Mattresses: a buyer’s guide
How to find the right level of comfort and durability, plus advice on bedsteads
A good bed is a relaxing refuge and retreat from the hustle and bustle of the day. Finding one that provides great comfort that lasts is a matter of investing in the best quality you can afford, so it’s a good idea to consult a mattress buying guide and think about the kind of bed that will work best with your new mattress.
It must be the right size, have excellent support and allow you to stay at a good temperature through the night and the seasons. Whether the mattress is on top of a simple divan base or a wrought iron bedstead, the important thing is to track down a combination that will provide night after night of restful slumber.
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A top priority
Though buying a suitable bed base or frame is important, you won’t fare well for long without a decent mattress on top of it. The National Bed Federation estimates that approximately 7 million are sold in the UK every year, and its 2021 survey of buyers revealed an average spend of £613, with 13% paying upwards of £1,200.
‘Consider investing in a new mattress if yours is more than seven years old, lumpy or too hard or soft for your preference, advises Naturalmat founder Mark Tremlett. Buying from a supplier with a depth of knowledge in bed manufacturing is crucial to finding the best option for you. There are many variables to consider, and expert guidance is the key to success.
Sleeping on springs
Cheaper sprung mattresses are often of made with a combination of synthetic materials and open coil construction, also known as continuous coil. This is where rows of wire springs are sandwiched between two layers of padding. Open coil is prone to uneven levels of support across the mattress, as well as the entire surface moving when weight is on any one area. Some open coil designs have a metal frame to mitigate this issue.
Pocket springs prevent many of the drawbacks of open coil. Each spring is secured into a fabric sleeve, which allows it to move separately from its neighbours giving a better distribution of weight.
‘Springs that move independently support the body’s natural contours and respond to your changing position throughout the night,’ explains Hannah Armstrong, Furniture Buyer at Heal’s. They come in a choice of soft, medium and firm tensions, it’s the combination of spring tension and the density of padding materials that creates the firmness level.
A relatively recent introduction to sprung mattress construction is micro or high-density springs. These are much smaller than standard pocket springs. They may be arranged in more than one layer and there can be many thousands in one mattress. The thinking behind them is that they provide a greater number of contact points to the body so that the mattress is better able to relieve pressure on your bony bits while still providing support.
Layers of comfort
Any mattress with metal in it needs padding to cushion the surface you sleep on. The padding can be made from synthetic fillings such as polyester fibre and polyurethane foam, natural materials such as wool, latex and cotton or a combination of both. A good mattress buying guide rule of thumb is, the thicker the padding, the comfier and more long-lasting the mattress will be.
There are often several layers of different padding materials. Wool, silk and latex are better at maintaining comfortable temperature and moisture levels than synthetics. But if you want to invest in 100% natural fillings, check with the supplier to make sure no man-made materials are included in any of the layers or blended with the natural fibres.
Temperature-sensitive visco elastic is a type of polyurethane that’s used to make memory foam mattresses. It moulds to fit the shape of your body and is slow to rebound, preventing bounce. Visco elastic softens in response to heat, which it retains, and may be too warm for some. Memory foam can be the sole material, but is often used as an upper layer with several different types of foam beneath to increase airflow and support. As the softer visco elastic is towards the surface and easily crushed, these mattresses are one-sided and cannot be turned.
You can also find synthetic foam mattresses that includes manmade gels, either as an individual layer among other padding materials or as an element incorporated into polyurethane foam. In both instances it offers greater bounce than visco elastic and retains less heat.
Natural latex comes from the sap of a rubber tree (harvested without harming the tree). There are two methods of processing the liquid, one produces Dunlop latex and the other Talalay latex. Both are more responsive than visco elastic and have better airflow. Talalay is softer and more breathable than the firmer Dunlop. Hybrid mattresses are those that include foam and springs. They aim to capture the benefits of both types.
Try before you buy
As any good mattress buying guide will tell you, when shopping in a showroom, take plenty of time to try several beds so you can get a good idea of how the firmness level suits you – and your partner. Ask for specific details on each mattress’s heat retention, ventilation, as well as its hypoallergenic qualities and sustainability credentials – if those things are important to you. And don’t be rushed into deciding.
If you want to buy online, take advantage of the try-at-home trails but do check the terms and conditions of the offer to make sure that you are happy with what happens if you are not completely satisfied. For instance, will you get a refund and will you be liable for the cost of returning the product?
What about the bed base?
A mattress buying guide often doesn’t tell that it’s a good idea to buy a mattress and base at the same time so they are an ideal match in terms of comfort and size. If you prefer to keep the base you already have, measure it and the new mattress to make sure they will fit perfectly. Don’t assume the new mattress is the same dimensions as your old one – there are small, standard and European size doubles, for instance.
A divan is an upholstered box that comes with or without springs. It may also have drawers or a hinge mechanism that lifts to reveal storage space beneath. A divan provides a strong, flat surface that’s ideal for supporting all mattress types – particularly heavier ones. A sprung base gives a slightly softer overall feel than one without springs.
Whether wood, metal or upholstered, most bedframes have slatted bases. These are lengths of wood or metal that extend widthways across the base of the frame beneath the mattress. Sprung slats are made with wood that’s curved and flexes under pressure for a slightly cushioning effect. Solid slats have no give in them. Check that they are held securely in place to prevent them sliding. Pricier bedsteads have a sprung base similar to a divan, which offers the same benefits.
It’s all about the filling
Bed manufacturer and retailer Warren Evans explains why what’s inside your mattress is so important.
- If you have a mattress with long-lasting natural fillings, it will help reduce your body heat because the air can circulate around you. This enables regenerative sleep.
- On the other hand, foam-filled mattresses retain heat. The foam is made from petroleum with processing chemicals. They are not recyclable or biodegradable.
- Sprung mattresses are great for air circulation, but only when filled with wool or natural blended fillers.
- To cool us down, our bodies create perspiration which causes humidity. Wool and cotton wick this away, keeping the sheets crisp and cool.
- Take advantage of a free-return 30-night trial period to really know if a mattress suits you.