Get the latest from TODAY

Sign up for our newsletter
/ Source: TODAY contributor
By Elizabeth Mayhew

Choosing the right mattress is not only one of the most important home purchases (doesn’t everyone want a good night’s sleep?), but it is also one of the most difficult. Why? Because the choice is highly subjective — what is comfortable for one person might not be to another.

The best way to shop for a mattress is in person. Ultimately you can order your mattress from an online source, but first do your due diligence. If you are a couple, shop together and if possible bring your pillows with you. Make sure you lie on a mattress for at least 10 minutes in your normal sleep position. A mattress should gently support your body at all points and keep your spine in the same shape as if you were standing with good posture. Just be cautious of the word “firm” and never rely on labels to tell you which mattress will give you the right support. As with any purchase, you should go armed with an understanding and familiarity of the various types, constructions and terms of mattress marketing. Some things you should know:

Basically, there are two types of mattresses: Innerspring and foam. Neither is better; it’s just about personal preference.

Innerspring mattresses

Innerspring mattresses are the most common type of mattress. They give support from metal coils. Don’t let a salesperson convince you that a mattress is good based on the number of coils it has — it’s not important. What is important is the gauge of the wire the coils are made from. The gauge — or thickness — of the coil affects the firmness of the mattress; the heavier the gauge, the stiffer the mattress, and the lighter the gauge, the springier the mattress.

When asking about gauge remember that the lower the gauge number, the more durable the wire is. For example, a 12-gauge wire is thicker than a 14-gauge wire.

Foam mattresses

Foam mattresses are filled with a combination of natural fibers and synthetics. Most people, when they think of foam mattresses, are thinking of memory foam or visco-elastic foam that molds to the contour of your body when you sleep. Expect to pay more for one of these beds — at least $1,000 for a queen mattress.

No-flip and pillow-top mattresses

This kind of mattress is simply an innerspring mattress with extra padding on the top only. I wouldn't recommend this. Most manufacturers recommend that you flip your mattress every three months to prolong the life of the product and minimize body impressions.

However a new trend is the no-flip mattress — a mattress that has extra padding on only one side so that it never has to be flipped. Many argue that this does little more than excuse you from one little step every three months and it tends to cost you more. Similarly, pillow-top mattresses have grown in popularity. They are mattresses that have an extra layer of foam or other stuffing sewn on top of a regular mattress. They often add a few hundred dollars to the cost of the mattress and you will definitely need to invest in new sheets — look for sheets labeled High Profile or Deep Pocket — they will fit 12” to 18” thick mattresses.


Warranties only cover defects that occur at the time of manufacturing. If a spring pops out of the mattress, that’s a defect. If a mattress starts to sag and lose its comfort after several years, that’s normal wear and tear. Don’t be swayed by the offer of a 10- or 20-year warranty — they are hard to claim. Instead, make sure you buy from a store with a generous return policy, so you can return the mattress if you feel you have made a mistake.

Bells and whistles

Mattress prices can be driven higher by special features that are unnecessary. Some manufacturers claim that wool- or silk-covered mattresses help to keep you warm or cool — a claim that is questionable, considering you are covering the mattress with a mattress pad and sheets and thereby eliminating any direct body contact with the mattress.

Similarly, don’t be swayed by the look of the beige damask or 800-thread count sateen covered mattress; you are going to put sheets on it the minute you get home.

Box springs

A box spring acts like a shock absorber to prolong the life of your mattress and it provides more consistent support. It will also help reduce the motion you feel when you or your partner tosses and turns. Box springs, like mattresses, wear out. If you lie directly on your box spring and it feels uneven or you roll toward the middle, then you know you need a new one.

Also, be careful of trying to save money by buying just a mattress and doing without a box spring. The two are actually designed to work together, so if one is worn out, then the other probably is too. In a short amount of time a new mattress will conform to the weak areas of your box spring and reduce the amount of support and comfort you will get.

Mattress care

Use a mattress pad to protect the fabric and foam layers of your mattress. Your mattress should be flipped and turned periodically. Most manufacturers recommend flipping a mattress once per month for the first three months and every three months thereafter (some manufactures even have an e-mail reminder that you can sign up for — they will alert you when it is time to flip your mattress). 

You know you need a new mattress when:

  • You can feel the coils
  • You wake up with aches and pains
  • You sleep better in beds other than your own
  • You can see depressions in your mattress where you usually sleep
  • You have had your mattress for more than 10 years