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The major mattress manufacturers recently revamped their product lines. New mattress design elements are intended to provide more back support and relieve so-called "pressure points" to minimize tossing and turning.
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 mattress 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 innersprings) 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 Plush Mattress Set (starting at $599, Amazon) 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 (starting at $459, Amazon) stands 10.5 inches high and features fire-blocking fiber and convoluted foam in the quilt layer. By the way, the height of discount 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 discount 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 discount 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.
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. 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 the 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 (starting at $1,169, Amazon), 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 discount 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, Sleep Like the Dead found that 25% of its sample of innerspring mattress owners gripe 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 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 mattresses varies by model and extends up to 10 years for some Spring Air models.
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.
Don't Bother Cheap Mattresses
Off-brand/No-name Mattresses Review
Simmons BeautySleep Review
Sealy Brand Traditional Innerspring Review
Serta Perfect Sleeper Review
Simmons Beautyrest Classic Review
Sealy Posturepedic Review
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