How we picked and tested
The mattresses we tested for this guide, as they would arrive at your door. From left: Tuft & Needle, BedInABox, Casper, Leesa, Signature Sleep Contour 8, IKEA MATRAND. Photo: Jeremy Pavia
We focused on an increasingly popular subset of mattresses—those that come in only one model, cost less than $1,000, arrive within a week (usually in a vacuum-packed roll inside a box), and come with a free trial of at least 100 days (as well as an offer to take a rejected mattress away for free). We sought mattresses that would work best for the primary sleep positions: side, stomach, and back. Most surveys (and our own quick Twitter poll) show that 60 to 70 percent of people primarily sleep in some kind of side position.
We slept and napped on each mattress over the course of a week, taking notes and using personal sleep trackers to confirm how each mattress performed. Though a night of sleep and a nap or two on each mattress does not constitute a full test—doctors and mattress companies recommend at least 30 days to let your body adjust when switching mattresses—our experiments gave us far more hands-on time than most mattress shoppers get.
How you feel sleeping on each mattress is obviously the key consideration, but we also took into account how each mattress breathes as you sink into it, how supportive the mattress' edges are, if someone on one side of a mattress can feel movement by someone on the other side, how well sheets fit on each mattress, and how easily you can pick up and rotate the mattress.
We weighed our observations against what readers told us in our survey about their own online-purchased mattresses, and we talked with owners of specific mattresses. We also considered the impressions of Wirecutter staffers who owned or tested the mattresses.
No mattress works for everybody
Unpacking a BedInABox mattress, from the initial roll to the mostly inflated state. Like our picks, it comes folded in half, rolled up, and placed inside a tall box. Photos: Kyle Fitzgerald
Here is the core truth of the mattress market: You won't find one mattress that works for everybody. Our experts told us that the best any mattress can do is sleep great for a small group of people, feel pretty good for some, and do okay for a majority of people. This compromise is complicated further by the subjective feelings of "firm" or "soft."
Many factors can alter your firmness preference, including injury, weight, stress, diet, apnea, your pillow, the warmth or coolness of your room, the sheets you put on your bed, how often you switch positions, and if you sleep with a partner. Or you may just prefer something other than what your sleep style naturally suggests. All of that explains why single-model mattresses you can try out for about 100 days are gaining in popularity: Finding one perfect mattress is tricky, but making a mistake shouldn't be a 10-year disappointment.
The Leesa mattress, our top pick for how most people sleep. Photo: Jeremy Pavia
The Leesa is our top pick among online-purchase mattresses because it felt the best overall for side sleepers and stomach sleepers. Its contouring "hug" is comfortable rather than hot or muddy, and it breathed better than other mattresses we tested, allowing for a cooler sleep. The Leesa handles better at its edges than our other picks, providing acceptable support for entering, exiting, or rolling over on the bed. It has a surface that feels good under thin sheets, and its gray and white stripes look good. For the price, the Leesa is a real value that will appeal to many people buying a foam mattress online.
The Casper mattress may work better for people who switch positions often. Photo: Jeremy Pavia
If you switch between back sleeping and side sleeping, or if one of two people sharing a bed tends toward back sleeping or prefers a firmer mattress, the Casper mattress is a more middle-of-the-road pick than the Leesa. Its "hug" was not as comfortable for our testers as the Leesa's, and side sleepers will likely find the Casper less pliable and accommodating than the Leesa. But the Casper's mix of four foams may work better for people who switch positions often (especially onto their back) or for couples that include back sleepers.
For dedicated back sleepers
The Tuft & Needle mattress, with its two layers visible (3 inches of hybrid comfort/contour foam, 7 inches of support). Photo: Jeremy Pavia
Tuft & Needle's mattress is firm. It's as firm as foam can get before it becomes uncomfortable. If you're a back sleeper or prefer to float on your mattress instead of sink into it, the Tuft & Needle works fine. But it isn't ideal for most side sleepers and stomach sleepers. And at its substantially lower price—a queen costs $200 to $300 less than that of our other picks—it's an economical pick, at any size, for a guest room or other occasional uses.
Care and maintenance
For all of our mattress picks, be sure not to flip them over—their support and memory foam are at the top. But you should rotate them every three to six months, especially if you sleep alone on one side of the bed or if partners have a notable weight difference.
Most direct-order mattress companies suggest a flat foundation or a slatted base (slats no more than 3 inches apart), but the mattress could work on the floor, too. If you have a box spring with actual springs in its structure, and it has already seen years of regular use under a mattress, you should probably get a new foundation.
All of the mattresses we tested contain synthetic, petroleum-based foams, which will release some gases (and related odors) for the first couple of days. However, the amounts your mattress exhales are pretty small, and you don't need to worry about them.
Our mattress picks each come with a zippered cover, but you should not remove it for cleaning except for serious bedwide stains. None of our picks' manufacturers openly sells a replacement cover, but you should contact the maker if a cover rips or pulls under normal use.
This guide may have been updated by The Sweethome. To see the current recommendation, please go here.