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The complete guide to buying a mattress in South Africa

The complete guide to buying a mattress in South Africa

Welcome to the Meelu guide to buying a perfect mattress for you!

This guide takes an in-depth look at everything you’ll need to know to make the right choice in buying a mattress. Don’t have time to read the whole article or want to skip to a summarised version? View the cheat sheet here.


Why is buying a mattress such a big deal?

Would you run a marathon, go camping or climb a mountain without the right equipment? Of course not! And yet, when it comes to sleeping (which we spend a third of our lives doing) we often neglect the most important piece of equipment needed – the mattress!

It’s no secret that a comfortable and supportive mattress is one of the key ingredients for a good night’s sleep, but most people don’t realise just how much a mattress can impact not only your sleep, but your entire life.

Sleeping on the wrong mattress, a mattress that is badly worn out or even a mattress that is just too old can cause more than just neck or back pain.

By contributing to poorer quality sleep, the wrong mattress could:

  • Increase stress levels in your life, making you more nervous, irritable, worried or depressed
  • Harm your relationships by making you grumpy, less attentive and lower your libido
  • Negatively impact your ability to perform at work or school
  • Alter your judgement, decision-making and long- or short-term memory abilities
  • Lower your immune system, making you more vulnerable to infections
  • Increase your risk of chronic illnesses such as obesity, heart disease, high-blood pressure and diabetes

Having the right equipment becomes even more important when the consequences of not being prepared are as serious as the list above. Fortunately, we’ve compiled this handy guide to help you identify, test and purchase a mattress that has the perfect balance of comfort and support just for you. Properly looked after, a good quality mattress should last up to 10 years! This means that you shouldn’t rush the decision, but once you’ve decided on a new mattress you will be getting the perfect night’s sleep for years to come.

Do you need a new mattress? Here are 8 warning signs that you do…

Now that you know how important a good mattress is for your mental and physical well-being, here are the signs that you need to invest in a new mattress:

1. Your mattress is 8-10 years old

Most people don’t remember when they got their mattress, but common wisdom says you should start shopping for a new one every 8 – 10 years. Wear and tear, new advances in mattress technologies like specialty foams and a build-up of things like dust mites, dead skin and sweat over the years are all good reasons why you should replace your mattress every decade. It’s also true that the older you get the more comfort and support you will need while you sleep. This means that even if you bought the perfect mattress for your body 10 years ago, it may no longer be the right mattress for you anymore.

2. Your body is stiff, achy or sore when you get out of bed

Wear and tear on the foam and springs can cause the mattress to sag in the middle, creating misalignment in your spine and pressure-points in your body while you sleep. It becomes difficult for you to get comfortable, and you end up tossing and turning a lot during the night. This results in you waking up with pain or stiffness in your shoulders, neck or back almost every day! A sure sign that your mattress is causing this pain is if the pain or stiffness gets better during the day, only for it to return again the next morning.

buying a mattress

3. You wake up tired

A good night’s sleep should leave you feeling rested and refreshed. Do you find yourself struggling to get out of bed in the morning because you’re still tired, even after getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night? You are probably tossing and turning throughout the night because your body can’t get comfortable enough to fall into a deep sleep.

4. You sleep better somewhere else

If you end up sleeping better when you go away on holiday or a business trip, or you find yourself preferring to sleep in another bedroom or the couch it’s probably time to admit that you aren’t sleeping well on your current mattress anymore. As your mattress stops providing you proper comfort or support, it will become harder for you to fall asleep and you will look for other places to get a good night’s sleep.

5. There are visible dents, lumps or sagging in your mattress

These changes in the shape of your mattress mean that the support is being compromised in some way. If you feel like you sag into the mattress when you lie down, or there are uncomfortable bumps pushing into you at night, they will only get worse over time. It’s best to start shopping for a new mattress right away before it starts negatively impacting your sleep!

6. You experience a sudden increase in allergies or asthma at night

Over time, a traditional spring mattress becomes a home to dust-mites, dead skin and other potentially allergy-causing bugs and dirt. If you’ve experienced an increase in allergies or cold-like symptoms including sneezing or coughing when you go to bed, during the night or when you wake up in the morning then your mattress may be the culprit! Using a dust mite resistant mattress cover or investing in a latex/memory-foam mattress will help prevent dust-mites breeding in your bed.

buying a mattress

7. Your partner disturbs you by moving at night

Do you constantly get woken up by your partner rolling over in their sleep or getting up in the middle of the night? Your traditional spring mattress is probably worn-out or wasn’t designed with motion-transfer in mind! Improvements in mattress technology like latex and memory foam all reduce motion transfer, which means you can sleep soundly through the night without being woken up by your partner moving or sneaking off to the fridge for a midnight snack.

8. You’ve gained or lost a lot of weight recently

Mattresses provide different levels of comfort and support, and often what supported you a few years ago isn’t what your body needs anymore. As you gain or lose weight, pressure points or sagging may begin to impact the quality of your sleep, which means it is time to get a mattress that’s right for your body-type today.

The different types of mattresses

Buying a new mattress can be confusing with all the different types available on the market. Deciding between a Specialty Foam, Innerspring or Hybrid mattress is often made harder by some mattress manufacturers who don’t make it clear what they have used to make their products, instead using language and descriptions that make it hard to compare one mattress against another. We’ve broken down the different types of mattresses available into 4 main categories, helping you compare and identify the best option for you.

Foam Mattresses

A fast-growing mattress category, foam mattresses are here to stay and for good reason. There are essentially 3 different types of foam mattresses available, all offering different benefits and sleep experiences.

Memory Foam Mattresses

Initially developed for NASA in the 1970’s, memory foam has quickly become one of the favourite foams to use for mattresses worldwide. Also known as Visco Elastic foam, a memory foam mattress is often considered to be the best option if you have a sore back or achy joints. Memory foam evenly distributes your weight in the bed by conforming to your body shape. As your body-heat softens the foam, you sink into the mattress which can sometimes sleep “warmer” than other traditional mattresses, but it is very much up to personal preference. It is one of the most comfortable materials available and is resistant to bed-bugs and mould which make it a great option for allergy sufferers.

buying a mattress

Latex Mattresses

Natural or synthetic latex mattresses are also very popular choices and have a bit more “bounce” than a memory foam mattress. Extremely durable, latex mattresses are known for their support and lack of motion transfer. They provide great support and alignment in the shoulder and hip area, whilst reducing pressure-points throughout the length of the body. If your partner is a restless sleeper, you stand a better chance of sleeping through with a latex mattress!

buying a mattress

Specialty Foam Mattresses

Specialty Foam Mattresses are made up of different layers of foam, and often include Memory Foam, Latex Foam, Polyurethane Foam and other foams that contain materials like cooling gel together in one mattress. These foams are produced at different densities and combined to create a sleep experience that highlights the best quality of each material. Often providing the best combination of comfort and support for most sleepers, Specialty Foam Mattresses have taken the mattress industry by storm in the last few years and many are available online as a cost-effective alternative to more expensive in-store options. Our own Meelu Mattress is a Specialty foam mattress and comes with a risk-free, 100-night trial!

buying a mattress

Innerspring Mattresses

An innerspring mattress is the oldest and most widely known type of mattress available. These traditional mattresses contain an inner steel coil support system that manufacturers started using over 100 years ago. There are many variations of the spring system, each providing a different experience based on the number of springs used, their size and whether the springs are connected or housed in individual pockets. Each innerspring mattress uses foam, fiber, upholstery and other materials to add comfort to the spring system and support the sleeper. Although still the most widely used type of mattress, advances in technology have challenged the idea that springs are needed to provide support in mattresses, and many new mattress buyers are choosing more modern alternatives, like specialty foam mattresses.

Innerspring Mattress Springs

Hybrid Mattresses

Hybrid mattresses combine innerspring technology with one or more types of foam, typically using memory foam, polyurethane foam or latex. Often combined in unique ways, hybrid mattresses can be a viable choice for those who prefer the feel of a spring mattress but want to experience some of what new mattress technology has to offer.

Hybrid Mattress

Other Types of Mattresses

This category is made up of the less popular types of mattresses, including options like Water Beds, Futons, and Air Beds. If you are considering a mattress that doesn’t fit into any of the categories above, we recommend you test and compare it against one of the above first. There is a reason most people prefer to sleep on something like a Specialty Foam Mattress as opposed to a Water Bed, but this decision comes down to personal preference and how your body and mind feels after a night’s sleep.

What is your budget?

When it comes to buying a mattress, most people make the mistake of thinking that higher prices mean better quality. Although a mattress is an investment and you definitely shouldn’t go for the cheapest option, there are multiple factors to consider when comparing mattress prices.

The first thing to take into consideration after you’ve identified the type of mattress you would like to sleep on is where you will be getting it from. Purchasing a mattress in-store from a dealer generally carries a higher price than buying a mattress online, simply because there are extra costs involved in transporting the mattress to and from the store, mark-ups and salesman commissions. Purchasing a mattress online directly from the manufacturer will potentially save you money, and many mattresses available online compete for comfort and support with higher-priced in-store alternatives.

Another factor to consider is the types of materials used to manufacture the mattress. The less you pay for a mattress, the higher the chances are that the materials used are of poorer quality and are potentially more toxic to sleep on than mattresses made from premium quality and much purer materials. This is especially true for Foam mattresses, where off-gassing of toxic fumes can be a concern.

For the South African market, we suggest the starting budget for a Queen-sized mattress and up to be between R7000 and R10 000. Taking into account how long a good quality mattress should last, spending R10 000 on a mattress will only cost you R2,74 a night for the next 10 years! That’s a small price to pay for a good night’s sleep, every night.

What size mattress should you get?

How much space do you have?

The first thing to consider when deciding on what mattress size you should get is not how many times you can roll over before you reach the other side, but how big your room is. Many people order the biggest mattress they can afford without properly measuring the available floor-space in the room and deciding how much extra space they want around the bed to be able to move freely. Make sure that you are buying a bed that fits your room properly, as a mistake here could be extremely frustrating and costly.

Who will be sleeping on the mattress?

Is it just you, or will you be sharing the bed with a partner? Do you have children or pets that will join you in the bed regularly, and how will that affect your comfort and sleep?

It’s important to account for your current situation and future plans – are you single but plan on getting married soon? Are you currently a young working professional planning on moving to a bigger place in the near future?

Your answers to these questions will give you better insight into which mattress size is right for you, today and tomorrow.

Sharing a small mattress with a partner

How do you sleep?

If you sleep with a partner, it’s important to consider how each of you sleeps at night. Are you a side, stomach or back sleeper? How much space do you take up when sleeping, and are you or your partner a restless sleeper who moves around a lot? You may want to get a larger mattress if either of you feels that you could get disturbed at night by your partners sleeping style and movements.

Sleeping positions

Mattress size recommendations

Below are our recommended mattress sizes for different types of people and scenarios. We suggest you start looking at the size that suits you below and take it from there!

King Mattress: Ideal for couples, the king-sized mattress is the ultimate in comfort. Enough space to sleep peacefully with your partner, we recommend this if you are married, living together or planning either of those anytime soon.

Queen Mattress: The Queen size mattress is ideal for a guest room or single adult. We find it can be slightly too small for long-term comfort for couples but is still an ideal choice if you are on a very tight budget.

Double Mattress: Deceptively named a double, this mattress is best for a young adult or teenager and is too small for any adult couple sharing a bed long-term. When sharing, an adult has the same space proportionally as a baby has in a crib, which can be constricting and disruptive for both partners.

Single Mattress: The single mattress is great for teenagers and younger children.

Mattress firmness

Mattress firmness is a difficult topic to address because it is highly subjective. Each individual has their own definition of what “Soft” or “Firm” means, so we’ve done our best here to give general guidelines as well as explanations on the differences between “Firmness” and “Support”, and how to best decide what will work for you.

What is Mattress Firmness?

Mattress firmness describes the feeling you get when you lie on the mattress, from your first impression to the prolonged experience you have. It’s based on how hard the mattress feels, and how comfortable that hardness is for you. Mattress firmness can be described in one of two – how soft it feels and how much you sink in is just as good an indicator of hardness as how much the mattress feels like it is “pushing” back at you. The different feel is generally given a number between 1 and 10 (with 10 being extremely firm), or a description like “Soft / Plush”, “Medium-Firm” and “Firm”.

Statistically, most sleepers prefer a firmness of “Medium-Firm” or around 6.5/10, and many mattresses (especially the specialty foam mattresses) are being designed and engineered around this ideal firmness and being marketed as a one-size-fits-all solution. The Meelu Mattress is a great example of this, and comes in at a comfortable 7/10 firmness!

The perfect mattress firmness

What is Mattress Support?

Many people think that support and firmness is the same thing, but it is not. You can have a soft or plush mattress with great support, or a firm mattress with very ineffective support that creates unnecessary and uncomfortable pressure points. Support is how aligned a mattress keeps your spine and hips while you sleep, and is often designed into the mattress with different specialty foams, springs, and other engineering or technology. The best indicator of support is when you are lying in your ideal sleeping position, is your spine straight or curved in a way that could injure you over time?

Mattress Support keeps the spine aligned

How do you sleep?

Your preferred sleeping position will also affect what firmness you may find comfortable. The 3 main sleeping positions are back, side and stomach sleepers. Although medium-firm is still seen as the most popular firmness, you may find that as a side sleeper you enjoy a softer mattress, or if you are a stomach or back sleeper you might prefer a firmer mattress.

How to test a mattress

One of the biggest moments in deciding which mattress to purchase is the infamous “Mattress Test”. Sadly, the norm for testing a mattress is notoriously ineffective, as mattress tests happen in-store, and hardly ever exceed 5-10 minutes. These quick tests are often performed under the watchful eye of a hovering salesman and other shoppers and are awkward to say the least. Unfortunately, it is the only opportunity most people have to test their mattress before they say “I do” and enter into a 10-year relationship. A person will only get to test their mattress properly over a full night’s sleep, and even then, the first few weeks of a new mattress take some getting used to. Fortunately, there is a new trend among most online retailers and many are offering a 90-120-night risk-free trial with each mattress purchased. This means that if you are not happy with the mattress and don’t feel it is right for you, you can return your mattress and get a full refund within 90-120 nights. This is an ideal amount of time to see if a mattress is right for you, and we hope that this will become the new standard in how companies allow their customers to test their mattresses. The Meelu Mattress, available on this site

Regardless of whether you are testing a mattress for 10 minutes or 100 nights, below are our best tips for what to look out for when testing mattress.

  1. Firmness: As you lie down on the mattress, how does it feel? Is it comfortable, and do you feel like you sink in just the right amount in your preferred sleeping position?
  2. Support: Test your sleeping positions and see if you can feel your hip and spine alignment – do they feel like they are supported, and not sagging or bent uncomfortably?
  3. Edge support: Does the support in the mattress go all the way to the edge, or does it feel like you’re going to fall off the mattress the closer to the edge you get? It’s important to have consistent support up to the edge of the mattress.
  4. Durability: What is the mattress and its cover made from? Ask the salesman or read online to find out as much as you can about the inner workings of your mattress. If it’s a spring or foam core, what about it makes it unique, and will it serve your needs long-term?
  5. Motion transfer: Will your partner disturb you at night? It’s best to test the mattress together and see how well the mattress absorbs movement.
  6. Mattress Warranty: How many years is the warranty cover? Most good quality mattresses will last as long as the warranty but beware of warranties that seem too long – most mattresses should be replaced after 8 – 10 years.
  7. Return policy: Being able to return an expensive item such as a mattress is important. Ask your salesperson what the terms and conditions are, and make sure that you know what you’re getting yourself into and how you can avoid a costly mistake if you’re not happy with the purchase.

How to test a mattress

Cheat Sheet on buying a mattress

  1. Buying a mattress is an important investment that contributes to a good night’s sleep – this impacts every area of your life
  2. You may need a new mattress if:
    • Your existing mattress is 8 – 10 years old
    • You wake up sore, stiff or tired
    • You sleep better somewhere else
    • There are visible dents, bumps or lumps in your mattress
    • You experience a sudden increase in asthma or allergies at night
    • Your partner disturbs you when they move or get up at night
    • You gained or lost significant weight recently
  3. There are 4 main types of mattresses to choose from:
    • Foam mattresses
      • Memory Foam
      • Latex
      • Specialty Foam
    • Innerspring
    • Hybrid
    • Other – Water Bed, Airbed, Futon etc.
  4. The ideal budget for a Queen mattress is R 7 000 and R 10 000 – less than that and you risk compromising on quality and increasing toxicity.
  5. The size of your mattress should be determined by the size of your room, who will be sharing the bed with you, and your preferred sleeping positions
  6. Firmness and support are 2 different things: Firmness is how the mattress feels, Support is how the mattress keeps your hips and spine aligned. Both are important and should be considered based on your preferred sleeping position.
  7. How to test a mattress. Whether it’s 10 minutes or 100 nights, look out for the following things when testing your mattress:
    • Firmness – is the mattress firmness comfortable in your preferred sleeping position?
    • Support – does the mattress provide the correct support for your hips, spine, and shoulders?
    • Edge support – does the mattress support
    • Durability
    • Motion Transfer
    • Mattress Warranty
    • Return Policy