Need to know
- Mattress manufacturers make many claims about how their beds feel and what they can do. Our testing shows this advertising can be untrue
- On average, box mattresses outperformed standard retail mattresses in our 2023 testing
- CHOICE experts have tested 44 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 44 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 type 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 our most recent batch of 10 mattresses, the five mattress-in-a-box models all earned a CHOICE Expert Rating of good or higher. Meanwhile, standard spring mattresses range from OK to good.
Of all the currently available mattresses that we've tested over the years, standard retail options have an average CHOICE Expert Rating of 69% versus 74% for mattress-in-a-box. 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.
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 pretty regularly though, so keep your eyes peeled.
3. Price isn't always an indicator of quality
Paying more doesn't always guarantee you're going to get a better mattress or a better night's sleep. We've found plenty of cheaper mattresses that outperform pricier ones in our testing.
Among the top performers in our latest review you'll find a model upward of several thousand dollars, yet others that are in the hundreds – including one mattress that's the cheapest we've ever recommended.
"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 five 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 two mattresses that lived up to their 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 now 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'.
In the past, warming or cooling claims in advertising didn't stack up, but now we're seeing more variety in this areaPeter Zaluzny, CHOICE
But things changed in our the last few tests.
"We've been testing mattresses for years and lately, 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 in our 2022 test. This year, two were cool and one was very cool. 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, A.H. Beard claims the King Koil Conforma Element provides "breathable, cooling pressure relief to keep you relaxed". This mattress was also 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. Koala, for example, claims that the Koala Soul Mate mattress keeps you at the optimum sleeping temperature, including the "open-cell structure of Kloudcell®, [so] the Soul Mate Mattress provides enhanced airflow so that you sleep cooler and drift off even faster".
Despite these claims, however, our tests found that the mattress has a medium-warm feel. The best way to avoid getting hoodwinked by marketing jargon and unsubstantiated claims? Check our mattress 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. For example, Macoda only covers "some" rural areas but doesn't say which – and some don't mention regional areas at all. Eva says it will try to find a charity partner in your location, but you may be charged for collection if this isn't possible.
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.
Free trial vs trial period
Though the free trial period is fairly ubiquitous amongst mattress-in-a-box brands, a few do charge for returns. In these cases, they specifically refer to it as a sleep trial, trial period, test period and so on, rather than a free trial. Zenna, for example, has a "100-night trial" that incurs a $150 return fee if you decide to get a refund.
So don't assume that all trial periods are free. Read the FAQs and T&Cs if the manufacturer doesn't use the word 'free' when advertising the returns or exchange policy.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.