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Avleen M.
Avleen M.Oct 23, 2020

How do I choose the best mattress?

Waking up to the truth that you need a new mattress can feel like the start of an odyssey. The sheer number of mattresses on the market and the raft of marketing terms used to describe mattress ‘technology’ can make you feel like you need a PhD before purchasing. While you definitely don't, doing a bit of research beforehand can stop you from buying a mattress that feels like soft quicksand or an unyielding plank of wood. This guide is here to help, walking you through the A-Z of buying a mattress, to help you catch quality Z's.

While the information in this guide refers to opinions from real-life reviewers who experience aches and pains, please note that it doesn't provide a substitute for medical advice when needed. Remember to consult your GP if you have a health concern, to assist in getting the best support and care your body deserves.

What type of mattress should I buy?

Unfortunately, there's no stock standard answer to this question. The type of mattress you should buy depends on the a number of competing factors that need to be delicately weighed up. For example, your preferred sleeping position may be on your side, which might make a medium mattress suitable. But what if your partner sleeps on their stomach, which tends to suit a firm mattress?

There's also the question of mattress materials. If you're a hot sleeper or you have allergies, you'll probably want to source a mattress that doesn't trap heat or dust inside.

Not to forget the matter of personal shopping preferences - you might like the new-age convenience of having a mattress-in-a-box delivered straight to your door, or perhaps you'd rather tread the traditional mattress-buying path and buy in store or in a showroom.

Do you sleep on your side, stomach or back?

If you sleep on your side, a medium-soft mattress is probably the right pick for you. The plush material will make room for your hips and joints, and won’t give the feeling of crushing them.

This sleeping position requires more support for the spine, to prevent neck and back pain. That’s why choosing a firm mattress, or one firmer on the comfort spectrum, may help support stomach sleepers.

Choose a medium or medium-firm mattress, to help support your spine without feeling like you're lying on a plank of wood.

The best offering for sleepers that switch between the above positions is a medium-firm mattress. This provides the correct balance of support and comfort, and you won’t find yourself uncomfortably sinking into the mattress as you shift positions throughout the night.

What are the different mattress ‘feels,’ or comfort levels?

There are a number of different comfort levels that a mattress can offer. Mainly, these are soft (or plush), medium and firm. Many brands also offer variables such as very soft, medium-soft, medium-firm and extra firm.

Soft mattresses · See All

Also known as plush mattresses, these give you the feeling of ‘sinking in.' They are usually made up of soft foam comfort layers, such as memory foam, in both the upper layers and mattress core. Soft mattresses have the most amount of ‘give’ of all the mattress firmness levels, as they cradle your body by adapting and contouring to its shape. This can help provide pressure relief for joints (hips, knees and shoulders in particular), which won’t painfully dig into a hard mattress surface.

While a soft mattress sounds comfortingly cloud-like, it also provides the least amount of support, including spinal support. This can cause your back and hips to sag, causing morning aches. Since soft mattresses are made from foam or other highly yielding materials, they are less resilient than other mattress types and so will wear out faster, meaning you need to replace them more regularly than other mattresses.

Medium mattresses · See All

These provide a good balance between comfort, support and firmness. They usually come in two different types – medium-soft and medium-firm.

Medium-soft mattresses are comprised of the same plush upper layers as a soft mattress, which your skin makes contact with. However, the mattress core or foundation is designed with stronger materials such as synthetic latex. Medium-soft mattresses are suitable for sleepers who like the gentle cradling of a soft mattress, but also long fir that little bit of extra support.

Medium-firm mattresses are the most popular ‘feel' for a mattress and are the standard for ‘universal comfort.’ They’re popular with sleepers who shift position frequently throughout the night. They will accommodate your movement, by contouring to your body but ensuring you won’t sink in. They will push back to give you support, but still let you move freely enough. Medium-firm mattresses are also a good choice if you share your bed, as they can cater to a number of sleeping positions.

Firm Mattresses · See All

These are designed with a rigid core and support layers, which prevents any sinking into the mattress at all. These mattresses are usually constructed from resilient materials like latex, and are more supportive for sleepers with back pain. Firm mattresses also provide catered support to front and back sleepers, as they help to align the spine. They're usually uncomfortable for side sleepers.

What type of mattress material is best?

Memory foam · See All

Memory foam impression made by hand

Memory foam was originally designed by NASA in 1966 to cushion test pilots in flights as they prepared for lift-off. But you don't have to be an astronaut to enjoy its cushioning benefits. This dense foam has a medium level of softness that conforms and moulds to the shape of your body to similarly cradle you as you sleep.

Memory foam pads you into the bed, to the point where it will leave a temporary imprint of your body in the foam. It's made to spring back though, so the material shouldn't technicallly sink or collapse over time. Memory foam is often referred to as as temperature-sensitive visco-elastic foam by retailers. This means it's made to respond to body heat and weight, and adapt accordingly to provide comfort.

Pros

  • Advanced ability to adapt to your body shape helps take weight and pressure off the joints, which help relieves pain for some people.
  • Allergy friendly, as the dense material is a good safeguard against dust, mites and mould.

Cons

  • Memory foam can feel restrictive if you're a combination sleeper, or tend to toss and turn in the night. Its strong conforming ability means it encases you in one spot like a kind of open cocoon.
  • Not the best pick for hot sleepers, as the tightly packed cell structure of memory foam makes it retain heat and absorb sweat.
  • Some ‘offgassing’ can occur, which means the mattress can release a slightly unpleasant chemical smell after the manufacturing process. However, the effect is temporary, and lasts a few weeks at most.

Tips for buying a memory foam mattress

  • Hot sleepers that like the benefits of a memory foam mattress but don't want to be sleeping in sweat can opt for a mattress with a gel-infused top layer, or one with open-cell technology. These innovations help to disperse heat away from the body, for a cooler and more comfortable sleep.
  • Memory foam mattresses are designed to be soft and comfortable - however they can take around 2-4 weeks to soften. If you opt for high-density foam, you may have to wait the full 4 weeks. You can help soften it up by increasing the temperature in your room, or even by walking on the bed, as they can give the mattress extra 'practise' when it comes to adapting to heat and weight.
  • While memory foam mattresses can be cheap, it's better to opt for a quality mattress. Cheaper models can use low-density or poorly made foam that sags and dips over time, and eventually stop springing back at all. A memory foam mattress that hurts your back, whether now or in 5 years, isn't worth it.

Latex · See All

Latex mattresses come in two forms: natural latex, which comes from the sap of the rubber tree, or synthetic latex – which imitates the solid feel of latex by using a mix of natural latex and petrochemicals like styrene and butadeine. 100% natural latex mattresses are rare, as the manufacturing process usually involves the addition of some chemicals. As a result, most latex mattresses are a blend of natural and synthetic.

Pros

  • Supportive and resilient, the hardy material of a latex mattress will provide a high degree of support. This makes it a good choice for stomach and back sleepers.
  • Latex isn’t temperature sensitive, and its pinhole structure (pictured, right) allows air to circulate. This means a latex mattress is positive news for a hot sleeper - it won't absorb heat and can keep you cool, no matter the season.

Cons

  • Not especially comfortable - While excellent in the support department, the firm and rubbery surface of a latex mattress makes it not particularly comfortable to sleep on.
  • All-natural latex mattresses are rare, as the majority on the market are blended with synthetic latex, which is made from petrochemicals. These can sometimes cause allergies.
  • You may be subject to an interesting smell for the first few weeks after buying your mattress. This is known as offgassing, which happens when the VOCs (volatile organic compounds) inisde synthetic mattresses are slowly released.

Tips for buying a latex mattress

Latex mattress material example

  • Retailers will often dub latex mattresses as being either Dunlop or Talalay latex. These terms are used to described the different manufacturing processes. While there isn't a huge difference between them, Dunlop is generally more dense. This can make it more resilient, and when combined with a firm comfort level, it can provide a more rigid surface than Talalay models (but it won't automatically be firmer - it still depends on the mattress feel).
  • Since Talalay is made by pushing carbon dioxide gas through the mattress moulds along with latex, it has a more open, airy structure than its Dunlop counterpart. This makes Talalay latex mattresses even more breathable for hot sleepers.
  • If you're big on eco-friendliness, then a 100% natural latex mattress - while trickier to source - is still out there. For example, the Fern Mattress is made from 100% certified natural latex.

Pocket spring mattresses · See All

Pocket spring base vertical

These mattresses are built with vertical rows of pockets in their core containing thousands of springs. The sectioning off of springs into separate pockets means support is graduated across the mattress.

This means that if there are two sleepers on the same bed, each of them is supported by different 'zones' of pocket springs. If one sleeper moves, it doesn't affect the springs in the other sleeper's zone. The overall benefit is less partner disturbance during the night. (This is the opposite of a traditional innerspring mattress, which uses one set of coils throughout the mattress - so it's a matter of 'when I move you move.'

Pros

  • Effectively minimise partner disturbance, especially one of you is prone to tossing and turning through the night. The pockets are sectioned off into zones, which support two sleepers independently of each other. If one sleeper moves, the other won’t be affected, as the pockets underneath them won’t move.
  • Air circulates freely, as there’s plenty of space between the coils and pockets. This means pocket spring mattresses are cooler to sleep on than memory foam mattresses.

Cons

  • Longevity can be compromised, as the springs and any metal components making up the bed frame can rust.

Hybrid Mattresses

As their name suggests, these mattresses feature a combination of materials, such as a latex or pocket spring base with softer memory foam comfort layers. These mattresses will have a wide array of pros and cons, as consistent with the individual materials they’re made from. The top-rated mattress on ProductReview, The Sleeping Duck mattress, is a hybrid. It's designed with latex, memory foam in its bottom layers and bamboo fabric for its comfort layer.

Most mattresses are hybrids in one way or another. The mattress ‘technology’ specified by retailers often refers to the base/core, while any comfort layers or quilting refers to the buffer between your body and the mattress core. Look for materials that are breathable, comfortable and allergy friendly. Natural fibres usually fit the bill, like cotton or bamboo.

Since these mattresses try and take the best bits of each mattress layer and put them together, they're usually more expensive than other mattress types.

What about mattress sizes?

If you’re buying the whole kit and caboodle when it comes to bedding (bed frame and mattress, or perhaps an ensemble) you'll need to decide on a size.

The first thing to do is measure your room. While retailers may recommend investing in the largest bed your room can fit, it's better not to cramp your room with a huge bed. This way you can comfortably house other bedroom furniture like a desk or bedside table without the room feeling cramped and looking cluttered.

You may also want to opt for a slighter smaller mattress size if you’re adding other, more elaborate design features to your bed, as a tall headboard.

The mattress size should also accommodate the people sleeping in it! The length of your mattress should be at least 10-15cm longer than the tallest sleeper. You might want to go up a size if you’re sleeping next to a sprawler, or if you'll have kids or pets climbing into the bed with you on those lazy Sunday mornings.

The most common mattress sizes in Australia are single, double, queen and king, however many brands or mattress series offer variants, such as king single and super king.

Mattress size guide for Australia

How many years should I keep my mattress?

Since mattresses can cost you an arm and a leg, you want to at least make sure that it's comfortably supporting those arms and legs for many years to come.

Mattress warranties typically range from 10-20 years, but most mattresses will last about 8-10 years. This means shopping specifically for a mattress with a longer warranty isn't really neccessary.

Your mattress will last longer if you give it a little TLC every now and then. This includes rotating and flipping your mattress regularly to air it out and ensure it doesn’t get limp or saggy in ‘high-traffic areas’ where your body likes to lie.

A mattress protector (pictured, right) can also help keep your mattress clean and dry. This piece of removable bedding offers a shield between you and the mattress. This prevents your mattress soaking up sweat, dirt, skin cells, spills. The mattress protector will bear the brunt of this daily grit, and you can just take it off and wash it.

Another way to keep your mattress healthier and more hygienic is to choose a mattresses with a removable, washable cover, like the Pure Comfort Latex Mattress's natural latex and Tencel cover.

If your mattress hasn't yet reached its 8th birthday but you notice sagging or lumps - or you're waking up in pain - it's probably time to say goodbye. While starting the hunt for a new mattress is a prime contender for your 'To-Do Later' list, it isn't worth the potential health problems an old and defective mattress can cause.

What about a mattress in a box?

Mattresses-in-a-box have changed the mattress market over the last few years. You no longer need to go to a showroom and vie for a lie-down on prospective new mattresses. After you make your purchase online, the product is vacuum-sealed and delivered to your door.

Some of the best mattresses on ProductReview are the ones you get in a box, like the Sleeping Duck Mattress (2017 Award Winner) and the Ergoflex Memory Foam Mattress (2020 Award Winner).

Here are some plus and minus points for taking the plunge and shopping differently to buy a mattress in a box:

Pros

  • A mattress in a box is cheaper than a mattress bought in-store or in a showroom. There's no mark-up or paying the middleman. A queen-sized mattress in a box costs an average of $1,000, while a store-bought equivalent such as a Sleepmaker or Sealy mattress can cost thousands.
  • Quick and easy - a mattress in a box usually takes 1-2 days to arrive, and comes with other perks such as free shipping.
  • Less pressure to decide on the spot, which you might face in-store, with an impatient salesperson hovering nearby.
  • Flexible return options, thanks to a trial period of anywhere between 30 to 100 nights. This usually goes hand in hand with a money back guarantee, if you don’t like the feel of the mattress.
  • Returned mattresses are donated to a local charity frequently. Some companies have a nominated charity; others let you choose their own.

Cons

  • Can't try before you buy by lying down on the mattress first
  • You're on your own when it comes to setting up your new mattress as well as getting rid of your old one. In comparison, department stores or other retailers may offer to do this for you; but it’s probably factored into their hefty cost.

Best for side sleepers – Sleeping Duck Mattress

Sleeping Duck

This astoundingly popular mattress-in-a-box is ProductReview’s #1 rated mattress and the Mattress Award Winner in 2017.

The hybrid mattress comprises of four layers - drawing upon an innovative combination of a pocket-springs in its core, polyurethane foam, a ‘Hyper-Adaptive’ memory foam and latex foam blend, topped by a breathable bamboo cover.

1940 of Sleeping Duck reviewers (or around half), were side sleepers who awarded the Sleeping Duck Mattress 4 or 5 stars. Out of the two sizes available, the vast number of side sleepers preferred the medium comfort level, compared to the firm feel. Or if you and your partner can’t agree, you can opt for a half-half mattress – half medium and half firm (if you can do it with pizza toppings, why not mattresses?)

Points of praise for the Sleeping Duck Mattress:

  • Above all, side sleepers praised the Sleeping Duck’s provision of superior support and comfort in equal measure
  • Minimal partner disturbance was cited as a favourite feature of the Sleeping Duck Mattress. This was attributed to the pocket springs, which isolate movement to separate zones, and no sagging in the middle of the mattress
  • Good edge firmness made the mattress feel more spacious and secure
  • 64% of side sleepers who awarded a 4 or 5 star rating experienced pre-existing neck or back issues. These reviewers reported that the Sleeping Duck mattress did not cause added discomfort
  • Sleeping Duck’s exceptional customer service was widely praised. It was happily noted that Sleeping Duck makes sure to follow-up with customers after the money’s been handed over. They also offer a 100 day trial period – in it, you can switch your comfort level from medium to firm or vice versa – or get a full refund or pick-up of your mattress if it’s not right for you.

Best memory foam mattress - Ergoflex 5G

Ergoflex

Ergoflex first launched in 2006, making it the original mattress-in-a-box brand in the country. According to reviewers, the brand's legacy involves continuing to produce the best memory foam mattress in Australia.

The Ergoflex Memory Foam Mattress is available in two sizes; queen and king, both of which you can buy in medium and firm comfort levels. This may seem like slim pickings, but it's common for mattress-in-a-box models. It also adds the saviour of simplicity to the mattress selection process.

The Ergoflex 5G Mattress is designed with open-cell high density memory foam (pictured above). While memory foam can sleep hot, the open-cell structure of the mattress helps ensure heat doesn't become trapped. It's also topped by a Tencel cover, comprised of small fibres with moisture-wicking properties, which means it absorbs and evaporates sweat (a relief for those sweltering summer months!)

Points of praise for the Ergoflex Memory Foam Mattress:

  • True to what a memory foam mattress sets out to do, the Ergoflex 5G helped to relieve pressure points. Reviewers noted that the mattress helped support various parts of their body, including their back, hips and knees.
  • This mattress was given top marks for comfort and support, allowing people to seamlessly transition from wakefulness into an undisturbed sleep. One reviewer commented, 'On this mattress, I don't have trouble relaxing. It seems to mould to my body and supports every part.'
  • Reviewers vouched for Ergoflex's claim that this mattress doesn't sleep hot, and they were able to stay dry and cool.
  • Partner disturbance was often minimised after reviewers started spending their nights on the Ergoflex mattress.

Best for pre-existing neck and back conditions - Eva Mattress

Eva mattress layer breakdown

Almost half of sleepers who reviewed the Eva Mattress experienced pre-existing back and neck issues. These reviewers awarded their new mattress a high overall rating of 4.8 stars.

The Eva Mattress is designed with five layers, to capitalise on both comfort and support.

The top layer (white) is a polyester cover, and the second layer (blue) is made up of gel memory foam. This contours to sleepers' body to cradle their joints and provide pressure relief. It also sleeps cool, thanks to the inclusion of gel beads.

The next layer (green) consists of premium latex foam, which is a resilient material that also provides strong support. The open-cell, pinhole structure allows airflow to work with the top layer in keeping the mattress cool.

A block of foam (the thick white layer) comprises the fourth layer. It sits on top of the base, designed with a durable 5-zone pocket spring system. These work together with side pocket springs to target individualised support to each sleeper and minimise partner disturbance.

Points of praise for the Eva Mattress:

  • According to reviewers, the Eva Mattress was gentle on their sore backs as well as their neck and shoulders. Others reviewers noticed a reduction in hip and joint pain. Reviewers commonly noted that the Eva Mattress didn’t contribute to any additional discomfort when they woke up.
  • As one reviewer helpfully noted, the Eva Mattress (or any mattress) was not a cure for their back and hip issues, but it felt comfortable and supportive.
  • Several reviewers apprciated that the Eva was also the best affordable mattress for their requirements. Understandably, many didn't want to spend half of their savings on a new mattress, and the Eva catered to this.
  • The memory foam was comfortable to sleep on, in the experience of many reviewers
  • Low partner disturbance was a definite plus points for reviewers, who noted that the Eva is suitable for light sleepers. One reviewer commented, ‘I no longer toss and turn or wake up sore.'

Tips when buying the Eva Mattress:

The Eva is part of the mattress-in-a-box family, which means it inherits the benefits of next-day delivery and easy ordering.

Admittedly by Eva Mattress makers though, the mattress is heavy. Reviewers often had trouble setting it up and lifting the corners to put sheets on. Since this can be labour-intensive and straining, it's not recommended if you're already experiencing pain - so make sure to get a lent hand from a friend or family member.

Best budget mattress - Onebed Mattress Essential

Onebed Mattress Essential layer breakdown

At $799 for a queen-sized mattress rated 4.7 stars, the Onebed Mattress Essential takes the prize for best budget mattress.

Consisting of just two layers, the Onebed Essential proves that you don't need complex machinations to make a high quality mattress. The top layer (in light blue) is made from 3 inches of cooling gel memory foam, which helps relieve pressure points while staying cool and comfortable. A 5-inch base foam layer is comprised of resilient high density foam. The end result is an overall medium comfort level for the mattress.

So what makes this Onebed mattress so cheap? The brand reveals they've shaved off 2 inches of the base foam to help you make easy savings - which they also profess makes no practical difference to the quality of the mattress.

Points of praise for the OneBed Mattress Essential:

  • The most significant point of praise was the superb performance of the mattress at the affordable price. Reviewers reported their high hopes for this mattress were met, as the mattress became comfortable, and didn't retain heat or sag over time.
  • Adjusting to the mattress took a bit of time. For several sleepers it felt too firm at first but once reviewers adjusted they were relieved to find it supportive and comfortable. Adjustment times typically took a few days to a week.
  • The hassle-free delivery by Onebed was appreciated. In some cases, same-day delivery was a pleasant surprise, and the great customer service made the buyer experience more enjoyable.
  • A number of reviewers commented that their mattress helped provide a measure of relief for their sore backs.

Other perks of the Onebed Mattress Essential:

  • It comes with a 125-night risk-free trial, during which you can return the mattress for a full refund if it doesn't work out.
  • It's compatible with a variety of bed configurations, including slatted frames, ensembles and adjustable frames.

The Emma Original Mattress is also worth a mention for being an affordable, highly-rated mattress. It sits pretty at 4.4 stars, and costs $849 for a queen size.

The Emma Mattress was a favourite mattress pick among side sleepers, with a medium firmness level that provided support without digging uncomfortably into the hip joints of side sleepers. A 100-night trial period combined with the low price makes it a safe option if you change your mind or the mattress just isn't quite right for you.

Best for kids - Koala Mattress

Koala mattress layers

An overwhelming 94% of reviewers (usually parents) awarded the Koala Single Mattress 4 or 5 stars.

At 23cm high and 92cm wide, the Koala Single Mattress is the perfect size for kids. It features a medium-firm comfort level, which is recognised as the universal standard for mattress comfort. Koala dubs this 'The Goldilocks zone - not too firm, not too soft.'

With good grounds too, since a mattress that’s too soft will cause kids to sink in, and fail to support their bodies and growing bones. However, a mattress that’s too firm will feel uncomfortable and unwelcoming.

The mattress itself uses Kloudcell open-cell foam technology, which helps children to stay cool and comfortable through the night. The mattress structure allows heat to escape, so your little one won't become hot and bothered while trying to get to sleep during summer.

A 120-night sleep trial lets your child put their new mattress to the test after a hard day of play. If they still don't like it after 4 months, Koala offers a full refund.

Points of praise for the Koala Single Mattress:

  • The most consistent compliment for the Koala Mattress was that children found it exceptionally comfy. One parent shared that the mattress had a ‘lovely, soft lush feel’ that felt cloud-like to their kids.
  • Reviewers reported that their sons and daughters slept soundly on the Koala Mattress, and were much more likely to sleep through the night.
  • The Koala Mattress is breathable thanks to the open-cell structure of the foam, so kids didn't spend the night tossing and turning in a haze of sweat.
  • The removable, washable cover zipped off easily, and can be hand washed in cold water.
  • Parents and kids alike loved the fact that for every mattress purchase, the brand Koala symbolically adopts an actual koala through WWF, which helps protect and restore forests that koalas live in.

Conclusion

Overall, buying a mattress requires the careful consideration of a number of factors, the most important of which include: your most common sleeping position, the comfort level you'd prefer (soft, medium or firm), which mattress materials are most compatible with your sleeping habits, and any existing ailments or allergies you have. Of course, the price weighs in as well, and a bed in a box is cheaper than one bought in store. However, nothing can really beat the true test of experience, so look for a mattress that offers a free trial period of at least 30 days, with the offer of a full refund if you get anything less than your forty winks. That way you can sleep on it, then continue the search if you haven't yet found your mattress match made in heaven.