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Mattress Durability
Assessing the Longevity Prospects of a Mattress

Last updated on August 19, 2020

A good mattress can serve you well for upwards of 8 to 10 years or more. Unfortunately, many mattresses will lose their comfort or support long before then. Predicting the lifespan of your mattress is difficult, but knowing more about the materials and construction of a mattress can help you choose one that will last.

How to Find a Mattress That Will Last

As a mattress gets used, its materials will slowly lose their resiliency over time. For a while, these changes will be imperceptible, but at some point the mattress will no longer be capable of delivering a sufficient level of comfort and support, after which you'll find yourself in the market for a replacement. 

Pay attention to the top layers

The biggest complaint with mattresses today is that over time they begin to "sag" or develop "body impressions" — depressions in the top of the bed that fail to spring back once you get out, creating a ‘hole’. Contrary to popular belief, the root cause of such problems in today's mattresses is generally not the underlying support layers (eg, coils), but rather the upper comfort layers (ie, soft foams and quilting materials). The materials used at the top of a mattress tend to compress more fully and are exposed to more heat and moisture, so are usually the first to break down. (That said, if an entire mattress is sinking in the middle, that may indicate an issue with the mattress foundation or frame.)

Foam density

With mattresses that contain foam (including memory foam and latex), durability is most closely tied to the “density” of the foam (not how hard or soft it is). For this reason, we often refer to foam density as our best, albeit imperfect, predictor of longevity. Density is expressed as a measurement of pounds per cubic foot of material. There are a few tricky things about understanding foam densities:

  • Foam density is not to be confused with softness — high-density and low-density foams are both available in a wide range of softness levels, from very soft to very firm
  • Foam density ranges vary based on the type of foam — so a density that is great for one type of foam could be very poor for another
  • Foam density requirements vary within the mattress — so the density that you'd want to see in the top layer of a mattress is different than the density you'd want to see in the bottom layer.

Many (but not all) mattress brands will provide the densities of their foams and memory foams, but some do not. Whenever possible, we include foam density information in our expert reviews, along with our assessment of the longevity and durability prospects of that mattress. That said, here are some general rules of thumb:

Memory foam is a higher density poly foam, with densities most commonly falling between 3-5 lbs. Memory foam with a density of 4lbs or higher is generally pretty solid, with 5 lbs and up being the best. 6-7 lbs is exceedingly rare these days, but would still be the gold standard in our view. Memory foam with 3lb density is on the low side, so would give us some longevity concerns. Anything below that would be very low for memory foam. Also keep in mind that the concern with memory foam as it breaks down over time is with loss of firmness, not loss of height — ie, it will always "remember" the height to come back to, but you will sink much farther in when you lie on it.

Latex is also a higher density foam, and has the most proven durability characteristics of any comfort material used in mattresses today. Unlike other types of foam, latex densities are directly correlated with softness levels, so firmer latex will be denser than softer latex. This also means that firmer latex will likely have slightly better longevity prospects than softer latex, all else being equal. But notwithstanding this, we would consider all types of latex (and all softness levels) to be a very durable and high-quality material.

Engineered poly foam is a newer breed of foams that are designed to have better longevity prospects at lower levels of density. We think of these as 'designer foams' and apply the same level of skepticism to their claims as we would apply to anything with a 'designer' label. That said, we do believe that there is a certain amount of validity to these claims in some cases. Engineered foams will typically have densities ranging from 2 lbs to 4 lbs.

Ordinary poly foam is the most common type of foam found in mattresses. It is used in everything from the top of the mattress such as the quilt, where it is stitched together with the cover fabric, all the way down to the bottom of the mattress, where a thick slab of it will often serve as the underlying support core. Ordinary poly foam is typically found in densities between 1-2 lbs, and a very wide range of softness levels. In the support core, we look for a density of at least 1.8 lbs for average weight people, and 2 lbs or higher for heavier people. In the upper comfort layers, these densities will tend to be a little lower, with the lowest density foams being used in the quilt of a mattress. For this reason, we would caution that pillow tops and heavily quilted mattress surfaces often tend to give out before the rest of the bed, so this could be something to keep in mind if you are considering a mattress with thicker layer of plush quilting or pillow-top. Another option if you have longevity concerns is to buy a more tightly quilted bed, and then add a soft and/or fluffy mattress topper which can easily (and inexpensively) be replaced.

Coil gauge and strength

Many mattresses employ a pocketed coil support unit under the comfort layers. For mainstream mattresses of good quality in that $800 to $2,000 sweet spot (queen size), coil support unit have a proven durability.

If you are a heavier than average person (over about 250 pounds), you may want to consider a mattress with a stronger coil support unit. Coil gauge refers to the thickness of the wire used to make the coil; most mattresses use coils with a gauge of about 14; the lower the number the stronger the coil. A mattress that uses 12.5-gauge wire, for example, will have stronger and potentially more durable coils. A mattress using 16-gauge wire will generally be ‘springier.’

It’s also common for manufacturers to use some stronger coils along the edge of a bed, helpful if you like to sit or lay right on the edge.

We have a page on mattress coils and how they’re made if you really want to dive deep.

Can user reviews help?

Consumer reviews are a good way to steer clear of mattresses that fail right away, but they won’t necessarily help you determine which mattresses last the longest. That’s because most mattress reviews are either for products that are too new to determine their longevity (e.g., less than a year old), or they are for older products that are no longer on the market. Product specs for any given brand typically change every year or two, and new components and construction introduce new uncertainties with regards to longevity. That said, brands with a history of putting out high quality products that receive fewer durability complaints are likely to continue putting out high quality products to protect this reputation.

Unlike consumer reviews on other sites, GoodBed’s owner-written mattress reviews include information on how long the mattress had been used at the time of the review, which provides critical context in drawing the right conclusion from that person's experience.

What about warranties?

Warranties can also offer clues about a mattress’ durability, but don’t assume that the mattress’ life span and the length of the warranty will be the same. Mattress warranties are specifically written in such a way as to ensure that unless there is an absolute catastrophic failure, the mattress will never qualify for a warranty claim, no matter how saggy and uncomfortable it feels. If you do want to assess the warranty, just know that the most important term to focus on is not the length of coverage, but rather is the minimum amount of visible sag that there needs to be in order to quality as a “defect.” Problems that are not observable with no one on the mattress, such as excessive softening or loss of support, are not covered. It’s also important to note that most coverage on longer warranties is pro-rated, meaning that you will be responsible for some part of the replacement cost. See our warranty guide for a full run-down of all the mattress warranty tricks and loopholes.

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