Choosing a Mattress: Your Complete Guide

When it comes to buying a mattress, it can be tricky to know where to start. All mattresses aren’t created equal, and if you choose one that’s not suitable for you, it could impact your sleep for the next few years!

If you’re in the market for a new mattress, check out the expert advice and buying tips from our team here at Big Furniture Warehouse, to help you on your way. 

Why is buying a mattress so difficult?

There are a number of reasons why buying a mattress can be so overwhelming. If you’re feeling a little lost, then you’re certainly not alone! 

One of the issues can be the huge range of choice available to consumers when they’re buying a mattress. As discussed above, it can be tricky to decide whether you want latex or memory foam, a sprung mattress, what spring count might be best for you – it really can feel like an impossible choice at times. 

It also doesn’t help that mattresses are a relatively rare purchase (experts recommend replacing them once every 6 to 8 years, but a lot of people wait much longer). If you’ve only bought one or two mattresses in your lifetime, or if this is your first time buying your own, it can be hard knowing where to start. 

Another thing that can make mattress buyers hesitant to commit to a purchase, is the feeling of this being a massive investment. Mattresses are not a small purchase, with many of the high-end models retailing for thousands of pounds! Many customers feel torn between getting value for their money, without finding themselves stuck with a poor quality or uncomfortable mattress for the next 8 years. 

In this guide to choosing a mattress, we aim to arm you with the knowledge you need to make an informed choice when it comes to buying your next mattress. With expert insights from our team and a number of handy mattress shopping tips, we’ll have you sleeping soundly in no time! 

What to Consider When Buying a Mattress

When you’re looking to buy a new mattress, the top six things you should consider are:

  1. Size: How large does your mattress need to be to sleep one, or two comfortably? How much space do you have in your bedroom?
  2. Mattress Type: What material do you prefer? Are you looking to try latex or memory foam, or more traditional mattress fillings like wool?
  3. Springs: Do you want a sprung mattress? Would you prefer standard Bonnell springs, or pocket springs, which adapt more to your shape?
  4. Firmness: Do you prefer a soft, firm, or very firm mattress? 
  5. Your individual sleep needs: Do you have any conditions such as allergies or back pain that affect your sleep?
  6. Budget: How much do you want to invest in your mattress, and what can you afford?
A white mattress on a fabric bed frame, beside a window with white curtains in someone’s bedroom.

Does a Good Mattress Really Matter?

In short, yes! A well-chosen mattress that meets all of your sleep needs and preferences can be the difference between a peaceful rest, and incessant tossing and turning. 

Sleep is so vital to every aspect of our health, and the impact it has on our wellbeing can’t be underestimated. According to a list of benefits compiled by Heathline, good sleep can improve productivity, memory, athletic performance, cardiovascular health, immunity, and our mental health – as well as much more. 

Meanwhile, a good mattress will provide not only the opportunity of better sleep, but will offer the right type of support to ease back and joint pain, prevent excessive tossing and turning, and can even help combat issues with snoring! 

Although a good quality mattress is only one ingredient in the recipe for better sleep, it can certainly help you on your way. Paired with good sleep habits, a restful, calm environment, a good mattress can have an extremely positive impact on your life as a whole. 

Six Things to Consider When Buying a Mattress


Before even beginning to shop around for a mattress, you should think carefully about what size mattress you require, and whether your bedroom can accommodate it. There’s nothing worse than buying a King or Queen mattress and bed set, only to find it doesn’t fit the space you intended to place it. Be sure to measure carefully before starting to shop around. 

Mattress Sizes: UK vs. European

The main mattress sizes that you’ll find in the UK include:

  • Small Single (2’6″ x 6’3″ or 75cm x 190cm)
  • Single (3′ x 6’3″ or 90cm x 190cm)
  • Small Double (4′ x 6’3″ or 120cm x 190cm)
  • Double (4’6″ x 6’3″ or 135cm x 190cm)
  • King Size (5′ x 6’6″ or 150cm x 200cm)
  • Superking (6′ x 6’6″ or 180cm x 200cm)
  • Emperor  (6’6″ x 6’6″ or 200cm x 200cm)

However, European mattress sizes vary ever so slightly, so make sure that you’re aware of this when shopping – and always double-check the measurements against your bedroom. The most common European Sizes include: 

  • European Small Single (2’6″ x 6’6″ or 75cm x 200cm)
  • European Single (3′ x 6’6″ or 90cm x 200cm)
  • European Double (4’7″ x 6’6″ or 140cm x 200cm)
  • European King (5’3″ x 6’6″ or 160cm x 200cm)

Mattresses for Singles

If you’re a single person, you may feel tempted to buy a smaller mattress, such as a single,  to save on space. While this is certainly an option, take some time to consider whether you might benefit more from a small double, or even a double instead. 

Double and small double mattresses can be a great option for fidgety sleepers, who may enjoy a little more room to spread out. For people over 6 feet (1.83 m) tall, the length of a standard mattress (6’3” in the UK) may also feel a little restrictive, so opting for a bed wider than a single will give you more space to play with.

People who are parents, have pets, or are in long-term relationships may also benefit from a small double or double bed. Although you may not currently be sharing a bed, a double or small double can offer a little more flexibility, though you may need to sacrifice some floor space in your bedroom. 

Mattresses for Couples

Similar to the discussion of single mattresses above, although double mattresses are a very popular size in the UK, they may not be ideal for couples – despite what the name might imply. 

A standard UK double mattress will give each partner around 3 feet (0.91 m) of room. While this is the same size as a standard single bed, it can be restrictive for people above a certain height, or who like to change sleeping positions a lot. If you or your partner do have a tendency to move a lot in your sleep, you may choose to opt for a mattress that is a little larger.

King or Superking mattresses can be a great option for couples, providing space to move, as well as a little more room if you prefer not to sleep very closely with one another. Take notice of how you sleep in your current bed, and think about whether your mattress could do with an upgrade to a larger size. 

Mattress Type

Once you’ve settled on the appropriate size of mattress, it’s time to start thinking about what type of mattress you’d like. Or more specifically, what core material and fillings you would like it to have. Perhaps you already have a preference, and are a memory foam devotee. Or perhaps you slept on a natural fibre wool mattress at a friend’s house, and always dreamed about getting one. 

Although we’d recommend trying out a variety of mattresses in person, to find which suits you best, here is a summary of the main mattress materials you will find while shopping. 

Foam Mattresses

Foam mattresses have proven very popular, particularly in the last 10 years. Whereas traditional mattresses consist of a sprung base, filled with soft fillings like cotton, foam mattresses consist of soft foam layers, which support the body. Foam mattresses may or may not contain springs, depending on the model that you choose. 

The most well-known is perhaps memory foam – a soft, heat-activated mattress material which conforms to the shape of the body, for a comfy, yet supportive night’s sleep. When memory foam first arrived on the mattress market, it was very expensive, but now more affordable memory foam mattresses are available. 

Although memory foam is a popular and well-loved mattress material, some people have found that they feel rather warm when sleeping on some models of memory foam mattress. To combat this issue, we have seen the popularity of gel foam and latex foam grow. These foam mattresses have been developed to be more breathable, thanks to open cell materials, which don’t trap the sleeper’s body heat. 

Finally, we have polyurethane (PU) foam, which is the most affordable mattress foam on the market, and can often be found in budget mattresses and mattress toppers. Although PU foam is safe to use and great for those who are on a budget, it does tend to collapse more quickly over time than its latex and memory foam counterparts. 

Natural Mattresses

Although there are a number of benefits to foam mattresses, it’s true that they aren’t to everybody’s taste. For instance, customers that prefer a firmer mattress may not enjoy the sensation of ‘sinking in’ to the foam top layers. In this case, more traditional mattresses made with natural fillings can be a great option. 

Natural mattresses may contain a number of materials, but two of the most commonly found fillings are wool and cotton. The benefit of these materials is that they are both cooling, breathable, and due to their structure, can be packed tightly into a mattress for a firm sleep surface, or packed more loosely for a soft, cosy feeling. 

Synthetic Mattresses

An alternative to wool and cotton fibre mattresses, which can be a little more expensive, depending on the model, are synthetic mattresses. These mattresses are often filled with polyester fibres, or a blend of man-made materials, which are paired with either a pocket-sprung or standard spring base. 

Although the main benefit to synthetic mattresses is their affordability, they can also be a comfortable and sustainable option, with many manufacturers repurposing items such as used plastic bottles. These bottles are broken down and converted into soft, comfy polyester, which is then used to fill the mattresses. 

Although synthetic mattresses may not sound like the most eco-friendly option, there are a number of ways that mattress manufacturers are finding ways to reduce their impact on the planet. So, if sustainability is an important factor to you while shopping for a mattress, you’d be surprised at the innovative models you may find! 

A dark-haired woman sitting on a bed, stretching her arms in the air in front of a brightly lit window.


Although some modern foam mattresses are made without the inclusion of springs, it is still the norm for mattresses to include some form of sprung support. Springs support the body, bolster the mattress structure, and prevent you from sinking too deeply into the mattress’ surface. 

It is the resistance the springs provide, paired with the comfort of the soft fillings, that makes a mattress the ideal sleeping surface. Here are the things you should consider when it comes to choosing a sprung mattress.

Bonnell Springs

Bonnell springs are the traditional set of springs, attached to an outer frame, which forms the sprung core of a standard mattress. They’re made of carefully coiled metal, which should be rust-resistant to ensure longer use and performance.

Sometimes known as open coil mattresses, mattresses with a Bonnell spring unit are known to be durable, long-lasting, and for a long time were the industry standard, before the more recent introduction of pocket springs. 

Pocket Springs

Pocket springs are sets of typically smaller, individually arranged springs which are sewn into small fabric pockets. Unlike Bonnell springs, which are intertwined and attached to a larger frame, pocket springs are stitched together by the fabric sleeves, so they move more independently. 

Pocket sprung mattresses are great for couples because if one partner rolls over in their sleep, the individual springs would absorb this movement, rather than a Bonnell spring mattress, where the other person would likely be moved too. 

The pocket sprung structure also conforms more closely to the individual shape of your body, as each spring functions independently, rather than moving as part of a traditional sprung mattress core. 

Pocket Spring Count

When you’re shopping for a pocket-sprung mattress, you are likely to see the spring count listed in the product description. This is the number of individual pocket springs that are used to construct the mattress core. 

A higher pocket-spring count (perhaps 2000 or 3000 springs) is normally thought to be better, and more supportive. However, some manufacturers will add additional layers of mini-springs, on top of the standard pocket sprung core so that they can advertise a higher spring count. 

Be wary, and always check the mattress description carefully, to see how the pocket springs have been used, arranged, and what the benefits are to how the manufacturer has utilised them. 


When it comes to mattress springs, zoning is a method of providing targeted support to specific areas of the body, by arranging the springs in a specific way. For instance, higher-tensile springs may be used in the centre of the mattress, to provide greater support to the sleeper’s lumbar region. 

Mattresses with zoned support have been developed and designed to provide relief to problem areas, where sleepers may experience aches and pains. For instance, the back and joint areas. If this is something you’re keen to address, keep an eye out for mattresses with zoned springs. 


Once you’ve settled on your preferred size and mattress type, it’s time to begin thinking about how firm you’d like your mattress to be. This can be one of the main factors in whether you’ll find your mattress comfortable in the first instance, as well as how well you’ll sleep on it in the years to come. 

Most people know whether they have a preference for a softer, or firmer mattress, and there are certainly benefits to both. Most retailers measure firmness on a rating scale between 1 (Soft) and 6 (Extra Firm or Orthopaedic). 

When you’re buying a mattress online, it’s even more important to pay attention to descriptions and the firmness rating. If you’re not able to test out a mattress, it’s best to read all the information you’ve been given about it, before committing to buy.

Mattress Firmness Rating Scales

The most common rating scale, seen when shopping for mattresses, tends to look a little something like this. 

  1. Soft
  2. Medium-soft
  3. Medium
  4. Medium-firm
  5. Firm
  6. Extra Firm / Orthopaedic

Though the scale may vary, the overall categories of firmness tend to stay fairly consistent across the mattress retail industry. 

What are the benefits of different mattress firmnesses?


Soft mattresses are ideal for those who prefer a cosy, luxurious sleep surface. With pillowy fillings, and soft materials that you can sink into, soft mattresses can give the right person a great night’s sleep. 


Though not quite as luxurious-feeling as a soft mattress, a medium-soft mattress can strike a good balance for those who enjoy some softness, but don’t enjoy the feeling of sinking too deeply into their mattress’ surface. 


Medium mattresses are a good middle ground, and can be ideal for couples who have slightly differing firmness preferences. Balancing a soft top-layer with reasonably firm support beneath, medium mattresses are the most popular mattress firmness style. 


Medium-firm mattresses are an excellent option for those who value support, but still want some softness to their sleeping surface. These can be a good option for those who occasionally suffer from mild joint or back pain after they sleep. 


A firm mattress is the best choice for somebody who likes a fairly hard, supportive sleep surface and doesn’t enjoy the sensation of sinking into their mattress. Firm mattress cores will support the entire length of the body, providing a great night’s sleep and better spinal alignment.

Extra Firm, or Orthopaedic

For sleepers who enjoy very hard sleep surfaces, great support, or who routinely struggle with back and joint pain, an extra firm or orthopaedic mattress may be the perfect solution. Although they may not be for everybody, if you sleep best on a very hard surface, and appreciate bodily support, an orthopaedic mattress will give you everything you need.

A double mattress on a wooden bed frame in a brightly lit bedroom.

Your Individual Sleep Needs 

Having taken into account your preferences when it comes to firmness, this is also a good time to consider any individual needs you have when it comes to your sleep. Take some time to think about things that tend to keep you awake. 

Perhaps you struggle with aches and pains, or often experience allergic reactions, which can make sleep difficult. All of these things are worth bearing in mind when you’re choosing a mattress, and are problems that manufacturers have taken steps to address. 

Choosing a mattress for back pain

Although we have already touched on back and joint pain briefly in the firmness section above, most experts recommend a firm, extra firm, or orthopaedic mattress to help with back pain. The superior support and spinal alignment provided by a firm mattress will reduce any negative impact that your sleeping surface and position could otherwise have.

Although a firm or orthopaedic mattress is unlikely to cure your back pain, an unsuitable mattress can certainly aggravate conditions such as these. Therefore, it’s important to make sure this is a consideration when choosing a mattress, if you regularly struggle with back pain. 

We’d also recommend consulting with your GP, or another specialist whose care you may be under, before making any significant changes to your lifestyle. You will be spending several hours a week sleeping on your mattress, so it’s vital to make sure it’s a good fit for you as an individual, and will help to support your health and wellbeing.

Choosing a mattress for allergy sufferers

Although allergies to mattress fillings can be quite rare, some allergy sufferers do find themselves experiencing reactions due to their current mattress. Even foam mattresses, which are often hypoallergenic, can include flame retardant coatings that can cause allergic reactions. 

People with allergies to dust, or dust mites may also find themselves experiencing allergic reactions, as mattresses are frequently home to these microscopic creatures, whose waste can cause allergic reactions in those who are sensitive to them. 

When choosing your mattress, keep an eye on the descriptions for green flags such as “hypoallergenic”, or any accreditations the mattress may have from allergy organisations. Synthetic materials such as polyester, memory foam and PU foam can be great options for allergy sufferers, as well as mattresses which have minimal flame retardant treatments. 

Foam mattresses also typically have a closed-cell structure, making them less hospitable environments for dust mites. If you, or a loved one frequently suffer from allergies, a synthetic, or foam mattress could be the best choice, though there are many hypoallergenic mattresses available for purchase, both online and in stores. 


Finally, after you’ve put together a list of specifications for your new mattress, it’s time to determine what your budget is going to be. Mattresses can be quite a large investment, and it can be tempting to go for the cheapest option. However, the cheapest model of mattress won’t always provide you with the best value. 

The price of a mattress won’t necessarily be the best measure of how good the quality is, or even how suitable it will be for you as an individual. Do your research and decide which features you’d really like to see from your new mattress (for instance, memory foam, pockets springs, a medium-firm sleep surface). 

See what the price range is for mattresses with the features you really want, and use your list of preferences to narrow down your selection, and help determine how much you’re willing to spend. 

Remember, this is an item you’ll be sleeping on, potentially for the next 6 to 8 years, so it’s worth investing a little money in, if you can afford to do so. A good mattress can transform your sleep, but there are plenty of affordable models which will have all the features you’re looking for.  

At Big Furniture Warehouse, we’re proud to offer a selection of affordable mattresses, as well as cotbed mattresses for babies and toddlers. Visit our site now to browse the full range, and find your ideal mattress that won’t break the bank.

A woman with long dark hair asleep on her front on a soft-looking, clean white duvet.

Our Top 5 Tips for Choosing a Mattress

  1. Read the descriptions carefully. Understand what’s inside your mattress and what the features and benefits are before committing to buy.
  2. Test out a variety of mattresses to find out what you like. Visit a showroom, or even just your friends and family’s houses, to try out as wide a range of mattresses as possible.
  3. Don’t allow budget to be the main deciding factor. Go for value over cheapness, and make sure you check any reviews online that are available.
  4. Remember that one night is different to 30 nights. Don’t just think of how your mattress feels after five minutes of sleeping on it – try to imagine how it will feel after a week, or a month. Do you think it may begin to feel too soft, or hard?
  5. Check the returns policy. Although most retailers only accept returns on mattresses due to a fault, some will offer a guarantee from between 30 and 100 nights. If after ten nights, you’re not happy with it, they will accept a return with no questions asked. 

We hope this guide to choosing a mattress has provided you with the much-needed insights you need to find your perfect model. You can browse our range of affordable mattresses in our online store, or enjoy more home, garden and living articles from the Big Furniture Warehouse blog.

If you’re currently making improvements to your bedroom, you may enjoy our 15+ Small Bedroom Layout Ideas, or 23 Money-Saving Ideas for your Bedroom Makeover.

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