Choosing a Mattress
In a previous report on cheap mattresses, we recommended only traditional, name-brand innerspring models and cautioned readers against buying off-brand or "no name" mattresses. Much has changed in the mattress industry in the years since -- memory foam mattresses rule over innersprings in terms of consumer preferences, prices have dropped fairly significantly, and many of the best-selling, highly recommended models come from brands that aren't exactly household names. These days, you can get a reasonably comfortable, durable mattress for less than $500, although the very best budget models cost upward of $600. High-end mattresses start around $1,500 and skyrocket from there.
Mattress Brands.Online startups that ship inexpensive foam mattresses directly to the customer have shaken up the market in the past few years. Some of the best-known include Bed in a Box, Casper, Leesa, and Tuft & Needle. Most of the offerings are a bit beyond the Cheapism price limit of $500 for a queen size but within range for consumers with slightly higher budgets. Less-familiar online brands with cheaper mattresses well within our price range include Lucid, Sleep Innovations, Signature Sleep, Classic Brands, and Zinus. These mattresses may be rebranded depending on where they're sold, according to the review site Sleep Like the Dead. For instance, Zinus mattresses are sold as Zinus on Amazon, Spa Sensations at Walmart, and Night Therapy at Sam's Club, while Sleep Innovations makes Novaform mattresses for Costco.
Of course, big names including Sealy, Serta, and Simmons are still out there -- and still massive compared with the startups. These brands offer most major types of mattresses ranging from about $500 for the cheapest innerspring/box-spring set to more than $5,000 for ultra-thick, multi-layer foam-innerspring hybrids. Competitors such as Spring Air and Comfort Solutions (which owns the King Koil brand) also sell some inexpensive innerspring mattresses, as do lesser-known private-label manufacturers that supply warehouse outlets and furniture stores. And don't forget Ikea, which makes inexpensive foam, innerspring, and latex mattresses ranging from about $100 to $1,000. Other brands such as Stearns & Foster, Bassett, and Kingsdown are firmly in the middle to high end of the market. Tempur-Pedic manufactures upscale memory foam mattresses, while Sleep Number dominates the adjustable air mattress market; its cheapest model is also beyond the Cheapism ceiling.
Memory Foam Mattresses.The type of mattress you pick comes down largely to personal preference and budget. The primary advantage of memory foam vs. innerspring mattresses is that they offer a "custom fit," contouring to the body as the foam heats up and adjusts to the shape of the sleeper. This can make for a less painful night's slumber -- foam mattresses are a go-to choice for many side sleepers -- and reduce disturbances caused by motion from bed partners. Memory foam mattresses also tend to last longer than traditional innerspring mattresses and be more resistant to bedbugs and dust mites, which cannot take up residence within the foam. (On top of the mattress, or within the bedding, is another matter!)
On the flip side, not only do memory foam mattresses tend to cost a bit more upfront, but some users shy away because they don't like the sensation of sinking into the bed as the foam gives way or find it difficult to change position. Others assert that these mattresses don't offer as much overall support -- particularly for those who are back sleepers -- and some say they can be too hot. Another concern is whether memory foam mattresses are safe due to the polyurethane bases in many models.
For shoppers who decide the foam route is right for them, our research revealed two solid choices among cheap memory foam mattresses. Our top pick is the Sleep Innovations Shiloh (starting around $323), a medium-firm, 12-inch-deep mattress. A second-tier pick at an even lower price is the 12-inch Zinus Cloud (starting around $234), which offers a less firm, medium level of support. The foam used in both of these mattresses, and in all of our picks, is non-toxic and has met the standards of CertiPur-US for chemical content.
Consumers willing to spend a bit more on a thicker and, hence, more comfortable and durable memory foam mattress might consider the Novaform Comfort Grande (starting around $600) from Costco. The 16-inch Lucid Plush (starting around $620) is a step up in plumpness and price.
For anyone who doesn't like the sinkage associated with memory foam, the Lucid 10" Latex Foam mattress (starting around $389) is worth a look. Its 3-inch thick top layer of latex is springier and more responsive, say user reviews on Amazon. Another foam option of potential interest comes from online retailer Tuft & Needle. Their signature 10-inch Tuft & Needle mattress (starting around $750) features a proprietary foam blend that claims to be both cooler and more adaptive than memory foam. Consumer feedback is prolific and overwhelmingly positive. And not only are T&N mattresses approved by CertiPUR-US for their inner materials, their cover textiles meet OEKO-TEX standards for harmful substances. If it were in Cheapism's price range, this mattress would certainly be a frontrunner.
Innerspring Mattresses.Despite the trend toward memory foam mattresses, many consumers remain innerspring loyalists. Not only are these mattresses cheaper, but there are a huge range of options out there, so there's something readily available for every type of sleeper (stomach, side, or back) and every body type; people with heavier frames certainly tend to favor innerspring over foam. Innerspring mattresses offer a bouncier, more responsive feel for those whose nighttime routines contain a lot of movement -- whether that's repositioning during sleep, frequent need to get up out of bed, or being otherwise active (ahem).
On the downside, innersprings -- especially cheaply made mattresses with insufficient or poor-quality padding -- are more prone to cause pain due to pressure points or prove otherwise uncomfortable. And all these mattresses, regardless of cost, are eventually prone to sagging, unevenness, and decreased elasticity. Some say they can be expected to wear out as much as one to two years before comparable memory foam mattresses.
Despite the potential pitfalls, we were able to find two cheap innersprings that seem to satisfy both experts and consumers. One good choice is the Zinus Sleep Master Ultima Comfort (starting around $239). Although it's a bit on the thinner side, this medium-firm, 10-inch model has many positives to recommend it, not least of which is its super-low cost. Like many of today's innerspring mattresses, this one includes specialized foam layers in addition to metal coils, an attempt to incorporate the pliability that makes memory foam so popular. Another top pick is the pricier 12-inch Classic Brands Mercer Hybrid (starting around $376). Although it's a softer mattress that may not appeal to everyone, it includes actual memory foam among the numerous, intricately dispersed levels of foam that top its springs. This is one of the best hybrid mattresses under $500.
A cheap innerspring mattress we can't endorse is the 9.8-inch Ikea Haugesund (starting around $250). Although the price is right -- and the added foam layer is CertiPur-US compliant, as is the foam in the two picks above -- it fails to crack the recommended-buy list due to lackluster reviews from users.
If, for whatever reason, you've got your heart set on a traditional name brand, the 14-inch Sealy Posturepedic Cooper Mountain Plush Pillow Top (starting around $730) is relatively affordable. While this "Performance" mattress from Sealy's Response line sells well above the Cheapism price ceiling, many users seem to consider it worth the added outlay and say it feels comfortingly soft. The latest iteration, the Cooper Mountain IV, includes a memory foam layer among its custom foam toppers. (Note that when looking for the best price on Sealy mattresses, the same mattress often can be found under other names at different retailers for different prices. This Cooper Mountain innerspring, for example, appears as the "Dolby" at Sears and the "Shore Drive" at Macy's.)
All the prices above are for mattresses only and do not include a foundation or box spring, which adds $100 to $200 to the total. Foam mattresses require some sort of solid foundation; manufacturers say traditional box springs are a no-go with foam mattresses, as they typically provide inadequate support. Suitable foundations could include the solid wooden bases or wooden slats found on many platform beds, a steel grid that can attach to an existing headboard, or -- for true minimalists and budget buyers -- the floor.
Consumers should keep in mind that prices are constantly changing in the mattress world. Like many major consumer durables, they go on sale often. A major holiday -- especially Memorial Day (when sellers typically clear out inventory for new arrivals) or July Fourth -- may be the best opportunity to snag a deal. Prices listed here were accurate at the time of publishing in late June 2107.
Expensive vs. Cheap Mattresses.Pricey mattresses may have more features than cheap mattresses; for example, more comfort layers topping the bed's main support layer, more or higher quality coils in an innerspring mattress, and longer warranties, according to The Mattress Nerd. They tend to be thicker and more plush as a group and may be more supportive for larger, heavier users. And they generally have longer lifespans than their cheaper counterparts.
Sleep Like the Dead, which rates sleep products based on thousands of consumer reviews, reports that owners are more likely to be satisfied by a mid- or high-priced mattress than a cheap mattress -- defined by the site as $700 and under for a queen. Nevertheless, the gap is not huge. In fact, owners of cheap mattresses report a satisfaction rate of 68 percent compared with 74 and 73 percent, respectively, for mid- and high-priced models. And satisfaction with cheap mattresses jumps to 89 percent for more limited use (in a guest room, say) or use by a child. It's also interesting to note that a 2016 study of seven major sellers by J.D. Power found that, although Ikea mattress owners reported slightly below-average satisfaction, the bargain brand still scored higher than pricier names Sealy, Stearns & Foster, and Serta in overall satisfaction.
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Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table
Mattress Reviews: What We Considered
Regardless of price, mattress reviews agree that the most critical criterion is what feels right. The physical characteristics of budget innerspring mattresses certainly matter, but only up to a point. We read reviews posted by thrifty consumers reporting complete satisfaction with mattresses that seem skimpy and other reviews indicating total disappointment with more fully-loaded models that seem to have all the right features. With mattresses, two things are clear: There's no accounting for personal preference in terms of comfort and no arguing with personal experience when it comes to durability.
For that reason, we weighted expert feedback from sites including Sleep Like the Dead, Consumer Reports, and Sleepopolis just as heavily as customer reviews on sites including Amazon, Mattress Firm, US-Mattress.com, Wayfair, and Overstock.
Comfort/Firmness.Mattress buyers' sleeping style and size play a big role in how comfortable a mattress feels. Sleep Like the Dead finds that average-size back sleepers typically prefer medium or medium-firm mattresses, stomach sleepers gravitate toward a firmer mattress, and side sleepers tend to favor a softer mattress. Size also factors in: In general, smaller sleepers may be happier with softer mattresses, while larger, heavier people often like a firmer feel.
Medium or medium-firm mattresses may stand the greatest chance of satisfying the widest range of buyers. That's important to note, especially for those who are purchasing a mattress online without getting to try it out in a store. The mattresses we recommend among our top picks that qualify as medium or medium-firm include the memory foam Sleep Innovations Shiloh and Zinus Cloud, as well as the foam-topped innerspring Zinus Sleep Master Ultima Comfort. On the softer side of our official pick list is the Classic Brands Mercer Hybrid, an innerspring with foam on top that also boasts a cushiony quilted "pillow top."
Although all marketing terms should be taken with a grain of salt, it makes sense to pay some attention to style designations such as plush, Euro top (also called box top or Euro box), or pillow top when considering mattresses. A firm mattress contains the stiffest and the least amount of padding, plush is softer, and a Euro-top mattress has more soft/comfort upholstery than the plush and that padding is usually fully enclosed by the ticking, like an added "box" on top of the bed. Pillow-top mattresses contain extra cushioning in a stuffed pad that seems to float on, but is fully attached to, the top of the mattress. Technically, the main difference between a Euro top and a pillow top mattress is aesthetic and lies in how the extra padding is affixed to the foundation, but some feel that pillow top mattresses are the softer of the two. Manufacturers make things even more confusing, however, by sometimes merging the designations, such as "Euro pillow top" or "plush pillow top."
Whatever the official label a mattress has been given in terms of firmness or softness, it may have little bearing on whether users find that mattress "comfortable." While mattress owners always touch on comfort in online reviews, these opinions are notoriously subjective -- what feels like cardboard to one reviewer may be paradise for another. A good example is our pricier memory-foam contender, the Novaform Comfort Grande, which Sleep Like the Dead rates 8.5 out of 10 on its firmness scale. Many reviews posted on Costco agree it's a firm pick even as some complain it's way too soft; one even likens it to a pile of down comforters.
There seems to be a general consensus, however, when it comes to the medium-firm to firm innerspring Ikea Haugesund, a cheap mattress we recommend steering clear of. It garners only middling comfort ratings for average-size sleepers, regardless of sleep position, and lower-than-average marks for larger sleepers. Our research indicates shoppers can do better for their money.
Sleep Like the Dead also maintains data on how many owners say their mattress causes them pain. Owners of innerspring mattresses are more likely to report aches and soreness. Adjustable air mattresses actually have the happiest owners when it comes to lower pain levels, and are closely followed by memory foam, foam, latex, and hybrid mattresses. Adjustable air mattresses aren't cheap enough to be one of our main picks, but the Sleep Number c2 (starting around $900), with independently adjustable sides, may be worth a splurge for anyone who has more far-reaching comfort concerns or a partner with vastly different firmness preferences.
Heat Retention.Heat retention is one of the major reasons buyers may still consider a traditional innerspring mattress over memory foam. Innerspring mattresses allow more air to circulate, so sleepers who tend to wake up in a puddle of sweat will want to take this into account when checking out different models. The innerspring Ikea Haugesund scores low for comfort, but better-than-average in feedback at Sleep Like the Dead for staying cool. Innerspring Sealy Posturepedic models, like the Cooper Mountain Plush Pillow Top, are also a better bet for anyone concerned about heat, reviews conclude. This is most likely due to their included levels of air-circulating foam and gel foam.
Gel is meant to have a cooling effect, and Sleep Like the Dead data indicate that this is more than a marketing ploy: It reduces heat complaints by nearly a third. Among the memory-foam models we researched, the Novaform Comfort Grande may be among the best at satisfying hotter sleepers, likely because, like the Sealy Cooper Mountain it combines a top layer of gel memory foam with a second layer of air foam.
Despite its gel layer, the Lucid Plush garners mixed reviews for heat retention, perhaps because it's thicker, includes more foam layers, and is meant to have a softer feel. Some reviewers say the mattress keeps them plenty cool and others report the opposite. One buyer writes on Amazon that the Lucid Plush would merit 5 stars but for the fact that she wakes up sweating.
Skipping the memory foam altogether, Tuft & Needle's much-hyped blend of gel and graphite-infused foam seems to indeed deliver on its cool factor: according to experts less than 5 percent of owners report heat issues. This might certainly make the added expense of their mattresses worth it for frugal foam fans who aren't equally fond of sleeping hot.
Motion Isolation.Experts assert that memory foam mattresses do a much better job of isolating motion than other mattress types, making them a better choice for buyers who are tired of losing sleep because they feel their partners toss and turn. All of our memory-foam picks are a good bet for motion isolation, getting strong reviews from both experts and owners. And while innersprings are generally weaker in this category, the Zinus Sleep Master Ultima still draws high marks from users, likely because it features individually wrapped or "pocket" coils that help cut down on motion transfer. The Ikea Haugesund and Sealy Posturepedic Cooper Mountain Plush Pillow Top also feature individually wrapped coils. Of the other types of coils that might be commonly found in cheap mattresses, continuous coils tend to be least effective at motion isolation and should definitely be avoided if this is a real concern.
Longevity.Evaluating durability based on customer reviews is tricky. None of the mattresses we recommend draw a significant number of complaints, but all receive at least a handful. That doesn't necessarily mean everything is rosy. Owners are most likely to review their mattresses after a short time, before durability issues are likely to arise. The useful life of a mattress also is closely linked with a person's size, as The Mattress Underground notes: Larger, heavier sleepers put more stress on a mattress than smaller, lighter users.
Expert resources are more helpful when assessing longevity because some include longer-term data or simulated durability testing. Sleep Like the Dead notes some significant durability trends when mattresses are sorted by type. Memory foam mattresses have an average lifespan of about seven years, with hybrid mattresses just behind. Longevity of regular (not memory) foam mattresses, like the Tuft & Needle, come in closer to six years, as do innerspring mattresses. It's worth noting that adjustable air mattresses such as the Sleep Number c2 have the best longevity at more than eight years, according to the site's research, although individual components like the air pump or controller may require repairs during that time. Independent researchers have recorded similar results with simulated durability testing: Memory foam mattress brands come out on top, while innerspring brands are at the bottom of the heap.
Sleep Like the Dead rates mattresses from Sleep Innovations, manufacturer of our top cheap memory-foam choice, the Shiloh mattress, relatively well for durability and longevity. Zinus foam mattresses, including the 12" Cloud, earn middle-of-the-road marks for longevity. The brand's innerspring models (including one of our second-tier picks, the Sleep Master Ultima Comfort) are predicted to have lower-than-average durability. The same goes for innerspring mattresses from Ikea, such as the Haugesund, and even innersprings from Sealy Posturepedic, with pillow top mattresses, such as the Cooper Mountain model we recommend from the brand, more prone to durability problems like sagging.
Warranty.Warranties vary by brand, but are longer for budget-friendly mattresses than buyers might expect. Several models we researched (the Zinus Cloud and Sleep Master Ultima Comfort; the Classic Brands Mercer; the Sealy Posturepedic Cooper Mountain Plush Pillow Top; and the Tuft & Needle) come with 10-year warranties. The Novaform Comfort Grande and Sleep Innovations Shiloh double that with a warranty of 20 years. The Lucid Plush, Lucid Latex Foam, Sleep Number c2, and Ikea Haugesund offer the longest coverage at 25 years.
Buyers should beware, however, that mattress warranties are not created equal. Some offer prorated coverage for the warranty period, which means the owner still has to pay for a portion of the repair. For example, after two years owners of the Sleep Number c2 must pony up 20 percent of any product or part that fulfills a warranty claim, plus 4 percent for each year of ownership. In other words, someone who has used a c2 for nine years will be covering around half the cost of a repair or replacement.
Moreover, normal wear isn't covered under warranties; the problem must be observable and measureable, like excessive sagging or broken coils. There may be glaring exclusions, too. For instance, the 10-Year Worry Free Warranty that Zinus offers on all of its mattresses expressly excludes "any deterioration of the foam, with an indentation of less than 1.5 inches, not associated with a sag in the foundation, box spring or platform or mattress." Buyers should read the fine print to make sure they don't do anything to void the warranty. Manufacturers can refuse warranty coverage if the mattress is stained, inadequately supported, or lacking the "under penalty of law" tag, which serves as proof that it is indeed the manufacturer's product. Bottom line: While owners may deem their mattress a lost cause -- that is, comfort has turned to perceived discomfort -- proving the warranty applies is difficult.
Returns.Finally, although we think buyers in the Cheapism price zone can find the best values online, the chance the mattress won't be a match is a compelling reason to investigate retailers' return policies.
Buyers who purchase mattresses sold and fulfilled by Amazon face a short 30-day return window. The good news is that purchasers can get a full refund during that time, no exchange required or surcharge imposed. Other online mattress retailers may offer more generous return windows. For example, Tuft & Needle has a 100-day trial that doesn't stick buyers with any fees. (They also have a few locations across the country where potential buyers can try out their products.) US-Mattress.com, the primary retailer for the Sealy Cooper Mountain Plush Pillow Top, offers a 100-day trial, but buyers are required to make an exchange and pay a $139 processing fee.
Don't overlook Costco and Ikea; these bricks-and-mortar options offer reasonably priced mattresses and uncommonly generous return or exchange policies. At Ikea, shoppers have an entire year to decide whether they like the mattress, but it must be exchanged for another Ikea model. And Costco doesn't exempt mattresses from its lifetime satisfaction guarantee, which makes it the best of the bunch by far.