March 30, 2017

How to Shop for a Memory Foam Mattress

How to Shop for a Memory Foam Mattress

Considering a new memory foam mattress but not quite sure where to start? Whether it is your first time buying a memory foam mattress, or you are replacing an old one, it is essential that you explore your options before making any decisions. The market is full of diverse options, and knowing what to look for can make the difference between good sleep and big headache. It is important to do your research and be informed in order to get the best bed, and this guide aims to introduce the essentials.

Start With The Basics

1) Know Your Bed Size. Measure your existing bed frame or decide what mattress size you will use. The most common sizes are Twin (38×74), Twin XL (38×80), Full (54×75), Queen (60×80), King (76×80) and Cal King (72×84).

2) Develop a Budget. Set a realistic price range based on what can afford to spend and stick to it.

3) Learn What Memory Foam Is. Memory foam is a material that compresses in reaction to pressure and disperses weight across its surface. The key benefits of this material include pressure relief, support for natural alignment, and durability.

4) Know What Firmness You Like. One critical part of purchasing a bed is choosing how soft or firm you want it to be. Studies show a majority of people will be most comfortable on medium to medium-firm mattresses. However, this can be arbitrary across different brands and firm memory foam feels a little different from firm spring mattresses. Consider going to a showroom and trying out a variety of beds to get a feel for what you like (it is best to do this with the goal of research in mind, so you don’t feel pressured to buy right away).

What to Look for in a Memory Foam Mattress

Once you know the basics of what you are looking for, then it’s time to compare the features of the different memory foam beds. This type of mattress is more complex to shop for than spring beds, so it is important to understand what the different components and technologies really mean. The more you know, the better equipped you will be to make smart decisions that are right for your needs (and not the salesperson’s goals).

Memory Foam Mattress Type

One of the key distinctions in the memory foam mattress market is the type of material used in the bed. While it may seem that they are all the same, there are in fact several distinct categories. The most common are traditional, gel, and plant-based memory foams, which we covered in detail on another post. All offer excellent pressure point relief, contouring, and prevent motion transfer. But, there are significant differences present as well, summarized below.

Traditional Memory Foam:

  • Slow recovery time creates sinking sensation, can make changing positions difficult.
  • Moderate rate of complaints regarding heat retention and off-gassing odor.
  • Likely to contain VOCs and chemical flame retardants.
  • Example: The Tempur-pedic brand utilizes traditional memory foam.


Gel Memory Foam:

  • Contains gel beads or gel mixed into foam touted to sleep cooler. However, recent studies from Consumer Reports, Tempurpedic and others have indicated little to no difference.
  • Moderate recovery rate improves on traditional, but is still fairly slow.
  • Some complaints on heat, moderate rate of complaints for off-gassing.
  • Likely to contain VOCs and chemical flame retardants.
  • Example: Serta iComfort and Sealy Optimum use gel memory foam.


Plant-Based Memory Foam:

  • Replaces all or part of the synthetic/petroleum ingredients with plant-based materials.
  • Fast recovery rate allows foam to react to changes in position quicker.
  • Few complaints on heat retention or odor.
  • Less likely to contain toxic VOCs and other chemicals.
  • Example: Amerisleep’s memory foam mattresses utilize plant-based foam free of VOCs and manufactured with zero emissions.


Density is important when looking for the right memory foam mattress. The density has to be high enough so that it can properly support your weight, otherwise you will sink too far into the mattress. Lower density mattresses also have a harder time retaining their shape after only a few months of compression. Foam density too high can feel hard or uncomfortable. This, the ideal density for a memory foam mattress is between 4.0-5.3 lbs. The density of the mattress does affect the price (lower densities are cheaper to manufacture), however it is not an effective way to determine the quality of the mattress as some brands price low density beds higher than others.

Temperature Control

If you or your partner tend to get hot night while sleeping, than you also want to consider how the mattress handles body heat. Viscous, closed cell foams are more likely retain heat near your body, and traditional memory foam mattress brands tend to receive the most complaints. So called “air channels” tend to do little to disperse heat as they are compressed flat once you are on the bed. The best way to see if a mattress sleeps hot is to read reviews from other owners and see how often people mention the issue.


Like with many other products, it is important to read the warranty information of the memory foam mattress retailer very carefully. You want to know how long the warranty is for, what it covers, how long the full coverage period lasts, and how reliable the brand offering the warranty is. Also, you will want to check and see whether there are any special restrictions or exclusions. For example, some brands may require you to use their foundation or a mattress cover, and stains or missing mattress tags might void the coverage.

Trial Period

A testing period for your memory foam mattress is essential, especially if it is your first try with the type. When you first get your new bed, you should try to use it for at least 4-6 weeks as it might take your body some time to adjust to sleeping in a natural position. But, the truth of it is, no one mattress will be right for everyone. Being able to have a trial period with the mattress is important just in case you end up not being compatible. However, it is also important to know the stipulations of that trial period. You need to know if there are any costs attached to returning or exchanging the mattress (shipping and/or restocking fees), how long the trial period lasts for (calculated from when you order or receive?), as well as if it is an exchange only trial.

Where to Shop

One of the best things that you can do when shopping for a memory foam mattress is shop around. Keep in mind it is not about getting the cheapest mattress you can find. It is about getting the best quality with the best price – the best value.

In most cities, local showrooms will offer a fairly limited selection of “specialty” mattresses like memory foam, and this selection may not represent the best mattresses out there. Many also tend exaggerate markups to compensate for high costs, sales commissions, and big sales. In addition, you will often face sales pressure to buy quickly and will be on the store’s schedule.

While it may seem counter-intuitive at first, buying a mattress online may actually be a smarter choice. First, you can shop whenever and wherever is convenient. You can take as long as you need to research and compare, and can transverse hundreds of retailers without leaving your house. Additionally, online stores tend to offer better pricing (lower costs and more competition) and longer return periods with more generous policies.

 When shopping online it is important to get as much information as possible, just like you would in a store. The more information and comparison a site will give you, the better chance that the site is more reliable. Look for store that shows the product in detail and has detailed explanations on what the mattress is made out of.  It is also important to read the customer reviews to see what other consumers have thought about the product that you are wanting to purchase. Customer reviews offer inside look at the brand’s customer service standards and the quality of their products, and can help you decide which bed is best for your preferences.

Shopping for a memory foam mattress is just like shopping for any other major purchase – it should involve careful research and consideration. It is all  about shopping smart and not being swayed to buy into a brand because they have a flashier marketing strategy then the other companies. What your decision should focus on is the actual features of the product relative to the price and guarantees offered. The more research you do and the better informed you are, the more likely it is you will find the perfect memory foam mattress.

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