Mattress in a box vs traditional mattress: which is better?

Traditional mattress vs bed in a box
(Image credit: Getty / Brooklyn Bedding)

In this bed-in-a-box vs traditional mattress face-off, we'll be comparing and contrasting these two popular types of mattress to help you decide which one you should buy. 

The boxed bed phenomenon revolutionized the mattress industry. Rather than being delivered flat, in a large van, and awkwardly maneuvered into place by strong delivery people, today's best mattress in a box models are vacuum-packed, rolled and packed up in a much more reasonably sized carton that's far easier to shimmy down a hallway. But are there disadvantages to opting for a bed in a box model rather than a traditionally packed mattress?

We've already done a deep-dive into if boxed mattresses are any good, but in this article we'll be exploring the pros and cons of choosing a bed in a box over a flat-delivered mattress specifically. 

Tom's Guide spoke to representatives from Saatva – a luxury bed brand (and the maker of our our #1 best mattress, the Saatva Classic) that delivers its mattresses flat, and 3Z Brands – the company behind hugely popular boxed mattress brands including Helix and Brooklyn Bedding – to find out how the two compare. Welcome to our bed in a box vs traditional mattress showdown.

Bed in a box vs traditional mattress: Getting it home

One major benefit of opting for a bed-in-a-box mattress is that it's far easier to get it from your front door to your bedroom. It's only a very brief part of your new mattress relationship, but the fact remains that if you can get the mattress through your building and onto your bed frame, it's going to cut off your time together pretty abruptly. (Corners are the enemy, and in some cases no amount of pivoting will solve the issue.) 

The Emma Original mattress shown in its box placed against a teal coloured wall and sat on a black and white rug

Boxed mattresses are undoubtedly easier to maneuver through your hallway (Image credit: Future)

Don't underestimate the potential size of the mattress, either – the trend at the moment seems to be for chunky, ultra-tall beds that feel super high-end but are definitely not streamlined. (Most of our best luxury mattress brands clock in at 13.5 inches tall). Saatva addresses this issue by including free white glove delivery, to your room of choice, with all of its mattresses. So provided the box can physically fit through your hallways and doorways, there'll be no extra effort for you.

It's worth pointing out here that even though your bed-in-a-box mattress will be more compact than a flat-delivered one, it will not be lighter. Unless you're ultra-buff, getting it though the house will still, in many cases, be a two-person job. 

Winner: Boxed mattress. There's no denying a bed in a box is easier to maneuver... don't forget it'll still be heavy though.

Bed in a box vs traditional mattress: Shipping

As well as being easier to shift around your own home, there's a benefit to the brand on the manufacturing side of things. It's easier to store mattresses if they're in smaller boxes, and it's easier to ship via FedEx or UPS when they're roll packed. All that will likely mean you'll get your mattress more quickly if you opt for a bed-in-a-box model, although shipping processes and times do vary from company to company. Some of the best mattresses on Amazon are eligible for Prime Delivery, for instance.

Person placing an Amazon box on a doorstep

Obviously there isn't a mattress in here... but some Amazon mattresses are eligible for Prime delivery (Image credit: Amazon)

However, beware shipping times that are super-speedy, because it might mean your mattress has been sitting in a box for some time. That can have negative effects on the internal layers, as we'll get into in the Comfort section. 

Winner: Boxed mattress. Although be wary of mattresses that ship super quickly.

Bed in a box vs traditional mattress: Decompression

While a boxed mattress might get to you quicker, you will need to factor in decompressing time. Obviously, mattresses that are delivered flat can be slept on as quickly as you can get the wrappings off and some bedsheets on. Some mattresses will spring into shape in an hour or so, others need more time – sometimes a matter of days – to reach their full height. A slow decompression time can be a sign that your mattress has been sitting in its box for some time. The good bed-in-a-box brands will avoid this, because being compressed too long can compromise the mattress materials. 

Winner: Traditional mattress. You can't get faster than immediate. 

Bed in a box vs traditional mattress: Quality

We cover this in more detail in our article exploring ‘Are bed in a box mattresses good?’ The short version is that the quality of the materials going into your mattress is likely to be more to do with the price of your mattress than the process of boxing it up. It’s true the most of the best cheap mattresses are bed-in-a-box models, and in the premium price bracket you’re more likely to find mattresses that are delivered flat. The most luxurious mattresses on the market aren’t suitable for compression – that includes Saatva’s models, and the new premium range from Purple.

Saatva Classic Luxury Firm

Saatva's mattresses are top quality, but it's not fair to compare them to a cheap boxed mattress (Image credit: Saatva)

However, when comparing quality, it’s only fair to contrast mattresses from within the same price bracket. We spoke to Tim Dilworth, Chief Operating Officer at 3Z Brands (which makes top boxed mattresses like the Helix Midnight and Brooklyn Bedding Aurora Luxe) to find out more. Most of 3Z's brands are mid-range or premium, but Tim explains that if you’re buying a cheap mattress, the fact that it comes in a box can actually be considered a good sign. 

Cheap mattress makers can get away with using lower-quality materials if their mattress isn’t going to have to go through the rigor of being compressed. It’ll hold up and look good in a showroom, but once it gets into the customers house and has to deal with people actually sleeping on it, it can start to show signs of wear quickly.

Winner: Draw. Price is a more reliable indicator of quality than the mere fact that a mattress has been in a box.

Bed in a box vs traditional mattress: Comfort

Another contentious one. “Compressed mattresses offer no added comfort benefits,” asserts Byron Golub, Vice President of Product & Merchandising at Saatva. "Our White Glove delivery… ensures that the mattresses' layers are delivered as they are designed/intended, fresh from the factory.”

Byron argues that the process of compressing a mattress can compromise the materials, damaging the foams and destroying the coils – if the mattress has them – along the fold line. 

Helix Midnight Luxe mattress with our sleep editor lying on it

(Image credit: 3Z for Tom's Guide)

Tim says that, providing the mattress is made with decent quality materials, the compression process doesn’t damage the inside at all. “We actually use higher-quality materials in our mattresses that are able to better handle the compression process. Because we make our own foam and coils in-house, we’re able to ensure we’re building the most durable materials possible,” he explains. 

Where performance can be impacted is when the mattress is left compressed for long periods. If you leave a mattress compressed in a box for say, three months or more, the foams might not fully expand when the mattress is finally released from its wrappings. Good bed in a box brands won’t store their mattresses for long periods, to avoid this – 3Z Brands’ beds are made to order, and shipped on the same day that they’re compressed.

Winner: Draw. Compressing a mattress won’t add to the comfort, but provided you buy from a good brand, it won’t lower comfort levels either. 

Ruth Hamilton
Sleep Editor, Certified Sleep Science Coach

Ruth Hamilton is a Sleep Editor and and Certified Sleep Science Coach who is qualified to offer advice on what mattress will suit you best, plus tips on how to improve your sleep habits. She was acting Sleep Editor on Tom's Guide for a year, and has now moved across to our sister site TechRadar. Ruth has tested more mattresses than her small flat can handle and will talk at length about them to anyone who shows even a passing interest, and has had to implement a one-in-one-out pillow policy for fear of getting smothered by them in the night. As well as following all the industry trends and advancements in the mattress and bedding world, she regularly speaks to other sleep experts to delve into the science behind a great night's sleep, and offer you advice to help you get there.