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How to Buy a Mattress. Four things you need to know. Part One.

Posted on June 16 2017

Part One: The Most Important Factor to Consider When Buying a Mattress: The Warranty

Buying a mattress is a particularly challenging decision because it is so difficult for the typical consumer to judge the relative quality and value of different mattresses.  This is a challenge the mattress manufacturing companies try to make more difficult, not less, because the harder it is for you to judge the true quality of a mattress, and its price relative to other mattresses, the easier it is to sell you the mattress based upon simpler and less expensive factors to manipulate and promote. The name (i.e. “Golden Elegance”) or the mattress cover, (called “ticking”), are what mattress manufacturers often take pains to make attractive and a “feature”, even though they play a relatively minor role in your ultimate satisfaction with the mattress.  After all, mattresses are more of a utility item than a fashion statement since they are typically covered with sheets and other “bedclothes”.  Aesthetics aside, consumers should focus on the most important “deliverables” associated with a mattress—is it a good quality mattress (and is it fairly priced) and how well does it contribute to a good night’s sleep?

There is probably no better summary measure of the quality of a mattress than the terms of its warranty.  A warranty is a promise made by the manufacturer which is enforceable by the consumer.  Because it is enforceable, manufacturers go to great lengths to ensure that they can deliver on the promises they make under a warranty.  Manufacturers rigorously test their mattresses with heavy rollers rolled across the mattress thousands of times, compression and pounding testing, and tensile or tear testing.  So manufacturers have a pretty good idea of what their mattress’ strengths and weaknesses are. 

Those known strengths and weaknesses determine what kind of warranty the manufacturer is comfortable providing the consumer.  But, the warranties are carefully designed and written to protect the manufacturer as much as the consumer.  Most of the major manufacturers (primarily the “Big S” manufacturers including Sealy, Serta, Simmons, and Stearns & Foster) put a 10 year warranty on their mattresses, which is the industry standard (because these industry-leading companies got together and set the standard).  However, smaller “niche” producers (like Paramount, King Koil, and Sleep to Live) do produce certain models with 15, 20 or even 25 year warranties.

The “Sleep Like The Dead” website has done surveys of mattress owners and found that, on average, consumers don’t keep their mattress for the length of their warranties.  User feedback indicates that the length of time most people use a mattress is less than its warranty period.  However, their findings do also suggest that there is a correlation between warranty length and the quality, durability and longevity of a mattress, so better mattresses usually have longer warranties.  People might change their mattresses for a variety of reasons other than mattress failure.  As we age we tend to develop more physical problems like bad backs and aching joints.  These emerging health issues may demand a different mattress with a different level of support or comfort than the one purchased a number of years ago.  Or, the physical size and available space in the bedroom may change if you move to a different home or remodel.  Maybe you can fit a king size bed into the new bedroom whereas only a queen size would fit in the former abode.  Maybe you are passing the older mattress on to a family member and replacing it with a new mattress.  There can be all sorts of reasons why you might change mattresses before the warranty period is over, even though the mattress is still covered. So, while many people do not use their mattress for the whole warranty period, the length and terms of the manufacturer’s warranty are still the single best readily available measure of the quality of the mattress.

Sidebar: How Warranties Work:

Warranties have many terms and conditions that are designed to void coverage for anything that the manufacturer can’t control.  For example, warranties for almost all products do not cover normal wear and tear, they only cover defects and faulty workmanship as objectively defined by the manufacturer.  For mattresses, that objective measure is usually “observed sagging depth” (typically 1 and one-half inches for an innerspring mattress.  Some foam mattresses, on the other hand, define sagging by as little as three-quarters of an inch depression.)  Keep in mind that a softening or loss of support, if not evidenced by a measurable depression, will not be covered. This is often referred to in warranties as “normal changes in softness or recovery time due to normal use, temperature or humidity” and “normal body impression”. Warranties can also be voided by the use of an improper foundation or the presence of staining, soiling or fluid penetration, so make sure you adhere to your mattress company’s foundation/frame guidelines and follow them carefully.  For example, Beautyrest (made by Simmons) requires a supportive, rigid, non-yielding foundation defined as follows: “For any queen or king frame that does not have a metal center support, you must use at least 5 hardwood or metal slats (1” x 4”) and add legs to the 3 center slats.”  It may also make sense to use a protective mattress cover to avoid any staining issues. And, a few companies even void the warranty if you remove the “law tag” (i.e. “do not remove under penalty of law”) because they say that if removed there is no proof to show that the mattress in question is the same mattress you bought and is covered by the warranty.  But some manufacturers let you cut the tag off as long as you retain the tag for verification purposes.  Picky, huh.

It is important to fully understand the exact nature of the warranty.  Many warranties are “prorated” or become prorated after a few years of full coverage.  For example, Sleep Number beds carry a 20 or even a 25 year warranty, but non-prorated coverage ends after a few years (usually 2 years) and then coverage becomes prorated, which means the owner will need to pay at least 20% of the replacement cost depending upon the age of the mattress.  Some companies also charge a fee to have someone come out to inspect the mattress in order to determine whether it is eligible for warranty coverage, and even if it is, the owner must often pay another fee to have the defective mattress taken away and another mattress delivered.  So the terms of the mattress warranty are very important to understand and compare. And this is not easy to do.  For example, Beautyrest (made by Simmons) alone has 16 different warranties (warranty codes A through P) that vary in length from 1 year to 25 years on different models, and, of course, they also vary in terms of other coverage factors, like proration.


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