It’s quickly becoming the new normal to shop for mattresses online: Consumer Reports saw a threefold increase in online mattress purchases among its members over the last five years. But with this demand comes a wealth of new options — and marketing gimmicks — as mattress companies vie for business, making mattress shopping more confusing now than ever before.
So let’s revisit the basics. In this increasingly crowded and competitive market, how can you be sure you’re buying a safe, high-quality mattress? There are five basic elements to look for.
All mattresses sold in the United States must meet flammability standards, as regulated by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). This means mattresses should contain a flame retardant in case of fire. Fiberglass is an affordable, and very common choice for mattress manufacturers, but should be avoided — especially in light of recent legal action.
Fiberglass is often considered safe if kept contained under the mattress cover, which is why many mattress companies warn against removing it.
The problem arises when fiberglass is released into the air, as has been seen in recent Zinus mattress lawsuits alleging serious injuries and property damage as a result of fiberglass exposure and Zinus’ failure to warn against it. (If you’ve owned a Zinus mattress, you may be able to pursue compensation for the damage.)
Fortunately, there are safer alternatives to fiberglass. Other mattress companies may rely on natural fire retardants like wool, silica, or plant fibers, which not only effectively protect against fire but can reduce your carbon footprint.
How do you know if a “natural” or “organic” mattress lives up to its claims? Look at the label.
Try to avoid synthetic materials, which contain harmful chemicals that could leak out of the foam and into the air you breathe.
If that isn’t possible — note that natural mattresses may contain fewer but still some synthetics — look for certifications. Certification shows that a third-party organization has verified a mattress’s emissions and production processes as safe.
The following certifications are generally considered to be industry standard:
- For natural materials like latex or cotton: Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS) or Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
- For memory foam mattresses: CertiPur, OEKO-TEX, and Greenguard
- For the strongest restriction of total VOC (volatile organic compound) emissions: Greenguard GOLD
- Other notable certifications: MADE SAFE, eco-Institut, Rainforest Alliance
Today, more layers are marketed as more comfortable. But the fact remains that mattress layers should fall into three basic zones: an upper “comfort” zone for pressure relief, a middle “support” zone for back support, and a “base” zone for durability.
Most of the best mattresses on the market range from one layer per zone to another one or two layers. Anything beyond these three-to-five layers may not be necessary.
In fact, the more layers, the higher the likelihood that they will shift around over time and impair your bed’s stability and durability. At best, you may be paying for more than you need.
Avoiding fiberglass can make you feel safe in your choice of mattress, but a firmness that matches your sleeping style is equally important. The wrong mattress firmness can result in other types of health risks.
To find the right firmness, you can consider two things: your sleeping style and body type (a quick Google search will bring up the recommended firmness for these).
The challenge is that, while mattress firmness can be measured, it is ultimately up for interpretation. There is no single standard.
When comparing products, keep in mind that different manufacturers use their own methods to measure and describe firmness, and it also varies between mattress types. Memory foam is typically softer than spring coil, so what may be considered “soft” for a spring coil might be “medium-firm” for memory foam.
A Long Trial Period
Most mattress companies offer a sleep trial to give you time to decide if it’s right for you. Many sleep trials allow free returns or exchanges for any reason, unlike a warranty, which only covers defects caused by the manufacturer.
Look for mattresses that come with as generous a trial as possible. Our bodies need at least a few weeks to adjust to a new sleeping surface, but the average sleep trial today is 90 to 120 nights. The longer trials run a year or more.
So you shouldn’t have to settle for anything less than a month. And you shouldn’t have to look far for information on the trial period — it’s an area mattress companies use to competitive advantage.
Parting Words of Caution
When comparing products online, be aware that:
- Fake reviews are a growing problem for consumers. Look for mattress reviews written by reputable third parties or professional mattress testers.
- “Made in USA” doesn’t necessarily mean made from raw materials that come from the USA. Mattress companies can (and do) slap a Made in USA sticker on products made with cheap and potentially unsafe materials from overseas.
- The CPSC can’t regulate everything. “CPSC has mandatory requirements for mattresses and mattress pads. The regulations are performance standards, not design standards. So they do not specify the use of specific materials or individual components,” said Nychelle Fleming, public affairs specialist at the CPSC, in response to the lack of federal action on Zinus lawsuits.
You can do your due diligence by educating yourself on the above certification standards — which are typically granted to true Made in USA products as well as safe ones — and by putting the rest to the test during your trial.