Choosing a mattress is a minefield. Fillings, springs, breathability, size — it’s all too easy to spend hours researching and looking at what people say on forums.

This is especially true when buying a mattress without trying it online.

Thankfully, we’re here to help. Below, we’ve covered the main qualities to look for in a mattress. And when you’ve finished, go and check out our article on How to Choose the Right Mattress for even more handy tips.

Let’s jump in!

Fillings – what are they? 

No mattress on the market uses only one filling type — all use a combination of fillings, such as foams, fibres, and wools. Here’s a run-down of the leading fillers:

  • Memory foam: contours to your body and relieves pressure on contact points. Lacks breathability unless infused with charcoal bamboo.
  • Reflex foam: flexible foam that pushes back. Found in spring and pure foam mattresses as a comfort layer to improve squishiness.
  • Latex foam: elastic and springy with some body-contouring qualities. A natural allergen, so make sure you are not allergic to latex.
  • White fibre: polyester yarn, also known as hollow fibre. Packed densely to create a comfort layer. Firmer feel than foams.
  • Natural fillings: natural fillings replace foams and white fibre. They include bamboo, cotton, wool, mohair, and pure latex foams.

Springs – what type are they? 

If you pick a sprung mattress, you need to know whether it has open coil springs or pocket springs. Here are the key differences:

  • Open coils: this bed of interlocked springs reacts as a single part. Provides good support but can suffer from poor movement isolation.
  • Pocket springs: individual springs sewn into pockets. The springs react independently, so this mattress type offers better support and comfort.

Breathability – will it keep you cool? 

Some mattresses sleep warmer than others (we’re looking at you, memory foam). If you are a hot sleeper, you should choose a cooling mattress. Here are your main options:

  • Sprung mattresses: sprung mattresses have air gaps that facilitate airflow underneath the mattress to keep you cool.
  • Cooling gel: mattresses with cooling gel will keep you cool irrespective of whether they are sprung or memory foam.
  • Charcoal-bamboo memory foam: traditional memory foam lacks breathability, but memory foam enhanced with charcoal bamboo breathes well.

Top cover – what is it made from? 

Although you’ll use a bedsheet on your mattress, it’s still possible to sense its softness underneath. Here’s a run-down of the main fabrics:

  • Stitchbond: stitchbond is a non-woven polyester fabric used on cheap mattresses. It has poor breathability and a scratchier feel.
  • Damask: Damask is the most common fabric. It is soft-touch, breathable, flexible, and nicer to sleep on than stitchbond.
  • Micro-quilt (knitted): micro-quilt is a knitted fabric that will provide similar softness to damask, but it has a stitch pattern that some people prefer.

Top cover – is it plain, tufted, or quilted?  

When you lay on a mattress, you can feel the system it uses to hold the fillings together – this is a stitched, tufted, or quilted system.

  • Stitched: stitched top covers are stitched into the top comfort layer, creating a straight or wave pattern.
  • Tufted: tufted top covers have popcorn buttons that penetrate the mattress’s layers and hold the top fillings together.
  • Quilted: quilted top covers are purely aesthetic and sit on top of the comfort layers, giving the mattress a premium finish.

Size and thickness – does it match your bed? 

It’s easy to match a new mattress to your bed – pick a mattress that fits your bed size. Here’s a size guide to help out even more.

Once you’ve figured out the proper size, please pay attention to mattress thickness, which will make or break how it looks and performs on your bed.

A mattress that is too thick could reduce the functionality of your headboard and give you the sensation you are sleeping ‘on’ your bed rather than ‘in’ it.

Generally, divan and ottoman beds suit mattresses between 18cm and 25cm thick, while standard bed frames have more leeway.