Despite the obvious assumption, we don't test mattresses by taking naps on the job. Our experts examine spring, foam, latex and hybrid mattresses from traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers and online-only bed-in-a-box manufacturers to help you find a bed that best suits your needs.
Our priority is to test what you'll find in shops. This means that sometimes we might not cover a brand with one mattress that's sold 100 products in Australia.
Instead, we check current market figures to see what's selling well and focus on the big brand models that sell in their thousands.
We also include models that you've requested – if a lot of members want it, we're going to test it.
- Retailer mattresses: We select mattresses from major brands like Sealy, SleepMaker and A.H. Beard based on feedback from member surveys. We also select one exclusive model from third-party retailers such as Snooze, Forty Winks and Ikea, so you can consider alternatives to the big names.
- Mattress-in-a-box: We buy these (also known as bed-in-a-box) from popular manufacturers, and compare them to a traditional store-bought innerspring mattress. Though mostly made of memory foam and latex, you can find some innerspring bed-in-a-box brands.
We test firm mattresses where available. Most bed-in-a-box manufacturers sell one or two mattresses with one firmness configuration, typically medium or medium-firm. If the mattress is adjustable, such as the Sleeping Duck Mach II, we order and test it in the firm configuration. Our decision to focus on firm models was also directed by member feedback from our CHOICE Community forum.
When we know what you want, our buyers go out and purchase the products from a variety of retailers, both in person and online. This means we get what you'd get, so we can be sure the results are what you'll find.
Re-testing existing products
It's not uncommon for mattress manufacturers to update their products over time while selling them under the same name. We will re-test a mattress if the materials and/or structural design has changed, as we consider this to be a different product. When this happens, we put the year of release next to the model name, e.g. "Koala Mattress (2018 model)".
We contact manufacturers prior to each test to find out whether changes have been made to previously tested mattresses that are still being sold. If this information isn't supplied, we check the specifications for significant differences in thickness and weight, as these usually indicate changes to the design and materials.
Opinions on mattresses are subjective. What one person might consider comfortable, another might find punishing.
That's why manufacturers make mattresses with varying degrees of firmness. A good mattress will retain its properties over a lifetime, not getting any less or more firm over eight years of use.
We aim to identify if the mattress will change in firmness over time, or whether you can rely on it to deliver the same standard of comfort that convinced you to buy it in the first place. Retail and mattress-in-a-box models were tested under the same conditions, using the same methodology in partnership with independent labs in Europe.
Comfort and comfort retention is based on results at each 5th percentile end of the bell curve. Up until recently, we conducted these tests people chosen to comply with the 5th percentile female (1.55m/54kg) and the 95th percentile male (1.91m/104kg). We have since switched to dummies that comply to female (1.55m/55kg) and male (1.9m/100kg) heights and weights. This range covers 90% of the general population and are similar enough to allow our current results to be comparable with previous tests.
The mattress testing standard
Australia does not have an enforceable standard for adult mattresses. This more or less means that manufacturers can set their own guidelines when it comes to making claims about the functional characteristics of their mattresses, specifically firmness and durability.
Because of this, our results are based on the European standard CSN EN 1957. Even though this standard isn't mandatory in Australia, local manufacturers are aware of it and it's adhered to in numerous countries. Therefore, it's considered a global standard.
Usage wear/damage: We roll a cask-shaped roller over each mattress for 30,000 cycles to simulate around eight years of use. Visible damage such as cracking, broken springs or pilling contributes to the usage wear/damage score. A higher score here means less damage to the mattress.
Our usage wear/damage test simulates human use.
Firmness: This is determined by applying a specific pressure to the centre of the mattress, then recording the impression created at three points. These results are interpreted into a hardness value.
Comfort (unused): Before the usage wear/damage test, we conduct a comfort assessment when the mattress is brand new.
Dorsal (on back): We use 36 measuring points to register the test subject's body sinking into the surface of the mattress.
Lateral (on side): We mark five aligned spots on the spine of a standing test subject. We take photos of the test subject lying on the mattress to analyse the distance and angles between the spots. Results for both positions are compared to an index of optimum support examples. These are tested with men and women.
Pressure distribution measurement during dorsal assessment.
Comfort test – lateral assessment.
Comfort retention after eight years: We run the comfort test a second time under the same conditions, using male and female subjects, after the usage wear/damage test. Then we measure the differences and score. Higher-scoring mattresses show less change to their original comfort score over time. The overall score in this test is not an average of the separate male and female tests, instead it's a separate test conducted with a male and female on the mattress at the same time.
Stabilisation: Using an oscilloscope we measure the movement of the mattress after a standard impact (17.5kg), simulating the turning body of a sleeping person. We also count the number of bounces up and down before the mattress is calm again. We run two tests, one to simulate bounces for a single sleeper and a second to simulate the impact of movement on a second sleeper. Higher-scoring mattresses exhibited fewer bounces and less movement during standard impact.
Sagging: We measure height and firmness when the mattress is brand new, then again after the usage wear/damage test. After that, we measure the difference and score accordingly.
Sweat repellent (human): The test subject lies on the mattress without moving for two hours in an environment with an ambient climate of 23°C. We measure the relative humidity between the body and the mattress beneath the waist of the subject.
Sweat repellent (technical): We perform this test in a climate chamber at 37°C for 10 hours. We place a measuring vessel under the mattress so that moisture can escape through it. The vessel is weighed before and after testing to determine permeability and water intake.
Insulation (mattress warmth): We place a copper plate on each mattress and heat it to 37°C, then measure the amount of energy it takes to keep the plate at that temperature on the mattress over the course of eight hours. This is recorded in kilowatt hours (kWh). Then we use a relative scale to classify the energy used in everyday language – if lots of energy is required, then that means the mattress is 'cool', as it efficiently moves the heat away from your body through the mattress. If less energy is required, it's classified as warm.
A mattress cross-section example. Higher resolution images are available in our test results.
The CHOICE Expert Rating is made up of:
- comfort score when the mattress is brand new (male and female average, 30%)
- comfort retention score after eight years (30%)
- stabilisation score (15%)
- sagging score (10%)
- sweat repellent score (10%)
- usage wear/damage score (5%).
We also note the advertised firmness, then test the mattress to see if these claims stack up.
We recommend mattresses with a CHOICE Expert Rating of 75%. This increased from 70% in May 2021 and has been retroactively applied to all previously tested mattresses. Mattresses that score between 70% and 75% are still worth considering.
The unused comfort score shows how comfortable the mattress is when it's brand new. Mattresses with a higher score here are more comfortable.
Comfort retention after eight years is a bit different. Here, the score indicates how similar the mattress feels to the way it felt out of the box after eight years of use. For example, if a mattress earned an out of the box comfort score of 75%, then 95% after the eight years of use test, it will feel very similar after eight years and the comfort level would still be considered good.
A mattress with a sagging score of 95% is excellent, which indicates limited sagging, whereas a score of 60% is OK, which indicates substantial sagging
Conversely, a mattress with an out of the box comfort score of 30% and a score after eight years of use of 95% will still feel poor after eight years. The feel of a mattress with an out of the box score of 80% will be noticeably different if the eight-year use score is around 70%.
Comfort retention after eight years only relates to the unused comfort score – it doesn't mean that the mattress comfort became 'excellent' after eight years. We include this score as mattress comfort is subjective, so we like to highlight mattresses that show little signs of change over their lifetime.
Our sagging score is the same. It doesn't show how much the mattress has sagged over eight years, but rather how it performed. A mattress with a sagging score of 95% is excellent, which indicates limited sagging, whereas a score of 60% is OK, which indicates substantial sagging.
The usage wear/damage score also takes this approach. A score of 95% indicates limited damage over time. Sweat repellent score, meanwhile, shows how poor, good, or excellent the mattress is at expelling fluid, skin and so on.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.