Need to know
- Mattress manufacturers make many claims about how their beds feel and what they can do. Our testing shows that this advertising can be untrue.
- Box mattresses outperformed standard retail mattresses on average in our 2022 testing.
- CHOICE experts have tested 47 mattresses from leading brands on factors such as firmness, comfort, sagging and heat retention to help you find the best one for you.
Buying the right mattress can be a minefield. You can search high and low online or hop from mattress store to mattress store, navigating quite a few enthusiastic salespeople along the way, and become quite quickly overwhelmed with the vast options and prices on offer. How can some cost thousands of dollars while others are hundreds, and which is best? Are there really mattresses that can keep you cool while you sleep and are the 'free' trials really free?
CHOICE experts recently reviewed 47 of the latest mattresses and say there are a few things you should know before deciding on the right one for you.
We extensively test each mattress, aiming to identify if it will change in firmness over time, and whether you can rely on it to deliver the same standard of comfort over its lifetime. We also look at things such as how well they repel sweat, and how saggy or bouncy they are, to give each product a final Choice Expert Rating. Find out more about how we test mattresses.
Here, we highlight some key things we learned from our recent review to help you when shopping for the mattress of your dreams.
1. Mattresses-in-a-box outperformed standard retail mattresses
The mattress-in-a-box (or bed-in-a-box) industry has exploded since we first started including these types of mattresses in our test a few years ago. These are the types that you buy online and get delivered to your door, literally in a cardboard box. Although your perception may be that something that arrives at your door in a box couldn't possibly unfurl to create a large comfy bed, our tests say it's definitely possible.
In fact, we tested 18 mattresses in a box versus 29 standard retail mattresses and the mattresses-in-a-box outscored the standard retail mattresses overall (receiving an average score of 77% versus 69% for standard retail mattresses). This is mostly due to the mattress-in-a-box products having better stabilisation scores and fewer signs of sagging over time.
2. Never pay full price
CHOICE mattress expert Peter Zaluzny says you should never be afraid to haggle on the price of a mattress.
"CHOICE has been buying mattresses for years for our tests and we've found many retailers have a lot of room to move when it comes to price," he explains. "Sales are pretty frequent too, so there's really no reason to pay the recommended retail price for a mattress.
"If you're confident and have done your research, you can usually shave a decent amount off the price tag by haggling. Just ask them 'what's the best you can do?' and start from there."
We've found many retailers have a lot of room to move when it comes to price, so there's really no reason to pay the recommended retail price for a mattressCHOICE mattress expert, Peter Zaluzny
To make sure we get an authentic customer experience when we buy our mattresses for testing, our experts often see if they can haggle their way to cheaper prices. In the last batch we bought, we managed to negotiate a cheaper price on a mattress more than 50% of the time, in one case knocking almost half (49%) off the recommended retail price.
Of course, bargaining is much easier to do instore than online. Online retailers usually have more fixed prices and a limited range of mattresses so discounts will be harder to negotiate. They do have sales occasionally though, so keep your eyes peeled.
3. Price isn't an indicator of how good a mattress is
Paying more does not guarantee you’re going to get a better mattress or a better night’s sleep. We have found cheaper mattresses that outperform pricier ones in our testing: in the latest review, our bottom performer costs almost $3000, whereas we recommend models that cost less than $1100.
"Our mattress testing has found that the adage 'you get what you pay for' isn't always true," explains Peter. "In fact, some of the most expensive mattresses we reviewed – ones that cost three to four grand – rated the lowest when it came to comfort and sagging, which is really alarming."
4. Take firmness claims with a grain of salt
When you go to a bricks and mortar store, you'll usually find the same mattress model is available in a variety of firmness options. A good mattress will retain its properties over a lifetime, not getting any less or more firm over eight years of use.
But our testing finds that mattresses rarely, if ever, live up to their advertised claims. For example, a mattress may be advertised as medium or firm, but then our testing finds that it's actually quite soft.
Peter says, "In the latest test we only found one mattress, from IKEA, that lived up to its firmness claims, which is disappointing, as it's one of the things people are probably most concerned with when looking for a comfortable mattress."
To see what firmness rating all the mattresses we tested actually received, check out our mattress reviews.
More box mattresses now come with customisable firmness
One of the benefits of buying a mattress-in-a-box is that more manufacturers are selling products that have adjustable firmness designs. In previous years, we've seen that mattress-in-a-box brands typically only had one firmness for each mattress they made, which was usually advertised as "medium-firm."
Some have various firmness layers available (usually made out of foam) that you can add or remove until the mattress reaches your desired comfort. Some use 'toppers' that you can flip for a different feel, and others have alternative firmness options on each side of the mattress. A few even have so-called 'firmness zones', which let you adjust the feel on each side of the bed (in case you prefer your mattress firmer than your partner does).
5. 'Cool' mattress claims may well be authentic
If you get hot while you sleep and you're looking for a mattress that will keep you cool, you may be wowed by the various claims made by many mattress manufacturers.
Unfortunately, in the past, CHOICE experts have consistently found that mattresses claimed to be better for 'hot' sleepers haven't differentiated themselves in this test enough to live up to those claims – most returned results of 'medium-warm'.
We've been testing mattresses for years and now, for the first time, we're seeing some variety in how the insulation feelsPeter Zaluzny, CHOICE
But things changed in our recent test. "We've been testing mattresses for years and now, for the first time, we're seeing some variety in how the insulation feels," says Peter. "In the past, warming or cooling claims in advertising didn't stack up, but now we're seeing more variety in this area.
"Eight mattresses were measured as cold or very cold and three came back as warm. This is a big shift from what we typically see, where almost all tested mattresses come back as 'normal' (medium-warm)."
Two cool models
For example, the Zenna pure latex mattress says it has built-in ventilation with an "open-cell construction that removes excess heat and moisture". Our experts verified that this mattress indeed returned a result of 'cool' when tested.
Likewise, the manufacturers of the Peacelily Latex mattress say you'll have less chance of overheating while you sleep on their mattress due to "the open cell structure of latex and breathability of cotton means body and room heat is not trapped and able to flow out with ease". This mattress also was rated 'cool' by our experts.
Keep in mind, though, that the many other mattresses that are claimed to be 'cool', still return results of 'medium-warm' in our testing, so if this factor is important to you check our reviews before you buy.
6. Some 'free' trial periods sting you with sneaky fees
Almost all mattress-in-a-box manufacturers offer a 100–120-night free trial period, something you probably won't get if you buy a standard retail mattress. But you need to read the small print to avoid getting stuck with sneaky fees.
The 'free trial' usually comes with a few caveats. First, most have a minimum trial period of 14–30 nights, so you can "really understand the mattress" before returning it. Second, there are relatively stringent conditions regarding the quality of the mattress. If your mattress is damaged, soiled or significantly worn during the trial period, then you may not be able to get a refund or exchange.
The exchange may not be free. Most manufacturers cover collection costs if you live in a major city, but this doesn't always extend to regional areas
Finally, the exchange itself may not be free, depending on where you live. Most cover collection costs if you live in a major city, but this doesn't always extend to regional areas. Some brands state that they require regional shoppers to cover the return costs or drop it off at the nearest shipping/charity partner.
Others are simply vague (e.g. Macoda only covers "some" rural areas but doesn't say which) and some don't mention regional areas at all. Zenna's website states that you will be charged a $150 return fee, but Zenna also says it will try to send a charity or recycling partner to collect it, which suggests a free exchange. There's no clarity either way.
Always check the free returns policy before buying. If the terms don't specifically mention the city, regional centre or town that you live in, contact the manufacturer to find out how returns are handled in your area.
Stock images: Getty unless otherwise stated.