The quality of a mattress depends on several factors, from construction to how comfortable it is for the person that will sleep on it. Start by determining what type of mattress will work best. Innerspring, memory foam and latex are best for kids, individuals and couples who prefer the same level of firmness in a mattress; air-chamber beds -- also known as adjustable mattresses -- work best for couples who have different needs.
Made up of metal coils covered in various types of padding -- from quilting to memory foam -- innerspring mattresses are typically the most cost-effective option when buying a new bed. If a firmer bed is preferred, opt for thicker coils but stick with a mattress with lower-gauge metal. Choose 18-gauge coils for a softer feel. Avoid getting tricked by marketing ploys such as an abnormally high coil count or catchphrases such as “super-ultra-plush.” More coils do not always mean more comfort or support, and those catchphrases have no real definition. Instead, rely on the feel of the mattress, the warranty it comes with and the reputation of the store and manufacturer.
Air-chamber beds are those where you can adjust the firmness of the mattress using a remote control, inflating or deflating the chambers until the bed is as soft or as hard as you want it. For couples, always look for a mattress that features dual-controls and opt for a mattress that makes little to no sound during adjustments. If shopping for a child, a bed with one control is much more cost-effective. These mattresses tend to require more care than others, so a good warranty is a must. Cheaper dual-control mattresses use lined-up chambers and a barrier down the center to separate the two sides; over time, these can become lumpy and render the center of the bed uncomfortable. A higher-quality mattress has staggered chambers and a seamless transition between the two sides.
Latex mattresses tend to provide the contouring effects of memory foam while still pushing back against the body, increasing support. This can be especially beneficial for teenage athletes or individuals suffering from back pain. Most latex mattresses are categorized by how they’re made as well as what they’re made of. If you like a softer bed, look for a talalay mattress; for a firmer bed, Dunlop latex is ideal. If you’re choosing a latex mattress for its natural qualities, be wary of manufacturers that label the mattress as natural, but don’t label it as 100-percent natural. Other natural and synthetic fillers are often used to drive down cost, even though the natural latex is the only part marketed.
Memory foam mattresses tend to give a custom feel for each individual, contouring with the body. Yet not all memory foam mattresses are created equally. To start, ask about the density of the memory foam itself. Graded by how many pounds per cubic foot the foam can handle, a low density is typically not suitable for adults, although it can work perfectly for younger children. If you’re buying a memory foam mattress for a preteen, buying a higher density mattress now can save you from having to buy a new mattress in just a few years. Look for mattresses that have a higher density -- at least 5 pounds per cubic foot -- for the average-sized adult and couples. Also, look to the thickness of the actual memory foam. Most mattresses only contain foam on the top portion, which means that even a 16-inch mattress can have only a couple inches of memory foam. For the best results, look for a mattress with a thicker foam topping; it will likely be more comfortable and last longer.
In addition to quality, how a mattress feels is an important part of the evaluating process. To test a mattress, remove your shoes and lie down on it in the same position you sleep in at home. Stay this way for 15 minutes. If you share a bed, shop with the other person and test the mattress together, and if you’re buying one for your child, have her go along to test possible choices. During the 15-minute test, take note of how the mattress feels against your body or how much the other person’s movements are noticeable, if applicable. For the best product, always opt for a mattress that has a good return policy. If it still isn’t comfortable after a week or two, exchange it for a new one.