I Bought a Mattress Online — And You Should, Too
Ten years after buying my pillow-top mattress, a decade of sleep had compressed the fluff into a distinct valley in the center. When I started waking up with back pain and stiffness every morning, prompting some serious side eye from my chiropractor, I knew its days were numbered.
Figuring out what you want is tough
I started out the usual way, reading up on springs vs. memory foam, fretting over the latter's common "off-gassing" and heat retention issues, reading about bounce quotients on mattress review sites like Sleep Like the Dead and Sleepopolis, and generally muttering a lot of doubtful I-don't-knows at my cats.
What I did know is that that my ideal mattress would replicate my European sleep experience. During my last few trips to Europe, I've been rather impressed with the mattresses I've slept on. They had less motion than spring mattresses, were fairly firm with just the right amount of sink, and although I'm sure the haze of jetlag had a positive impact on my opinion, I thought they were heavenly.
After a lot of Googling, I was pretty sure they were latex mattresses, which aren't widely available in American mattress showrooms. The only place I found locally that had any at all was IKEA, which fit with my idea that the Airbnb mattresses were probably not all that expensive. A quick IKEA trip confirmed my hunch, but the reviews on IKEA's mattresses weren't very inspiring, and combined with a lack of local alternatives, it was clear that I would have to go back online to find something with a better reputation.
The pros of online mattress stores
I'm not going to review a bunch of mattresses here and give you my opinion on which one is the best. Frankly, those mattress review sites I mentioned above do a pretty stellar job at breaking down the pros and cons of a ton of mattresses, complete with more statistics and charts than you probably even want.
What I can tell you is that after reading a ton of reviews and comparing prices and payment options and even watching a few unboxing videos, I eventually settled on Helix Sleep. It's not the cheapest or the best known option out there, but I liked the idea of a mattress that was customized just for me. At the very least, it's a great gimmick. I've also heard great things about Casper, there are a lot of people out there who swear by Leesa, my parents love their Loom & Leaf, and that list is by no means definitive.
At the end of the day, buying a mattress is a very intimate process. You spend a third of your life asleep. The best mattress deal for you will be the one that does the best job of catering both to what you like and what you're willing to pay for it.
On the whole, online mattress stores have a lot going for them. They have insanely generous trial offers, usually 90-100 days to determine whether or not you like the mattress. If you don't, they'll usually arrange to pick it up and either donate or recycle it.
And the prices are often significantly cheaper than comparable mattresses bought from brick and mortar locations, which makes sense when you figure that they don't have to pay rent for a showroom or salaries for salespeople. In store, all of those overhead costs get figured in to the price tag. Online, they simply don't exist.
Mattresses bought online usually come via UPS or Fedex, tightly rolled and packed into a tube for shipping that makes it relatively easy for the delivery driver to leave it on your doorstep. (Give them a nice tip at Christmas, though, okay?) Once out of the tube, you let it decompress for awhile.
And now, the cons
There are definitely cons to buying mattresses online, though. That nice UPS driver isn't going to haul your old mattress away like a local store would, so it's on you to figure out how to get a very large and awkward thing out of your house. Setting it out by the dumpster is generally illegal and a surefire way to upset your neighbors as well. Mattresses are also on our list of things you shouldn't ever buy used, so trying to sell it on Craigslist is probably a bad idea, too. I found a few options by Googling "Chicago mattress recycling" but they'll cost me extra.
The biggest downside of all you don't get the luxury of laying on your mattress before it's on your bed. So if you hate it right away, you're stuck for a bit. Since you're buying a new mattress sight unseen, plan to hold on to your old one at least until you decide it's a keeper.
What happened when I bought my mattress
Once I knew what I wanted, buying it online was as smooth as any other internet shopping experience. A lot of the online mattress shops offer $50 or $100 off with a coupon so long as you pay for it all at once -- just Google around, you'll find one. That discount is off the table if you opt for financing instead, but keep in mind that financing is generally 0% APR while your credit card is charging you interest right away. So if you can't use a debit card or immediately pay off a credit card, as crazy as it sounds, financing actually may not be a bad idea.
I got a confirmation email, of course. Then, since my mattress was being built to my specifications, I also was notified when they started building it. I got a second "we're building your mattress" email a few days after that and never did get a shipping notice - which confused me until the next day when I found it waiting for me in the foyer when I got home.
Apparently the email sequence misfired, and that second email about building the mattress should have been a shipping confirmation. But it arrived safely, within the timeframe stated on their site, so no harm no foul.
Left: The boxed mattress, waiting at my front door.
Right: A peek at the still-compressed mattress inside the box.
My first impression of the box was that it seemed really small, but moving it inside was actually fairly tough. There's a whole mattress in there, after all, and mattresses are heavy.
Upon opening the box, a peek at the contents requires a small leap of faith. Compressed, the mattress looks like little more than a topper. It turns out that not only is it rolled up, it's also folded in half. It starts to expand as soon as you pull it out, and I was hurrying to remove the plastic since that was also getting in the way.
If you want to see how this all actually plays out, check out this unboxing video from Mattress Clarity. The guy in the video very smartly unrolled his mattress directly onto the bed. Do that if you can, don't put it on the floor like I did. Moving a fully decompressed queen mattress from the floor to the bed on my own involved more sweating, grunting, and swearing than I'd planned for.
In all, it takes roughly 30 minutes from unboxing to being ready to sleep on.
Mattress decompression in progress, under feline supervision.
I've slept on my new mattress for a few weeks now, and it's clear that the new crop of online mattress offerings can easily go toe to toe with the brick and mortar showrooms in terms of quality. I'm sleeping better than I have in years and waking up without the back pain that sent me running to the chiropractor.
Where they fall short, however, is in helping to dispose of your old mattress.
How do you get rid of an old mattress?
Perhaps the biggest advantage of the brick and mortar stores are that they will haul away and dispose of your old mattress for free, and this is a point on which the online stores currently cannot compete. As I write this, my old mattress is leaning up against a wall in my home office, blocking access to a storage closet.
As I talked about in the "cons" section, you can't just throw a mattress in a dumpster or set it out on the curb on trash day. It's also illegal to leave them in the alley, as some folks have suggested to me, and buying a used mattress is generally a bad idea, especially if your city is battling bed bugs.
It turns out that the best solution is to bite the bullet and pay someone to haul it off for you. Toss "mattress disposal near me" into Google and see what comes up. In Chicago, there's at least one local business that caters to just this problem starting from $79 to remove a single mattress or box spring. I haven't used them yet, and thus can't endorse them right now, but you'll find them if you search. There's also the usual array of junk haulers to choose from. Your options may be significantly limited if you don't live in a big city, though, and I'd recommend having a disposal plan ready to go before pulling the trigger on a new one. For me, the cost of haul away does not even come close to wiping out the savings benefit of buying my mattress online.
Would I do it again?
Oh yes, absolutely. Aside from the fact that the proliferation of mattress stores have lately been a blight on the urban landscape, buying online is cheaper, there are more options like latex and hybrids available, and exceedingly generous trial periods remove the risk of buyer's remorse.