How we test mattresses: H&G's expert review process explained

More than just sleeping on the job, learn about how our expert testers review and rate the best mattresses on the market

The Zinus green tea mattress on test, showing how we test mattresses
(Image credit: Future / Camryn Rabideau)

Testing mattresses may seem like a dream job, but it's more than getting paid to sleep. If you're in the market for a new mattress, you'll know how expensive one can be, and if you've slept on a bad bed, you'll know that buying the wrong one can be costly. A quality mattress could last up to eight years, so investing in a new mattress should be no easy decision. 

A great mattress will suit your sleep style, needs, and budget to provide you with your best night's sleep yet. With a dedicated team of freelance mattress reviewers, we take the time to review each bed for comfort, support, quality, and cost. Since you can only find out so much – like edge support – from sitting on a mattress in-store, we've put the best mattress through various tests over at least a month, if not more, to see how they compare for firmness, motion isolation, and more. 

We've tested out many mattresses from big named brands, as well as independent retailers to help you choose the best mattress for you. Through our honest, detailed reviews, you'll find the beds that are worth the spend when buying online. 

How we test mattresses 

During our rigorous review process, we test mattresses in our homes as if in real life. We test every mattress for at least a month. In almost every case we test mattresses for several months, and in some cases, over more than a year. That means we test them through the gamut of sleep scenarios. We've tested these mattresses through heatwaves and harsh winters, and seen how they cope with sleeping with pets and restless partners. We ask all of our testers to invite friends and family to try the bed out too. This way we can evaluate who the mattress will best suit, and whether it's value for money. 

How we choose mattresses to test

The first step is picking the right mattress to put to the test. We select the mattresses we test by keeping a close eye on what's latest, what's trending, and what could be a good candidate for our guide to the best mattresses. We're editorially independent, so while we may have affiliate relationships with some of the mattress brands we feature, we never - ever - take money to promote a mattress.

We aim to cover every price point on the market, from cheap, basic box mattresses to luxury latex beds. We're keen to find mattresses that suit all sleeping styles and body shapes, and we aim to cover all types of mattress, from memory foam to hybrids and innersprings. 

Delivery and unboxing

Most mattresses are now bed-in-a-box types, meaning they conveniently arrive at your door and are easy to maneuver to the bedroom. There's no more having to strap your mattress to the roof of your car and drive it down the freeway, but that also means that the speed and quality of delivery services can vary by brand.

Before we begin our sleep tests, our reviewers take note of any issues with delivery, how heavy the mattress is, and the packaging it comes in. Any excessive plastic wrapping will be considered - the more recyclable, eco-friendly materials used, the better. 

The mattresses that come in a box have to expand, so we also time how long this takes, as well as noting any of the off-gassing smells common to foam mattresses. 

The sleep test

Before we get into our more technical assessments, the most important test is the most basic of all - we see how well we sleep on each mattress we test. We note how often we wake in the night, if the mattress keeps us cool, and which sleep style it suits. Where our testers are sleeping next to their partner, we also note if there's any discrepancies between one sleeper and another, to make sure the bed suits couples. 

We do all this for at least a month, so we can be sure that comfort is consistent. Because mattress companies usually let our testers keep the mattresses, a lot of our reviews aren't just tested for a month; they're tested for a year or more. We revisit our reviews to give them seasonal updates so you know whether or not a mattress is as comfortable in summer as it is in winter, or if it's holding up long-term.

How we test firmness

Mattress brands often offer models with different firmness ratings: soft, medium, medium-firm, and firm (with some exceptions). From testing, we've found most will feel firmer or softer depending on personal experience. 

Mattress firmness can alter how comfortable someone feels in bed. Heavier individuals will need one of the best firm mattresses, for example, and lighter people tend to find a softer surface better for their body. Your sleep style also affects which firmness rating is best. Front sleepers will need something that doesn't sink in, so their hips and spine stay aligned. And if you suffer from aches and pains, a mattress with medium firmness will provide the perfect balance of comfort and support. 

To test firmness, use a weight to see how far the bed sinks in, and then rate it numerically on a scale of 1 to 10. The more the weight dips, the softer the mattress. A mattress rated below 6 will be considered on the softer side, and anything above will be harder. 

How we test breathability and cooling

Getting hot at night is more common than you think. If you're prone to waking up from night sweats or simply need to kick your leg out from underneath the duvet, then your mattress could be to blame. Memory foam mattresses especially are prone to trapping heat due to their dense foam construction. 

A great cooling mattress will regulate your temperature to keep you cool every night. But we've found where most brands may claim their mattress to be 'cooling', it's rare they live up to claims. 

To test for cooling properties, we try to make sure our reviewer considers themselves a hot sleeper, or test during summer. Sometimes, we've put them to the  test in a heatwave. This way we can see how comfortably the mattress sleeps, even in extreme scenarios. We'll also consider whether the bed comes with a breathable cover that's cool to the touch and whether this can be removed and washed. 

How we test motion isolation

For bed sharers, good motion isolation is a must. No one wants to be woken up in the middle of the night because of a fidgety partner. There are two ways to test for motion isolation. First, if the reviewer shares their bed, they will see how they sleep after asking their partner to toss and turn. 

The other test is much more difficult to pass and potentially pretty messy: we place a full glass of water on one side of the bed, then, we lie, roll and move around near to see if the water spills, as well as placing heavy weights nearby. If the glass stays upright, then the bed passes the test for good motion isolation.

How we test edge support

Zinus Cooling gel memory foam mattress review process

Testing edge support

(Image credit: Future / Camryn Rabideau)

Edge support can be more important than you think. Ever woken up at the edge of the bed near to falling off? A bed with good edge support will make you feel supported and not like you need to move over in case of rolling off.

Coil mattresses are known to be more supportive than foam, but we are finding memory foam mattresses to be getting better. To evaluate whether a bed has good edge support, or not, we simply sit on the edge of the mattress and see what sensation we feel, as well as whether or not we feel secure in the night.

How we test material and construction

The layers of the Emma mattress

The layers of an Emma mattress

(Image credit: Emma)

Using the information on the brand website, and the overall appearance of the mattress, we research what's inside. Getting a good understanding of different foams, materials, and fillings used helps us determine how supportive, and cushioning the bed might feel. Some mattresses may also feature high-tech materials and features that contribute to their overall performance. 

Arguably most importantly, we like to address whether a mattress contains any harmful chemicals or substances like fiberglass or whether it uses any eco-friendly fabrics that make it a more sustainable option.

How we test value for money

Mattress prices can range anywhere from under $500 for affordable models to over the $3000 mark for luxury latex or organic types. Of course, the buyer's budget will depend on what mattress is best for them. But it's our job to see whether the price outweighs the performance. Luxury mattresses will endure special tests on durability and quality of design. 

Aside from how much the mattress costs to begin with, there's the warranty and trial period to consider. If bought from the brand directly, most mattresses will come with lengthy sleep trials, free returns, and warranties. Typically, a ten-year warranty is ideal, but make sure to check the fine print, as some may consider staining, sagging, or even general wear and tear as a way out. 

Our expert testers

As H&G's sleep editor, I, along with a team of expert reviewers will dedicate our time to researching and sleeping on mattresses to make sure you're getting the very best guidance. With extensive knowledge of the mattress industry, and experience with the top sleep products, you can trust our reviewers know what they're talking about. Most have tested more than one of the mattresses in our guides, and have had the chance to compare different models and types.

More about our expert reviewers: 

Louise Oliphant in a white shirt, sitting in a restaurant
Louise Oliphant

Louise is our dedicated Sleep Editor, covering mattresses, mattress toppers, pillows, bedding, and anything else you need for a good night's sleep. She has plenty of experience in the industry. She previously covered on mattress reviews and news for Real Homes, as well as a stint on the other side of the aisle as a PR representative for a mattress company. 

Camryn Rabideau
Camryn Rabideau

Camryn Rabideau is a freelance writer and product reviewer specializing in home, kitchen, and pet products. In her five years as a product tester, she's tested hundreds of items firsthand, and her work appears in publications such as Forbes, USA Today, The Spruce, Food52, and more. Camryn does her product testing from her small homestead in beautiful Rhode Island.

alex temblador real homes contributor
Alex Temblador

Alex Temblador has covered home, design, architecture, and art in publications like Real Homes, Dwell, Architectural Digest, Artsy,, and Culture Trip, among many others. In addition to her mattress reviewing duties, Alex puts a range of home and garden equip through their paces for Homes & Gardens.

Before deep diving into our many mattress reviews, there are a few things you can do to make the bed-buying process easier. Following our five-step guide on how to choose the best mattress for you will help you narrow down the search. 

Louise Oliphant
Ecommerce Editor

Louise is your eCommerce Editor and sleep specialist to help you wind down well. A connoisseur of the mattress world, Louise previously covered sleep and wellness (as well as the occasional organizational buy) at Real Homes, and has tried, tested, and reviewed some of the buys for your bedroom. With an MA in International Journalism and PR experience, Louise brings bags of bedding expertise and enjoys nothing more than helping readers find solutions and products that best suit their sleep needs.