bed buyers guide

Thinking of buying a bed? How handy blog has it all covered from bases to pillows. To head to a particular section just click on the hyperlink belows.

1 Do you need a new bed?
2 Shopping for a new bed
3 Buying that bed
4 Sleep on this: types of mattress
5 Bed bases explained
6 Pillow Talk
7 To top it off
8 Caring for your bed
9 Your questions answered

Do you need a new bed?

You can’t beat a good night’s sleep – it leaves you feeling fit, thinking sharply and happy!

The foundation of good sleep is a comfortable bed and the right mattress. It can be the difference between a restorative night’s sleep and poor quality sleep that results in tiredness and fatigue.

Research shows that sleeping on an uncomfortable bed could rob you of up to an hour’s sleep – yet the deterioration may be so gradual and invisible that many people fail to make the connection between an uncomfortable bed and poor sleep.

You may need a new mattress if…

Beds don’t last forever. Even if it looks okay, it may not be giving you the support or comfort you need for a good night’s sleep. A mattress’s life span is affected by several factors such as the quality, care and amount you use it (e.g. reading, watching TV and sleeping each night versus occasional use of a spare bed).
Changes in lifestyle (marriage, new home) and in our bodies (losing or gaining weight, ageing, etc) can also necessitate a change of bed.

Here’s a few things to consider:

• Have you had your mattress more than seven years?
• Do you wake up with stiffness and/or aches and pains?
• Are you sleeping as well as you did a year ago?
• Have you had a better night’s sleep in a bed other than yours?
• Does your mattress show signs of visible wear and tear (it sags, is lumpy etc)?

There are literally thousands of beds from which to choose and there’s no such thing as the perfect type of bed for a particular condition or situation (e.g. one ideal bed for a back pain sufferer). Although a good retailer – and this booklet – will arm you with lots of information to make the process simpler, only you can make the final, important decision – so take your time and make it wisely.

Shopping for a new bed

Before you go shopping for a new bed, think about what you want from your bed. Here are a few general points to consider:

Type. What sort of style do you prefer? What do you like or dislike about your current bed? Do you prefer a firmer or softer feel?
The price is right. Always shop for the best value not the lowest price. Of course, there are some perfectly acceptable, lower priced beds available (far preferable to an unhygienic second hand bed shaped to someone else’s body) but the better the construction, the better the support and comfort and the longer the bed will last.
Size matters. With a larger bed you are less likely to disturb your partner. You should be able to lie side by side, with your arms behind your head and your elbows out, without touching. Your bed should also be 4-6in (10-15cm) longer than the tallest partner. Many manufacturers make beds up to 7ft square as a matter of course; others will make special sizes. Also consider the bed’s height – many contemporary styles are low, while those with storage drawers may be much higher.

Buy base and mattress together. At the very least, make sure you try mattresses on a similar type of base. The two are designed to work together and a change of base will affect the feel and performance of the mattress.
Access all areas. If you are worried about getting the bed upstairs, remember most divans have split bases; while many bedsteads are actually delivered in pieces for assembly in situ. To avoid problems with delivery, you should tell the retailer
about potential access problems (narrow staircases, tight corners etc) before you buy. Check the retailer’s terms and conditions.
After sales service. Can’t decide between two or three equally suitable products?
Think about the retailer’s service – e.g. quick delivery; guarantee or warranty
offered; free disposal of your old bed; special offers; or even just the chemistry
between yourself and the salesman.
Buy it now. If you need a new mattress NOW most retailers keep a limited stock of mattresses for same or next day delivery. A recent development has been the introduction
of vacuum packing and rolling which enables suppliers to compress foam (and some spring) mattresses into compact, portable rolls ups. Usually packed in a smart kit or zip bag, they are literally ‘takeaway’.

Buying that bed

You spend a third of your life in bed, so it’s vital that you make the right choice.
Shop smarter by following these helpful tips:
• Try, try and try it again! There is no substitute for lying on mattresses when selecting the right one for you. You wouldn’t buy a new car without taking it for a test drive first – and you’ll be spending even more time in your bed! So wear comfortable clothes, remove your coat and shoes and lie on the bed for quite a long time – at least 10 minutes (preferably more). Adopt your normal sleeping position and lie on your side as well as your back.
• Always shop together if the bed’s for two, to ensure you are both happy with your choice.
• Set aside enough time to do the job properly. Don’t shop when you’re tired or rushed – you run the risk that the beds will all feel wonderful.
• Correct support depends on your weight, height, build and even preferred sleeping position. Ideally the mattress should mould to the shape of your body while remaining supportive. When you lie on your side your spine should be horizontal.

You should be able to turn fairly easily. As a general rule, the heavier you are, the firmer the tension you will need. You don’t necessarily need a hard bed if you have a bad back
• Comfort is very subjective. Some people like the sensation of being cocooned in a bed; others prefer to lie on top of them. Back sleepers may like a firmer feel than people who sleep on their sides. There are lots of different ‘feels’ around – you can choose what works best for you.
• Most manufacturers will offer mattresses in firm, medium and soft options. Try different options to be sure which is best for you. Remember there is no industry wide standard to
compare firmness ratings from one manufacturer to the other.
• For partners of widely differing size and weight (3 stones/18kgs or more), different mattresses may be required. Some manufacturers make double beds from two single mattresses zipped together, which can be of differing tension. Others can
combine different degrees of firmness in one mattress.

Top Tip A good way to check if the bed you are lying on is too soft, too hard, or just right is to lie on your back, and slide your hand in the hollow of your back. If it slides in too easily, the bed may be too hard for you (leading to pressure on your hips and shoulders); if it’s a struggle to slide your hand in, then the bed is probably too soft. If you can move your hand
with just a little resistance, the bed may be just right for you. Another useful test is to pop a set of keys behind your back. You shouldn’t be able to feel them!

Buying Online?
Shopping online has become a part of our everyday lives and it’s certainly here to stay. It’s often more convenient than shopping on your local high street, easier to compare prices and you may also find some products online which are not available in the shops.

However make sure you check delivery costs as online retailers can have different rules on returning goods so establish their terms and conditions before starting your shopping.
If you are going to buy a bed online, then here’s our top tips for shopping securely online:
• Choose reputable shopping sites like us.
• Check the website has full contact details, phone numbers etc.
• Ensure you are satisfied that the product descriptions you are given are true and accurate – you can’t look inside a mattress!
• Is there any indication of country of origin?
• Ensure the website is secure before entering payment details.
• Check sellers’ privacy policy and returns policy.
• Buying a mattress online may be cheaper and more convenient but there are drawbacks to not being able to see and touch items.
•Remember a really cheap offer is cheap for a reason and you might not get what you bargained for!

Sleep on this…

Mattresses may look similar, but the differences within are vast. This blog gives a brief guide to some of the main options.

From the outside

The first thing you’ll notice about a mattress is its cover –known in the trade as ticking. Manufacturers spend a lot of time choosing attractive colours and designs so their mattresses will look good – but remember that 99% of the time it will be covered up with bed clothes!

The ticking is not just there for its good looks: it also needs to be tough and tear resistant. Better quality cloths are woven or knitted in high quality viscose or cotton yarns. Cheaper
cloths in polyester or polypropylene are often printed. At the budget end of the market are bonded or stitchbond fabrics and some cheaper knits.

Ticking with special qualities is now also increasingly being used by mattress manufacturers. Some of the options include antidust mite/anti-allergy, anti-bacterial, anti-microbial, anti-static, breathable, water resistant, stain resistant, highly absorbent,
naturally fire retardant etc.

But one of the most popular options are tickings that offer effective thermal regulation through moisture wicking and evaporation technology. There are now quite a few companies offering performance fabrics that move perspiration away from the body and through the fabric where it can evaporate quickly allowing you to feel cooler and more comfortable.

Quilting or tufting
Most mattresses are finished by either quilting or tufting. Quilting is a decorative effect
attaching the outer fabric to the surface fillings; these mattresses tend to have a
smoother, flatter surface.

Tufting – where tapes are passed right through the mattress at regular intervals
and secured each side by tags or washers – prevents loose fillings from being dislodged.
The side panels of some higher quality mattresses, particularly traditionally pocket sprung mattresses, are hand side stitched. This traditional skill and lengthy process improves mattress edge support and extends the sleeping area to the very edge of the mattress.

Inside a mattress
There are essentially two main types of mattress construction – those with and those without springs.

The majority of mattresses in the UK have spring interiors, which provide the ‘core’ support. Changing the spring construction, thickness (gauge) of the wire, the number of coils, height of each spring and the quantity alters the tension, feel and weight distribution properties of each mattress.

Spring interior mattresses can be ‘zoned’ – across the middle to give extra support for heavier hips and shoulders; half and half, to provide different tensions on each side of the bed; or round the edge of the mattress to give it extra rigidity. Different tensions can be achieved within the same mattress. Some units also allow the user to adjust the mattress tension themselves.

There are three main types of spring interiors:
Open coil or open sprung

  • Most widely used option, also known as the Bonnell spring.
  • Springs are arranged in rows and connected to one another, top and bottom, by a spiral helical wire with an outer rod strengthening the perimeter.
  • There are usually a minimum of 325 coils in a 5ft/150cm size – but some mattresses may have more.
  • Come in a choice of tensions, starting from a very firm 12.5 gauge wire.
  • Priced from budget to mid range

Continuous spring

  • The continuous spring unit is made from a single length of wire ‘knitted’ into a series of interwoven springs which usually run up and down the bed and are linked vertically rather than horizontally.
  • The gauge of wires used is softer and the size of the ‘coils’ smaller than open coil, giving a higher spring count and a more responsive feel.
  • Priced from mid market to premium.

Pocket spring

  • Small, softer springs that work independently from each other.
  • Conforms and adjusts to body contours.
  • Helps eliminate roll together.
  • Spring counts typically vary from 600-800 up to 2,500 but can go up to 3 or even 4,000. Like other types they are made in a range of tensions.
  • Often more expensive and used mainly in higher quality products.
  • Better quality pocket springs are encased in calico pockets, hand nested in a honeycomb pattern and hand centre tied with linen cord.
  • Less expensive pocket springs are encased in fibretex or stitchbond fabrics and are lightly glued together in linear rows.

A relatively new development in spring is the extra low profile, mini spring – which can have a height under 3cm (1in). These units offer an alternative to fillings in providing a highly resilient comfort layer. They can also be stacked together to form a very soft, high
spring count mattress core.

Interior sprung mattresses use a wide variety of fillings to create different properties and comfort options, as well as affecting price. Fillings are chosen for their resilience, durability, flexibility and ability to absorb body moisture. In cheaper mattresses,
fillings usually come in compact pads; in better quality models, layers of loose fillings in greater volumes are often preferred.


Cotton – Often used near the surface for its soft feel and its ability to breathe, and to absorb moisture.
Wool – Naturally resilient fibre, creating a luxurious feel with good fire retardancy properties, it is also breathable.
Foam – Different types of foam are used for their cushioning effect. They include latex, polyurethane and visco-elastic (memory foam).
Polyester – A synthetic material with good recovery properties.
Hair Highly resilient fibre, often described as “nature’s spring”. – Available in pads or loose for high luxury.
Coir fibre – Made from coconut fibre are generally used pads next to the spring to insulate and prevent the spring being felt or penetrating.

Alternatives include compressed wool or synthetic pads. Silk, Used for additional luxury and insulation properties. cashmere, mohair and other fine, natural fibres

There are four main types: foam, gel, floatation and futons.

Most foam mattresses are made from layers of different densities of foam. By varying their density and depth, it’s possible to achieve different levels of comfort and support. They are particularly suitable for use with slatted bases and adjustable beds.

There are three main types of foam in use:


  • A premium quality material, the natural type is derived from the sap of the rubber tree.
  • Has a distinctive, resilient feel, is very durable and has anti-microbial properties that offer benefits to many allergy sufferers.
  • Its natural elasticity means it recovers its shape immediately when pressure is removed.
  • It also has very good point elasticity resulting in even distribution of pressure for independent support.

Visco elastic/Memory foam

  • Responds to individual shape and pressure.
  • Has good pressure relieving properties.
  • Available in a variety of qualities and densities.

Polyurethane (PU) foam

  • A synthetic, petroleum based foam with performance and price varying according to density and quality.
  • It is widely used and very versatile.


  • A new filling that is taking the bed market by storm.
  • Can be combined with other materials eg foam.
  • Ground-breaking technology known for its cooling thermo -regulating properties.
  • Delivers benefits such as breathability, pressure relief and body support.

Floatation beds

  • Support is determined by the amount of water used and the level of motion can also be varied.
  • Known for their pressure free support and also good for allergy sufferers.
  • Variable temperature heaters keep the bed warm and cosy.


  • Made from layers of cotton or fibre wadding, which moulds itself to the shape of the body.
  • In Japan they are used on the floor with a mat underneath and rolled away during the day.
  • In the UK, they are more often sold as budget priced sofa beds with slatted convertible frames.

Bed bases explained

Most mattresses are used in combination with one of various choices of bed base such as divans, bedsteads, adjustable beds and bunk beds. Remember to ensure that mattress and base are suitable for use together, especially if you are buying them separately.

  • Divans
    Divans are still the most popular style of base in the UK. They are essentially an upholstered box, fitted with castors for mobility or on legs to create space beneath. These days there are many beautifully tailored and upholstered bases with
    matching headboards offered in a range of colours and fabrics.
    There are three main types of divan:
  • Sprung edge divans are the most luxurious option and feature a complete open coil or pocket spring unit mounted on a frame which acts like a giant shock absorber, increasing the mattress’s durability.
  • Solid or platform top divans have a rigid, non-sprung top panel, often made from hardboard. Beds with these bases are generally firmer, as well as cheaper than beds with sprung bases.
  • Firm edge divans generally feature a smaller number of larger, heavy duty springs within a rigid, wooden sided frame. A divan is useful if you’re tight on space as most are available with drawers or lift-up storage, known as ottomans. Storage need not affect the comfort or quality of the bed – but it does cost a little more.
  1. Slatted bases
    Slatted bases are mostly used with bedsteads. These can be either rigid (with no give) or flexible. Flexible slats are made from laminated soft woods mounted in a frame creating a modest level of springiness from their bowed shape. The tension of some slats can be adjusted to suit individual requirements. The space between slats
    on most, cheaper, rigid bases is usually wider than on flexible slatted models
    but it is advisable to ensure the gap is no greater than 7.5cm (3 inches). Wear and
    tear on a mattress will be greater the wider the gaps. Most manufacturers make their own recommendations for slat spacing to suit their own mattresses so check these before buying as they do vary.Bedsteads
  2. Bedsteads come in a vast array of styles from traditional classics to more modern designs and are available in wood, metal, plastics, upholstered or any combination of these. Your choice will largely be an aesthetic one but bear in mind mattress support. This could be fixed or sprung slats or a metal grid or rigid woven wire. It is also possible to have a fully sprung bed base (with the same benefits as a divan) inside. A number of manufacturers make these to order. Always make sure you try mattresses on the type of base your chosen bedstead has. As many bedsteads are imported or antique they may not conform to current UK standard sizes so take care to ensure your mattress and bedstead are the same size!
  3. Adjustable Bases – Adjustable beds are becoming increasingly popular as the bedroom evolves into a multi-functional space. As well as reading or having breakfast in bed, people now watch TV from their beds and spend time on their laptops and mobile devices (although we don’t recommend this if you’re a poor sleeper!). Of course, adjustable beds still offer many benefits for a range of medical complaints requiring a raised sleeping position or raised legs or aid getting in and out of bed. Styling choices range from a traditional divan look right through to contemporary bedstead designs. Some even incorporate massage units as an optional extra. Available as single beds or as doubles with individually adjustable halves, these beds either feature flexible laminated slats or fully sprung upholstered sections. Some models have five or more individually adjusting sections – for neck, head, upper body legs and feet; other models might just adjust the head and feet; or even just the upper body. Some models are designed to slide backwards as the head end comes up, thus keeping you in more convenient contact with your bedside table! Others fit side table which can be moved along side rails. Mattresses are specially made for adjustable beds so ideally the base and mattress should be bought together. It’s a good idea to make sure that any electrical parts are separately guaranteed and fully compatible with UK systems.
  4. Bunk Beds – Bunk beds and cabin beds are a popular option for parents and children. They are fun as well as practical and space-saving.
  5. Headboards – Headboards have grown in popularity and can create a focal point in any bedroom. They are usually an optional extra to give you more choice but these days often coordinate with the divan base. Like most things in the bedroom, your headboard acts as a style statement and will be a dominant feature, so it’s worth doing a bit of research before you buy one. You should think what fabric you like, whether you want a simple rectangular design or a more lavish padded design and how the colour choice or pattern will blend in with the rest of the room. All of the different materials and designs have their own merits. For example, upholstered headboards give you more comfort where wooden headboards can give you sturdiness.

Pillow Talk

If you suffer with neck and shoulder pain, you may find your pillow’s the culprit. They come in a range of different shapes and sizes, including pre-shaped ones that support your head and neck, as well as a choice of fillings – goosedown, duckdown, feather,
fibre filled, and visco-elastic, latex or polyurethane foam – and any number of combinations of these.

Here’s what to look for:
• A good one should hold your head in the correct alignment – that is, in the same relation
to your shoulders and spine as if you were standing upright with the correct posture – and be tucked well into the neck and shoulder to support your head fully.
• The thickness and number you need depends on your body shape and your preferred sleeping position. You will need a thicker pillow (or two thinner ones) if you sleep on your side rather than if you sleep on your back.
• It is a good idea to invest in quality pillows and replace them at least every two or three years. When they have lost their ‘loft’ (height) and become lumpy, discoloured or misshapen they should be replaced.

To top it off

Overlays and toppers are mostly used to soften the feel of a mattress, by adding extra layers of cushioning. Generally nonsprung, they may be made of a variety of materials – polyester fibre, latex, visco-elastic or other foams or even feathers. The choice is entirely subjective. Toppers are not a substitute for correct support – you’ll need a mattress of the right tension. Nor are they a substitute for replacing an old, worn out bed – any impression of improved comfort will probably be short lived. Some modern mattresses styles include a fixed topper – often on styles which have been designed to eliminate the need for turning.

An old, unwashed pillow could also contain as much as 10% of its weight in skin scale,
mould, dead and living dust mites and their allergen laden droppings!

Caring for your bed/mattress

However, like most new products, useful life-span depends on the amount of tender loving care the bed receives throughout its life.

  • Do not bend or roll your new mattress. It will permanently damage the spring unit and invalidate any warranties or guarantees.
  • Let the mattress breathe. Like a new car, a new bed may initially have a ‘new’ smell about it. This will eventually disperse if well aired.
  • Turn your mattress regularly. Unless you have bought a nonturn (which has been specifically designed not be turned but must still be rotated), it is important that you turn your mattress from end to end and side to side every week for the first few months and thereafter about every three months. This will prolong the life-span of your mattress and minimise impression marks.
  • Body shaped impressions are normal. Impression marks – sometimes known as settlement – are a normal characteristic of quality mattresses working as intended to conform to the shape of your body. These will be minimised with regular turning.
  • Getting used to your new bed. Your body will take a while to adjust to sleeping on a new surface, so don’t worry if your new bed doesn’t immediately meet your expectations. Give it time – it could take a few weeks.
  • Use a washable mattress and pillow protector to prolong the life of the mattress and pillow.

Your questions answered

What sort of bed should I choose if I have a bad back?
For a long time, it was believed that a hard bed was good for a bad back. Nowadays it’s generally accepted that this is not necessarily the case – and could in fact cause more damage. A supportive and comfortable mattress is the best option – it doesn’t matter what type of construction it is. Any reference to beds being orthopaedic – or similar medical sounding terms – does not automatically mean that the bed has been professionally assessed or recommended – it is a term loosely used by manufacturers to refer to extra firm models in their range.

What sort of bed is best for asthma sufferers or other types of allergy?
Almost all beds will, in time, attract house dust mites, whose droppings are highly allergenic. Regular cleaning, airing and the use of protective covers will reduce the effect. Some manufacturers are now using anti-dust mite treated fabrics for tickings. Always check details of construction and materials if you suffer from any other allergies. Manufacturers will be able to supply you with details.

Are foam mattresses hot?
Mattresses don’t create the heat and people can get hot on beds of all constructions – and remember that age, health and medications can all affect your body’s heat control mechanisms. But foam is a good insulator and the higher the density (i.e. the better the quality) the greater the potential heat retention. Manufacturers are coming up with various novel solutions for climate control – from the cellular construction or the
composition of the foam itself to aid breathability; to specially constructed ventilation layers; special springs to enhance air circulation; to warm sides and cool sides; to covers with the sort of technology you see in high performance clothing: fast drying and capable of allowing moisture to evaporate quickly.

Why are two similar mattresses so widely different in price?
Chances are they are not as similar as they seem. They might both claim to be predominantly of the same construction – but further investigation will probably reveal different material qualities; densities; amounts; etc. If you want to comparative
shop you will need quite a lot of detail to make sure you are comparing like for like.

What should I pay for a good mattress?
Prices for beds range from well under £100 to several thousands. As a general rule you get what you pay for. Remember that every £100 you spend on a new bed, actually represents an investment of just 2.7p a night (assuming a lifespan of seven years). A bargain bed is no bargain if you don’t sleep well in it.

Which is better – tufted or quilted?
Better quality tufts are well protected by wool or felt pompoms but some more sensitive people may be more aware of them than others. A good mattress protector can help. Otherwise, choose a quilted style instead.

Will I notice any difference between rigid and flexible slats?
Not only are they likely to feel different – rigid slats will give a bed a firmer feel – but they will affect the durability of the mattress – rigid slats have no give and work against the
mattress, leaving it to do all the work; sprung slats work with the mattress and will prolong its life and improve comfort levels.

My mattress is not the same size as the base?
There could be two reasons for this. You may not have bought the same size mattress as base. There are so many different sizes on the market these days, it is important to check actual dimensions, in the same scale (metric or imperial) to be sure of a size match. Don’t go by names alone – one shop’s king size may not be the same another’s! The other reason might be because of the construction. In transit or storage, mattress springs can sometimes nestle into each other temporarily reducing with the length or width. During use, the mattress should recover its original dimension. The effect is likely to be more pronounced if the spring unit does not have a perimeter frame or the mattress is not fully hand side stitched – ideally a mattress should have one or the other feature to ensure it keeps its shape.

Useful Contacts

Allergy UK
Planwell House, LEFA Business Park, Edington Way, Sidcup, Kent DA14 5BH
Allergy Helpline: 01322 619898

The Charity for Healthier Backs – 16 Elmtree Road, Teddington, Middlesex TW11 8ST
Helpline: 0845 130 2704

Chartered Society of Physiotherapy
14 Bedford Row, London WC1R 4ED
020 7306 6666

The Furniture Ombudsman
Maxwell Road, Stevenage, Hertfordshire SG1 2EW
0845 653 2064

Osteopathic Information Service
General Osteopathic Council, Osteopathy House, 176 Tower Bridge Road, London SE1 3LU
020 7357 6655

The Sleep Council
High Corn Mill, Chapel Hill, Skipton, North Yorkshire BD23 1NL
Freephone leaflet line: 0800 018 7923

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