The number one rule of marketing is to sell the sizzle, not the steak, and the mattress industry is no exception. At times it seems like mattress salesmen are trained to upsell features you don't necessarily need by making the purchase process as confusing as possible. Whether you are a first time mattress buyer or you've replaced many mattresses in the past, navigating the sea of marketing terms and buzzwords that the mattress industry comes up with is a daunting task. By arming yourself with a basic knowledge of mattress marketing terms, you'll be prepared to make a smart purchase decision when you walk into the showroom.
Before you get too deep into mattress terminology and marketing, it's good to remember that the number one test on a mattress is how it feels to sleep on it. If you lay down on thebed in the store and the mattress passes muster, then there's no need to worry about the fine details. It may sound obvious, but it can be difficult to keep in mind when the technical specifications come in thick and fast.
Mattresses come in four sizes. From smallest to largest, they are: twin, full, king queen and California king. What size mattress to get will depend more on the number of people sleeping in it, rather than your personal size. Twin mattresses are 39 x 75", and are made to accommodate one adult sleeper. Full mattresses are 54 x 75" and are a tight fit for two adult sleepers or a generous space for one. They are often used for smaller master bedrooms and guest rooms. Queen mattresses are 60 x 80" and are the standard size for two adult sleepers, while king mattresses are the same length but 16" wider. Taller sleepers can opt for the California king size, which is slightly longer and narrower than king.
Once you've determined how large your mattress should be, the decision is to pick the construction of your mattress. Innerspring mattresses are supported by an interior network of springs and are the most common type. When looking at an innerspring mattress the main terms to understand refer to the different types of spring coils, of which "Bonnell" and "pocket" coils are the most common. Bonnell coils are the most common coil type, and are a good all-around choice. Pocket coils, or pocket springs, are individually wrapped in fabric and move independently of each other. Since motion in one spring does not affect its neighbor, these mattresses are a good choice for those sleeping with partners.
Another aspect to keep in mind when shopping for innerspring models is "mattress spring count". In general, a higher spring count will give you a firmer, more supportive mattress, but that doesn't tell the whole story. Many manufacturers will try to boost the spring count at the expense of "mattress wire gauge", or thickness of the springs, so make sure you ask the salesperson about both measurements. In general, higher is better with spring count, and lower is better with wire gauge. A good median to aim for is 135 spring count and less than 15.5 gauge wire.
The other common mattress type is foam. These models are constructed with a body-conforming memory foam top layer combined with a foundation layer of denser foam. The basic construction of a foam mattress is simple, but you may encounter a few specialized terms describing additional features. If a foam mattress has "Air channels", that means it is cut with interior grooves to carry away body heat and aid in ventilation. "Foam density" refers to the firmness of the mattress and how quickly it will return to shape when pressed. Density is measured in pounds per square foot, and 4 lbs is a good density number that works for most sleepers.
You may also see claims that a foam mattress is "gel-based" or "plant-based" on the label. This is for people who are wary of the artificial compounds used in regular foam mattresses. Although there is no proven health risk in sleeping on standard foam, you might still prefer the gel- or plant-based models because they don't have quite as much plastic odor when new.
There's a whole world of marketing jargon out there when it comes to the mattress industry, but the good news is you don't need to know everything. Having a good grasp of the basics allows you to ask intelligent questions when you're on the sales floor, and can keep you from paying too much for features you don't really need.