Which brands of mattresses are the best?

LOS ANGELES Shopping for a mattress? Be ready to be weary.

"When shopping from store to store, nothing is consistent," said one consumer. "You can't tell what is a good value."

That's because in most cases no two stores carry the same mattress, making comparison shopping virtually impossible.

"You're going to hear all kinds of hype. You'll hear about fancy fabrics," said Tod Marks, Consumer Reports. "You'll hear about coil count and the number of springs. And you'll hear about thick luxurious padding, but it really doesn't matter."

So what's the difference between a $2,000 mattress and a $1,000 one? Consumer Reports says not much.

Testers cut through queen-size innerspring mattresses from Sealy, Serta, and Simmons. All were well constructed with few differences.

Next Consumer Reports had 54 panelists try out 14 mattresses from innersprings, to memory foam, and an adjustable-air mattress. Panelists did a 15 minute "rest test." They spent five minutes on their back, side and their stomach.

"All the panelists felt that all the mattresses were at least moderately comfortable," said Marks. "But every mattress regardless of price, regardless of type had its supporters and detractors."

The bottom line is comfort is a personal preference. That's why Consumer Reports does not rate mattresses. So you always want to be sure to try out a mattress. Spend at least 15 minutes in several sleep positions. And once you find the one you like, watch for a sale or start haggling. Mattress markups are huge, so aim for 50-percent off list price.

Consumer Reports says when you're shopping for a mattress, start at the low end of the price scale and work your way up until you find one you like. That way you won't overspend. Also make sure you understand the return policy, so you don't end up paying hefty fees.

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