Determining Mattress Durability

One of the most frequently asked questions when consumers are buying a new mattress is "how long will this mattress last" and even though this is one of the most important parts of the value of a mattress purchase there are very few sources of information that will provide a reliable answer to this question.

When you sleep on a mattress the upper layers will compress and deflect more than the deeper layers or components partly because the upper layers are usually made to be softer than the deeper transition and support layers or components of a mattress (and firmness/softness is also a factor in the durability of a material) and partly because they are closer to the sleeping surface and subject to direct compression without any of the layers above them absorbing some of the compression forces first. It's this constant compression and deflection of the materials and components in the upper layers of a mattress that leads to changes in firmness or thickness which affects comfort, pressure relief, and the ability of the materials and components to support the weight of the body with the spine in its natural alignment.

Most materials and components will become softer as they break down over time (especially under the heavier parts of the body such as the hips/pelvis) while fiber materials will compress and pack down and become firmer and less "fluffy" over time. This is why the durability of the upper comfort and transition layers (the top 3" to 6" of the mattress) are especially important when you are assessing the durability and useful life of the mattress as a whole because they will usually be the weakest link in the mattress in terms of durability and the materials and components that are closer to the bottom of a mattress (the support core of the mattress) won't normally be the weakest link in the mattress.

Durability will also be affected by the body type of the person that sleeps on it because higher body weights (or more specifically a higher BMI) will compress the layers in a mattress more deeply than lighter body types (or a lower BMI) so they will generally need more durable and firmer materials and components in the upper layers than those that are in lower weight ranges for the mattress to maintain its comfort and support for a similar length of time.

There are also many reasons such as health conditions, age, flexibility, or just normal differences between people that some people may be closer to the "princess and the pea" end of the range and are more sensitive to changes in the mattress than those that are closer to the "I can sleep on anything" end of the range that may continue to sleep well on a mattress that more sensitive people would no longer sleep well on and would need to replace.

If a mattress is close to the edge of the comfort/support range that would be too soft for a specific person when it is new then even relatively small changes in firmness may be enough to take them outside of the comfort/support range that would be suitable for them as well and the useful life of the mattress would likely be much less than a mattress that was more in the middle of a suitable comfort/support range for that person (see post #2 here)

Important information about mattress reviews and warranties

In other words, because of all the many variables involved that can affect how long a mattress will maintain its comfort and support relative to any specific person, the most meaningful definition of durability is:

"Assuming that you sleep well on a mattress when it's new ... durability is the length of time you continue to sleep well on a mattress before changes in the materials and components in the mattress caused by changes in firmness or the normal wear and tear or breakdown of the materials over time lead to a loss of comfort and support to the degree that you no longer sleep "well enough" on a mattress and decide to replace it."

Assessing mattress durability and quality

While there is no way to specifically quantify or predict how long any mattress will maintain it's comfort and/or support for any particular person for certain or how long it will take before they cross the thresholds between sleeping well on a mattress to sleeping "OK" to tolerating a mattress to finally deciding to replace it because it is no longer suitable or comfortable for them (because this is the only real measure of durability or the useful life of a mattress that really matters) and because there are too many unknowns and variables involved that are unique to each person ...  if you have confirmed that it meets the minimum quality/durability specifications relative to your BMI that are suggested in these guidelines then it would be reasonable to expect a useful lifetime in the range of 7 - 10 years and with higher quality and more durable materials than the minimum guidelines suggested in this article like latex or higher density memory foam or polyfoam (in the upper layers especially) it would likely be in the higher end of the range or even longer and the chances that you would have additional "bonus time" beyond that would be higher as well.

In order to make a reasonable assessment of the durability of a mattress and bearing in mind that because of all the many variables involved that no set of guidelines will be 100% accurate ... and to greatly shift the odds of buying a mattress that will maintain its comfort and support for many years in your favor ... this is how to assess the durability and useful life of a mattress based on the materials and components inside it regardless of how long the mattress has been available for sale or the name of the manufacturer on the label.

Other factors that can affect the durability and useful life of a mattress.

While I would want to know the specifics of an innerspring in a mattress to be able to make more apples to apples comparisons between mattresses and I would want to know the thickness of the innerspring so you can add up all the layers and components in a mattress to make sure that they add up to the total thickness of the mattress and confirm that you aren't missing any layers ... more detailed information about an innerspring isn't usually that important in terms of durability because innersprings aren't normally the weakest link of a mattress and will generally last longer than the padding layers above the innerspring. For those that want more information about the pros and cons of different types of innersprings for reasons other than durability, there is more information in this article about innersprings and in post #10 about latex here.

There are also other variables that can affect the durability and useful life of a material such as the specific chemical formulation of foam material, the cell structure of the foam, or some other more "arcane" and less significant factors but in practical terms, these aren't as relevant or important as the other variables that are discussed in this article which will be enough to make sure that the odds of buying a durable mattress that will last you for many years are very high.

While it's not a durability issue ... I would also make sure that the foam materials in your mattress have a reliable safety certification as well so that you can have some confidence that any harmful substances or VOCs are below the testing limits for the certification which for most people would be "safe enough" (see post #2 with information about reliable safety certifications here).

It's always more realistic to think of about 10 years as a maximum reasonable expectation for any mattress no matter what the quality or durability of the materials and then treat any additional time after that as "bonus time" because after about 10 years the limiting factor in the useful life of a mattress will often be the changing needs and preferences of the person sleeping on the mattress and even if a mattress is still in relatively good condition after a decade ... a mattress that was suitable for someone 10 years earlier may not be the best "match" any longer.

Having said that ... if a mattress only uses the highest quality and most durable materials and for people whose needs and preferences or physical condition or body type haven't changed much over 10 years then "bonus time" or even "extended bonus time" with more durable materials such as latex, higher density memory foam or polyfoam, natural fibers, or other high quality and more durable materials that soften, compress, or break down much more slowly is much more likely and you will find some people who have slept well on some of the most durable mattresses and materials for several decades but these are the much more the exception than the rule.

Updated Sept 7, 2022

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