one of the key ingredients. In almost all cases, either the base or foundation layers and in many cases the top comfort layers, are made using polyurethane foam, memory foam, or latex foam.
Generally, these three basic kinds of foam are latex rubber, memory foam, and a synthetic foam material referred to in the industry as polyurethane foam, also known as HD or HR foam (high density and high resiliency, respectively, but we’ll just call them synthetic foam for simplicity’s sake). The poly foam, as its called in the business, is usually the bottom layer, forming the foundation or base of the mattress. This layer is typically pretty thick, and its very inexpensive. It's the most profitable part of a hybrid bed, and generally where quality is sacrificed...big time.
ight above the poly foam layer, you'll find another area where lots of money is made, that is, if you bother to look at the cutaways and graphics describing what you are getting for your money. It's referred to as "the midsection", and provides the characteristic underlying softness or firmness of a particular model of mattress, as you work your way to the top "finish layers". The midsection of a bed is where retailers will typically start using a whole lot of fluff and language that sounds like it was written with a quill pen.
If a company is using esoteric names like "Dreamfoam", "Ultrafoam", or "Plushfoam", you can be sure that it's merely marketing fluff, and don't be afraid to ask whether or not the material is polyurethane foam, urethane (memory) foam, or latex rubber, or a combination. It's likely that these proprietary ingredients are acceptable, since these companies generally work tirelessly to improve the materials they are using to reduce return rates, typically the most costly component of any mattress business offering generous return policies (the industry standard for beds that are returned during a trial period, merely because a person doesn't find them comfortable, is 15%).
When contemplating a hybrid foam mattress, get educated before you go shopping around. Ask questions like, "who makes your bed and where?", and "where do you source your foam?". Ask if the beds they sell are appropriate for your sleep habits, whether it be back, belly, side, or flip flopper.
"Yeah, you can buy a mattress for $400-600, or even less, but it'll be a door mat in two years".
To begin with, most foam hybrid beds are built for and designed to accommodate folks within a weight range of 100-210 lbs. If you're over that weight, you should consider a specialized foam mattress using densities that are higher. There are now several online stores that make mattresses strictly for larger people. Highly niche, but addressing a real need for bigger sleepers- a growing segment of our population. Couples who weigh in at more than 200 lbs. each and buy the typical bed in a box or even coil type bed from a local retailer, often find themselves swallowed hole in the bowl formed by the bodies in the center of their mattress, only to return it within weeks.
It's also important to understand how a mattress is made, and what the best specs are for a typical well made hybrid bed. For example, for the upper layers, or finish layers, we recommend with at least 2.2 lbs density foam (the weight of a cubic foot of the material) to deliver proper support and cushiness. This density is pretty standard, and is essential to provide uplifting and decent support without bottoming into the material beneath. The bottom layers, or support layers, should be more dense, let's say in the 4-5 lb range.
Another unit of measurement for foam mattresses is something called ILD, or Indentation Load Deflection, which is the amount of weight it takes to depress one cubic foot of foam 25% of its original height of 12", when a solid plate is applied to a one square foot area. You should look for ILD's of 30-35 for bottom, supportive layers.Another popular kind of hybrid bedding component, typically referred to as Memory Foam, also called “visco-elastic foam”, is an amazing material that I believe is the true staple ingredient of any foam or bed in a box type mattress. Technically, it is urethane foam, manufactured using a special technique that creates a vast network of permeable bubbles, that move air in and out very slowly, thus giving it a very unique feel. If you like that wonderful “melting in” feel that it is known for, and have pressure issues, definitely consider it within the recipe of the mattress. Made originally by NASA for use in fighter aircraft seats for shock absorption, it should be close to the top in the mattress you are considering, so you get the best benefit, and memory foam should be at least 4lb. density or higher, as it will last longer, will not be likely to form indentations, and will be supportive and quite yielding. Memory foam that is 3lb. density, commonly used in these kinds of mattresses, simply won't hold up. I've seen poorer grades of memory foam split and crack simply due to body movement on a bed.
Memory foam is used in about half of the most popular mattresses sold today. Great stuff, just make sure it at least 2 inches thick, and is flat, not corrugated or “wavy”, as this weakens the supportive qualities of the material. It also works well with our next ingredient, latex rubber. Chat with or call your potential retailer and make sure you’re getting the best memory foam available. Memory foam is often given mysterious names, without any technical description, including density, which is critical. If a mysterious layer of foam used in a mattress you’re considering is called “Sparklyfoam”, don’t be nervous, but ask questions and find out what it is. The minute you do that, you’ll be respected further and whether in a store or chatting online, you’re in charge at that point.
Latex rubber foam has been around longer than almost any other foam material used in bedding. Sears sold pure latex rubber mattresses back in the late 50’s, and millions of Americans hauled them home over the next 30-40 years. Latex went through a bit of a dormant phase when synthetic foam came along, but then enjoyed a renaissance as more consumers sought out cleaner, greener, all natural ingredients for their beds.
Used in many hot hybrid mattresses today, latex is purely wonderful stuff, bordering on frigging amazing. Hand collected, and then converted from liquid to a solid sumptuous and jiggly form, it’s great for a lively, buoyant, and uplifting feel. If you are considering a latex mattress or a mattress with latex in it, make sure you are getting pure latex, and not synthetic latex, as the natural material is livelier, lasts longer, and it won’t yellow and dry out over time. If it’s in a mattress you’re looking at, make sure you get 2” at least, at or near the top (especially if its mixed with synthetic foam) and if you’re looking at a hybrid bed (any bed that has one or two different kinds of material adjacent to one another, meaning practically every mattress out there these days) make sure it’s right above or below memory foam if you want both ingredients.
Probably the most interesting qualities about all natural latex material is that is naturally anti-microbial, resists dust mites, won't collapse or indent over time due to its cellular structure, and is great for tossers and turners because it pushes up and to the side, allowing for easy turning without waking you up. It's kind of like spreading pizza dough on a pan, it distributes its load sideways instead of down, and you tend to "float" above it.
Ask and make sure you’re getting either pure latex, either Dunlop latex, or natural Talalay, and not a blend. Often there is no distinction made between the pure, more expensive foam, and the cheaper synthetic version. Call or chat with your potential retailer. Much longer lifespan, and better bounce!
Also, if you're looking for an all natural bed, you're probably going to want to steer clear of synthetic polyurethane foam, and go with a top to bottom latex mattress. However, most of the biggest sellers out there are made using polyurethane foam. This material is generally the most important component in any foam hybrid mattress.
What is Polyurethane Foam?
Polyurethane is a polymer material made from reacting different monomer materials; isocyanates and polyols both derived from refined crude oil. Polyurethane foam is the most common upholstery material used today. It is found in almost all mattresses, sofas, the seats in your car, spray foam insulation and more.
About a third of the composition of memory foam or polyurethane foam is created from Polyols. Essentially, it is a form of alcohol, which is almost always made entirely from petrochemicals. There are some polyols containing plant based alcohols (soy, castor bean, tea tree, aloe, et cetera), in very small percentages. You might see ads for "soy based foam" or "organic polyurethane foam" which can be very misleading. These foams are often labelled as natural, but the majority of the finished product is not natural and there is zero health related benefit to using plant polyols in polyurethane foam production.
To convert the liquid material into a foam, which contains lots of minute bubbles to give it elasticity and spring back, an ingredient called a blowing agent is added to the mixture. This is a chemical in the form of a gas which is blown into the mixture to turn it into foam, essentially aerating the mix. Different types of polyurethane and memory foams simply use different blowing agents. Some foams are water expanded, which is another clever way of suggesting that somehow the foam is natural. This is simply green washing. The process of making polyurethane is typically not as sophisticated as most would think. Although there are other methods for making ‘continuous’ pieces of foam on more expensive machinery the crude single batch method in the video below can produce foam of the same quality.
A very common hybrid mattress sold today might be a combination of polyurethane, latex and specialized polyurethane foam known as memory foam. Each has very unique benefits. Natural Latex is collected from trees, is chemical free, highly elastic, buoyant, and spongy and cushy, while memory foam fills up around your body offering pressure point relief, cradling you as it fills in void areas and pockets as you melt into it. The polyurethane foam is typically used for the foundation or base piece, but can also be used for top comfort layers when it is fabricated as softer and spongier.
Other hybrid mattresses combine memory foam with gel foam, or even thin layers of springs, called microcoils, or other exotic materials like New Zealand free range wool. Some offer their own variety of proprietary foam, giving them unique names, like "Dreamfoam" or "Ultrafoam", transforming ordinary synthetic foam layers into mystical and magical sanctuaries for us to nestle into where we dream of faraway lands and princesses and we don't ever want to get out of our beds. There are hundreds of options that make it so confusing to buy a mattress, you feel as if you are buying a used car. We’ll help you narrow down the options, though, to get you a mattress that is comfortable, supportive, and not over priced.
The beauty of a contemporary Hybrid Mattress design is that the concept follows a minimalist approach, utilizing a few specific ingredients that deliver maximum comfort at a reasonable price. Generally, you can find a mattress like this for under $1,000, though if you want more bells and whistles, such as a more upgraded outer covering, or more than two unique materials inside the mattress, expect to pay $1,500-2,000 or more, especially if it is a brand name. But, as a rule, in today's shopping environment online, keep your price point at or under $1,000, and you'll likely be able to score a really great mattress.
et's say that you wanted something all natural, for example. You can buy a 100% latex mattress which contains zero synthetic foams, if you are concerned about keeping the mattress purely green, with no synthetic or man-made materials. You're going to pay significantly more, though than is you go with a hybridized version of some latex, and some synthetic foams. Expect to pay $1,500 or up for a decent pure latex bed. The trade off is the much less expensive synthetic foam layers, which up until recently, had not evolved much. In the last five years, the technology available with synthetic foam has exploded, and an amazing lineup of material is available. One of them is graphite infused polyurethane foam, which disperses body heat, another is gel/memory foam combination which offer a sumptuous, cloud like feel, and even firmer, yet comfortable foams if you need a resilient feel with no sinking or collapsing. It's also great at dispersing body heat and delivering a unique pressure relieving feel. I've also studied a unique foam that suspends aluminum in the mix, allowing heat to be reflected away from the body, in almost a suction like fashion, great for hot sleepers.
Understanding the engineering and design of today's hybrid mattresses is fairly easy. It's largely driven by a “layer cake” approach which enables a manufacturer to offer their own unique "cake recipe", creating what many of these retailers will claim is a "universally comfortable bed" that appeals to anyone.
The trick for these hybrid bed manufacturers is to create a recipe that satisfies 90% of the customers who get them into their bedrooms. The bed in a box category in bedding is driven by constant testing, and before a bed is put up on a web site, it's likely been test driven by dozens if not hundreds of users. If the return rate is less than 10%, the mattress will likely be kept in the company's lineup. You're not the guinea pig, trust me. That work has already been done for you. The big players also have a vast number of reviews on their mattresses, and we'll get to that later, but in the back of your mind, remember that while most every site offers reviews, many of them may not be truly third party, independent reviews. In fact, they may have been paid for.
To build a durable and comfortable Hybrid Mattress, construction involves using one ingredient you are looking to exploit the most for comfort as the top layer, and using quality materials as the base or supportive layer to provide the best overall feel. It is important, however, to not overlook the kinds of foam materials that makeup the support layers, as they can fail and develop rutting or depressions over time.
In the case of a hybrid mattress using a premium top layer such as memory foam, gel foam, or pure latex, what you are likely to find is a 2” or maybe 3” layer of these materials, and underneath you’d likely find a combination of one or two different high density synthetic layers which provide good support and accentuate the comfort of the top layer.
The overall effect is to deliver the same or an even higher level of comfort than if the mattress were made from the same material top to bottom. The best part is, the mattress is likely to be substantially less expensive, and in many cases, much lighter in weight.
It’s What’s Underneath That Really Adds To Lifespan And Durability
One key consideration though, is the quality of the synthetic high density foams used underneath, which can broadly range in quality from outright utility grade foams which aren’t even designed to be used as bedding grade material, (like foam you would use to pack household goods in a move) to extremely high quality foam layers that are especially designed to be used for support layers in mattresses. Almost all of them are made using petroleum based products, which may be a concern for some folks. There are new materials and foams out there though that are manufactured without a lot of the toxic ingredients used in the past. Still, though, many people are concerned about synthetic materials being used in their beds, since they are a petroleum based material.
Another really important consideration is how the layers of your candidate mattresses are adhered, or glued, to one another. Believe it or not, this greatly affects the elasticity and comfort of a mattress. Continuous gluing, which means that the entire surface is sprayed with a sheet of adhesive, renders the materials stiffer and less responsive, and can make a mattress feel like styrofoam, rather than squishy, spongy and delightfully sumptuous. The way around that is to apply the glue only at the perimeter edge of the foam layers, thus preserving the dynamics of the individual foam layers. Basically, a "bead" of adhesive is applied at the edges of each layer. If I were buying a hybrid mattress today, the first question I would ask in a chat or on the phone is "how are your layers glued together?"
One more important point. The kind of adhesive used can be of paramount importance. Many companies that are producing high volumes of beds per day typically use a quick set adhesive. These glues are fast drying, and are made using VOC compounds that often contain formaldehyde, which can often off-gas or leach out of the mattress for years. The safest adhesives are water based, but they take skill and longer drying time, and likely a bed made with these more expensive but safer adhesives cost a bit more. When I order a mattress, I get even more particular, by asking for a specific brand of water based adhesive, called Simalfa. It is a completely safe glue material, even labeled for infant and crib bedding use. You can visit the Simalfa web site and learn more, if you're sensitive to smells, or VOC compounds in general.
Are Hybrid mattresses safe, since they are made with synthetic foams?
Absolutely. Most polyurethane foams these days are generally considered inert and don't off gas fumes that last for any length of time. You may notice a slight smell at first, which is normal, and this odor will quickly fade, especially if you let the bed "air out" for a few hours or a day, before installing sheets and bedding.
Although different brands can vary as far as ingredients that create odor, beware if a company is trying to sell you “no VOC or VOC free” memory foam, since it actually doesn't exist. A memory foam can be “low VOC” or “free of toxic VOCs”, but as we’ve mentioned before, almost every organic product has at least some minimal off gassing that is essentially harmless, but may frighten you at first.
Amazingly, however, there are synthetic foam materials that are made using a proprietary sequence of steps to remove many harmful materials from the process. One example of this material is a specialized foam that is known as Certi-Pur® foam. This kind of foam is free of harmful ingredients typically found in petroleum based foams, like PBDE’s (poly-brominated di-ethyl ethers) which are toxic and achieved notoriety for contributing to ozone layer depletion, as well as formaldehyde, volatile organic compounds, heavy metals, and other toxins, all of which continue to off-gas over long periods of time.
It is available in many densities and degrees of firmness, so that it can be properly calibrated with the top layers of the mattress to deliver the highest level of comfort and support. Here’s a link to the consumer page for Certi-Pur®, which you can check out after reading my article.
Buying a hybrid mattress can be challenging, considering that most of the components are synthetic, but don't let that confuse you. Technology has advanced far in just a few years, and polyurethane and other advanced polymer foams have vastly improved in comfort, and can be made in a variety of densities, support, and responsiveness. Pricepoints will vary, but in today's competitive marketplace, it's easy to find a decent mattress that can deliver comfort and support, for under $1,000.
Bottom line, it's easy to find a great hybrid mattress that will fall into the $700-900 category for a queen or a king, and if you order a bed in the box type unit that arrives at your door, typically, if sold with a decent 90-180 trial period, you can test the mattress for a good 30 days to see if it works for you. Most people determine whether a mattress works for them within three nights, though if you are going from let's say an innerspring to a foam hybrid mattress, the adjustment period may take a few weeks or so. With so many choices out there and a good no questions asked trial with the ability to get your money back, you're pretty bulletproof from being scammed or taken.
where to buy a great hybrid mattress at a reasonable price, without getting scammed..
We scoured dozens of popular web sites to try and find a company that offers a really great hybrid mattress at a reasonable price, with an attractive warranty, and a great return policy if you don't like it. We looked for BBB A+ ratings, how long the company has been in business, and other factors.
Most of the hype companies, such as Casper, Tuft&Needle, and others, have only been around for 2-3 years, barely enough time to establish how these mattresses hold up over time. The Mattress Buyer Guide Club, an exclusive list of dealers that we carefully assembled, offers what we believe to be mattresses made using quality ingredients, a great trial period, a solid outer fabric encasement that will last, and other factors, including a decent warranty and plenty of true, unfiltered and non-cherry picked third party reviews, generally not cut and pasted into the page. We invite you to strongly consider these retailers.
Additional Information About Foam, Mattress Scams And Ripoffs...Tips, Bullet Points And Secrets That Make You A Smarter Shopper!
Understanding Commonly Sold Foam Mattresses By Type Before You Begin Reading Reviews And Shop For A Mattress
Shopping for a bed can be a challenging experience that can quickly turn an eager buyer into a blithering jelly like mass. Jump online and start shopping and it’s information overload on a nuclear, mushroom cloud like scale. Hundreds of popular brands are jockeying for position on Google, each brand fighting for their lives as hundreds of “bed in a box” mattress companies crowd the marketplace. In the last five years, over 185 online mattress companies have jumped into the game, most owned by non-bedding industry tech types trying to shove a mattress into a box so it can be delivered to your door, much like a pizza. But what are all of these mattresses? What are they made of? What will they feel like? Is one better for back sleepers vs. side or back sleepers?
Overwhelmed with a sea of so-called hybrid foam mattress companies and so-called “mattress review” sites trying to snare you into buying one of their recommended brands so they can pick up a tidy commission, you are dragged through a gauntlet of misinformation, lack of technical details, and plenty of graphics of couples lounging in their loft apartments with salvaged wood floors and rescued greyhounds. But what about the mattress??
In this article, we’ll give you the basic breakdown on what the biggest selling mattresses on the web, and in retail stores, are actually made of, and what they were designed to accomplish. Because this site is operated by former bedding industry CEO’s who have already made their money and thus have no real ambitions other than to enlighten consumers, and since we aren’t a so-called “review site”, and since we believe that most sites that call themselves “review sites” are really part of a large sales funnel to get you to buy the most popular mattresses out there, we can focus on giving you honest and truthful information whose only purpose is to educate and inform. Should you be interested in our selection of recommended dealers, you can certainly check out our carefully vetted list.
Basic categories of mattresses are a bit harder to define these days, because of the advent of “hybrid” mattresses, which are beds that combine one or two components that are each unique, and when combined, deliver the amplified and enhanced benefits of a combination of ingredients designed to deliver support and comfort. Even the “mattress review” sites that pimp these brands never really evaluate the nature of the ingredients of the beds they “review”. For example, Casper, Tuft&Needle, Loom And Leaf, Purple, Leesa, and other foam bed manufacturers and retailers are essentially selling hybrid beds made with several kinds of polyurethane foam, wrapped in an outer fabric casing which is proprietary and conveys the image of the brand, the brands logo, or other identifying characteristics that clearly convey a message to consumers.
Today’s mattress retailers are really selling a mattress experience, and don’t focus as much on identifying the ingredients used in the beds they are selling. They don’t think it’s important and leave that part out of their product descriptions, instead resorting to vague and elusive yet mind numbing names that describe how the components should feel, like “Dreamfoam” or “Ultrafoam”, or perhaps even labeling an ingredient as “Unicorn Hair Infused”. They want you to emotionally invest in the purchase experience, the delivery process, and the unfurling and installation of their product just as much as they do the comfort element.
Virtually all of these companies are selling what we can describe as a highly similar product. They are made from a fairly spartan recipe of polyurethane foams, usually with two or three layers in each model they sell, each with unique qualities that provide a distinctive feel.
The method of shipping and delivery of these beds is also the reason why these companies have so much competition and have to rely on “mattress review” sites to funnel traffic to them. Just keep one thing in mind. Polyurethane mattresses are extremely inexpensive to manufacture and ship. Let’s say you are paying $800 for a typical foam bed. The company you are doing business with, by the way, is farming out the manufacturing of their product to middle men known as “fabricators”. There are hundreds of them across the U.S. The raw cost for a subcontracted fabricator to build and cover the mattress, get it into a box, and get it to your door, is around $300. Of the $500 that remains, $200 is often spent on advertising and marketing alone. Many affiliate commissions are $150-200 for each sale, paid by the manufacturers to the so-called “review sites”. That’s out of your pocket!
The remaining $300 has to cover all other expenses that the manufacturer incurs, the most expensive being media advertising like TV, radio, and social media, and then there’s the staff, the payroll, and the owners and shareholders. The fact of the matter is that there’s not really a huge amount of net profit in this kind of business, and the only way you can make any serious money in the mattress biz is by doing a crushing amount of volume. We know. We’ve done this ourselves.
So, what is polyurethane foam and how is it made?
First of all, no polyurethane foam is naturally derived. ALL polyurethane foam is petroleum based, though there are some foam materials that are made with small amounts of soy based polyols, and can be categorized as somewhat natural, but that’s a stretch. Chemicals are combined, and much like adding dishwashing detergent to a sink full of water and watching suds arise and expand, the polls combine with foaming agents and expand, forming a flexible grid of compressible material. Blowing agents are often used to facilitate this process.
High-density microcellular foams can be formed without the addition of blowing agents by mechanically frothing or nucleating the polyol component prior to use. These foams are not used in bedding, but rather for extremely dense components like shoe soles or tires.
Surfactants are used in polyurethane foams to emulsify the liquid components, like soap does to grease, and stabilizes the cell structure to prevent collapse and allow for spring back. Rigid foam surfactants are designed to produce very fine cells and a very high closed cell content, and this creates very firm foam. Flexible foam surfactants are designed to stabilize the foam and to keep it from shrinking. Adjusting and controlling these variables permits many different kinds of foam to be made, in a variety of densities, and degrees of firmness or softness. These foams can be tinted too, and can appear in a virtual rainbow of colors, making it easy for manufacturers to create models and styles that have their own unique marketing and merchandising qualities.
Polyurethane foams can be either "closed-cell", where most of the original bubbles or cells remain intact, or "open-cell", where the bubbles have broken but the edges of the bubbles are stiff enough to retain their shape. Open-cell foams feel soft and allow air to flow through, so they are comfortable when used in seat cushions or mattresses. Closed-cell rigid foams are used as thermal insulation, for example in refrigerators.
For mattresses, polyurethane foam is delivered to fabrication houses in large blocks called “buns”, and sliced down into the desired thickness and sizes needed to build out a lineup of foam beds. They can be ordered with any desired tint, the foam can be sculpted into unique shapes, all at very minimal cost to the manufacturer. Very often, a thick piece of firmer foam about 6-8” tall is used as the foundation or base layer in a foam bed. The ideal density for this kind of foam, especially if it is to last for 10-20 years is 28-32 ILD. ILD is a unit of measurement in the bedding and foam industry which describes relative density or firmness. The acronym stands for Indentation Load Deflection, and is characterized as the amount of weight it take to compress one square foot of area one inch in depth. Thus, a 32 ILD rating would indicate that the foam sample tested required 32 lbs applied to one square foot of the sample to be compressed one inch. This measurement system is also an indicator of quality in foam materials used in these popular hybrid foam beds. A typical well made foam mattress might have this configuration:
Memory Foam, Gel Memory Foam- Visco-Elastic Polyurethane Foam
Commonly found in most polyurethane mattresses, “memory foam” consists mainly of polyurethane as well as additional chemicals increasing its viscosity and density. It is often referred to as "viscoelastic" polyurethane foam, or low-resilience polyurethane foam (LRPu). Higher-density memory foam “melts” and becomes soft and body conforming when exposed to body heat, allowing it to mold around your body relatively fast. Newer foams may recover more quickly to their original shape.
“Memory foam” was developed in 1966 under a contract by NASA's Ames Research Center to improve the safety of aircraft cushions in flights where high G forces were involved. Scientists Chiharu Kubokawa and Charles Yost of the Stencel Aero Engineering Corporation were the principle chemists who developed the materials. The temperature-sensitive memory foam was initially called "slow spring back foam"; Yost called it "temper foam".Created by feeding gas into a polymer matrix, the foam has an open-cell solid structure that matches pressure against it, yet slowly springs back to its original shape. It was the most significant advance in the foam and subsequently the bedding industry in a century.
When NASA released memory foam to the public, Fagerdala World Foams was one of the few companies willing to work with the strange, alien like material, as the manufacturing process was tedious and difficult. Their 1991 product, the "Tempur-Pedic Swedish Mattress" eventually led to the mattress and cushion company, Tempur-World.
Memory foam was also used in medical settings. For example, it was commonly used in cases where the patient was required to lie immobile in their bed on a firm mattress for an unhealthy period of time. The pressure on some of their body regions impaired the blood flow to the region, causing pressure sores or gangrene. Memory foam mattresses significantly decreased such events.
To this day it remains the one ingredient every foam mattress should include in its design, owing to its amazing pressure point relieving qualities, and its ability to cradle and support the body like no other foam.
Memory foam was initially too expensive for widespread use, but became cheaper. Its most common domestic uses are mattresses, pillows, shoes and blankets. It has medical uses, such as wheelchair seat cushions, hospital bed pillows and padding for people suffering long-term pain or postural problems.
Unfortunately, the heat-retaining properties can also be a disadvantage when used in mattresses and pillows so scientists developed what was known as “second generation memory foam”, and manufacturers began to use open cell structure to improve breathability. In 2006, the third generation of memory foam was developed. “Gel visco" or “gel memory foam” incorporates gel particles fused with visco foam to reduce trapped body heat, speed up spring back time and help the mattress feel softer.
Gel-infused memory foam was next developed with what were described as "beads" containing the gel which, referred to as “phase-change material”, would achieve the desired temperature stabilization or cooling effect by changing from a solid to a liquid "state" within the bead of gel. Changing physical states can significantly alter the heat absorption properties of foam material, which is why the technology was applied to visco-elastic memory foam.
Since the advent of gel memory foam, other substances have been added to create a variety of options that provide comfort, support, pressure point reduction, and other benefits. Aloe vera, green tea extract and activated charcoal have been combined with the foam to reduce odors and even provide aromatherapy while sleeping. Tercel and other rayon based textiles has been used in woven mattress covers over memory foam beds to wick moisture away from the body to increase comfort. Phase-change materials (PCMs) have also been used in the fabrics that are used on memory foam pillows, beds, and mattress pads.
A memory foam or gel memory foam mattress is usually denser than conventional polyurethane, making it both more supportive but also much heavier. Memory foam mattresses are often sold for higher prices than traditional mattresses, because of the process involved and the sophisticated chemistry.
Memory foam is extremely beneficial in many ways. Its open-cell structure reacts to body heat and weight by conforming to the body, and relieving pressure points, and preventing bed sores. Most memory foam has the same basic chemical composition, however the density and layer thickness of the foam can vary the feel of the foam greatly. A high-density mattress will have better compression ratings over the life of the bedding. A lower-density one will have slightly shorter life due to the compression that takes place after repeated use. Look for higher density memory foam whenever you can. Ask for 5lb memory foam in the support or middle layers, and 4 lb. density memory foam on the top or comfort layer. Less expensive 3 lb memory foam will ultimately most last as long, tends to split and crack due to body movements over time, and will desiccate (dry out) much more quickly.
Natural Latex Foam
Latex foam is a manufactured foam product popular in a wide range of cushions and mattress products. All-natural botanical latex is a natural, renewable product secreted in fluid form by a multitude of plant species; most latex used in foam manufacture is harvested from the prolifically productive rubber tree plant, Hevea brasiliensis. There are engineered, synthetic versions of latex foam, but none have managed to match the natural characteristic of real botanical latex.
The rubber tree was originally discovered in the forests of Brazil. Once the value of latex was discovered for a range of manufactured products, the farming of rubber trees took off. A rubber tree blight combined with mobile business speculators in the 1800s and early 1900s led to a glut of large-scale rubber tree estates throughout Asia.
Dunlop Latex and Talalay Latex
Dunlop: In the Dunlop production process, first invented in the early 20th century, latex is poured into molds, vulcanized (usually with sulphur), and allowed to dry. In the early days, particulate settling would lead to a Dunlop latex foam that was firmer and denser on one side than the other. These days, with improvement in manufacturing techniques, that unevenness is minimal or even nonexistent.
Talalay: In the Talalay production process, perfected after World War II, the latex is first whipped for aeration, then poured into molds where it's flash-frozen and subjected to vacuum suction. The result is a soft, space-age material that usually contains more air than Dunlop latex and is usually more expensive, even though there's less latex and more air in the final product than in Dunlop mattresses.
Both Dunlop latex foam and Talalay latex foam are available in a range of densities and firmnesses, from soft to firm. Dunlop can be firmer than Talalay, and Talalay can be softer than Dunlop. In the mattress world, most superior mattresses are made using layered Dunlop and Talalay, with Dunlop on the bottom for support and Talalay on top as a "comfort layer". Latex FAQ: Is Talalay latex better than Dunlop (or vice versa)? The question really should be centered more around how to use Talalay and how to use Dunlop.
Synthetic Latex vs. Real Botanical Latex
Natural latex is a coveted foam bedding that offers body-contouring support and pressure-relieving comfort, all in the same space-age yet sustainable, environmentally friendly material. But not all latex foam beds are created equal. Here are the types of latex mattresses that you might find on the market:
Synthetic: Synthetic latex foam mattresses tend to be less resilient and less comfortable than real foam and may break down more quickly. Pure synthetic Dunlop is such a poor-quality bedding that you'll rarely find it on the market, but you will occasionally find all-synthetic Talalay.
Blended: Blended latex is usually 70% synthetic latex and 30% natural latex, and can be processed using either the Dunlop or Talalay methods. Blended latex still doesn't have the plush, buoyant feel of 100% natural latex beds, but it's a closer approximation than purely synthetic options.
Hybrid Latex: Hybrid mattresses are a latex "comfort layer" over some other interior support, either a polyurethane core, a traditional inner spring mattress, or even an air mattress. A latex memory foam mattress is a particularly comfortable hybrid form, made up of a memory foam interior sandwiched between a latex sleep layer and a polyurethane core.
The Holy Grail Of Foam
100% natural botanical latex mattresses are the holy grail of the premium mattress world. But as such, they're very expensive. And not all all-natural beds are ideal an all-Talalay bed may sound extremely comfortable, but be more likely to sag over time, since the Talalay process incorporates so much air. Synthetic beds can be less comfortable, less resilient, and have shorter lifespans. While synthetic latex may be more affordable, it may not be worth your money on its own. Order samples or lie on a floor model before you buy to be sure you're happy with the quality.
Blended latex is a compromise on all fronts. It's an all-latex mattress at a lower price and a reasonable approximation of all-natural latex qualities. But it sleeps like a shadow of an all-natural latex bed almost comparable, but never quite.
Many people swear by hybrid beds, and they can be quite comfortable and often more affordable than other options. Still, inner springs can sag over time, and a firmer polyurethane core can cause your latex comfort layer to bottom out? over time, so that you're basically sleeping on the harder polyurethane layer.
And watch out! A bed labeled "100% latex" can be 100% synthetic latex. Look for a 100% natural (or at least a blended latex) bed instead. Take your time, read the fine print, and know your product. As a savvy consumer, you're sure to find an affordable latex mattress that will serve you well for years to come.
An Insider's Guide To Buying A Mattress -- How To Avoid The Common Mattress Industry Scams To Get The Best Possible Deal On A Mattress
I've been in the mattress industry since 1994. And I was sad to see, but not surprised, a recent survey that likened buying a mattress to buying a used car. People are just put off by the mattress buying experience and rightly so. The mattresses all have different names at different stores, the range of choices can be overwhelming, a money-back guarantee often isn't really a money-back guarantee, and all the jargon and hype thrown around by salesmen just really puts people off.
We hear all the time from people that one reason they shop online is to get away from this high pressure, used car type of experience.
This guide is our attempt to change things. I hope by throwing back the curtain and exposing the common scams used in the mattress industry that you can find the right kind of mattress for you -- at the best possible price.
Step 1: Don't Get Caught Up In The Hype -- Look For Real Results, Rather Than The Latest, Greatest Innovation
Unfortunately, a lot of the mattress industry is driven by hype. The manufacturers are always coming out with new mattress featuring the latest in sleep technology. One year it is memory foam, then gel memory foam, then mattresses that somehow automatically adjust to your body's temperature, then ... well, you get the picture.
And while I've seen these new products come and go at the industry shows, I'm always skeptical until I see some real proof that these innovations really provide a more comfortable sleep.
In my own case, gel foam has been the big innovation in the memory foam market. And while I hear that these new gel mattresses are hot sellers, I'm big on staying with the original visco-elastic foam created by NASA decades ago.
With over 300+ reviews it gets a 96% customer satisfaction rating, while the gel foam mattresses just haven't gotten these sort of high reviews for comfort. So while adding gel to memory foam may be great for sales and hype, in my experience true memory foams just have a much better track record for comfort.
And this hasn't been just my experience. In an analysis of over 135,000 mattress reviews,
Based on 135,000 real people's responses, the meta site Sleep Like the Dead found that memory foam beds had the highest rate of customer satisfaction was 81%. In contrast, innersprings received only 63% of their owners said they were satisfied.
So before buying, spend some time looking over real reviews and ratings so that you will be able to clearly understand the comfort of the mattress option you are considering and not be unduly swayed by the hype.
Step 2: But Beware, Not All Mattress Reviews of Equal Credibility!
In Step 1,I urged you to read over reviews rather than buy on hype or impulse.
But now I'm telling you not to believe the reviews?
Am I trying to make you crazy?
The answer is no I'm not. But I am trying to make sure you don't get scammed by unscrupulous sellers cherry picking just the best reviews or putting up fake reviews.
Overall, I think reviews are probably the most important information you will find about any mattress. I've heard over and over again from my customers that our reviews are the most important content on our site since, after reading over a few, they are able to get a fairly accurate minds' eye of whether our mattress might have the feel and support they are looking for in a mattress.
In addition, it helps them to see whether people with similar issues liked our mattress. And, of course, to check on whether we really do back up our money-back trial and provide good customer service.
But all online reviews aren't created equal. Unfortunately, some sites cherry pick just the best reviews and don't show the ones that didn't get such high ratings. And by doing this, they distort the overall impression people can get about a mattress
And, unfortunately, some reviews are just fake. I hate this, and hopefully it is a small % of reviews. But it does happen and you need to be wary of sites that only have good reviews for this reason as well.
So what to do -- both to get the most out of reviews, so you can make the best possible buying decision, and not get scammed by cherry picked or fake reviews?
First, read any reviews carefully -- other people may have similar sleep issues to yours, and their stories may help you understand if a particular mattress might help you as well. When I ask our customers to post a review, I ask them to share their stories of what problems they were experiencing and how our mattress helped them with these issues. These kind of reviews can really help you get a minds' eye of whether a mattress might work for you.
In general, I tell people to read over 10 - 15 reviews to get a sense of whether a mattress might work for them. But I've had people tell me that they have read over 100's of our reviews before buying, and I think that is because they just want to make sure they are covering all their bases before buying.
How to tell if the reviews are cherry picked or faked? Take a look at the distribution of the ratings. If almost all the reviews are 4 and 5 star, or the site only shows good reviews, then you may not be getting the full picture.
While I don't get many bad reviews for our mattress, I do post them all -- just to make sure people get a full picture of how our mattress works for people. So in a strange way bad reviews actually build credibility of a product. They show the seller isn't trying to pull a fast one on you, and is one that has integrity.
In addition, look to see if the seller offers a true money-back trial. Ours is a full 1 year, and while most don't get nearly that long, look for at least a 90 day trial. Why? You'll read more about the import of a money-back trial later in Step 3 of this guide, but in the context of reviews having a money-back trial is a big incentive to keep the reviews real and inclusive of negative reviews.
That is because any seller offering a money-back trial wants people to buy with a very clear idea of what to expect from the mattress. The good and the bad. In my case, given that I offer a 1 year money-back trial, I don't want anyone to buy unless they really think our mattress suits their needs. Returns are very expensive, and my intention is to be as transparent as possible about our mattress in order to get customers who are most likely to like our mattress and less likely to need to return it.
So sellers with a great money-back return policy have very little incentive to fake returns and instead a big incentive to keep them real. And I don't mean comfort returns here -- this only holds for sellers offering real money-back returns.
Another way to get a gauge on whether a seller is on the up and up in regards to reviews is whether they participate in any independent 3rd party review sites (like Shopping.com that we participate in). This way you can see if the merchant has had any problems and what type of customer service they offer. It is really important that the online merchant be transparent -- so you know exactly who you are dealing with and what type of service and money-back trial to expect.
One last thing -- before buying make sure you understand all the specific charges you may end up paying on a return. Unfortunately, some sellers hide in their small print that you may pay a return shipping fee on a mattress return (which can be $350 and up), a restocking fee, or other return fees. We hear about this type of thing often, so don't get stuck by not knowing the return fees up front (for the record, we have just a $75 return fee on a mattress -- and no other surprise fees).
Step 3: Get A Real money-back Return -- Don't Settle For A Comfort Return, In Store Credit, Etc.
This is a huge trap. People often mistake mattress store's comfort return policies as being money-back policies. And they for the most part are not.
No matter how you chose to buy your mattress, it is essential that you have a true money-back return. Because the bottom line is that regardless of how much research you do or mattresses you lay on, you just won't know if a particular mattress works for you till you try it out in your own home.
And the longer the trial the better. I've found that many people takes weeks to months to adjust to a new mattress. So a 30 day money-back return doesn't really cut it. I think you should shoot for 90 days at least, and I'm so serious about this I offer our customers a full 1 year money-back trial.
You will need to ask very direct questions about what the retailer's return policy is and exactly what this means. Because the language can be confusing. A "comfort guarantee" is not a money-back return policy.
And other sellers offer some sort of trial, but only offer you store credit if you want to return the mattress(and this may be reduced by a return fee). And if there is no other mattress in the store you want, or if the return fee is unreasonably high (sometimes these have very high restocking fees), you are stuck.
I hear from customers all the time that got scammed this way and ended up paying hundreds or thousands for mattresses they couldn't return.
So ask up front what the stores return policy is if you don't like the mattress. And if they do have a true money-back trial, which can be hard to find from brick and mortar retail stores (they are much more common from internet sellers, since we have to offer them in order to have any chance of making a sale), make sure you get all the costs associated with returning a mattress under the money-back period (again restocking fees, etc. can be very high, so make sure you get them on the front side). Our return fee, for example, is just $75 -- which we waive if people make a donation of the returned mattress to a charity.
And ... check out that they really do honor the money-back trial. That is one reason I've been a member of the BBB for all these years. Our A+ rating is a testament to the fact that I do honor our 1 year money-back trial. Make sure whoever you buy from also has this sort of independent, third party ratings that show they really do honor their money-back return policy.
Step 4: Make Sure A Mattress' Warranty Really Stands For Something -- And Isn't Instead Just A Worthless Piece Of Paper
Ever read a mattress warranty? They can be so dense that they are practically unreadable.
One key thing to look for is whether the warranty period is pro-rated or non-prorated. The best is non-prorated. This means that during the replacement period the mattress will be replaced without you having to pay (although the warranty may specify a shipping fee, etc.).
In contrast, with a pro-rated warranty you will pay an ever increasing portion of the cost of the mattress to replace it if you run into a warranty issue.
Another issue is the length of the warranty. My personal opinion is that warranties that have super long lengths are suspect and just marketing tools to sell a bed.
I say this because I know that the average useful life of a mattress is 7 - 10 years. And that those manufacturers offering 20+ year warranties do so in order to get a sale, but often the fine print in the warranties make it so that no one can ever really qualify for a warranty replacement.
Here's the problem. These warranties often define a certain amount of indentation as being required before a warranty replacement. And the amount of indentation is absurd -- often 1.5" or more.
So most people get stiffed, even if their mattress forms a dip.
And here's the part you may not know -- the comfort layers of a mattress, often the foam layers, can soften and break down over time without their actually forming an indentation. And in these cases, again you usually get nothing.
So make sure, when you are looking at mattresses, to look over the actual language of the warranty to understand what exactly it covers and if you are likely to be left out in the cold if you have a problem.
What I was getting our new 10" Memory Foam Mattress put together, I worked with the manufacturer to get a real warranty. Instead of going with a 20 year warranty that would have so many restrictions it would be almost worthless, I went with a 10-yearwarranty that really would cover issues that came up.
I kept the language purposefully vague and didn't define the amount of body indentation -- so customers having a problem wouldn't get stiffed if they only had 1" of impression instead of 1.5".
By doing this, I've been able to take the few warranty issues that have come up and really try to get a sense of what the problem is and whether it was a warranty issue. And our manufacturer has been great about stepping up to cover them because they understand how important it is to take care of customers that have invested in you (and that is rare to find in a mattress manufacturer).
Step 5: Arm Yourself With Information So You Can Have The Best Chance Of Finding The Right Mattress For You.
Now that you are ready to go out and shop for your mattress, it is important to arm yourself with knowledge so you aren't overwhelmed by all the hype surrounding the vast array of mattress options.
Because while in the good old days there were just a few innerspring bed choices -- a standard model and perhaps an upgraded one with a few more springs or a bit more cushiony feel -- today there are literally dozens of choices of different innerspring configurations as well as all the new specialty bedding choices that are the fastest growing part of the mattress market - memory foam mattresses, air beds, and latex mattresses.
It is literally enough to make you crazy. A good example is the industry leader in the mattress niche we specialize in, memory foam mattresses. While Tempur-Pedic tm started with just one model years ago and offered just this one model for many years, today it offers 11 different models. I've gone into their showrooms at the industry shows and, even though I'm in the industry, it is enough to make my head swim. I really sympathize with consumers trying to wade through this sea of mattress possibilities. The whole thing is a bit overwhelming.
I have to say my bias is towards the specialty mattresses. Even before I was in the business, I had slept on foam since college. I just don't find metal coils comfortable, and no matter how you dress them up with "comfort" layers of cotton, wool and foam I still feel the coils (the "princess and the pea" have nothing on me). But comfort is a very individual thing, and you may well feel that coils are the most comfortable or yet a different type of mattress surface (latex or air, for example).
So my general advice to people is to find a basic mattress "core" that they find comfortable -- whether that "core" (the basic support structure of a mattress, usually 6+" or so thick) is made out of springs, foam, latex or air.
All of these different "core" options have their distinctive feels and properties, so start by testing out basic models of each to see what feels comfortable. Then once you know what type of "core" you like, try out these type of mattresses with different comfort layer options.
So after the basic option, try one with high density foam or latex foam (a more expensive comfort layer option), then perhaps one with memory foam (often on top of one or more layers of a more basic foam), etc. This way, you can get an idea for what feels comfortable to you, and hopefully avoid paying for all the frills -- just for the comfort layers that really make a difference for you.
The key to making sure you get what you want at the best possible price is to come into the mattress buying experience armed with the facts. If you go in blind, chances are you will either be overwhelmed by the whole thing or end up at the mercy of the salesperson (and while many are knowledgeable, don't kid yourself -- they are interested in selling you the upgraded, more expensive mattresses with the highest profit margins, since most, if not all, work on sales commission).
So here's what I've done: in my areas of specialty I've put together buying guides to give you the essential information you need to see if these kind of mattresses might make sense for you and what to look for when buying them. And for those outside my area of expertise, I've looked across the net to find guides that really seem to know their stuff and are very informative.
Some bullet points about different kinds of mattress options:
Innerspring mattresses remain the biggest sellers in the mattress industry, although the specialty mattress area (memory foam, air beds, latex mattresses) is growing rapidly. In fact, if you look at the type of materials used in many innerspring mattresses these days, you will see that memory foam and latex are increasingly used in innersprings.
Innerspring mattresses have become progressively thicker over the years, and now commonly run 11" high and many are 13 - 15" and up. I recently went on vacation and the innerspring bed was so thick that they provided a footstool to be able to climb into bed.
What is responsible for this blowing up of the innerspring mattress? I think the basic issue is that metal isn't comfortable. And while a metal spring does compress and give, it still isn't something you would want to sleep directly on. So as consumers have looked for a more comfortable mattress, manufacturers have added increasingly thick layers of "comfort" material (as it is known in the industry). So these days it is common for innersprings to have multiple layers of foam and other cushioning materials. And in the better innersprings, these layers often include the more comfortable and dense comfort layers that have come into the industry over the last few years -- memory foam and now latex.
So what should you look for when shopping for an innerspring mattress? Again, this isn't my area of expertise, but I found a good, common sense article "Going to The Mattresses". I couldn't agree more with the writer's assessment that pillow tops are a waste of money and a ripoff. Honestly, if you want a pillow top feel it is better to just buy a good quality, comfortable innerspring mattress and then buy a quality topper to put on it (not like the low quality foams they use in a typical pillow top that break down after a few years).
MEMORY FOAM MATTRESSES
I've been sleeping on memory foam for 14 years now -- it was the first thing that really helped ease my severe back pain (from a snow skiing accident). This was back when memory foam first started to become available to consumers (before that it was just used in the medical industry), and it was so new and "cool" that I had all sorts of people coming over to lie on my bed. When a few got so comfy they didn't want to get off, I knew this was something big and contacted the company to see if I could be a reseller.
The memory foam business has come a long way since then, and now every major manufacturer has their brand...even Home Depot!
Latex mattresses have been around since the '40s and '50s -- there was a popular Sears model that people still talk about. Latex beds have become a hot trend as of late since latex has a very firm, resilient feel that makes a terrific sleep surface.
Latex mattresses have become very big in Europe over the last 10 -15 years, and now are the latex hot trend in the U.S. The reason is their comfort and also that they are seen as an all-natural product. So latex appeals to not only those looking for comfort, but also those concerned about getting a "green", sustainable mattress or one that is all natural for allergy or other health reasons.
The downside of latex is that it is expensive to make and latex mattresses sell at a premium over standard innersprings or even the more moderate memory foam mattresses (such as the one we carry).
But beware, not all latex is created equal. Strangely, while latex mattresses started off being made of natural latex, they now are often made primarily of synthetic "latex" (chemically similar to natural latex, but made from petrochemicals rather than natural latex (which is made from the sap of the rubber tree)). Synthetic latex and natural latex feel a bit different, so it is important to ask what type of latex a particular "latex mattress" is made of so that you can compare apples to apples.
Personally, I like natural latex. All-natural latex can be difficult to find, though, and for those wanting latex for eco or allergy reasons you really need to make sure that the latex you are looking at is really all-natural.
The nice thing about an air bed is its adjustability. With a touch of a button you can change the softness/firmness of your bed. This flexibility has made air beds very popular, although we often see that all the different options and configurations of air beds can make your head spin.
Beware All The "Bells And Whistles" You Commonly Find On A Lot Of Air Beds -- Instead, Quality Components Are The Key To A Comfortable and Long Lasting Air Bed
The range of air beds out there is a bit overwhelming - from the most simple (a simple one chamber mattress like the Aero Bed) to those offering multiple layers of foam, multiple chambers, pillow top options, etc., with all kinds of options like digital remotes and sophisticated matching box springs and foundations.
After researching, physically testing, and inspecting a variety of air beds, we came back to a basic principle - the simpler, the better. We were astonished at how many unnecessary "bells and whistles" are built into the leading brand of air beds, and we suspect that many of these features are added merely to increase the "perceived value" of the air bed, to cover the cost of hugely expensive advertising budgets. As we all know, the consumer is paying for this overhead since it has to be built into the price of an air bed.
As for the air beds themselves, consumers unfortunately end up paying too much money for what we believe are "fluff" features on many air beds - digital remote controls which have unnecessary features, overpriced and inadequate pump systems, and layer upon layer of foam or other "filler materials" that really don't necessarily enhance the feel of the mattress, but dramatically increase their cost. As an example, the leading manufacturer of air beds touts the use of a fairly stiff rail of foam placed head to foot in the center of their split mattress models (such as King size, where two separate air bladders are placed side by side) that is referred to as an "I-Beam", as being an added feature to add structural integrity and support to their bed.
Many manufacturers and industry veterans suggested that this "added feature" is in fact a design flaw, built in to prevent the user from sinking into the center of the bed, covering up a fundamental defect in the engineering of the air bed. In fact, many consumers complain about the "hump" in the middle of their air bed, after purchasing this model. This usually appears when the bed is set at softer settings, and the air chambers sink lower than the perimeter foam rails and the center "I-Beam".
Other air beds, have seemingly technically advanced features, like the so-called "self-adjusting" models, which offers no pump system or adjustability control at all, offer the user essentially only one setting, while the manufacturer claims that the air bed offers a full range of "automatic" settings from soft to firm. What's even worse, air beds with multiple air chambers also have multiple ports for pumps and valves, which means more potential air leakage problems if the valves and fittings are not of extremely high quality, or if they are not positioned or installed properly so that they don't eventually become loose or disconnected.
Also, poor quality foam layers, which, while looking "poofy" and adding loftiness and a desirable appearance, especially in the retail showroom, in fact may be comfortable for the first few months of use, but quickly deteriorate and compress, developing ruts, dips, and body impressions.
Without question, the single biggest complaint about air beds is that they quickly lose their "poofiness", becoming flat, lifeless, and sometimes rock hard, very fast. This is confirmed by the fact that inside sources have told us that some leading brands of air beds have return rates as high as 23%. That means roughly one out of 4 customers is dissatisfied enough with their purchase that they are willing to go through the trouble of disassembling, repackaging, and shipping back their mattress!
So are air beds just inherently uncomfortable? I've spent a lot of time researching this and testing different air beds at trade shows, and my experience was that while many air beds weren't too comfortable, a few really were. The difference? To be honest, most air beds use fairly low grade components, and these just don't feel that comfortable after a short time. But those few that used higher quality components (vulcanized rubber bladders rather than less expensive pvc or nylon bladders, higher grade foams rather then fairly inexpensive low density foams, etc) were really much more comfortable than the standard air bed you find -- including most of those from from the "leading brand". Rather than becoming hypnotized by all the available "extras" that can really jack up the cost of an air bed, we came to focus on the essentials that make or break the comfort of the air bed: the air chambers, the quality and configuration of the foam layers used on top of the air bladders, the quality and ease of use of the pump system and the remote controls, the integrity of the side rail system, the type of materials used in the top outer covering or quilting, etc.
We believe that the best air bed is one that offers a fairly simplistic mattress design, made with quality components that are known to last. So, rather then getting sidetracked by the hype with things like a "sleep number", or thinking that a presentation from a celebrity on TV makes one air bed better than another, consider our 10 point checklist before you start doing your research. Also, the most expensive model out there is not necessarily the best, by any means.
Stay Basic With Air Chambers
In our year long look into air beds, we researched a variety of air bladder options, first by studying air beds currently in the marketplace. We were astonished at how complicated retailers could make it for the typical consumer. We figured the best way to learn about the best material to use for an air bladder in an air bed was to speak with veteran industry retailers and manufacturers, who have been in the trenches working with various materials and methods for producing air chambers both for institutional beds (medical, etc.) and for residential or home use. Should the air bladders be fabricated from rubber, PVC, Urethane, or Nylon, or perhaps other materials? Is it really necessary to have multiple chambers, zones, and baffles? How complex should the air chambers be before you reach a point where you are paying for unnecessary materials and options?
The answers were surprisingly simplistic, boiling down to a function of using fewer moving parts and therefore reducing the amount of adhesives used in air chamber construction, minimizing the likelihood that there would be for trouble over the lifespan of an air bed. Materials chosen as components in premium air beds were evaluated in an effort to reduce or eliminate puncture problems, leaks, and to increase the lifespan and durability of the materials since they were subject to constant use on a daily basis, with vast pressure differentials under the relatively large load of two human beings on a typical bed. Over the last few years, air beds have became hugely popular primarily because of the adjustability factor, and the industry seems to be constantly reinventing themselves as they improve upon their technology and use of materials, to make the product a lot more "high tech" than the old blow-up mattress and foot pump concept of an air bed of days gone by.
There are many formidable materials with which to make high quality air chambers for today's sophisticated air beds. There is PVC, (polyvinyl chloride, a plastic), Nylon, Urethane (which is synthetic rubber), and vulcanized natural rubber just to name a few. PVC and Urethane are considered highly desirable, because the materials are largely inert and don't deteriorate, are reasonably elastic, and can be backed with specialized polymer fabrics to make it essentially as strong as steel.
The tradeoff is often comfort though, however, when dealing with synthetic materials. PVC, Nylon, and urethane, tend to feel a lot stiffer, and don't seem to offer the flexibility and elasticity found in natural vulcanized rubber air bladders. They just don't seem to have as broad a range of flexibility, especially when inflated to higher pressures. They tend to be not as responsive, are less yielding, and not as desirable as natural rubber for the essential layer of an air bed, the layer that should provide the highest level of comfort possible. We found that fabric backed vulcanized rubber air bladders make the best choice, allowing for good flexibility within a full range of motion from soft, to firm, without either bottoming out, or getting as hard as a slab of concrete. Advances in safer, less toxic adhesives, and such techniques as solvent welding (gluing two pieces of material together at the molecular level) have made vulcanized rubber air bladders the best choice.
Fabric backed vulcanized rubber air chambers will last for decades, and since pump systems that are used with air beds have pressure limiting features, it is impossible to "pop" an air bed bladder. Obviously, with any material used in air bladder construction, sharp objects should be kept away. Bottom line, avoid high tech materials when looking closely at the guts of an air bed. Natural rubber just can't be beat when it comes to overall considerations.
We also concluded that excessive baffling and interior walls which supposedly offered motion dampening qualities to the air bed, was a lot of marketing hype, and although some baffles and gussets to maintain the shape of an air bladder is desirable, it's important to remember that our experts told us that building air bladders for air beds is labor intensive, and a lot of the price you pay includes these expense factors. We'll discuss more of the chamber issues below. Too many gussets, baffles, and chambers really don't offer any additional benefit, especially since you can't really feel the difference with other comfort layers on top of the bladders. Also, we determined that ideal thickness of an air bladder should be 5-7" thick, meaty enough to accommodate larger folks without bottoming out, especially at softer settings, yet thin enough so that your mattress doesn't end up being way too tall.
A relatively recent addition to the high end air bed scene has been multiple chambered air beds, most commonly so-called tri-zone air beds. All basic air beds these days offer independent chambers for each sleeper (for example, two chambers in a queen air bed so that each sleeper has their own independently controllable air chamber).
But in the last few years some air beds have come onto the scene offering three chambers instead of offering just a single, independent chamber for each user. These tri-zone beds offer three chambers - one each for the head and shoulders, midsection, and lower legs and feet. These chambers are somewhat independently adjustable - the head and feet portion adjust as one unit, and the midsection adjusts independently. The concept is that this allows people to get more localized lower back support by making the middle section independently adjustable.
We've looked into these multiple chamber mattresses, and while we like the idea, we just haven't found that they really were more comfortable in practice. This is typically because the multiple chamber feel is often minimized by the multiple layers of foam that are between the sleeper and the tri-zone chambers. Stay with more basically designed air bladders that don't have excessive baffling offering multiple zoned areas..we just did not notice a perceptible difference, and it's more important to rely on the comfort and support layers above the air chambers to provide therapeutic value, in our opinion.
A strong consideration for purchasing an air bed, too, is that couples, who have may have different needs as far as firmness or softness goes, can share the same bed comfortably, if each side has its own independent adjustability control. If you're buying a brand name air bed with a layer of memory foam material, or latex, or high density foam, for example, make sure it's near the top, so you can experience the qualities of the foam layers, and the added benefit of the range of adjustability offered by the pump system between softer and firmer settings. Don't buy an air bed with all of the comfort layers buried below the air bladders.
Let's Talk More About Those Layers On Top Of The Air Bladder: Foam - Get the Best You Can, and Make Sure Such Materials As Memory Foam And Latex Are Near the Top.
High density foam gives an air bed a lush, comfortable feel. And it serves an important function in keeping the air bed safe from punctures as well. Typically air beds for home use have anywhere from 3 - 6quot; of high density foam layered on top of the air chambers, and pillow tops may have even more. These foams used range from standard high density urethane foams to visco-elastic "memory foams" in the more expensive beds. Recently, latex foams have exploded onto the bedding scene, and offer a real level of comfort and responsiveness, previously unavailable in air beds as well as other types of mattresses. We've found that these foam layers are perhaps the key factor which separates a good quality air bed from a cheap air bed - the better the quality of the materials used (density and thickness), with the right combination of materials working in concert together, the more comfortable the mattress is going to be.
While researching many different air beds, we were shocked at the quality of the foam materials used in many air beds (including many of the expensive name brands) as well as the way many companies bury these embellishment layers so deep within the bed, that they are essentially not discernible, and therefore useless. We believe that all across the board, high density foam material used in an air bed should be of at least a 1.8 lb/cu foot density. Even better would be 2.2lb foam if it is available. Anything less will deteriorate fairly quickly, bottom out easily, and won't give you the type of support and resiliency you need over time.
As we have discussed, one of the popular types of foam to be offered in air beds is visco-elastic "memory foam", and more recently, latex foam. We've been involved with memory foam for almost 10 years now, longer than many retailers have even been in existence, and we have seen from first hand experience that a good 2" layer of high density memory foam (at least 3.5 lb/cu foot density memory foam) can really enhance the feel of an air bed. Often people will inflate an air bed to firmer settings, so that it provides good back and lumbar support. The memory foam layer really helps in this situation to give the mattress a softer, more comfortable feel and is very effective at reducing possible pressure points. We've had dozens of customers add a 2" memory foam pad to their previously purchased "Brand X" existing air bed and they find that the memory foam layer made all the difference.
We believe you should look for memory foam that is at least 3.5 lb/cu foot density. Anything less just doesn't give you the real feel and benefits of memory foam, and you will tend to bottom out on lesser dense foams. And remember, to really get a benefit from the memory foam it should also be near the top layer or two of the air bed. To our surprise, we found that instead many air bed manufacturers bury their memory foam layers under 4-6quot; inches, or more, of various padding. We actually found manufacturers who put foam layers under the air bladder, which was quite perplexing to us. Bottom line, absolutely buy an air bed with a memory foam layer, preferably a 2" thick piece of at least 3.2 lb/cu foot density.
When a manufacturer offers latex as an option in the support layers of an air bed, natural latex is the best option. Even though it's been around for a long time, latex has undergone a rennaissance in the last few years, and there is renewed interest in using this material in bedding.
We like to see natural vs. synthetic used, since the natural material, which has been out there for almost 50 years, will not break down over time, like some synthetic foam materials. More and more major bedding manufacturers understand the unique responsiveness and elasticity that latex provides, and incorporate it into many mattress designs. It works especially well with an air bed system, so if you can get it, it is worth the investment.
Look for natural latex that is 2" thick, anything thicker than that adds too much weight and really doesn't offer any more benefit, and anything thinner generally bottoms out with larger framed folks.
Pump - Quality rather than Hype
Many air bed manufacturers skimp on probably the single most important element of an air bed system, and that is the pump used to fill the air bladders. The pump should be fairly quiet when in operation, or operate with a slight hum, but it should be not be clicking and clacking loud enough to send you flying out of bed. Most manufacturers today have mastered sound dampening technology, so quieter pumps are pretty much expected. High capacity pumps are critical.
The pump should be rated effectively with the size of your bed, so ask questions about the power of the pump. We've looked at a lot of different types of pumps, and again simplicity seems to work best. Look for a pump system which has few moving parts, is UL listed and is comfortably audible when in use. These types of pumps also move more air at a higher volume and can fill a bed in less than 2 minutes, from dead empty.
The pump should be accessible, not buried inside the air bed itself, otherwise as it is pumping, it could be pulling on a vacuum if it does not have clear access around itself, and may tend to overheat if not given good ventilation. You want to be able to get to it, too, should you need to replace it or have it repaired. The pump warranty should be all inclusive for at least 3 years. Even with regular use, air bed pumps, just like aquarium pumps, generally have a long lifespan and will function well, especially if given proper ventilation. Periodically check the pump unit and make sure its intake areas are kept clean and free of dust, debris, and animal hair, etc. , and obstructions.
Controls and Remotes - Simple Is Still Better
Somehow the controller or remote has become a focal part of advertising for some air bed companies. It's as if the air bed remote control has to operate like your TV remote, requiring you to enter some mystical digits to verify that it works properly. This whole "Sleep Number" idea is a bit of a mystery to us, as well as the manufacturers we've talked with. The basic function of the controller or remote is simply to allow you to push a button and fill or empty the air bed until it is comfortable. Assigning a number to this process isn't really relevant - what is important is to be able to easily adjust the bed till it is comfortable.
As long as the controller does this well, then it should work fine. Avoid remote controls that are too complex...our research suggest firm, soft, and maybe some memory settings as an option.
On a deeper level, some of the manufacturers we've talked with question the whole idea of a "Sleep Number". They note that the number at which you are comfortable on your back may be very different than the number you would use if you were instead sleeping on your side. So the number you would find comfortable may well change during the night as you toss and turn and move to different positions. Again, they believe the point should be that you want to adjust the mattress to be comfortable, and that tying this to a specific number really serves no beneficial purposes.
As for the controller itself, we tend to like the basic corded models as opposed to the cordless models. The cordless models just are too easy to lose and offer no particular advantage - it isn't as though you would need to be able to adjust the air bed from farther away than just lying on the bed. And this can save you money - so stick with a hardwired digital remote control with simple fill or empty control options. Another advantage to a hard wired controller is that it operates in real time, and there is not delay as with wireless remotes.
Look for Sturdy Side Rails
It is nice to be able to sit on your bed, to put on your shoes, and not slide off the side. So we've found that it really helps to have good, rigid foam side rails as part of the air bed design. Stay away from air beds that have their chambers all the way to the edge, or have a foam rail that is somewhat thin and not typically very sturdy. Instead look for air beds that use good, thick perimeter foam for sturdy edges. Even better, there are a few companies that offer contoured or graduated edges, which we think is ideal. This means that you will feel little or no transition from air bladder to foam edge with this innovation. Also, contoured edges with concave indentations contain the air bladders more effectively, and prevent bowing out of the air bladders. We recommend comfortably firm siderails that allow you to sit at the edge of your air bed, but yet are soft enough so you don't feel them digging into the back of your legs at the edge of the bed.
Beware the Overbuilt Pillow Top
In the mattress industry today, pillow top features are the "fluff" where manufacturers make money. Pillow top mattresses often are a manufacturer's best sellers, and the quality of the materials used in a pillow top can vary dramatically. Sad to say, many pillow tops have a good initial feel but break down pretty quickly because they use layers of fairly inexpensive, low density foams and other fiber material.
And we really don't find these basic, lush types of pillow tops offer more comfort over time. Instead we often hear from customers that their pillow top felt good at the beginning, but over time (sometimes just a few months) it compacted and just doesn't offer the same nice feel. Look for a simplistically designed quilted top for your air bed. Also, look for synthetic materials that breathe, as they tend to be cooler and resist packing down, unlike wool or cotton.
A 2" quilted top will do the job, and you will feel the effects of all the layers underneath the quilted exterior and enjoy the full range of adjustability offered by the air bladders, as well. A good blend of synthetic fibers will also last much longer. Today's synthetic fill materials are extraordinarily comfortable and durable. If you like cotton, put your money into a high thread count sheet, not the quilted covering on your mattress that is essentially a support layer in your bed.
Assembled vs. Put it Together Air Beds
Air beds come in two variations - those that are delivered fully assembled vs. those that come in a few boxes that you put together yourself. There are pros and cons of each option, but a fair amount of the difference is simply one of price. We've looked at a few different assembled air bed options, but we've always ended up rejecting this route because delivery costs are just so incredibly high.
Even if delivery is "free", retailers generally add this cost into the product's base price. And if the air bed has a decent return policy (which we believe is a vital part of any online air bed offer), most retailers will only refund you the purchase price less this original shipping plus any return shipping charges. These charges can easily add up to over a third of the cost or more of the air bed, which makes returning an assembled air bed a very pricey proposition.
In contrast, the air beds that you can buy that you assemble yourself are modular in design in case you need to replace or switch out parts, and the shipping and return costs are much more reasonable. In addition, the shipping time is also much quicker than an assembled air bed (a few days versus a few weeks) and you can track this shipment as well. These types of shipments are less likely to get damaged on the long way to you as well, slowing down the delivery time.
So, from a shipping and delivery point of view, assemble- it- yourself air beds are a quantum leap beyond the pre-assembled air bed option. Also, we have found that industry trends are showing that manufacturers have become much better at packaging ready to assemble bedding that is easily put together in minutes. Besides, you will learn what makes your air bed tick if you assemble it, making it easier to go after particular parts or components if the need should arise.
The key is to know up front if the air bed you are looking at is one you would need to assemble, so you won't be surprised by this. But remember, there are typically only about 6-10 pieces involved in the entire assembly process, so it's not like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, and most instructions are clear and easy to understand, usually taking no more than about 30 minutes, even if you are not mechanically inclined.
Look Closely at the Return Policy
No matter how much research you do, you can never know what kind mattress will work for you until you sleep on it. So we feel that a good, no-strings attached return policy is a vital part of any air bed purchase. Unfortunately, air bed manufacturers don't typically support retailers with a good return policy, so it is up to the individual retailer to assume this risk themselves. So return policies can vary dramatically from retailer to retailer even on the same model of air bed.
So, one of the most important points in deciding where to buy an air bed it to make sure that the retailer you are considering offers a fair return policy. Since return policies can vary so dramatically, you need to compare different retailers trial period as well as the amount of money you will end up paying for a return.
Expect to at least pay a reasonable charge for shipping one way on a return, and be advised that many retailers will charge you for shipping both ways. Also, make sure that any air bed you buy from a retailer offering a return policy is brand new. Some companies offer as "new" returned air beds that have been "refurbished" - fitted out with a new cover, but the foam and other padding materials, as well as the chambers, are all unchanged from an air bed that was returned.
This is an unfortunate business practice of some retailers, so make sure you ask what the retailer does with their returned air beds so know you will end up with a completely new and unused air bed. We like to see a return policy that offers full refunds for at least 90 days. Again, it's fair to expect a return shipping charge, but the fee should be reasonable, let's say around $75-100.
Solid Warranty Essential
A good warranty is essential - even with the best quality control things are defective or break from time to time. The best way to avoid problems is first to go with an air bed with the best quality components, and one made by a manufacturer that has a good track record over a number of years.
Like all "hot" products, the explosion of interest in air beds has spawned a huge growth in the number of manufacturers - of varying quality and substance. When we looked at manufacturers, we focused on those with a good number of years in the business and good track records in terms of their quality and attention to detail. We further cut our list to those offering a good warranty that wasn't severely pro-rated.
I hope this guide has been helpful and arms you in finding the mattress you want with the best possible deal.