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How to buy the best mattress

A good mattress can go a long way to ensuring you get a good night's sleep.

three different mattresses

Finding a mattress you find comfortable and suits your budget can be tricky.

Five minutes of feeling things out on a bustling show floor won't help you figure out which brands and models are comfortable and long lasting. 

We can help you work out what type and size of mattress is best for you, and even how to save 50% or more on your next purchase.

How to choose a comfortable mattress

Comfort is subjective, but understanding mattress firmness and the differences in mattress type will help you narrow the field when it comes to testing a mattress instore.

How firm should my mattress be?

It all comes down to your preferred sleeping position:

  • Firm: If you sleep on your stomach, a firm mattress will keep your spine aligned.
  • Medium: If you sleep on your back, it'll provide support for your spine, back and neck while keeping you comfortable.
  • Soft: Great for sleeping on your side because it'll support and contour your body's curves.

But be warned: we've found that most retailers' firmness claims don't match the bed being sold. We do body support and stability tests when we test mattresses, so check out our mattress reviews to see what we found.

Woman lying on her side on a mattress with a red line running down the length of her back

If you're a side sleeper, a soft mattress will support your body's curves.

What type of mattress is best?

It really depends on your personal preference. For example, you may find a spring mattress supports your spine while a foam finish feels a bit too solid.

We explain the pros and cons, and price range, for the different types of mattresses.

What size mattress do I need?

Retailers and manufacturers recommend buying the largest bed your room can accommodate, and the length of the mattress should be at least 10–15 centimetres longer than the tallest person sleeping on it.

Mattress size Measurements (Width x Length)
Single 92 x 187cm
Single extra long 92 x 203cm
King single 106 x 203cm
Double 137 x 187cm
Queen 153 x 203cm
King 183 x 203cm

How to test a mattress instore

  • Take your time: Most people need seven to nine hours sleep a night. A couple of minutes on your back won't come close to replicating this experience. Lie down for as long as you need – though you probably shouldn't spend the night.
  • Move about: Roll over, sit up, get in and out of the bed. Ease of movement contributes to comfort. It will take more effort if the mattress is too soft, and will feel uncomfortable on your hips and shoulders if it's too firm.
  • Sleep on slats (or a base): Make sure the bed base in the shop is similar to the one you have at home. If you have fixed slats or a hard surface, a soft mattress will feel very different on top of that, rather than the ensemble base it's resting on in the shop.
  • Bring your partner: If you share a bed with someone regularly or every night, bring them along and ask them to lie in the bed and move around. Be aware of how the bed moves on your side when your partner moves.
  • Don't shop tired: All the mattresses will feel great if you're already sleepy!
  • Ask the salesperson to leave: While they may be friendly and helpful, few of us are able to really relax when someone is hovering around.
  • Ask questions about the display model: The mattress you test in store could have been on display for two days, two weeks or even two months, with hundreds of customers potentially trying them out over that period. This will affect sag, firmness, support and so on.
  • Ask if there's a comfort guarantee: Most manufacturers don't offer a guarantee on comfort, so you probably can't return it if it doesn't feel right. That said, there are a few brands that do, so it always pays to ask. Jump to Can I return a mattress? for more info.
  • Lift it up: Lift up the display model to gauge the weight. Some mattresses are quite heavy which can make transport, flipping and rotation difficult especially if you do it alone.
Woman instore looking at and touching a mattress

Take your time when buying a mattress in store, and don't be afraid to ask the salesperson to leave you to it. 

How to get the best deal on a mattress

Retailers leave a significant amount of wiggle room in the price. In fact, you're getting ripped off if you settle for RRP.

We shaved at least half and even two-thirds off the asking price while shopping for most of the mattresses in our recent tests by using the following tricks:

  • Wait for a sale: They take place regularly and can bring the price down by as much as 50%.
  • Head in store: Deals are generally better instore than online.
  • Haggle: We rarely encountered a salesperson who wasn't willing to shave a few hundred dollars off the asking price, even during a sale.
  • Buy in bulk: Our discounts improved when we bought at least two beds at once, which may be handy if you're refurnishing a house.
  • Consider exclusive ranges: Retailers such as Snooze, Forty Winks and Fantastic stock exclusive brands. We found that salespeople are much more inclined to sell these over third-party brands. Snooze, for example, offered us a much better discount on their exclusive Madison range when we expressed interest in buying a Sealy.

Retailers leave a significant amount of wiggle room in the price. In fact, you're getting ripped off if you settle for RRP.

How to haggle

Haggling can be tricky, particularly if you're not overly confident. But you don't need to be a smooth-talking, wheeling and dealing sort to take advantage of potential savings. 

After a little back-and-forward with salespeople, we asked this question:

  • "What's the best you can do?"

That's it, or some sort of variant.

Remember, you're there to buy, they're there to sell. You're not establishing a lifelong friendship, and they're not going to throw you out for asking.

Mattress mark-ups are so high, you don't need to do much when it comes to saving money, which is why this question works.

What is a mattress-in-a-box?

This type of mattress was first brought to market in recent years in response to the often eye-watering mark-ups made on mattresses sold in bricks-and-mortar stores.

Mattress-in-a-box (or bed in a box) is an online only mattress industry. Manufacturers cut out the middleman by selling directly to the consumer, and they deliver compressed mattresses to your door. The mattresses are deoxygenated and enclosed in vacuum-sealed packaging, making it possible to be transported in a box, earning them their nickname. Once opened, the mattresses slowly expand into the full size (single, double, queen etc).

They're generally cheaper than conventional mattresses, costing around a thousand dollars for a queen-size mattress (as compared to many thousands for a regular instore mattress). Through our testing we've found that a mattress that costs $1000 can be just as comfortable and perform just as well over its lifetime as a traditional one priced at $6000.

koala-mattress_foam_cross_section

Mattress-in-a-box beds are usually made of foam or foam-like materials (pictured - Koala mattress).

These mattresses generally represent good value, although they may not be for everyone as one person's idea of the perfect comfy mattress may differ from another's. They tend to use more foam and foam-like materials than spring mattresses, so a mattress-in-a-box may not be for you if you prefer the feel of a traditional spring mattress.

To contend with the uncertainty many might feel buying a mattress online without being able to physically try it out to see how it feels, these mattress-in-a-box brands also offer trial periods that can extend up to 100 days and warranties up to 15 years. If you don't like the mattress, you can usually return it easily at no extra cost.

Brands that have had success in this market, and whose products we've tested, include Sleeping Duck, Koala, Ecosa and Avatar.

Should I buy a mattress-in-a-box or go to a store?

There are some advantages to buying your mattress-in-a-box online. As well as being a cheaper, and much more convenient, almost all brands let you assess the mattress after purchasing. If you don't like it you can return it for a refund making the purchase more or less risk free, and there's no pressure to buy.

Stores, meanwhile, involve a lot more pressure. Sales people hover, you're unlikely to get more than five minutes on the bed before they come back to bother you. You can't change your mind once it's used, there's generally no trial period and our test results found that sales practices are often on the shady side (e.g. tested firmness doesn't match advertised firmness).

That said, you can only try before you buy in-store. Sure, mattress-in-a-box brands have a trial period but sending it back can be a big hassle. Also, stores offer a much larger range from multiple brands under one roof which makes direct comparison much easier,and they typically stock multiple materials and builds such as spring, memory foam and latex. You have a clearly defined point of return if something is faulty and, most importantly, you can haggle.

Online-only mattress-in-a-box brands require a lot of consumer faith. You have to hope the product lives up to its claims and there's no way to try it without laying down your hard earned cash. Plus, most mattress-in-a-box models are made of foam, with very few spring or hybrid options around. If foam isn't your thing, then you're options are very limited.

How long should a mattress last?

You should replace your mattress every eight years regardless of the build and material. That's why our support measurement tests simulate eight years of use. That said, there are other indicators you should consider, on top of manufacturer guidelines.

It mostly comes down to comfort and feel. If your mattress has significant sagging, sings of lumps or it just doesn't feel supportive anymore then it's probably time to replace it. Aches and pains after a night's sleep can be a good indicator.

Also, give it a whiff every now and then. Humans shed all sorts of lovely things including hair, skin, we sweat everywhere and gather grit, grime and dirt during day-to-day activities. This all seeps into your mattress over time, not to mention other things if you have pets or young children, which can create some interesting odors.

It's starting to stink or there are permanent stains and general indications of wear and tear, get a new one. An occasional vacuum probably wouldn't hurt either.

Caring for your mattress

Do I need to flip or rotate my mattress?

Most manufacturers agree that you should rotate your mattress at least every:

  • Spring (coil and pocket): three to six months
  • Foam, memory foam, hybrid and latex: six months

This extends the life of the mattress as it evens out wear and tear. It can also help keep your body aligned while you sleep as it stops a single sagging point from forming over time.

The days of flipping mattresses appear to be numbered as most models have some sort pillow top, or specific top and bottom layers. In this instance it's best to refer to the manufacturer's website but as a rule of thumb:

  • Foam mattresses and spring mattresses with a pillow top do not need to be flipped as they have designated top and bottom layers (such a memory foam on top and regular foam below). The bottom layer is not designed for sleep.
  • Spring mattresses without a pillow top and/or bottom layer can be flipped at least every six months.

Our test has cross sectional diagrams that indicate which models are flip friendly. If you decide to flip your mattress, ask someone for help as it's a heavy, awkward and often difficult task.

Do I need a mattress protector?

A mattress protector is essentially a fitted sheet designed to help protect the bed to keep it feeling "fresh" for longer. It can prevent damage and stains from things like dirt, skin flakes and hair from being absorbed into the mattress, and most also have material to stop sweat and spills from seeping through. Some claim to stop dust mites and allergens as well.

We haven't tested mattress protectors so we can't make any specific statements regarding brand and model effectiveness. Also, we can't comment on the effectiveness/ineffectiveness of different materials and if your body will react to them in any way.

In a general sense, however, a mattress protector is a worthwhile investment:

  • They can keep body gunk, grime and fluids off the mattress, broadly speaking.
  • They're much easier to clean than the mattress itself.
  • The extra layer can help with warranty claims.
  • Mattress warranties don't cover stains, and this is often used as an excuse to void the warranty for unrelated issues. A mattress protector helps prevent this and is also a helpful ball in your court if you need to make a claim. It shows you took extra steps to protect your purchase.

In short, a mattress protector doesn't hurt and they're relatively affordable at around $100. You can also use one with an electric blanket. Almost all manufacturers agree that putting the protector over the electric blanket is the safest thing to do.

Can I return a mattress?

Making a warranty claim on your mattress

This can be tricky, because arguments regarding comfort, faults and so on can be considered subjective, or part of 'normal wear and tear'.

And while most mattresses have a 10-year warranty period, the small print is often overflowing with restrictions and conditions.

Take SleepMaker for example. While their warranty covers manufacturing faults, they won't protect against a reasonable level of dipping (25 - 35mm), comfort concern as a result of product selection and heat issues. These are just some of the terms, but they illustrate the grey areas consumers can find themselves in

As our investigation into spring mattresses found, advertised and tested firmness rarely match up, and it's likely that your purchase may not be as comfortable as you expect. However, this wouldn't fall under a warranty claim in SleepMaker's case. These terms aren't exclusive to SleepMaker. In fact, they're one of the more upfront brands when it comes to outlining their claims procedure.

Most mattresses have a 10-year warranty period, but the small print is often overflowing with restrictions and conditions

Returning a mattress (traditional retailer)

The onus largely falls on you, the buyer, to make the right purchase if you're buying from a retailer, even when the industry practices are questionable. Because mattresses are used in the same manner as clothes, headphones etc., getting a refund under general consumer protections can be difficult. 

These generally cover unfit for purpose, which is unlikely to include:

  • comfort
  • size (mattress not fitting your base)
  • reasonable sagging after extensive use
  • damage due to misuse or mishandling
  • smell and general wear and tear (i.e. stains).

If you truly feel that you've been sold a faulty product, be persistent. You can make a return. In these instances, cite the ACCC Repair, replace and refund consumer guarantees.

It's worth noting that though IKEA and Aldi are "traditional retailers," they offer trial periods similar to mattress-in-a-box brands. However, Aldi won't come pick up the mattress if you change your mind and hauling it back to the store can be cumbersome.

A rusty frame inside a pocket spring mattress

One of the mattresses we bought from our test arrived with rust around the frame. This is reasonable grounds for a return.

Returning a mattress in a box

Almost all bed in a box brands offer a free trial period. You can return the mattress for a refund within this time, if you don't like it. Returned beds are typically donated to charity.

However, you must adhere to these general terms to be eligible:

  • Duration: Make sure you apply for a refund/return within the allocated period.
  • Minimum use period: Brands also specify a minimum usage period before you're eligible for a return, so you can take time to properly assess the mattress.
  • Damage: You won't be able to return a mattress if it's damaged, sunk, stained, torn etc. It's worth treating your mattress like fine china, keeping it well away from food, drink and so on, and making sure you're clean as a whistle when it's time for bed.
  • Protection: Almost all brands specify that you must use a mattress protector during the free trial period.

Check the "free trial" page on the company's website to find the specific terms

The so-called free trial period may incur a return fee depending on where you live, and how the manufacturer handles returns.

  • Metro areas: major cities and urban centres are eligible for free returns in almost all cases.
  • Rural and regional areas: about half of the brands we looked at charge a pickup fee outside metro locations.
  • Service dependent: companies will either send their own crew, a courier, or a representative from their charity they've partnered with to collect the mattress. You may have to organise your own courier if the brand can't make it to your location, which will result in additional costs. This is usually determined during the return process.
  • Occasionally, you'll encounter brands that charge an exchange fee, on top of the pickup costs.

    How to throw away an old mattress

    Replacing a mattress also means that you need to go through the somewhat cumbersome process of throwing away the old one. You can take it to the tip or hire a rubbish removal company to collect it. However, these can be expensive options as tips typically charge a flat rate to dump one.

    Most councils will collect them for free under household cleanups (aka council cleanups). But if you live in an area that with scheduled collections rather than collections on request, then you'll need to put up with an old mattress stinking up the place for a couple of months.

    Landfill may be the only option depending on your location, but did you know that you can recycle your mattress as well? These services operate across the country and offer a much more sustainable approach to putting your old bed to sleep.

    How to recycle your old mattress

    soft landing logo

    Soft Landing is a national social enterprise with the goal of keeping mattress waste out of landfill. They have partnered with a number of well-known mattress manufacturers to achieve this, and they're endorsed by state and territory governments.

    You can take your mattress to one of many drop-off points or organise a collection in New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia and the ACT. Fees typically start at $50 for one mattress, then $35 for each one after that. Soft Landing doesn't operate outside these states and territories.

    According to their website, up to 75% of the materials are recycled and repurposed for other uses. For example, foam can be turned into carpet underlay, springs become roof sheeting, material is used in acoustic paneling and timber is turned into mulch, kindling and animal bedding.

    If you live in Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania or the Northern Territory, then head to the Recycling Near You mattress database. This is a one stop shop for recycling information run by Planet Ark. Just pop in your postcode and the website will list all mattress recycling options in your area.

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