Buying a mattress can be a confusing and expensive experience if you don't know what you're doing. But don't worry - if you read this guide you'll be ready to make the right choice.
Types of Mattress
1. Memory Foam and Latex Mattresses
A Memory Foam Mattress is made from a visco-elastic polyurethane foam that softens when it comes in contact with body heat and quickly moulds and re-moulds to your body's contours as you move about in bed.
Latex is a more natural product that is derived from the sap of the rubber tree. It works in a very similar way to memory foam - its natural elasticity enables it to mould to your body shape and immediately recover its shape when pressure is removed.
Both mattress types provide orthopaedic support, enable natural movement, help to evenly distribute body weight and reduce pressure points - thus allowing for a more comfortable sleep.
Doctors often advise people with back and neck problems to get a memory foam or latex mattress as it will allow them to get more comfortable in bed.
Some people find they overheat when sleeping on a memory foam mattress, especially in summer. To deal with this problem some bed companies offer a Combination Memory Foam Mattress, or two-sided mattress, which have a cooler, non-memory foam side, for the warmer summer months.
Latex is breathable so you won't overheat.
Remember - it is all a matter of taste. Some people simply don't like sleeping on memory foam and latex mattresses so make sure you try one out before buying.
Memory foam and Latex is used either as the primary component in a foam filled mattress or as a comfort layer in an open coil / pocket spring mattress.
The thing to look out for is the depth of these layers - some mattresses have a memory foam layer which is only 1cm deep. This will offer very little benefit.
2. Pocket Sprung Mattresses
Nearly all beds built in the UK are based on a spring unit - either pocket spring or open coil.
Pocket spring mattresses offer greater lumbar support than the more basic open coil units (see below) as they have considerably more springs - usually from 1,000 to 3,500 plus (based on a king size mattress). The springs are individually housed in fabric pockets and move independently from one another - this means the springs only compress where a person lies, allowing for motion separation between both sides of the bed. Pocket spring mattresses are perfectly suited for couples when there's a considerable weight or size difference between them - i.e. when one partner turns over on such a mattress the other will detect little or no movement.
As a general rule, the higher the number of springs the better the mattress. However, the type and quantity of the fillings will also contribute to the overall quality of the mattress. Another thing to look out for is hand side-stitching, which improves the edge-to-edge support and life expectancy of a mattress, and is usually found in higher quality products.
3. Open Coil Mattresses
Open Coil Mattresses with 'Bonnell' springs are generally found in budget to mid-range mattresses and are the most frequently used spring unit used in the UK. People who prefer a firmer feeling mattress should buy a mattress with 12.5 gauge (2.5mm thick wire springs) Open Coil springs, while those who prefer a medium to soft bed should look for 13.5 gauge (2.2mm thick) springs. These are the gauges supplied by Agro - Europe's leading quality spring manufacturer and one to look out for when buying a mattress. But it pays to BE CAREFUL as some bed companies (particularly from the Far East) use springs claiming to be 12.5 gauge, but use inferior springs that are only 2.3mm thick, and likewise with 13.5 gauge springs.
It is also important to know the number of springs within the spring unit of a bed. Typically a double bed has 12x24 rows of springs. A King Size bed has 13x25 rows of springs. Agro the German spring manufacturer, for example, use these numbers of springs as standard, but other companies may use less springs by making each spring wider in diameter - this makes them cheaper to make, but means they offer less support. So make sure you ask about the number of springs and the manufacturer.
What else should you consider?
There really is little variation in the fillings that go into modern mattresses - they are made up of insulator and comfort layers. Traditionally, insulator layers were made from coir (coconut) fibre, while cotton or wool/flock-type felts were used as comfort layers. But things have changed - these days most insulator layers are made up of thermally-bonded reclaimed felt, and polyester is predominantly used in comfort layers. Some makers of expensive beds often describe polyester as 'white fibres', but don't be fooled, they mean polyester. This means there is, despite what the big brands tell you, little difference between their expensive mattresses and those made by the smaller, less well known manufacturers - apart from higher prices!
As a general rule, you get what you pay for when buying a bed. However, there are a couple of things you can do to get the best bed your money can buy.
Firstly, avoid big brand names (you already know who they are) as they charge much more for their products. Why buy a brand name Open Coil mattress, when, for the same money, you can buy a luxury bed from a quality online retailer like PURELYBEDS.CO.UK. Remember when you buy a brand name bed, a lot of the money you spend goes to pay for their shops, TV adverts, vast warehouses, instead of on the quality of your mattress and bed.
Secondly, as I've already hinted at, it is also a good idea to buy online in order to save some money. A bed sold online is often more than half the price as the same bed in a shop. The best thing to do is try a few beds in a shop, find one that you like, and buy a similar product online.
Remember look for quality springs made by a decent spring maker, and do some online research about the bed company you're buying from.
3. Signs of quality
Hand-stitched mattress borders.
Agro spring units - Europe's leading quality spring manufacturer.
Memory Foam / reflex foam / latex layers.
Pocket Springs - the more pressure-relieving springs the better (within reason).
Hand-tufting - this is one of the best ways of constructing a mattress as it improves durability.
4. Common Mattress Sizes
Be careful when matching bed bases and mattresses as some (most likely from Scandinavia) use different sizes.
Most beds (mattresses / divans / bedsteads) made in the UK come in these standard sizes:
Single - 3ft x 6ft 3in
Small Double - 4ft x 6ft 3 in
Double - 4ft 6in x 6ft 3in
King Size - 5ft x 6ft 6in
Super King Size - 6ft x 6ft 6in