Let me start off with a disclaimer: If you haven't purchased a new mattress recently, this post will probably be of little interest. However, if you've just bought a mattress — or plan to buy one soon — keep reading. I think you will be able to relate only too well to my story.
Until a few months ago, the word "mattress" was barely even in my vocabulary. I had been sleeping on an ancient, 25-year-old hand-me-down mattress. True, it was getting a bit lumpy. And once in a while, I would feel an ancient spring pushing through. But it was my bed and I was perfectly content to sleep in it.
My significant other, however, hated the mattress. He started issuing ultimatums, threatening, "It's the mattress or me." In retrospect, I should have said, "The mattress stays. You can go." But it's too late for that now. Far too late.
So began our Mattress Buying Adventure in Hell.
Our story started out in the usual way; with us traipsing around from store to store, trying out beds. We went to department stores. We went to chain stores. We went to small, independent stores. And like all new mattress shoppers, we quickly learned that the system is rigged. The mattress retailers are out to deliberately deceive and confuse you. And no matter how clever you think you are at this mattress game, you won't outsmart them. Trust me, they are going to win. And one way or another, you are going to part with a lot of money (ca-ching! ca-ching!)
First, as every mattress shopper knows, the industry makes it almost impossible to comparison shop. Every store has their own models, with their own different, exclusive names. Say you like a Serta "Perfect Day/Taurus" at one store. When you go to a different store, you won't find the same bed. Or, you'll find it under the Serta "Trump Home Collection" (yes, Donald Trump has his own brand of mattresses...ick). Or something like it. Or not very much like it at all. Or they will tell you that particular bed was last year's model and is no longer available. Even though you just saw that bed at another store fifteen minutes ago. The confusion goes on and on. It's maddening. Intentionally so.
Then there are the return policies. When it comes to buying a mattress, the store's return policy matters. A lot. Some stores have a 60-day return/exchange policy. Some have a 100-day policy. Some allow no returns or exchanges at all. Which is a problem. Because the fact is, when you buy a new mattress, you really don't know if you are going to like it until you've slept on it for about a month or two. You have to "break it in". Of course, by then, the entire experience may have broken your spirit and made you question your will to live…or at least your need for sleep. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Back to the shopping...
A few words about the mattress stores. You know those big mattress retailers who advertise a sale virtually every day of the year? Here in San Francisco, we have several of those stores all lined up on one block. I call it “Mattress Death Row”. I have made numerous visits to every one of these fluorescent-lit emporiums of pain, and I now dread stepping inside their doors. The signs on their doors should say, “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here…And Abandon Your Wallets While You’re At It”.
Mattress salespeople are frequently compared to used car salesmen. I think this is unfair to used car salesmen. At some mattress chain stores, the sales staff practically ooze sleaze. You walk in and encounter a sales guy, perched like a vulture, ready to swoop down on his innocent prey and point him or her towards the priciest, top of the line Serta, Sealy or Simmons (the “S-brands”). These mattress-peddling predators can barely disguise their contempt for the customers. That contempt is only surpassed by the air of self-loathing that surrounds this breed. They hate their jobs. And I don’t blame them.
In other stores, however, I have to admit the sales people were quite friendly, low-pressure, and infinitely patient. And believe me, they need patience. At one such store, which I now fondly refer to as “SleepTrainWreck” , a young sales guy looked on for over an hour as my boyfriend and I ran back and forth between assorted Sertas and Sealys, arguing over which mattress to buy. I actually thought we would break up in that store. But we didn't. Instead, we were so worn down by the process, and so desperate to make a decision and get the hell out of there, we finally bought a mattress: A Stearns and Foster "Governor's Palace Euro Pillowtop” that cost about twice as much as we intended to pay (ca-ching! ca-ching!). The weary sales guy threw in some free pillows to sweeten the deal (more about those pillows later).
Now, you may ask, what was so difficult about choosing a mattress? An innocent enough question. But if you have to ask, then you haven't bought a mattress lately.
Once upon a time, buying a mattress was simple. You chose from "Soft", "Medium" or "Firm". There were coils inside, and probably some cotton or horse hair, covered with thin (cool) cotton ticking. Sadly, those days are gone. Today’s mattresses are overly complicated, gimmick-laden slabs, filled with a host of mysterious, mostly synthetic materials that don't breathe. There are wrapped coils. There are unwrapped coils. There are individual coils. There are no coils. And there are endless, conflicting opinions on which one is best.
As for the materials, all the big name manufacturers use a combination of either Latex , Memory Foam, or some other generic foam. Memory Foam is notorious for "sleeping warm". So if you "sleep warm", like I do, you have to avoid it like the plague. Latex is supposed to be cooler, but the jury is still out on that. Plus, there are many different types of Latex. Are you getting tired? Me too. I now know more about this topic than I ever cared to know. Let's just say: it's complicated. And, the fact is, you can try out the bed for hours in the store. But you don't really know how you are going to like your new mattress until it's home and broken in. As one blogger on a mattress forum so aptly put it, a mattress is "the one big ticket item where parts are concealed and enigmatic." In other words: Buyer, beware.
The new mattresses are also bigger than before. Much bigger. In fact, they are now behemoths. I have no idea why people like these huge, heavy beds. I even read that interior decorators loathe them. https://www.nytimes.com/1999/04/15/garden/the-new-beds-a-step-or-two-up.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm
But apparently, there is a huge market for huge beds. Supposedly, a lot of women like them because they make them "feel like princesses". I don't get it. But there are so many things I don't get.
We knew our new bed would be higher than the old bed. So we purchased the "mini" box springs. Nothing, however, could have prepared me for the day the new bed arrived. An enormous delivery truck pulled up, and I watched in horror as three deliverymen wrestled the new, behemoth (king) mattress out of the truck, and up three flights of stairs. When they took away my old bed, I practically cried. When they put the new mattress onto the frame, I practically went into shock. It was gigantic. The bed now resembled a huge, mile-high throne in the middle of the bedroom. It dwarfed everything else in the room. When I climbed up onto the bed (which took considerable effort), I was suddenly peering down on a bird's eye view of my bedside table. I didn’t feel like a princess. I felt more like Gulliver.
Before we could even judge how we liked the comfort of the bed, the "mini" box springs had to be changed out for even mini-er box springs. That meant another trip to SleepTrainWreck, another separate purchase so as not to forfeit our one mattress return allowance (ca-ching! ca-ching!), and yet another delivery.
Once we had lowered the mattress to a reasonable, human height, we quickly realized that the "pillowtop" made the mattress very mushy. We'd sink in so deep, we started calling it "The Mosh Pit". It was also much too warm. The fault of the pillowtop? The latex mattress? Impossible to say. But we were sweating and needed to do something.
I had seen ads for a "cooling mattress pad" made with "NASA Outlast technology". I immediately ordered one (ca-ching! ca-ching!). The day the pad arrived, it had such a strong chemical smell, we had to launder it right away. The directions said it was ok to put it in the washer and drier. So we did. On Low. The mattress pad disintegrated in the drier. It just completely melted. The Cooling Mattress folks apologized profusely and sent us a replacement pad. We are still using it. But honestly, it isn't any cooler than any other pad. So much for NASA technology.
Bottom line, after several months of trying to adjust to The Mosh Pit, we knew it had to go.
Thus began another endless round of shopping, researching, and lying on countless beds in countless stores. It was clear that every mattress came with a trade-off. The mattress would have some type of "cooling construction" -- great! -- but it would be too firm. Or it would be just the right softness, but have too much Memory Foam. Or the store wouldn't allow any returns. Or...the list went on and on. At one point, we were tempted to buy an old-fashioned, cotton/coil mattress from a well-known local manufacturer. We could have had one -- for about the price of a new car. So it was back to the evil "S"-brands with their polyurethanes, foams and scary list of unknowns.
It was discouraging and exhausting. But…I wasn't alone. I soon discovered that the Internet is crawling with other miserable mattress owners/shoppers, all complaining bitterly about their new mattresses. The mother of all these sites is an industry-sponsored site called "What's the Best Mattress", https://www.whatsthebest-mattress.com/login.php?err=post&ref=%2Fforum%2Fpost.php%3Fp%3D19276&refn=
This website became my go-to resource and support group all in one. Log on, and you enter a world of hurt. There are literally hundreds of comments from people complaining about every possible make and model of mattress. There are disgruntled pillowtop owners. People complaining about collapsed mattresses. Or mattresses that “outgas” chemical fumes. Or that hurt their backs, shoulders or necks. Others complain about an uncomfortable phenomenon called "Latex Pushback". There are even people offering advice on how to perform "mattress surgery". Yes, you heard that right. These folks will tell you in agonizing detail how to cut open your brand new mattress to either remove or add your own fillers. It's unreal. I mean...doesn't the industry know we HATE their products?
In the end, we finally settled on a Simmons Beauty Rest “Pemberton Plush” (mattress names are clearly designed to make the buyers feel like royalty, instead of poor, sleepless schmucks who had to take out a loan to purchase a damn bed). The new mattress arrived this week, and so far, it feels very comfy. However, to my dismay, it also feels…very warm. But I won’t go there (not yet).
We returned the The Mosh Pit to SleepTrainWreck. They gladly refunded our money, or at least part of it. First, they deducted for the old box springs we had already returned (ca-ching! ca-ching!). Oh, and remember those "free" pillows? Well, we had to pay for those, too...or return them after months of use (ca-ching! ca-ching! ca-ching!).
Like I said, you can't win at this game.