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Mattresses Buying Guide

There is a good deal of intelligent thought that goes into developing and manufacturing a mattress. After all, mattresses are where we rest, recover, and sleep. The same quality thinking can go into your shopping process. That way, when you make the right choice, you'll have a singularly restorative piece of furniture for your home. 

Types of Mattresses

Types of Mattresses

Isn't it odd that we stress out so much about buying a mattress -- a product designed to alleviate stress? But with the variety of mattresses, from standard innerspring to pliable foam to memory foam, it's hard to pick the right one for you. Yes, a test drive in the showroom is important. But with information that explores the different types, you will be able to pick likely candidates out of the sea of beds you'll encounter. Here are the highlights; we'll explore each of them in depth in separate buying guides.

Air Mattresses

Like the name implies, these mattresses are filled with air. A twin-, full-, queen-, or king-size vinyl chamber shaped like a mattress has large valves on one end for inflation and deflation. You may have to pump the mattress full of air by hand, use a hair dryer, or plug in a mechanical pump. Extremely useful for houseguests and temporary sleeping situations, air mattresses can inflate in seconds, and then be deflated, folded, and stored in a bag the size of a pillow.

Bunk Bed Mattresses

Bunk beds are fitted with twin-size mattresses, which can be any kind of your choosing. The standard variety with fabric-covered springs is most typical. Some bunks may have a larger bottom bed, which calls for a full- or double-size mattress. A few European retailers sell mattresses made specifically for their bunk bed frames.

Foam Mattresses

These long-lasting mattresses are filled with a thick slab of foam, a synthetic substance with thousands of tiny air pockets that give it bounce and cushion. These mattresses are easy to custom-order for your specific needs. The foam can be shaped into any size and form, which is helpful if you have a nonstandard or antique bed. Foam mattresses also are available in a variety of densities depending on whether you are a back or side sleeper, and you can layer the densities to achieve a certain feel.

Futon Mattresses

Designed to fit a futon bed frame, these mattresses are flexible enough to bend in the middle, yet supportive enough for nightly sleeping. When not used for sleeping, futon mattresses also serve as lounging or sitting spots, so they have more cushion than a typical mattress. Usually they have a core of foam surrounded by layers of cotton to add plushness.

Latex Mattresses

Latex mimics the qualities of synthetic foam, but it is a natural substance derived from the rubber tree. A latex mattress will have the same springy feel as a foam one. It's a long-lasting and durable material, and it is considered "green" because it comes from a renewable resource.

Mattress Pads

Once you have your mattress in place, you may want to add a pad, which covers the top and wraps around the sides of any size mattress. The pad will protect the mattress from stains as well as wear and tear. It also may perform a specific task, such as waterproofing or bed-bug prevention.

Mattress Toppers

A mattress topper covers only the topmost surface of the mattress and is secured by straps that hook under the corners. A mattress topper is less for protection of the mattress -- though it does provide that -- but is intended primarily to add comfort to the mattress. If you have a firm mattress, for example, you can add cushion to the top with a pillowy mattress topper.

Memory Foam Mattresses

The distinction between a foam mattress and a memory foam mattress lies in the chemical additives that make the polyurethane material temporarily adhesive when exposed to heat. In other words, when your warm body lies on a memory foam mattress, the foam rises and gently adheres to the curves of your limbs. When you get up in the morning, the foam returns to its original shape.

Standard Mattresses

Most mattresses manufactured and sold in the United States are the standard variety, with springy coils covered in padding and fabric. There is a tremendous variety within this vein of mattresses, however, and manufacturers will draw distinctions between their method and another's. Some coils are individually wrapped in fabric. Some are bunched together and topped with varying layers of foam. Some standard mattresses have a pillow top, which is a separate chamber filled with polyester foam attached to the top of the mattress.

Purchase Considerations

Purchase Considerations

Shopping for a mattress can take awhile. To start, you'll want to research the different types so you know what to look for. Then check out a vast mattress showroom filled with lots of types to test drive (or "test sleep"). Also visit a few specialty retailers that sell one brand of mattress, such as Sleep Number or Tempur-Pedic, so you can make comparisons. Finally, ask about delivery service. Will the store dispose of your old mattress? Find out the return policy as well in case you aren't happy with the mattress after sleeping on it a few nights. Will the store come back to pick it up? There are few tasks worse than wrestling a heavy mattress up or down flights of stairs.

Air Mattresses

When you purchase an air mattress, consider who will likely be sleeping on it and where it will most often be used. If the bed is for Grandma and Grandpa, choose one that is extra tall to make getting in and out easier. An extra-tall bed is also good in a basement, because the sleeping surface is farther from the cold floor. On the other hand, if you are buying one to use for kids' sleepovers, choose a low air mattress in case the child slides out, and pick one with an easy-to-clean vinyl cover.

Bunk Bed Mattresses

The mattress you choose for a bunk bed can be any kind that is comfortable to the sleeper. If the retailer recommends a specific mattress for the bed, you would be wise to purchase the two together; the mattress may be a special size or depth to fit the frame.

Foam Mattresses

Long popular in Europe, foam mattresses are becoming popular stateside as well. The feel of a foam mattress is distinct from a standard innerspring mattress, however, so make sure you give it a "test sleep" at the store. Because of the dense material, foam mattresses can be warm; if you don't like that, you may want to add a mattress pad with a breathable cotton cover. Thick, dense foam mattresses can also be very heavy, so make sure your bed frame is sturdy and up to the task.

Futon Mattresses

When you purchase a futon, a mattress will be recommended for it. Because futons don't run standard sizes, make sure the mattress is big enough for the frame. Be sure to purchase a cover for the mattress, which will help protect it from spills. You may want to buy a second cover if the futon is placed where it will get a lot of wear and tear, such as in a dorm room.

Latex Mattresses

Though latex is a commendable choice for its eco-friendly qualities, anyone who is sensitive or allergic to other latex products should avoid these mattresses. "Natural latex" is the term for latex that goes directly from the rubber tree plant to the mattress form without modification or additives. However, without the extra chemical processing, natural latex dries out and becomes flaky more quickly than synthetic latex, so the mattress won't last as long.

Mattress Pads

There is a wide range of prices for mattress pads based on the material and extra features. Basic polyester or cotton pads may cost as little as $15, but deluxe pads with memory foam, down fill, or adjustable heat might cost several hundred dollars.

Mattress Toppers

Like mattress pads, a variety of toppers is available, and the price depends on the feature you are adding to the mattress. Toppers have the advantage of being quick to remove, so you can use one for just one season of the year.

Memory Foam Mattresses

Like other foam mattresses, these tend to be heavy and unwieldy. Before you purchase a memory foam mattress, plan the route it will take through your home and into the bedroom. Make sure your bed can accommodate it, or purchase the complete bed -- mattress, support layer, and frame -- in a set. To protect your investment, you'll want to buy a mattress cover.

Standard Mattresses

The variety and longevity of a standard innerspring mattress differ from manufacturer to manufacturer. Once you find one that is comfortable and fits your budget, ask what maintenance you can do to prolong its life. Many mattresses benefit from being flipped and turned periodically to prevent them from developing low spots. Mattresses with pillow tops, however, are not supposed to be flipped. Also ask: Should you buy the companion box spring support piece? And if so, do you have room for a mattress and box spring in your bed frame? Platform beds, for example, usually don't accommodate both.

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