What is a mattress in a box? Plus, 8 signs they suit your sleep best

The Emma Original mattress in a box photographed once unpacked and placed on a light wooden bed frame
(Image credit: Future)

Mattresses in a box have become one of the easiest ways to buy a new bed. You can order from the comfort of your sofa and test-drive the mattress for around 100 nights (on average) before fully committing. With the odd exception, all of the top-rated picks in our best mattress guide are either memory foam or hybrid boxed mattresses. 

Even better, this year’s best mattresses in a box are often much cheaper than comparable models sold in stores, yet they’re of the same high quality (our article exploring if beds that come in a box are any good covers this in more detail, with insights from industry experts). 

Here we answer your key questions on this modern type of bed, including what is a mattress in a box, how are they made and how do you use them? Also, be sure to check out our guide on how to set up a mattress in a box for more tips on getting the most out of your boxed bed. 

What is a mattress in a box?

Why you can trust Tom's Guide Our writers and editors spend hours analyzing and reviewing products, services, and apps to help find what's best for you. Find out more about how we test, analyze, and rate.

Boxed mattresses get their name from the way they’re packed for shipping. Regardless of the materials used to make them, they’re usually compressed using a machine then tightly rolled and covered in heavy duty protective plastic. The rolled mattress is then placed inside a tough cardboard box for shipping to your front door.

The alternative is a mattress that's delivered flat, rather than ever being compressed. In a battle of bed in a box vs traditional mattress, the former will typically be more convenient, a better choice for small spaces (in terms of getting it into place) and you'll often benefit from lower prices and speedier shipping times. You won't have to wait for the latter to expand, and you might avoid off-gassing too. 

In terms of quality, just because a mattress comes delivered in a box doesn't mean you're automatically getting an inferior product – yes, there are plenty of cheap mattresses that come in a box, but some of today's best luxury mattress are also delivered this way. 

The WinkBed Mattress photographed on a black bed frame in a white bedroom

The WinkBed mattress in a box has a lifetime warranty (Image credit: WinkBeds)

The bed in a box market spans all types of mattresses. This category was originally associated with memory foam mattresses, but now it also includes hybrid mattresses of all stripes. However, that doesn't mean every model can be shipped this way. For example, Saatva prefers to deliver all of its mattresses flat, and provide white glove delivery to your room of choice to counter the potential inconvenience of that. 

One thing all mattresses in a box have in common is a trial period. This is a length of time within which you can test your new bed at home to ensure it’s the right choice for you. Most mattress trials last for 100 nights, but Tempur-Pedic’s is slightly shorter at 90 nights, compared to the year-long trials offered by Nectar Sleep, Saatva, DreamCloud, WinkBeds, Avocado Green and Awara Sleep.

How much do mattresses in a box cost?

The price of a boxed mattress depends on a variety of factors. These include the materials used to make it, the size you’re buying (read our guide to mattress sizes if you’re unsure), the manufacturer making it and the time of year you’re buying it. 

Premium materials normally add up to premium prices. For example, because they use only certified materials, organic mattresses designed for natural and non-toxic sleep command a higher price tag than most other types of beds. The exception to this is cooling mattresses as they pack in a lot of cooling technology. Both types come boxed and flat (traditional). 

Larger sizes cost more too, and the time of year also has an effect because summer is when we normally see price increases compared to other key periods for good mattress sales. These include Black Friday mattress deals and the Labor Day mattress sales in September.

The cost of a budget mattress in a box can start from under $150, and many of the best cheap mattresses made by Zinus, Lucid and Linenspa sell for around $350 for a queen size. At the other end of the scale, a premium boxed bed can cost over $1,700 for a queen, so there’s a big price range.

What are boxed mattresses made of?

Beds-in-a-box come in a few different varieties: these include memory foam mattresses, hybrids (made of a type of foam plus coils or springs), and organic (made with certified natural and organic materials - learn more about what is an organic mattress.)

Image shows all five layers of the DreamCloud Mattress

The DreamCloud is a luxury hybrid boxed mattress constructed from five different layers (Image credit: DreamCloud)

The mattress is built from different layers of materials (usually three to five layers), often including different types of mattress foams. Here's a look at some typical components:

Breathable cover - to help dissipate heat faster.

Comfort layer - the layer you directly rest on; it can be made from  body-hugging memory foam, latex or gel-infused foam for cooling.

Support core - this is the deepest part of the mattress and where you’ll find the denser layer of foam or (for a hybrid) individually wrapped coils. 

Edge support - Not all boxed mattresses have good edge support, but its main role is to help you get in and out of bed easier and to sleep and sit on the edge while being supported.

A base layer - this lives at the bottom of the mattress and it works to keep the entire bed stable as you sleep on top of it.

Are they comfortable to sleep on?

We’ve tested a lot of boxed mattresses over the years and many of them are supremely comfortable. However this is still a tricky question to answer because comfort, just like mattress firmness, is subjective and influenced by the following factors:

  • What support you need and where (which areas of your body)
  • Whether you like soft, medium or firm mattresses
  • Your body type, height and weight
  • Your preferred sleeping position
  • Whether you share bed with another person or pet

A good mattress in a box will be made with multiple layers to boost your in-bed comfort, plus it will draw upon various cooling materials to boost breathability to help you sleep more comfortably.

How long do mattresses in a box last?

When talking about how long a mattress lasts, we often say that the average lifespan is around six to eight years. This mostly holds true for mattresses in a box, but again the type and quality of materials used to make it will impact longevity and durability.

The Zinus Green Tea Luxe Mattress shown on a light wooden bed frame and dressed with green pillows and throws

The Zinus Green Tea is a cheaper mattress in a box but it should still last around six years or longer  (Image credit: Zinus)

Cheaper models can last up to five or six years, or slightly longer if you pair them with one of the best mattress toppers for adding firmness, support, softness or cooling as needed. That’s because toppers act as an extra buffer between the mattress and your body, so more wear and tear is absorbed.

Mid-range beds-in-a-box last for seven to ten years on average, and most will be warranted for 10 years. There are some exceptions though, with the Nectar Mattress, a superb mid-range option, coming with a lifetime warranty (read our Nectar Mattress review to learn more).

Premium models, sold by brands including Purple, Casper and Nolah, can easily last 10 years or longer if you care for them properly. That includes covering them with a good mattress protector and learning how to clean a mattress to prevent it from ageing prematurely. 

Who should buy a mattress in a box?

This type of mattress has become synonymous with online bed shopping and is a good choice for all sleepers, especially if you want:

  • A well-made mattress for less
  • Convenient delivery to your front door or bedroom
  • Your choice of a hybrid, memory foam, cooling or organic mattress
  • A wide range of mattress firmness and height options
  • A decent trial period (at least 100 nights) to test your mattress
  • Free shipping and, in most cases, free returns
  • A warranty for at least 10 years
  • The option to return the mattress for a refund after a few months

Emma Original mattress shown with a white cover and dark grey base

(Image credit: Future)

Who shouldn’t buy a mattress in a box?

While mattresses in a box suit every type of sleeper thanks to their sheer variety and prices, there are scenarios where they won’t suit you. This is the case if:

  • You prefer shopping in person, in store
  • You like traditional sprung and feather mattresses 
  • You don’t want to unbox and set up your own mattress (though some companies do this for free or for a small charge)
  • You need a mattress with special health features to help you sleep better when you have a medical condition

Overall, beds-in-a-box are an excellent way to upgrade your sleep comfort quickly, cheaply and with less risks. But to enjoy all of those perks, we advise buying from a trusted brand or retailer and only if they are offering a trial period of at least 60 nights, plus free shipping (and ideally free returns), and with a clear returns policy and warranty so you know your rights and what to expect if you change your mind and want to return the mattress.

Good brands to consider include Nectar Sleep, DreamCloud, Helix Sleep, WinkBeds, Cocoon by Sealy, Purple, Casper, Nolah, Emma Sleep, Brook + Wilde and Simba.

Claire Davies
Senior Sleep Editor, Certified Sleep Science Coach

Claire Davies is Tom's Guide's mattress expert and main sleep product tester with over 15 years' product review experience, and she is responsible for all mattress and sleep coverage on the site. A qualified journalist, Sleep Editor and Certified Sleep Science Coach, Claire writes about all things related to sleep, from mattress reviews to the latest sleep techniques and research. Claire has interviewed a wealth of experts, from mattress designers and innovators to neuroscientists and doctors of sleep medicine. Before taking on the role of Sleep Editor, Claire worked as Health & Wellness Editor at Top Ten Reviews, and before that was a Senior Content Editor at T3. Claire is super-passionate about how consistent, good quality sleep can boost our physical and mental wellbeing, and would love to hear from PRs and brands regarding sleep products, services and research that can help our readers sleep better than ever. 

With contributions from