December 23, 2016 - Marshall Coyle
BETTER MATTRESS CHOICES FOR 2017
You may be reading this because you have already discovered how it difficult it is to intelligently shop for a new mattress. If you find the shopping process uncomfortable, unpleasant, or irrational whether shopping in person, or navigating the Internet, you have a lot of company. My goal is to provide you with usable information that identifies specific mattresses that merit looking into, and others that you should avoid. As important The most detail is available in the opening essay, Mattress 103 that goes into greater detail than this essay. The easiest way to be assured that you will get a high quality mattress within most budgets is to take the survey and let me go “Virtually Shopping” for you. Just don’t wait until you need a mattress “yesterday”. It is a process that takes time for me to do properly. When I learn your “wants and your “needs” from information you supply in the survey, and compare both, as well as your budget, with mattresses on up to twelve websites, you will almost certainly find out about your best choices. But sometimes surveys come in bunches, especially around traditional sale times, making it difficult for me to do everyone who asks for “rush” shopping. Please don’t wait for the last minute.
Where you buy your mattress can be just as important as what mattress you buy. Mattress warranty service, such as it is, is the responsibility of the retailer. When/if your beautiful two-year-old Sealy Posturepedic develops depressions matching your body shape, it is the responsibility of the store that sold it to you to pay a service to send a “technician” to your home to measure the depth of the “divots”. If he or she finds that the “body impressions” are deeper than 1.5 inches for most brands, you will probably be entitled to a new mattress free or at a discounted price. Because the retailer also has to pay for two-way trucking and do reams of paperwork, you are often up against months of foot dragging while the store hopes you’ll get tired of waiting and just “go away”.
Department stores like Macy’s tend to be genuinely interested in maintaining their reputations and provide the kind of service you would like to see. Bloomingdales gives exceptional service. Consumer Reports does annual surveys about store’s helpfulness and service. Unsurprisingly retail specialty sleep shops, especially large chains are rated very poorly. At the very bottom of the pile are Mattress Firm and Sleepys. If you plan on buying a Tempurpedic foam product you are much better off buying it directly on their website or from a factory operated store. Tempur memory foams, as do most memory foams, tend to need service early and often and Tempurpedic lives up to warranty promises. Probably the worst possible place to order a mattress on the internet is from a “discount” website promising discounts on name brands. Discounters promise to deliver the same mattress you tried in a local bricks and mortar store. They can usually deliver the same brand, but can not deliver the same mattress because they can’t get them from the factory. The big names protect the legitimate retailers by giving by giving different merchandise to Internet discounters with fewer features. They may last the same four or five years but they will not feel like the mattress you liked at a store near your home.
Almost always the best place to buy a mattress is from a good factory direct seller. Mcroskey Mattress for people who shop in San Francisco, http://mcroskey.com/mattress-natural.shtml McCroskey mattresses are old fashioned and that is not a bad thing in this case. Charles P. Rogers in New York City and NNJ. makers of the Powercore top rated innersprings. they ship and deliver worldwide ,http://www.charlesprogers.com/ to name a couple. I really like the better mattresses from Marshall Mattress in Toronto, but they are no longer factory direct so the prices are retail. You can buy their products all over Canada including the factory store, but the prices are fixed retail regardless of the location.http://marshallmattress.com/ I know that I have left out a number of fine old mattress makers still operating around the country, but I have either never visited them, or have not done so for too many years. I like to have confidence in any recommendation that I give to a reader and I have seen too many mattress makers change with a new generation taking over, or for any reason. A common denominator is that all three of these top quality firms are mattress makers, not mattress assemblers. While their specifications differ, these three venerable companies make most of their important components right in house, including the coils, and then assemble and finish the mattress. Mattress assemblers of which there are many, buy off-the-shelf components from various importers, jobbers, and coil makers, and assemble mattresses. They do not have access to proprietary coils and other technology needed to make the best. Nevertheless, when a mattress assembler buys the best quality coils, off the shelf, from the L&P company, main supplier to the industry, and carefully assemble and upholster with naturally cool latex, not petrochemical synthetic memory foam, you can get a decent mattress at prices much lower than your local retail store. http://beddingcomponents.com/ If you visit this site, the Quantum edge 344 is the best coil and the one you should look for if you go to a local assembler that assembles mattresses from off-the-shelf components. You should not settle because the cost to the maker is not that much more than any of the cheaper coils.
I promise you that if you can stay with this short article and also read Mattress 103, you will be a match for almost any salesperson. After you finish reading all of Mattress 103 you can send in the survey on the home page and I will personally help you find the most suitable mattress (es) for you. While my first goal is to research and write so well that you gain enough confidence to “take on” the most aggressive commission salesperson in the meanest bait-and-switch sleazy sleep shop, you do not have to. I really will “virtually shop” for you if you fill out a survey. The link is on the home page.
If you still prefer to “do it yourself” but haven’t visited your neighborhood sleep shop or department store in several years, you are in for a visually soothing experience. What could be more relaxing than a sea of almost identical brown white and beige large cloth rectangles, side by side, with colorful price tags pinned to them? The relaxation will probably vanish as soon as the salesperson starts talking. The tags always have a crossed-out very high price on top and various crossed out lower prices descending to the bottom of the label. They don’t just look alike. The same parent companies also make many of them from identical materials on the same assembly line even though only the labels are meaningfully different. Stearns and Foster is a good example. They are a division of Sealy, a division of Tempur–Sealy. S&F, because they were once a really great company, command higher prices while the only internal difference might be the addition of a thin slice of latex. I have been unable to find any name brand mattresses currently made with enough latex padding to make a long-term difference. If you do nothing else to prepare you for your shopping day, you have to read the current Consumer Reports innerspring mattress ratings. see them here: https://goo.gl/n02Byx
Some stores have a deal “just for you” if you seem to be walking out unconvinced. I have seen salespeople follow customers out into the parking lot lowering the price every few steps. Don’t fall for this ploy. Now that you know you are dealing with haggler, give a counter offer. When a store has flexible prices you will probably never see the bottom price. The house really always wins. The less you pay, the smaller is the salesperson’s commission check. The smartest thing you can do when you hear “deal” is to go to a different and more ethical store. Most sleep shops haggle, furniture stores, occasionally do, and department stores almost never. Factory direct showrooms almost always forbid their employees to haggle.
Most retail-store mattresses all look pretty much alike regardless of brand name because they are all pretty much alike. Even the sales people that you meet during your days of exhausting shopping start to seem like twins separated at birth. Only two companies with many different labels make nearly 80% of all American big-brand mattresses. One company, Tempur-Sealy makes TempurPedic, Sealy, Posturepedic, and Stearns and Foster. http://www.tempursealy.com/ The other half of the duopoly makes Serta (Perfect Sleeper & iComfort) https://www.serta.com/shop/mattresses?category=icomfort&type=memory-foam-hybrid and Simmons (Beautyrest and BeautySleep). http://www.beautyrest.com/Black/Tatiana-Ultra-Plush-Pillow-Top#CutawayInfographic This “Black” Beautyrest has a layer of latex under and over the synthetics. And both of these super-sized mattress makers gain most of their profits by filling mattresses with low-cost petrochemical synthetic foams. Tempur-Sealy, with one exception is 100% synthetic. The others are mostly synthetic foams and steel coils. Natural latex foam from rubber tree sap is rarely present in mass-produced mattresses. Some Stearns and Foster styles, and selected Beautyrest Black mattresses, at prices few are prepared to pay, actually have a thin layer of latex over and/or under the synthetics. Good naturally cool latex padding with no synthetic foam is still available but almost exclusively from small factory direct resources. These factory direct companies include Charles P. Rogers and Berkeley Ergonomics.
Major mattress makers and many retailers deliberately make the buying process more difficult. While every store has the same mattresses, no two stores share the same label. That is why mattress names seem so stupid. Label designers simply seem to use any phrase that comes to mind. I have a Macy ad in my paper recycling pile and one of the Serta mattresses is called “Comfort Island Retreat 2” This maddening way of doing business has given rise to a new Internet-only assemblage of hundreds of newby mattress peddlers. These novices can go into business for the price of a 20’ shipping container of mystery-foam mattresses from China, a simple website, and public warehouse space. The Internet is free for all and without any real policing. A true “let the buyer beware” scenario. A typical Chinese queen-size synthetic foam mattress, with or without coils, arrives on the docks in Port Angeles, Cal., crushed, rolled and boxed, for less than $100. These newbies then ask you to pay between about $500 and $1,000 for an 80# bag of questionable quality petrochemical foams. It is profitable even if or when most buyers seek refunds.
If you want one of these imported mattresses, identical vacuum packed, rolled and boxed mattresses are available from Amazon ranging from only about $100-200, and possibly with better service. During frequent sales, Macy’s has started to offer a boxed “Sleep Trends Ana” with coils for $249 +$9.95 delivery + undisclosed possible surcharges. Here is a sample page from Amazon showing a number of mattresses that may be no worse than any of the higher priced Internet-only bags of foam that sell for $500 to $1000. I am NOT recommending any of them, but if this is what you want or meets your budget, there is no point in overpaying. Do not be fooled by the five star ratings. They are not credible. Do as I do when shopping almost anything on Amazon. Read the one and two star ratings. They are never phony or paid for. https://goo.gl/KsGzYy
Three companies pioneered this Internet-only synthetic foam business. Tuft and Needle (the best value of this group), higher priced Casper, and Leesa (the least uncomfortable of this group according to my correspondents) pioneered this type of selling and appear to have found success manufacturing domestically using CertiPUR approved synthetics. My correspondents tell me that all three have good or excellent service. If you spend enough time on the Amazon site comparing cheap foam mattresses, you will come across mattresses that are identical or virtually identical to the high priced newbies. No matter how cheap or tempting an innerspring crushed and rolled into a box might be, avoid the temptation. No one has yet figured out how to keep the springs from deforming under the pressure. Amazon is simply not judgmental or even apparently responsible for third-party sellers.
Some Chinese mattresses are shipped to the USA almost but not quite ready to deliver to you. A tiny detail or two finishes the mattress and one of these “details” is adding the made in California, or Arizona white “do not remove” law labels. I can’t provide more detail without violating a confidence, but the stories I have been hearing make a whole lot of sense. I used to be amazed at the low prices for low quality on Amazon, especially when they claim to be made in the USA. When I learned about this loophole, what you younger readers would call a “hack”, things started to make sense again. I think that the phrase “let the buyer beware” should have been coined for the mattress industry. However, it goes back to Roman times, “Caveat Emptor” which shows you that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Phony ratings on Amazon and elsewhere are a whole ‘nother story that you can read about on my website. I painfully learned to pay no attention to these phony five star ratings when I first learned how to shop for almost anything without leaving the comfort of my home. I always trust the one and two star ratings and take the others with the proverbial grain of salt.
Believing claims that a transaction is “Risk Free on a website can be just the opposite when you buy a boxed mattress from anyone. The entire transaction is far from risk-free unless you are below thirty or maybe thirty-five years old, and if you are fit and athletic, have a BMI between 22 and 30, and don’t object to sleeping in a new shallow dampish tub melted into the plastic foam by your body heat starting as soon as you lie down. If you are young and fit, and you can get used to any warmth and odor, you still might have a problem knowing that you are inhaling noxious VOCs that are unavoidable with memory foams. These outgassing chemical molecules are strongly suspected of being carcinogenic and mutagenic as well as a known an asthma irritant. If you take a chance you are not likely to become ill from such a short exposure, but if or when you want a refund, you will find out how easy, “easy returns” often are just the opposite. If you have an Amex card, it is wise to use it because American Express almost always takes the customer’s side in refund disputes. Bank Cards vary considerably.
If this reality check has not discouraged you, and you are youthful, neither obese nor boney, you still do not have to overpay for similar and identical mattresses if you buy from Amazon or Macy’s (sale time only). Amazon has a rotating selection from overseas that are very fairly priced for what they are. Some are shipped with a seam open or some other minor finishing detail. A local factory, usually in California or Arizona, closes the seam and attaches a made in USA label, as is the custom. Apparently completely legal! Amazon sells well-sewn 80# + or- bags of synthetic foam for $100-$300 without a lot of hoopla.
Saatva, https://goo.gl/hL6fTH better known for innersprings, charges a little more for their American made synthetic foam mattress than does Casper and competition, but they have a fancier website and deliver their Loom and Leaf petrochemical foam mattress in the natural uncrushed “inflated” state. It costs them more to ship. I also believe that Saatva’s foam, unlike many others, is also made in America, but while neither better nor worse than most, it s expensive because someone has to pay for Saatva’s national advertising. And “If it costs more, it must be better” marketing philosophy. Most Internet-only mattress sellers promise that their synthetic foam mattress is comfortable for anyone and everyone, One Size Fits All–If you believe this and buy from the internet-only sellers, until/unless you find that you were fooled, you also no longer have to go out in the world and actually shop in a mattress store. Thousands of people have found the “no physical shopping” argument very compelling and are now trying to figure out how to start over again even if they lose their $700 because they can’t figure out how to return the inflated foam. You even get up to four months home trial to get used to the warmth and odors. These extras are possibly worth something to anyone who doesn’t know how easy it is to get shopping assistance from this little old bed guy.
My mission is to make it easier for you to be able to shop confidently. I apologize for the length of these essays. Because of arthritis I can no longer type. I dictate, and talking is easy and relatively speedy. So brevity is the victim. If you stick with it, you will know more than most “Sale professionals”. I really believe that knowledge is power.
Mattresses are a “blind item”. They all more-or-less look alike. A major visual-only difference is the so-called pillow top mattresses. A pillow top on a mattress exists only to make the mattress appear to be more costly than it really is. Pillow top mattresses can be hard, soft, medium, or anything in between, but they are most often filled with soft materials. Soft fibrous materials like silk, wool, and cotton, crush down quickly and depressions result. There are no rules or standards. A pillow top on a mattress really is only a few minutes of strictly decorative sewing when the external cover is being assembled. The sewer, using dark thread for contrast, skillfully creates the appearance of a separate pillow. The actual surface feel of the mattress is completely dependent upon what padding is inside directly under the covering. Ironically, this “trick” rarely fails to work when a skilled commission salesperson “demonstrates the value” to uninformed shoppers.
All two of these mammoth companies buy many of their components from mattress ticking to innerspring coils ready-to-assemble from the Leggett and Platt Company, a giant publicly owned business that reaches back to the nineteenth century, with factories in China and strategically around the USA. Prior to the mid-nineties, mattress companies made most of their components in-house. The impetus for the major change was as usual, money. A revolving door of new owner/investors sold off cheaply acquired manufacturing assets such as multi-million dollar coil winding machines as a means of getting instant cash returns on their investment. The eager buyers were newly minted Chinese mattress makers catering to China’s emerging middle class, at first. Chinese government cheap loans made everything seem to work. Actually, it did for the rapidly growing Chinese mattress industry that now sends a stream of containers of compressed mattresses across the Pacific ready for too-trusting Internet shoppers
Good values and good mattresses can easily be found made in the USA, but our country is being flooded with big bags of dubious foam and misrepresented innersprings. I have no reliable information from Canadian ports but I know that both Keetsa and Zinni Mattress sell imports. If the only issues were comfort and durability this would not be such a big deal. Your health can be at risk. China has no laws that control what goes into and what comes out of the foam as Volatile Outgassing Compounds (VOC’s) in mattresses. I am not by nature a suspicious person, but this advice now inures to your benefit. I do my best to recommend only genuine quality mattresses when you take the survey and ask me to “virtually shop” for you. Familiar brand names are no guarantee at all because they can be so easily counterfeited.
American manufacturers that sold off their coil winding machinery to China in the nineties now have to buy coils from importers and domestic coil makers at much higher cost than they used to cost when making them in-house. One solution, a very bad one for consumers, and a very profitable one for the manufacturers, has been the proliferation of mattresses made without any steel coil support systems. So-called foam hybrids with a foam support core are really bad. In my experience, all of the best mattresses are those made with innerspring support cores. The best of these innerspring units are those that are generally described as “independent pocketed coil”. The cheapest springs, so-called “Bonnell” springs can be found in Saatva “Luxury Innerspring” mattresses in a complicated sandwich that includes a layer of better coils and various pads, but no latex.
While coil springs can be found in all price ranges, better coils make better mattresses. All of the major brands now have one or more lines that have only mysterious chemical based synthetic foams, both in the softer foam top layer, and the firmer foam in the core. These mattresses can feel pretty good during a fifteen-minute test in a store, but fail miserably in the short and medium term at home. Few survive for the long term. One common denominator that links the majority of all mass-produced mattresses is the ubiquitous upholstery material “memory foam”. I can give you many reasons not to buy any mattress made with memory foam, but I promised you a minimum of negatives, and I want to save something for a thorough article just about memory foam.
When you walk into a showroom with a sea of identical- appearing white or beige or brown cloth rectangles, mattresses often so thick that you need a stepstool to test them, you are usually at the tender mercies of a commission salesperson. Your salesperson may be a nice person to his friends and family, and probably is. However, the “Golden Rule” stops at the door. It morphs into something like “ Sell or Starve”, because no sale=no pay. The commission dollars are often much higher on higher profit items. These “push” brands are frequently completely unknown off-brands. None of this promotes a consumer-friendly environment. Your best way to avoid being taken advantage of is to gain a little knowledge before you set out to shop.
All of the previous comments are based on shopping at a bricks and mortar store. Shopping well on the Internet requires even higher levels of mattress education. You can acquire mattress-shopping expertise fairly well by spending time on the Old Bed Guy as well elsewhere such as really credible Consumer Reports, and credible-seeming Sleep Like the Dead and The Mattress Underground. More important detail on this topic at: https://goo.gl/v3994i. Sadly, the rest of the Internet seems to offer you only websites linked directly or indirectly to mattress makers and sellers. These classic pay-to-play advice sites are looking out for their clients and looking for their monthly check. If you are trying to be methodical and thorough you can’t pass up the link above.
A guaranteed way for you to easily and safely get more and pay less is by buying at factory direct prices and thereby eliminating the typical 100% retailer’s markup. Retailers, in order to meet their costs of doing business and possibly make a profit, double the factory price. Markup is the difference between what the factory charges and the price on the big price tag. Profit is what might be left over after all occupancy, advertising, salaries, commissions, warehousing, record keeping, sidewalk sweeping, etc. Retail stores are having a hard time these days because of the power of the Internet to sell everything and anything.
If you get better quality and better prices dealing directly with the maker as I claim, you can ask yourself, what’s the catch? That depends on so many possibilities, easy for me to spot, not so easy for you. The catch is really different with different individual shoppers more than with different mattress sellers. Older people who are not very comfortable using a computer and often resistant to change, tend to prefer the convenience and familiarity of shopping in a local bricks and mortar store. Their children and grandchildren often with little or no memory of what life was like before the Internet find buying a mattress on the Internet a useful convenience.
When you buy locally you almost always have to shop in what I call the “mattress maze”. No matter how many stores you visit you will find that making a decision only gets more and more difficult. Even if you write down all the “cutesy” mattress names, and not forget to write down the pre-haggling price, after only two stores it usually becomes a blur when you try to recall the “feel” of even one mattress that you liked. Making it even more difficult for you are the salespeople, now called retail sales associates (RSA’s), who will tell you anything that they think they have to tell you to get you to buy. Truth in mattress stores is at least as unchallenged as truth in politics. “Truthiness” is in.
Mattress shopping on the Internet is now dominated by what I unflatteringly call snake-oil peddlers. A direct reference to the 19th century traveling medicine shows that served as small town entertainment, and a source of alcohol filled medicine bottles for shoppers who “never” drink alcohol. Many of these patent medicines also contained cocaine making them even more attractive for a dollar or two. Coca Cola had both substances back when they first started. In 2017 modern day snake oil mattress peddlers are delivering amazingly small cartons from which standard size mattresses can be retrieved needing only a sharp knife to start the process. These vacuum packed mattresses have had all the gases squeezed out before they start the journey from China or near your home. The domestic one’s may likely have locally made chemical foams that have passed the stringent CertiPur laboratory tests. Your tender lungs almost the only tests for the imported petrochemical foams. When the foam re-inflates over the next day or two, the noxious molecules start outgassing again. Chemical memory foam or all-synthetic latex (a Casper exclusive) is not biodegradable as is foamed latex. The outgassing will continue for centuries in a landfill somewhere. The gas doesn’t stick around down here. It escapes to the upper atmosphere where it increases global warming. Synthetic foam, a product that has only existed for about fifty years has done a lot of damage to the planet as well as to many “good nights”.
Casper Mattress marketers recognized everything negative I have written here about retail store shopping and set out to make a mattress to advertise as “comfortable for all” (even if it isn’t), could be inexpensively shipped or delivered anywhere in the country, and could be sold so incredibly profitably that they really didn’t even really want the mattresses that failed the comfort trial to have to be returned. When you have a ready-to-deliver cost of $100 and sell something for $800, you do not have to sell very many to pay the rent. There is NO way to actually return the mattresses 99% of the time. The same goes for all of Casper’s hundreds of new competitors. When I find the time, I intend to write an essay about this particular misrepresentation peculiar to the new boxed foam mattress business.
It was a wonderful business idea for the first few like Casper, Leesa, and Tuft and Needle. By now the market is overloaded with hundreds of similar websites with ever-wilder claims competing as hard as they can. But there is only enough for the pioneers and it is easy for me to imagine thousands of people waiting for refunds that will never come from the newby company they bought from.
The best way I know of for you to get your money’s worth, is to find a suitable mattress directly from a well-established manufacturer that sells directly to the consumer at factory direct prices. When you send in a survey, and I go virtually shopping for you, my focus is directed to the factory-direct shops that I trust. Some factory-direct shops have informative web sites and some deliver almost anywhere. The strong US dollar that makes imports so expensive in Canada is not so strong that Canadians should settle for overpriced Canadian mattresses. When you can avoid paying retail, a final price that is almost always 2X or more than the factory price, your savings are real and large. I list some exceptional factory direct sources in various essays on this blog.
When I was in business, I was involved and worked many states and regions, but that was almost 20 years ago. Today, my breadth and depth of knowledge as far as what mattress are made, and how they are made, in the Greater New York area is up to date and encyclopedic. Every major maker has a nearby plant and while New York has relatively few mattress makers, New Jersey has plenty.
When I virtually shop for anyone that indicates on the survey that they must see before they buy, and do not live in the NYC area, when their budget is up to it, I recommend a very small range of Aireloom mattresses and one Simmons Beautyrest from Macy’s. In some cities with a Bloomingdales and no Macy’s the mattresses may be available from Bloomingdales. The specific Beautyrest Black Lillian is the best Beautyrest that I know of from in-store testing and some internet searching. There are hundreds of Beautyrest names, and if the name is different, you will probably will not get the latex, or the extra few years of wear. Seven or eight years is always better than the four or five that is more commonplace. Budgets only go half as far at a retail store.
Another reason to be wary is the flat out misrepresentation that is present in most of the numerous new internet-only websites such as Casper, Saatva, Tuft and Needle, Leesa, and Yogafoam (and about 300 more). An expert examination of quality and content claims often discloses no or little connection with the truth. These sites pander to the most cautious of shoppers with extravagant “free” trials and other apparently consumer friendly policies, and when they have the money left to carry through with the promises usually do. I have too little information on Yogafoam, but the other three mentioned above give excellent service. My issue is less with the service than the problematic mattress-like bags of crushed foams that they foist on the unwary. If something is too good to be true, it isn’t.
The only “truth” is that almost everyone who publicly judges mattresses on the web has some kind of financial agenda that pre-determines the outcome. Claims of comfort or durability are always subjective and since they are not provable can not be called true.
Claims of value can only be slightly more objective, and then, only if they could compare two identical mattresses offered at different prices. Consumer Reports, the only consumer oriented and supported magazine, has made legitimate efforts from time to time. The quality of their advice varies, but you often can get very good guidance. Where CR, in my opinion, is completely wrong is in their advice to always haggle. This is rarely possible or necessary when buying from Internet or factory direct merchants. I have tried to comprehend why they do so and have come to a conclusion that it is geography. They are physically located just north of NYC and tend to buy all of their test products from local stores.
Where you buy your mattress is as or more important than what you buy. It is so difficult to know what you are getting into. Spending half an hour lying down in a store with a salesperson at your feet, does not guarantee that when the mattress gets to your bedroom, it will be identical to the sample, and/or still feel comfortable to you. Generally speaking, you are far better off in a department store than a sleep shop. When or if you need a replacement for a sagging foam mattress, you don’t want to be ripped off and abused on the cost of the exchange, you want a comfortable mattress at an affordable price. Family owned and operated factory direct stores tend to be the best for value and service. Ikea, Sam’s, Costco, and other big box stores can often have bargains, but sometimes with questionable or incompetent after delivery service. Internet mattress sellers are all over the place ranging from ultimate integrity for one 162 year old NYC factory-direct with mattresses that Consumer Reports highly recommends, to 300 (or more) overnight-wonder startups on the Internet that bring in a container of Chinese foam mattresses and then disappear.
Americans prefer to sleep on innerspring mattresses. With the recent introduction of the hybrid innerspring at affordable prices, the popularity of innerspring support is now at an all time high. Many mattress makers offer less functional ” foam hybrids” that rely on various combinations of synthetic foams and no innerspring. Foam are or can usually be excellent when used as padding or cushioning, but fails miserable when called on to feel springy. You would not like riding in a car with springs made of foam instead of steel.
Some foam returns rapidly to its original shape when pressure is released, but these are not “memory” foams. You have seen the TV commercials with a hand pressed into foam showing how slowly memory foam returns to original shape. This slow-return foam is the opposite of what is needed for proper support. As the night drags on, a sleeping person sinks deeper and deeper and the foam gets harder and harder. It does not take long to question why something that felt so good in a quick trial in the store, can feel so much like wet warm hard sand after a few hours.
Nevertheless, because all synthetic petroleum or natural-gas based foam costs mattress makers so much less than steel springs, many manufacturers, seeking the last dime of profit, misrepresents these spring-free mattresses as hybrids. Only a little lie in an industry in love with the “big lie”. By the easy act of calling a layer of firmer foam a “support layer”, a greedy mattress maker can add hundreds of dollars to his profits. The Tempur-Sealy International company, a new company formed when TempurPedic took over a faltering Sealy, has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the misleading advertising that has fooled millions of consumers into sleeping on second class spring free mattresses.
After more than twenty years of propagating this lie, Tempur Sealy has started to produce new Tempur mattresses with steel coils. Tempur Flex is the name, and they feel almost like real innerspring hybrid mattresses. Much too expensive. Tempur-Sealy International and their captive Stearns and Foster produce almost 40% of all North American mattresses. A downsizing and combining of facilities is causing the end of employment for many traditionally trained executives. Almost everyone in all three named companies is busy learning a new task. If this was for the benefit of the consumer, it would be a good thing. But it is not. Consumer complaints about these brands are at an all time high.
This changeover to innerspring from all foam for Tempur could not have come at a better time for Tempur-Sealy as it might cushion the blow that can happen as a result of an “its about time” class action lawsuit calling for them to account for chemicals used in the manufacture of their Tempur memory foam. The plaintiffs claim that Tempur has known for a long time how potentially harmful the chemicals that emerge from their mattresses into people’s lungs are known to be. Some of the details can be heard in this CBS News report:
My attitude is that I know of no Tempur/Sealy/Stearns and Foster mattress that I am willing to recommend at this time. The other major consolidation is a super-sized conglomerate formed when a money fund bought Serta, and provided Serta with the cash to pick up a struggling Simmons. Simmons seems to be improving, starting with the high priced Black line first. These two brands have some more forward thinking ideas, and there are several of their products that are good enough for me to recommend when other factors are appropriate. One major and overwhelmingly important difference between these two giants deals with the synthetic foams that drive their profits.
Serta and Simmons last year announced that starting now, all of the synthetic foams that they will use will be foam that has passed the CertiPur US chemical purity tests. Sealy and Stearns have also belatedly jumped on the bandwagon. Safer? Maybe. Comfortable? Possibly briefly. Durable? No. Doesn’t yet mean an absence of VOC’s in their products, but if the foams they use are approved, the amount of outgassing is within arbitrary limits.
I believe that the reason driving Tempur-Sealy to continue using the same foams that have given rise to the current class action suit, is that changing in mid-stream might jeopardize any Tempur-Sealy legal defense.
The Leggett and Platt company, America’s largest and most respected maker and importer of coil springs commissioned a qualified university to comparison test innerspring vs. synthetic foam mattresses to once and for all put to bed any doubt that innersprings sleep coolest. Scientific test results proved a full 28% cooler. There is an essay somewhere on the OBG with more details. The coolest padding available for any mattress is the good old durable and naturally cooler latex foam. When you sleep on a mattress that has a coil core and only natural latex padding, you have the coolest to sleep on mattress of all. Not cool (two ways) is sleeping on most memory foam, and all solid foam in any combination.
Improved innerspring construction such as the Charles P. Rogers Zero-Gravity pressure-free Powercore that Consumer Reports named the best of all innerspring mattresses in 2016, and the Simmons Beautyrest tall twisted-wire coil concept as found in their “Black” Beautyrests, are better than anything since the original pocketed coil was introduced over a hundred years ago. Some new Sealy Posturepedic mattresses have an innovative “coil in coil” “Joey” core that promises improved comfort. They still have a ways to go to equal the zero pressure Powercore coils invented by Charles P. Rogers only a few years ago. All of these newly designed coils are an improvement over the basic pocketed coils in use for more than a century.
When you combine a superior spring core, and stratified layers of natural talalay latex, with the lushest layers reserved for the top, you have a mattress almost as good as it gets. Rogers’ owns the only machines that can do the complicated spring winding and assembling and are now offering two versions of their Consumer Reports top-rated Estate Powercore with models featuring added layers of their proprietary nano coil. It makes the already heavy mattress a bit heavier, but adds a softer dimension than available with only latex, or latex strong enough to survive the twenty five year life expectancy.
For the past several years I have been recommending hybrid innerspring/latex mattresses from the factory direct resource, Charles P. Rogers and Consumer Reports unequivocally call them “the best”. I am gratified to see the whole industry move in unison to switch to the hybrid construction. I still favor the Powercore, but the differences have been narrowed. There will still be quality variations, but in general, you, the consumer now have more and better choices for 2017. Macy’s has been offering a latex hybrid from Aireloom that does not have the price saving afforded by buying factory direct, but for people who prefer to buy locally, the mattresses are better than many others and are widely distributed. In this case, your bedroom will be the laboratory and you will be footing the bill. You cannot go wrong, or almost cannot go wrong if you remember that no padding is as good as, or better than, naturally cool latex. The alternative mattresses, the synthetic foam, and pneumatic air bladder, or some combination of all or any of them had made large inroads in innerspring territory, but the wheel has turned. Close to 90% of North Americans still sleep on innerspring mattresses and usually pay much less than for “magic” alternate sleep.
Various synthetic or latex foams without innersprings are a distant second but gaining, and air mattresses are insignificant but do have one strong maker that CR recommends, Sleep Number. I am very negative about Sleep Number because I have grown weary of the plaintive letters about the noise and the trench that rapidly and inevitably forms right in the middle. In addition, Sleep Number mattresses, in my opinion, get virtually any comfort that they offer from the mounds of soon-to-sag chemical foam heaped on top. Also, this is not the CertiPur kind of foam. For many years the air bladder mattresses were not much more than thick camper mattress blow-ups. However Sleep Number figured out how to use very small air bladders with thick and cheap foam padding. I never recommend any bed with air bladders or air pumps. Not just because of the noisy noise than annoys nightly, but because they are troublesome and less comfortable than good conventional mattresses.
Adjustable beds are appealing to a lot of aging boomers. Chinese imports have forced electromechanical bed prices down to as low as $500 at retail. Competition is keeping them down for careful shoppers. I do not write about them by name because I do not believe that I have sufficient information at this time about many new ones coming soon to our shores. A major fault with any adjustable bed is that it requires a bendy mattress. I do not know of any bendy hybrid innerspring mattresses worth recommending. So I don’t ever recommend mattresses for adjustable bases. To make them flexible requires omitting features that also make them durable. Instead of the 4-5 years useful life you might expect from a new major brand mattress, you can take off a year or two. Most major mattress makers buy Chinese-sourced adjustable metal bases wholesale from Leggett and Platt and package them with their mattresses. Cost is about $500 higher than a plain lay-flat foundation, but if you can sleep on your back, the only suitable position when the lights go off, you may like the versatility for reading and watching TV. If you sleep on your side or stomach, an adjustable is just a frustration. You can achieve the same with a flat bed and some inexpensive wedges. This is how I deal with the opportunity to spend more time on my new innerspring hybrid. I can spend an evening sitting up, with a wedge also under my knees, and work, read, or watch TV, and when lights-off happens, the wedges hit the floor.
You aging boomers have to be careful about your sleeping position. Sleep Apnea, although not contagious, can be very serious and if you have it your doctor may prescribe side sleeping as well as wearing a CPAP pressure mask to keep your breathing from dangerous long halts. Before you shell out a ton of money for an adjustable bed, think about buying some foam wedges. Wedges cost next to nothing and never need servicing. Adjustable beds need a lot. I wonder how it feels to spend thousands on an adjustable bed only to find out that the only available sleeping position is on your back, and your doctor tells you that you will live longer if you sleep on your side.
There have always been a small minority of counter-culture shoppers who choose alternate sleep-systems such as air, or water. They will buy anything that their mother does not approve of. Synthetic foams such as Tempur memory foam have won over a large and increasing market share thanks to brilliant incredibly costly advertising. Tempur-Pedic has made so much money that when Sealy/Stearns and Foster stumbled and lost 90% of stock value in a matter of weeks. Tempur could take out their checkbook and win Sealy/S&F for chump change. There are now two companies in the USA that are responsible for assembling 75% to 80% of all mattresses sold in the USA. Tempur/Sealy(S&F) and Serta/Simmons. These major brand labels are busy re-organizing and cutting costly components from their mattresses.
Shoppers are finding it hard to tell brands apart from the way they are made and look. TempurPedic is actually pushing innerspring after damning it for the last thirty years. Brand name for the mattress is Tempur Flex. The Sealy Posturepedic division is using Beautyrest style pocketed coil innerspring cores, and taking the expensive coil springs completely out of their lower cost-higher profit solid foam spring-free Posturepedics.
All kinds of new names for chemical foams are coming out. Each one starts out from a few gallons of petroleum or a few thousand cubic feet of natural gas. Some have added oils from plants with the same chemical characteristics. But do sound more “green”, even if they are not. A common denominator is the overuse of the word “cool” in dozens of mattresses that are upholstered with the inexpensive and warm kind of foam=the memory foam that started off as petroleum and some Dow, DuPont, Cargill, or Monsanto chemicals. Stay tuned.
Luxury-Hotel named mattresses deserve special mention. A few that are made with time-honored pre-war designs but making use of modern materials are extremely good. Check out the Charles P. Rogers St. Regis, another Consumer Report top pick for back sleepers and “best mattress for couples” and more from other consumer magazines. The St. Regis started off in the 1920’s as a mattress for this one NYC hotel and has morphed into both a mattress for the hospitality industry including luxury Airbnb rentals, and anyone who wants a very good mattress for their home for an unusually low price. This is traditional hand made quality that has been in production since before I was born! They seem to last forever, even longer than the ones that made them famous in the thirties when mattresses were expected to last at least fifteen years. However, the fat and soft readily disposable mattresses sold by major hotel chains are fun for a few months,and then, absence of durability and usable warranties, makes for a “never-again” scenario. I doubt that anyone has ever bought a second mattress from a luxury chain hotel. The hotels that use these special-purpose mattresses expect to recycle yearly, and at the very very longest, every two or three years: you don’t. One year is the oldest mattress you are likely to sleep on in any hotel chain. When you can rent the room out one night at a time for more than $125,ooo a year, you do not give your customer a sagging or dirty mattress. The big mattress brands are happy to oblige with a cheap and comfortable mattress that is as disposable as their towels before any wear is noticed.
I am sorry to sound all negative about the un-natural foams, but there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel. At least for the people who have the patience to read through this essay, you will learn that you can find high quality mattress at affordable prices. The power of knowledge can free you up from “let the buyer beware” Coiled wire innerspring units are the heart and core of most the mattresses sold in the United States. More than 90% of all innerspring mattress makers have springs supplied by the Leggett and Platt Company. Many also buy coils imported from Asia and South Africa. These are Bonnell style at the lower prices, and various pocketed coils at higher prices. All L&P springs used on this continent are American made. There are a few smaller spring makers and even smaller importers. Leggett and Platt is a very successful component manufacturer that makes most of the springs, foams and textiles used by the furniture and automotive industry. Over many decades they have bought and absorbed most of their competition. This is the major reason why most brand name mattresses have virtually identical specifications for their insides and outside. They are all assembled from the same parts bins.
Machinery to manufacture quality steel wire coil spring cores is very expensive and requires highly skilled labor. A handful of long-established European mattress makers such as Hastens, Duxiana, VI-Spring, Carpe Diem, and Americans Charles P. Rogers established 1855, in the East, and McCroskey Mattress in the West, established 1899, still prefer make their own wire coils and maintain control over quality and innovation. Charles P. Rogers, using recently developed computer guided agglomeration machines in their New Jersey workrooms has been able to get very close the holy grail, a mattress that feels luxurious but still provides healthful support to the widest possible body mass types, and according to Consumers testing, still shows no wear in eight simulated years of machine torture. These two characteristics used to be mutually exclusive and have eluded the industry since its beginning. McCroskey with over a century of experience has refined the original wire tied coil on their trusty old machines to function as well as the superannuated design can get. The McCroskey coils are stiffer and not as flexible as the Rogers “Powercore” but so much better than any open-coil spring you may likely find in another name brand mattress at any price. McCroskey puts soft padding on top of the hard coils and has a loyal following from financially successful Silicon Valley types. Canadians can buy excellent hybrids from the Marshall Mattress Company in Toronto. I am told that owing to shrinking Canadian dollars many Canadians buy in the USA.
The European luxury imports rely on exotic materials such as hair from butchered horses, raised for meat with the hair as a by-product, more than innovative innersprings, with one outstanding exception. Scandinavian maker, Duxiana makes a very good sleep set that relies more on higher and more flexible coils, and all-latex padding than American big brands. Their beds tend to be very comfortable on the soft side with average durability. The construction of the innerspring unit, the thickness and metallurgy of the coil wire, the manner of tempering the wire, the number and height of the coils, the method of fastening them to each other, and the support built into the edges, can be tailored to provide a far wider range of comforts to mattresses when you make your own. Each mattress maker whether he buys pre-assembled components from L&P or they assemble from scratch, seeks to make a desired “feel” and comfort life. The feel can be manipulated for a desired firmness with little or no cost difference but with major quality differences. The number of years, or sometimes months, that a mattress will provide comfort and support cannot be faked using inexpensive material. Ultimately, the highest quality mattresses will have more coils with more wire in each coil than a pretend-good mattress. These long-life electrically tempered and indurated coils will be wrapped in soft textile pockets and fastened each to the other in a flexible mat that makes the core of the mattress. This mode of construction permits the mattress to have varying firmness in zones that can provide ideal support for any body. The mattress I sleep on has four or five different strength coils depending on where it is in the mattress. Opinions vary but the consensus believes that proper healthful support requires springs that are soft enough to yield under pressure points and firm enough to support the weight of the occupants without sagging in the middle.
The “Powercore” mentioned above in my opinion is the current pinnacle of spring design and manufacture. Imported from New Jersey. The average Charles P Rogers queen mattress weighs around 140 pounds. The average top-price Sealy or Simmons weighs in at barely more than a hundred pounds. Consumer reports weighed a Sealy Posturepedic and found all of 80#, mostly synthetic foams. The difference is simply more steel and denser, more durable padding from the 162 year old Rogers. When you buy a $1500 mattress direct from a mattress maker with no middlemen expenses and profits, you are getting $1500 dollars worth of mattress. When you buy the same price mattress from a retailer, you are buying a $700 wholesale mattress and $800 worth of markup and profit for the retailer. This is the reason why I try to point you towards good factory direct resources.
The exterior of a mattress is made of woven or knitted fibers that form a sack to contain the springs, upholstery filling and insulation. Some knitted covers offer more flexibility than woven covers and can feel demonstrably superior on mattresses with soft surfaces. All woven or knitted covers permit free passage to air helping keep the interior of the mattress dry. Many mattresses have pillow tops, which add the appearance of a layer of soft padding. Appearances can be deceiving. If a maker, for whatever reason, puts firm foams above the sewing line that makes it look pillowy, you have a firm top mattress. Mattresses tufted with strings through and through tend to be firmer, but no guarantee that this is always the case. I have tried a Kluft set that has all the visual cues of being very firm, and it is far from it.
Between the top of the springs and the flame retardant is a layer or layers of resilient padding known as the upholstery, and one layer of an insulating barrier, similar to a rug underlayment, under the upholstery to keep the padding and the springs separate. The padding can be virtually anything that will provide the cushioning and durability that the mattress designer is trying to achieve. The goal is to make a mattress that will provide years of healthful comfort with only insignificant permanent compression of the upholstery materials. “Divots” appear when the upholstery gets crushed and stays down. High quality foams both ‘warm” synthetic urethanes and naturally cool latex meet these needs better than traditional vegetable and animal fibers. The perforated foams can also permit slightly more airflow to diminish the feeling of heat that is part of the memory foam sleep experience. The best innerspring/latex hybrids have only the springs and the layers of latex, and possibly added all steel NANO springs, beside the textile flame barrier.
Many mattresses at all price ranges are padded with cotton fibers that have been compressed and felted. Historically, long before innersprings were invented there were two choices for an affluent mattress shopper. Cotton felt or animal hair. Hog and cattle hair being short was usually glued or sewn together into pad that was firm but relatively short lived. Horse mane and tail hair, a byproduct of the South American, European, and Asian meat industry, were then and still are used in top end hand, faux-antique, luxury European mattresses. You don’t have to kill a horse to harvest the hair, but in reality, virtually all upholstery quality horsehair comes from Mongolian and Argentinian horses that were slaughtered for their meat and hair. When you pay thousands or tens of thousands for an ultra-luxury English or European mattress it has the hair of many dead horses as a main ingredient depending on how you feel, you might consider this to be animal cruelty. Whether the horse is slaughtered on an Argentine estancia or the steppes of Mongolia, the hair destined for Europe makes its way to Switzerland where the animal waste is removed, especially from the tail, and the hair is steamed and hand braided which makes it springy and curly with little or no odor. There is no such commerce in the United States but it is legal to use imported horsehair in upholstery and mattresses if it has been sterilized, and some makers still do. Shifman and Kluft are major users for their retro mattresses.
For 2017 mattresses will continue to be made out of hundreds of kinds of foams and coils (or no coils) and continue to sell at prices that often bear no relationship to the cost to manufacture. New ways to mold chemical foam to have the appearance of a steel coil spring have appeared. This is just, in my opinion, another new scam. Fortunately, it is also possible to buy a very good mattress that has only two moving parts, naturally cool latex, and strong supportive comfort coils. Mattresses with the fewest components are usually the best.