10 important things I wish I knew about mattresses before I bought one

As a first-time buyer, these nuggets of knowledge could have made a whole heap of difference

A white bed in a white room
(Image credit: Sheridan)

Moving into my first home after years of living in student rentals meant that, for the first time, I was on the hunt for my own mattress and an upgraded bed frame. As a first-time mattress shopper, I had no idea of what to take into consideration before buying. 

Of course, as part of the H&G team, I had access to our tried and tested list of the best mattresses, but talking to our mattress testers, I realised that there were so many things to consider before I bought, from how I sleep to more mundane features, such as the mattress's warranty period. And, of course, I discovered that everyone's mattress choice has to be unique to them.

I got there in the end, but for anyone buying one for the first time, or after a long period (after all, the mattress market has changed hugely in the past 10 years), these are the things I wish I knew about mattresses before I went on the hunt for one.

10 things I wish I knew before buying a mattress

Because knowing how to choose a mattress is not as simple as it seems...

1. The mattress material matters

Bedroom with blue accent colors but neutral tones

(Image credit: Ward & Co)

Of course, I had heard about memory foam mattresses and spring mattresses before, but that was the limit of my knowledge. There are, in fact, five common main mattress materials that are all good for different things.

Innerspring mattresses are traditional mattresses with internal coils (hence the name) which offer bounce and strong support. 

Latex mattresses are even bouncier but are a much cooler option for people who get too hot in the night.

Memory foam mattresses are the ones I was most familiar with, but little did I know that they were not the best kind for me! These mattresses are designed to contour the body to relieve pressure but at the same time can make you a little too warm in the night. Because of this it is important to know how to clean a memory foam mattress correctly as you are more likely to sweat.

Hybrid mattresses turned out the be the best option for me. The combination of memory foam and latex on top of an innerspring mattress provided both a soft bed and suitable support. 

Finally air and water mattresses are adjustable, non-traditional mattresses that can be pumped to the desired firmness level and provide a rocking sensation to help you sleep. These are certainly not for everyone, however, so I recommend trailing one of these before committing to one for life. 

2. In a world of online mattress shops, testing your mattress is still a good idea

Cream bedroom, draping, cushioned headboard

(Image credit: Studio L, London)

I admit that I was certainly tempted by the convenience of ordering a mattress online and it arriving at my door the next day in a convenient-to-move cardboard box. It was only when my dad talked me out of it that I went to a physical store and tried the mattresses out for myself. 

Part of buying a mattress is testing it out first, and I am glad I did in the end. Not trying out a mattress is possibly the biggest mistake you can make when buying a mattress as this essential bedding piece will dictate how well you sleep. 

While online mattress companies often offer trial-and-return periods for their mattresses, going out and testing mattress types helped me make a better decision as to the approximate firmness and material that suited me best. After all, there is only so much the best mattress topper can do to fix an ill-suited mattress.

Another tip when trying out mattresses? Never do it when you're tired. They all feel fabulous, even if you're lying on them in a showroom with a coat and shoes on.

3. 'Orthopedic' mattresses aren't necessarily medically approved

A neutral bedroom with thick comforter

(Image credit: Albion Nord)

If like me, you are wondering why your mattress may be causing you back pain, then it could be because you also fell for the 'medical-grade' gimmick. 

On my hunt for the perfect mattress I learned pretty quickly that, although some types of mattresses that a doctor may recommend to specific patients for certain health issues, there is no official organization that tests and labels mattresses as 'orthopedic'. It is all much more of a marketing ploy. 

My biggest takeaway? Don't listen to mattress marketing and listen to your spine instead.

4. Always read reviews from real users

A bed with a upholstered red headboard, patterned red accent cushion, and a tall bedside lamp

(Image credit: Albion Nord)

Reviews online can easily be fabricated and written with no experience. Learning how and where to find true reviews from people who tested mattresses over periods of time such as H&G's Nectar Memory Foam Mattress Review, or Avocado Green mattress review helped me to make a more informed decision. You can find out how we test for more on that.

I found it easier to drown out the mattress company's marketing speak and make a more informed decision by listening to people who had similar sleep issues to me by finding out unbiased, personalized reviews online – the good and the bad!

5. A high price doesn't always mean high quality

Pencil drawings, green bedside table, white lampshade, cream carpet

(Image credit: Foley & Cox / Tim Lenz)

Just as when you're buying the best mattress protector or looking for the best organic mattress, a high price is not indicative of a high-quality product. 

This is something I have been learning a lot about recently as I make new purchases for my home. While it is often best to steer clear of the cheapest options on the market (as a 'too-good-to-be-true price often is), the most expensive option is not always what is best for you either. 

My method was to try out the mattress in the store without checking the price tag first, that way I could make a decision on how comfortable the mattress was without my view being skewed by the cost. 

6. Firmness labels are not universal

Wicker rug, wreath in frame, candle

(Image credit: The White Company )

I admit I was shocked to discover that two mattresses found next to one another in the same store, both labeled as 'firm', were not the same in the slightest! It turns out that the soft-to-firm scale is not a universal measurement for which mattresses are designed. In fact, the scale is completely different from brand to brand, making it even more difficult to buy a mattress, especially if you are changing your mattress after a few years and want an identical one. 

I really did have to try every single one to find the best option for me. 

7. Don't rush into buying a mattress

White bedding, wooden bedside table

(Image credit: Still Johnson /C.W. Newell )

Trying out mattresses is embarrassing! Or at least I think so. 

I found it very awkward walking around a store with other people, taking off my shoes and laying on a bare mattress for 10 minutes – I think any sane person would. Despite this, however, I knew it was important to not rush my decision in the hopes of getting out of the store quicker. Mattresses are a big and expensive purchase after all, and one that I knew I would be stuck with for a good few years. 

8. A good warranty is just as important as a good mattress

Wall hanging, multicoloured lamp base

(Image credit: Natalie Tredgett)

A mattress warranty is not the same as a two-year laptop warranty, I learned. Mattress warranties should last around 10 years or longer to make sure it is covered for defects or premature wear and tear. 

While a mattress often lasts for years without problems it is nice to have this safety net. Knowing how often you should flip a mattress is also important to make sure it lasts longer! Assuming, that is, that your mattress is the type that should be flipped. Not all new types, including hybrids like mine, are designed to be flipped.

9. Researching the best mattress type for your sleeping position is important

Bedroom designed by Athena Calderone

(Image credit: Photography by Adrian Gaut/Styled by Colin King)

One of the best ways to improve sleep is to understand sleep positions and how a mattress can make a big difference in comfort.  

Researching my sleeping position revealed a lot about what mattress would be best for me, and it explained why the mattress I had in the past left me with back pain every morning. As a side sleeper, it turns out a medium mattress is the best option for me.

I also discovered that it's best to buy pillows that suit your sleep position and mattress firmness, too. Think about it for side sleepers in particular: a soft mattress will make your body sink into the surface, so the pillows will need to be lower or softer; a hard mattress will require firmer pillows or greater loft. This, again, will change if you sleep on your back or front, both of which require lower profile pillows.

10. Pick the best size for you, even if it is more expensive

Green walls, blue bed head

(Image credit: Paint and Paper Library )

I have always had a double bed so upgrading to a king sized felt like a luxury. Picking the size of a mattress and bed shouldn't just come down to the size of your room either, as it turns out. 

Although you may obviously be limited by the size of your bedroom, if space is no consideration then it turns getting as big a bed as I could afford would improve my sleep. 

A king sized bed is as wide as two single mattresses beside one another – perfect for sharing with a partner. We are now able to spread out as much as we like without annoying the one another – perfect for getting a good night's rest.

Do thicker mattresses last longer?

Thicker mattresses typically last longer than thinner mattresses as the supportive base is usually larger. The extra cushioning takes longer to wear down than a thinner mattress and often offers more support while sleeping too. 

How many inches of mattress is best?

When picking a new mattress, it is best to choose an option that is at least eight inches thick, including the minimum requirement two to three inch comfort layer. Typically the thicker a mattress is, the more support it will offer and the more comfortable it will be. What's more, a thicker mattress often tends to last longer than a thinner mattress too!

Chiana Dickson
Junior Writer

Chiana is a junior writer for Homes & Gardens having joined Future plc as a new graduate in 2022 after achieving a 1st class degree in Literature at university. She first became interested in design as a child after spending her summers helping her parents redecorate her childhood home. As a long-time reader of Future’s homes titles, Chiana is constantly finding new inspiration at work as she focuses on emerging trends, how-to’s, and news pieces.