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Are You Buying A Mattress?

UPDATED 15 Mar 2017

Buying a mattress is a terrible experience. A mattress is something we buy only rarely. So each time we head out shopping, we’re unfamiliar with the current trends in mattress technology, comfort and safety. Like many other manufacturers, mattress makers often try to save money by using low quality materials or construction methods, especially on the inside where it’s hard to see. A month ago, my wife and I bought a bigger bed and needed to replace our mattress. Here is what I discovered.

Mattresses are often made from materials that can be politely described only as unnatural. Over time, they can break down, wear out, give off potentially harmful gasses and quickly become uncomfortable. If you have allergies or are sensitive to smells, noises or motion transfer, buying the wrong mattress could lead to years of difficulty getting a good night’s rest.

Mattress Type

I spent way too much time reading, searching and researching on the Internet. I ruled out foam because of off-gassing, odor and durability. Innerspring mattresses are bad at preventing motion transfer, even the ones with separately wrapped coils (which is what we’ve been sleeping on for the last few years). While there are many mattress that use a combination of materials, a solid latex mattress seems like the best option.

Latex is the tree sap from which rubber is made. A latex mattress is made from natural rubber foam molded into shape using one of two processes: dunlop or talalay (see here also). Dunlop is older, while Talalay produces a slightly finer and more even foam. Synthetic latex is also used in mattresses. A “blended” latex mattress is a mix of natural and synthetic latex. If you have a latex allergy, you’ll want a synthetic mattress. If not, natural latex seems to last longer.


Latex mattresses are most often composed of several layers of latex stacked on top of one other, encased in a cover. Latex layers (and toppers) are made by only a few large corporations. You can ask the manufacturer where they get their latex. Latex International seems to be highly regarded.

Latex layers have different levels of firmness measured in ILD (Indentation Load Deflection). Soft latex typically has an ILD of 20-25, while firm latex might be 35-40. The most common arrangement seems to be 3″ of firm latex on the bottom, 3″ of medium latex in the middle and 3″ of soft latex on the top. Another common option is 6″ of firm on the bottom with 2″ of medium or soft on top. Having several 3″ layers with differing firmness gives you the flexibility to rearrange them if desired. For example, moving the soft layer to the middle and putting the medium layer on top gives the mattress a firmer feel without requiring another purchase.


Most covers (also called ticking) for a latex mattress will have a zipper so you can swap layers or stack them in a different order. The best covers are made from quilted cotton with wool padding. The quilting keeps the padding from bunching up over time.

By law, mattress cover padding must be resistant to fire. Wool is naturally fire-resistant. Other materials, like polyester, must be chemically treated to provide resistance. If you’re going the latex route, especially for health or environmental reasons, it seems best to avoid chemically treated synthetic material in your mattress, all of which can off-gas.


Getting a mattress pad is important to protect the mattress from spills because latex and most mattress covers are not machine washable. Any pad labeled “waterproof” is going to have a layer of vinyl or plastic, or use a thin coating of polyethylene or polyurethane. Water-resistant pads are available in cotton, cotton-and-polyester and cotton-and-wool varieties. Pads range from 1/4″ to 1.5″ thick.


Latex and other foam mattresses do not require box springs. Instead, if extra height is needed, use a mattress foundation. A foundation is basically a wooden box covered by fabric that does not have springs. They vary from 4″ to 10″ in height. Most foundations have wooden slats on top. The gap between slats ranges from 2″ (very good) to 5″ (less so). Too much space between slats allows the mattress to sag and decreases back support and the lifetime of the mattress. The covers for many self-assembled foundations use a drawstring and are open on the bottom.

If you have a box spring that you’d like to continue using, you can put plywood (or something similar) on top to help improve support and stability.


Buying high-quality cotton sheets seems easy. The best sheets are woven from single-ply thread made from Supima™ or Egyptian cotton. Thread counts in the range 400-800 are great. Any higher and the sheets start to feel flimsy because of how thin the thread has to be.

Sadly, there have been many cases of manufacturers lying about thread counts or using fabric incorrectly labeled as Egyptian. And make sure your sheets say “100%” or else they may not be. A good return policy is your best defense.

Where To Buy Online

If you are shopping online, there are many places to buy a latex mattress. You can even buy latex layers and a cover separately as a money-saving DIY project. What’s The Best Mattress is a good place to do research. There is a great list of places to start shopping. I looked at PlushBeds, Rocky Mountain Mattress, SleepEZ, Foam By Mail, Foam Sweet Foam, Tranquility Mattress and The Natural Bed Store. Be sure to check the return policies because shipping costs, restocking fees, return periods and warranties all vary.

Interestingly, nearly all of the foundations I found online were re-branded versions of this one. Look for that image as you’re shopping. Alternatives include one by U.S. Box Spring and another by Bed In A Box, which is manufactured by KD Frames. Any foundation from a local store will work too. If you buy locally, you can probably have your old mattress taken away for free.

Here’s What I Did

I decided on a DIY project. I ordered a cotton-and-wool cover and three latex layers from mattresses247 on eBay: one soft, one medium, one firm. Their latex layers are blended “factory seconds” which are new, but have cosmetic defects — like lumpy M&Ms that can’t be sold at retail. The defects are visible, but do not seem to affect the feel of the mattress at all. And saving $1,000 is pretty nice. They have great return policy (30 days, no restocking fees, only pay return shipping). Valerie was responsive and very helpful over email.

I bought the American Hardwood Mattress Foundation from BedInABox. It’s extremely well made and perfectly quiet. The cover is open on the bottom and made from polyester and cotton, which was a little disappointing at first. Polyester doesn’t off-gas much, and I can buy another cover later if I want. The slats have a 3.5″ gap, which seems a little wide considering the price. I nailed using some thin sheets of hard material on top of the slats to try to avoid sagging. But while looking underneath later on, it didn’t seem like the mattress was sinking into the remaining gaps much.

UPDATE Oct 10, 2012: Scott Ravenhorst, owner of Foam Sweet Foam, reached out to me about my experience. I’ve updated my comments here to reflect that.

I ordered my first mattress pad from Foam Sweet Foam. I really liked the quality and construction, but ended up returning it. Foam Sweet Foam has a great return policy and gladly took it back despite the fact I had washed it twice. The owner later read my article and called me about my experience. He confirmed I’d gotten a defective pad and that nearly all of their customers are very happy. If I hadn’t already found an alternative, I would have given them another shot. Foam Sweet Foam takes good care of their customers, which isn’t something that is common on the Internet.

My second pad is a Washable Wool-Filled Fitted Mattress Pad by Natura World from Amazon. I confirmed with Natura that the “Wash N Snuggle” fitted pad is the same product as the “Washable Wool-Filled” fitted pad. We’ve been sleeping on it for a week four months, and I really like it. We aired it out for a day, washed it once, and can’t smell anything.

I ordered two sets of sheets from Costco. They have a great reputation and return policy. While I liked the Charisma Egyptian cotton sheets, I ended up keeping the Kirkland Supima sheets. They are really soft, seem durable and feel great.


Overall, I’m very happy with my new mattress: latex, hardwood foundation, cotton-and-wool cover and pad, high-quality cotton sheets. It’s true that it takes a while to get used to a new mattress, and it’s only been a week. But I find myself looking forward to laying down at night. It’s too soon to say if I’m sleeping better, but I definitely find myself smiling more.

2 Years Later

It’s been over two years since we purchased our mattress. I thought I’d add a quick footnote on how things are going.

We are still sleeping on our mattress, and it’s held up pretty well. The mattress is sagging a little where we sleep, though not in the middle, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any worse. It’s still really comfortable. My parents house-sat one night and told me later that they thought it was really comfortable.

If I had it to do over again, I would probably not buy my latex on eBay. It wasn’t made by Latex International, and I wonder if that is why it’s not wearing as well as I’d hoped. And if there had been a problem, it would’ve been nearly impossible to return because the latex expands and no longer fits in the box.

The sheets wore out a few months ago, and we’ve replaced them. We sit on our bed a lot at night, and they tore where I sit. They’d gotten pretty thin. The new ones are not as comfortable, but seem sturdier. I’m not sure if I prefer comfort or durability. Next time, I’m going to try to find both. :)

Everything else seems as good as new. My wife sleeps very lightly, often waking up when the kids talk in their sleep. I don’t wake her up at nights on this mattress, which is great. No smells, not much movement, very comfortable.

5 Years Later

Our mattress is starting to sag some. We sometimes fight over the middle. :) However, after a recent trip staying in hotels, we couldn’t wait to get home to our (still) much nicer mattress. When it starts to bother us, I’m planning to just buy replacement latex (or perhaps a full mattress).


Review: Raving Fans

The first thing I noticed about Raving Fans was how short it is. 132 pages of large fonts and lots of whitespace makes the book appear longer than it is. Many pages are more than half blank. The authors use a parable to help explain their suggestions and, without it, the book could probably be condensed to just a few pages.

That said, the content of the book is good. The basic outline is:

  1. Decide what you want.
  2. Discover what the customer wants.
  3. Deliver the vision plus one percent.

Alliteration aside, I would rephrase these points as:

  1. Envision the perfect customer experience and compare it to reality.
  2. Ask customers for feedback and adjust the vision as appropriate.
  3. Promise only what can be consistently delivered and then make slow, stead improvements.

The most helpful part of the book was the point about envisioning the completed picture before talking with customers, and then using their feedback to make refinements. This idea meshes well with other things I’ve read. It is very hard for normal people (those who don’t spend all day thinking about your product or service) to imagine what is possible. So giving them a context within which to make comments is very helpful.

One bad thing is the examples and situations in the book often seem contrived or unrealistic. I would have liked to see an appendix with references upon which the situations in the book are based. Otherwise, it feels like the authors took their theory and just made up examples to help explain it without any supporting evidence from a real company where their theory had been put into practice.

Overall, I don’t think I’ll be rereading Raving Fans. It’s light on content and most of what I learned can be summarized in one or two short paragraphs.


Review: Good To Great

A few months ago, I joined a company called Imagine Learning that makes software to teach kids English. One thing I love about the company (it’s my second time working for them — yeah, long story :-) is that they choose a book each year, purchase a copy for every employee, and encourage them to read it. Last year’s book was Good To Great by Jim Collins which I was asked to read during my first few weeks on the job.

In short, the book is really good. The principles can be applied in non-work settings, to any group of people working toward a shared objective. The biggest downside is that, to be useful, those principles must be adopted by the leader of the group. The CEO of Imagine Learning is an advocate, which is one of things I like best about the company.

The principles, in the order in which they need to be applied, are:

  1. Leaders who are ambitious for the success of the company over themselves.
  2. Getting the right people into the company (and the wrong ones out) before making other decisions.
  3. Honest assessment of the present combined with optimism about the eventual future.
  4. Exclusive focus on a single idea at the intersection of passion, economics and being the best.
  5. Freedom and responsibility within a disciplined system.
  6. Selective use of technology to accelerate success.

Some excerpts should help illustrate why I like the book so much.

You must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, AND at the same time have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be. (p13)

The purpose of compensation is not to ‘motivate’ the right behaviors from the wrong people but to get and keep the right people in the first place. (p50)

Put your best people on your biggest opportunities, not your biggest problems. (p58)

The entire management team would lay itself open to searing questions and challenges from [people] who dealt directly with customers. (p72)

Focusing solely on what you can potentially do better than any other organization is the only path to greatness. (p100)

The purpose of bureaucracy is to compensate for incompetence and lack of discipline. (p121)

Mediocrity results first and foremost from management failure, not technological failure. (p156)

If you want to build an enduring and financially successful company, I don’t know of a better place to start than Good To Great.


Review: AppleTV

I’ve been using an TV (also known as AppleTV for those who lack Shift-Option-K goodness) for about a year now. It’s a great little device with a couple of really annoying flaws.

The Good

I like that It’s small, about an inch tall and eight inches on each side. It has an HDMI video output, and both optical and analog sound outputs. It can play almost anything in my iTunes library.

The best thing is probably the screensaver where pictures from your iPhoto library float up the screen. We hardly ever look through our “digital albums” on the computer, and it’s nice to have an easy way to see all those pictures.

The Bad

In order to play properly on the TV, movies have to be below a certain quality. iTunes will play high-quality movies that the TV ignores. The TV handles most mainstream movie formats, including H.264. But it is not upgradable unless you’re willing to tinker a bit. I’d like to see support for Netflix, Hulu and others built-in.

The parental controls option prevents purchases, but does not hide anything nor prevent previews. I assume the only reason to include that feature is for kids, so why not just hide filtered content completely? If I want to watch something else, I’d be happy to put in my passcode to see the filtered content. Since the filtered content is not hidden, the whole feature seems nearly useless for me.

The Ugly

The TV never sleeps. Which means it always seems hot enough to roast an egg. I would really like an option to “sleep after so many minutes.” Or at least have it turn off the hard drive. It’s hard on the drive and wastes energy. Unlike the TV, I do sleep at night.

The worst thing is how slow the navigation feels on occasion. Even with the most recent software update, there is way too much stuttering and jumping. I suspect this occurs because I am streaming content from my iTunes library on another computer.

I could avoid streaming if the hard drive in the device was bigger. Or if it was semi-easy to put in a new one. Or if it supported external drives connected via the USB port. It doesn’t happen all the time, but waiting even 3 seconds for it to respond is really annoying.


Overall, I like my TV. It’s really easy to setup, and gives me a simple way to watch or listen to media stored on my computer. A Mac mini would work too, but is more expensive. It also lacks an HDMI output. And I worry that my kids would be confused if it ever dropped out of Front Row, the TV-like software that comes with Macs.

On the other hand, a mini is a computer which makes it easy to customize. It would allow me to watch streamed movies and rented DVDs (the TV lacks a DVD player). I wonder why Apple doesn’t allow the TV to play DVDs that are in another computer sort of like they do with the Macbook Air.

If I had my purchase to do over again, I’d certainly get an TV or a mini. Just not sure which one. What I’d like is a mini with an HDMI port.


MacNN Review of Mozy

My job involves working on the Mac version of Mozy. It’s good to see very positive reviews of our work. I know there’s room for improvement too, but it’s great to see happy users.


Review: Rich Dad, Poor Dad

The book Rich Dad, Poor Dad, written by Robert Kiyosaki, was the first book I read on the subject of investing. I’ve never thought of it as an incredibly well-written book, but it did get me thinking about money.

The three most valuable lessons I learned from reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad are:

  1. Assets make you money. Liabilities cost you money. To be rich, buy assets and avoid liabilities.
  2. Most decisions about money are driven by the emotions of fear and desire. Learn to make rational decisions.
  3. The more I know about something, the less risky my decisions become.

I believe these are incredibly valuable lessons to have learned. Notice, however, that I didn’t say anything about real estate. There is quite a bit about real estate and owning your own business in the book, but there isn’t really enough to act on. In fact, this was somewhat frustrating. I purchased two more of his books and his CashFlow 101 game, which I really like. The books started to get repetitive, so I stopped buying them.

Today, I stumbled on a thoroughly researched criticism of the book and it’s author by John Reed. Reed argues extensively that Kiyosaki is making up some of the major stories in the book and giving dangerous advice in others. I found his arguments and evidence pretty convincing.

However, I needed to learn those lessons. And it was better to do it by reading someone else’s experiences than to learn it myself the hard way. I still like the book, but would like to find a better one to recommend — one that doesn’t have ethical issues.

In the meantime, Rich Dad, Poor Dad is still one of the best books on higher-level thinking about finances and money. When I find a better book, I’ll be sure to mention it.


Review: The Richest Man in Babylon

A few years ago, I picked up The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason because I was interested in learning about money. It’s an amazing subject really, and I wanted to know more about it. The book more than fulfilled my hopes.

Written in 1926, the book is a collection of stories set in ancient Babylon, chosen because many of the financial principles still in use today originated there. The book opens with the story of Bansir and his friend Kobbi. Both have worked hard for many years and yet seem to have nothing to show for it. As they discuss how they would like to possess some of the riches they see around them, Kobbi asks what I consider to be a question so obvious I was surprised it had never occurred to me, “Might we not find out how others acquire gold and do as they do?”

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