Best Cheap Mattresses
- Published on
- By Raechel Conover
In the innerspring mattress category, you could find yourself in restful bliss or toss-crazed slumber every night whether you spend $500 on cheap mattress set or upward of $5,000 on a luxurious model. Mattress makers would have you believe that every one of their models -- be it a traditional innerspring, an off-brand that arrives at your door in a vacuum-packed box, an innovative memory foam or latex mattress, or one filled with water or air -- offers a great night's sleep at the best price ever. Our recommendations for the best cheap mattresses are all innerspring mattress lines, which account for about three-quarters of the mattress market.
Cheap Mattresses Buying Guide
The top three on our list of cheap mattress sets (queen-size, including box spring) are the Serta Perfect Sleeper (starting at $560), Simmons Beautyrest Classic (starting at $477), and Sealy Posturepedic Titanium SS (starting at $391). These mid-level mattress lines include several budget models that the majority of consumer reviews say provide sleeping comfort over the long-term. Our second-best picks are the entry-level Sertapedic (starting at $330), Simmons BeautySleep (starting at $319), and Sealy Brand Traditional Innerspring (starting at $279) lines, all of which offer a decent product that users say make good choices for lighter adults and children and for occasional use by overnight guests. Concerns about durability and comfort relegate Spring Air Back Supporter (starting around $479) and off-brand/no-name mattresses to the "don't bother" end of the list.
Cheap mattresses are sold most often as a set with a box spring (i.e., foundation), and the starting prices noted in this report reflect that norm. Although mattress reviews say box springs aren't always necessary, the warranty may require that you use the one designed for the mattress, so ask the salesperson or read the information online closely.
The cheap mattress market is dominated by Sealy, Serta, and Simmons, which offer models at all price points, including the $300 to $700 Cheapism niche for a mattress/box spring set. Other brands, such as Stearns & Foster, Bassett, Kingsdown, and Englander, show up in the mid to high end of the market. Competitors such as Spring Air and Comfort Solutions (which owns the King Koil brand) sell some inexpensive innerspring mattresses, as do no-name and private label manufacturers that supply warehouse outlets and furniture stores and also sell online.
Experts are adamant about the importance of trying out a mattress before making a purchase. So if you're about to start shopping for a cheap mattress set, pick a moment when you're feeling really tired. Then quickly get yourself to the nearest mattress retailer, find the displays that fit your budget, pick one, and lie down. Take a nap for 20 minutes, assess how refreshed you feel upon waking, then move on to the next possibility. Repeat. And then repeat a few more times. Were you comfortable? Was your spine straight and your waist adequately supported? How about your neck and shoulders?
Sounds silly, perhaps, but mattress preferences are notoriously subjective and the range of possibilities -- even at the lower end of the innerspring market -- is extensive and varied. Firm, plush, or pillow-top? Pocketed coils or continuous? Polyester ticking or cotton? Eight inches thick or 13? For a product that was once more like a commodity, the amount of differentiation in today's low-priced mattress world could keep you awake at night.
And yet, it's practically impossible to comparison shop on the basis of comfort, features, or price. Online shoppers are obviously stymied on the comfort front because they can't actually test out a mattress. Wandering into a store may not help due to the industry practice of selling similar (but not necessarily identical) mattresses under different names depending on the retailer and the geographic region. Once you find a model on the showroom floor that appeals, the exact same mattress going by the same name may not be available online. Then too, some retailers continue to sell older product lines that the manufacturers' websites no longer feature. And, what's really likely to throw you, are the nonstandard names and descriptors for the guts -- the various foams, fibers, fabrics, padding, insulation, and innerspring coils -- of whatever mattress you might be considering.
Further complicating matters is the industry tradition of running near continuous sales. You can go to almost any online site and find two, and often three, prices for any given mattress: list, 50 percent off, and/or "our price" or "sale price" or something to that effect. There might also be a note saying the sale ends in three days, or at the solstice, or whenever. The point is, the sale is likely to start up again immediately. And if it doesn't, wait a while and check back. Almost no one pays list price for a mattress, cheap or otherwise.
Mattress reviews say the very cheapest mattresses -- in the $200 range -- aren't worth buying. Ditto for the no-name brands you find at discount warehouse sales. If you can stretch your budget to a maximum $700 for a queen-size mattress/foundation set, you'll probably find one that provides the support you need and the comfort you want. Although you may balk at shelling out several hundred dollars for a bed, remember that the per night cost adds up to pennies even if the mattress lasts only five years.
Regardless of price, mattress reviews agree that the most critical criterion is what feels right. It's one thing to be a well-informed mattress shopper and another to be a satisfied mattress user. Knowing coil counts and gauge size and the names of all the various padding layers while keeping a sharp eye out for discounts and sales and other frugal deals does not, sorry to say, guarantee sound and restful sleep. 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 innerspring 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.
After reading scores of mattress reviews written by consumers, we found only marginal consensus about levels of comfort and body support. Although many reviews are glowingly positive, many are strongly negative. Aside from the personal preference/experience issue, part of the difficulty in spotting a trend arises from the fact that consumers are often unaware of the particular model they bought, so reviews aren't necessarily about any one model or style (e.g., firm or plush). Rather, reviews may be lumped together as comments about Sealy Posturepedic (starting at $391), say, or Simmons Beautyrest (starting at $477) or Serta Perfect Sleeper (starting at $560), or just a brand name without further qualification. Moreover, mattress makers have recently introduced new products under different names and most of these new lines and models have yet to garner sufficient comments for us to assess whether they provide the support and comfort consumers expect.
Mattress Comfort.The amount and composition of the padding and quilting determine whether the innerspring mattress -- regardless of price -- is firm, plush, Euro-top, or pillow-top. A firm mattress contains the stiffest and the least amount of padding and is generally recommended for heavier people or those who sleep on their backs. Plush is softer and considered more comfortable for side-sleepers. A Euro-top mattress has more soft/comfort upholstery than the plush and is usually fully enclosed by the ticking. The pillow-top is softest of all, with a pillow-like pad that seems to float on, but is fully attached to, the top of the mattress. Note that manufacturers sometimes merge the designations, as in Euro-pillow-top or pillow-soft.
Mattress style aside, two people can buy the same mattress model and one will wake up all out of sorts and another will feel as though s/he slept on a cloud. Take, for example, a Sealy Posturepedic mattress. Reviews of the line (rather than a specific mattress model) found on Viewpoints veer positive but are pulled down by complaints. Consider two illustrative reviews: One consumer writes of having stuck with the brand for decades and says it provides the support needed to relieve the effects of aging; another reports the formation of ridges and gullies in the mattress after a couple of months and waking up with headaches and body aches every morning. In comments on Overstock about the Serta Alleene Plush (item is out of stock), a Sertapedic (starting at $330) model, one mattress review likens the experience to sleeping on the floor while another says it feels just right -- not too hard and not too soft. Simmons Beautyrest mattresses (the line in general) garner similar backing and zapping in mattress reviews, again on Viewpoints, where some consumers report blissful, undisturbed sleep while others gripe about sagging mattresses and sore bodies.
Sleep Like the Dead, a website devoted to, well, sleeping, has analyzed hundreds of mattress reviews from online message boards and drawn conclusions shoppers might find useful. According to the data collected, innerspring mattresses are the least comfortable when compared to latex, memory foam, air, water, and futon mattresses (which win on the comfort scale in descending order, starting with latex). Among innerspring brands, Sealy Posturepedic takes the prize for comfort, followed by Serta, Simmons Beautyrest, Kingsdown, and Stearns & Foster. Indeed, among the reviews for the limited number of specific and current models that we could find, many were quite favorable.
Starting with Sealy, the Posturepedic Cooper Mountain Firm () is one that impresses users who find it relieves back pain and helps them sleep through the night, according to mattress reviews on US-Mattress. In assessments of the Sealy Federation Select (II) Plush Euro Pillowtop () posted on Link is dead, users say it's firm enough to prevent lower back pain and the 50-percent-off sale price was perfect for consumers on a budget.
Moving on to Serta, the Cromwell Firm is strongly supported in mattress reviews posted on Overstock; users rave about its comfort and one bought two more for family members. A Serta Bristol Way Euro-top queen set (item out of stock) also garners positive reviews on Overstock, where one consumer says the coils are built to last and another says the bed is very comfortable for co-sleepers.
As for Simmons, back pain sufferers report some relief after sleeping on the Beautyrest Classic Tomahawk Firm, according to reviews on US-Mattress. On Overstock, one consumer tells of overnight visitors who enjoy a comfortable night on the Beauty Sleep Fox Hollow Plush that finds its place in the guest room.
Note: this last graph shows up indented on the site; pls fix. The Spring Air Back Supporter (starting around $479) line fares less well in mattress reviews. On Good Bed, multiple users report problems with sagging, lumps, and tilting that lead to neck, back, arm, and/or leg pain. One user says the bed was fine for a few years, but then the pillow top broke down followed by the coils; as a result, he writes, getting out of bed is like climbing out of a deep hole.
Innerspring Mattress Features: Design, Coils, and Warranty
The major mattress manufacturers recently revamped their product lines, and new innerspring mattress design elements (e.g. mattress padding, comfort layers, and coil type) are intended to provide more back support and relieve so-called "pressure points" to minimize tossing and turning.
The marketing pitch for all is comfort and a sound night's sleep. Results on that score are hard to measure, but the impact on the mattress itself is obvious.
Like most things these days, mattresses have been supersized: With all the new mattress components, average mattress height has gained five inches in the past 20-odd years and stands at 14 inches and counting. This dramatic increase reflects additional design components, such as extra comfort layers -- more padding atop the innerspring coils -- and more and thicker quilting layers stitched beneath the ticking that encases the mattress -- all of which ostensibly enhance sleeping comfort. Two to eight comfort layers and quilting layers made of materials such as foam, visco-elastic foam, felt, polyester, cotton, egg-crate foam, and assorted fibers are the norm. The ticking can be anything from polyester and acrylic (both common on budget innerspring mattresses) to silk, wool, or cashmere (these latter fabrics more common on expensive mattresses). The pricier the mattress, the more comfort layers and quilting layers and the better the quality of those mattress components.
For the curious, here's a sampling of the variability in mattress design: At 8 inches high, the entry-level Sertapedic Dandridge Tight Top Firm (starting at $277) is topped with downy fibers and one layer of foam for comfort and then a fire-block layer atop the coils. The Simmons BeautySleep Queen Doublegate Plush Mattress Set (starting at $599) is 9.5 inches thick and has two comfort layers, one foam and one fiber layer, plus a fire-blocking layer in the quilting, while the Sealy Vinance Plush (product NA) stands 10.5 inches high and features fire-blocking fiber and convoluted foam in the quilt layer. By the way, the height of budget-priced mattresses tends to top out at about 13 inches.
Not surprisingly, the foams, fibers, fillers, and whatever manufacturers use in the comfort and quilting layers in cheaper mattresses are of lower quality than in pricier models. Experts at Mattress Reports caution that these comfort layers may deteriorate quickly, so what feels soft and pillowy in the store may feel lumpy and hard after what seems like a short period of daily use.
Mattress Coils.The use of coiled springs in mattresses dates to the late 19th century, when the hourglass-shaped Bonnell coil was first adopted by the industry. These days, Bonnell coils are commonly found in inexpensive mattresses, and according to experts, are the least durable design and the most prone to sagging. Simmons developed the pocketed coil (each individual coil is encased in a sac-like pocket, a structure that minimizes movement transfer when two people share a mattress -- a claim backed by consumer reviews) that's used in its Beautyrest line, including the entry-level Classic series. Serta's Perfect Sleeper line uses rows of continuous support coils that are fashioned from one long wire. More recent innovations that supposedly provide more pressure relief and better spinal alignment -- but are not described in any meaningful way on company websites -- include the VertiCoil Premier in Serta's budget Sertapedic line and the single-stage coil in Sealy Posturepedic's Titanium SS mattresses.
Mattress coil count was long thought to be indicative of quality: the more, the better. Forget that, say the experts. A queen-sized mattress with at least 375 coils is considered plenty, and other factors, including coil structure and positioning, are at least as important. The website Good Bed, for example, notes that the continuous coil design generally means more coils for a given mattress size than other coil designs. All the mattress lines on our list more than meet the minimum for coil count, and the Simmons Beautyrest Classic series holds the lead with 800 coils in each mattress. (Coil count usually, but not always, varies by mattress size; i.e., a king-size mattress typically has more coils than a twin.)
What really matters about mattress coils, however, is the gauge (thickness) of the steel used to make them. The higher the gauge number, the thinner the steel, so lower numbers suggest better overall performance (i.e., support and durability). And the thicker the steel, the fewer coils necessary to produce a quality product. Stearns & Foster, for example, makes very high-end innerspring mattresses with prices starting in the low four-digit range for a queen-size set; an entry-level Stearns & Foster model, the Wethersfield Luxury Firm (product NA), has 713 coils made from 13.75-gauge tempered steel. In the budget innerspring mattress category, gauge measurements cluster between 13 and 14, although some, like the 800-coil Simmons Beautyrest Classic Intelligent Spring Plush (starting at $524, Amazon), use 15-gauge steel.
Mattress Warranty.There are a fair number of consumers who report their innerspring mattresses have lasted for years. But if you spend any time perusing mattress reviews sites, you'll quickly notice how frequently users report durability problems -- and not all complaints concern cheap mattresses. Regardless of price, owners complain about indentations from sleeping bodies, sometimes after just a couple of months and sometimes after a few years, and about comfort padding that breaks down quickly. In a study of innerspring mattresses, the website sleeplikethedead.com found that 25 percent of its sample of innerspring mattress owners griped about premature sagging. Sealy drew the lowest proportion of complaints about sagging, followed by Simmons, Stearns & Foster, Serta, Kingsdown, and finally Spring Air, which was the target of nearly double the share of complaints lobbed at the other brands.
What about the warranty on discount mattresses? The cheapest models may come with only a one-year warranty against manufacturer's defects. Moving up the price ladder gets you a mattress with a multi-year warranty against such defects; at the top end of the market, a warranty of 15-plus years is not unusual. Among our picks, warranties vary. Serta Perfect Sleepers and Sealy Brand Traditional Innerspring (starting at $279) mattresses carry warranties that are dependent on the model, but some run up to 10 years. All mattresses in the Simmons Beautyrest Classic line and the Sealy Posturepedic line carry a 10-year warranty. The warranty on Simmons BeautySleep (starting at $319) mattresses varies by model and extends up to 10 years for some Spring Air models.
That's a technical problem that happened after we removed an ad here. It will be resolved soon Note: this last graf is indented on the site; pls fix. But when something goes wrong, it's hard to find a consumer who reports the manufacturer made good on the warranty. Sometimes the vendor will back the product, but getting the manufacturer to provide a replacement is an exceedingly rare occurrence. According to consumer postings, a depression 1.5 inches deep (when no one is lying on the mattress) is the minimum requirement to prove a defect, although manufacturers are practiced at stonewalling consumer complaints.