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Case Study: What to do with a 20 Year Stearns & Foster?

July 23, 2023 6 min read

Welcome to our case studies, where we delve into the nitty-gritty of mattress world dilemmas. Today, we're tackling a rather unique and interesting situation that a conscientious mattress shopper shared on the Mattress Underground website.

Unraveling the mystery of when to buy a new mattress.

They have a 20+ year-old mattress that seems to be causing some discomfort and are now on the hunt for a firm, durable, and satisfying replacement. This thorough query brings up many critical points to consider when shopping for a new mattress. In our blog post today, we're taking a closer look at their situation and offering some detailed advice, hoping to shed light on some general issues that many mattress shoppers face. Whether you're a back sleeper, prefer a firm bed, or are curious about the real-world performance of various mattress types, this post is for you. Let's dive into the world of mattresses, from hybrid to foam, from innersprings to toppers, and provide some clarity on your journey towards finding your perfect sleep partner.

Understanding the Longevity of a Mattress

Let's take a moment to appreciate the longevity of your mattress. Over 20 years is seriously impressive; many don't make it past the decade mark.

However, as is the case with any product, not all these mattresses have performed uniformly over time. In fact, the longevity of a mattress can depend on a wide range of factors, from manufacturing quality to usage patterns, maintenance routines, and even to a certain extent, luck. Some customers might have found their Stearns and Fostermattresses giving out after just five years of use, while others could have squeezed a decade out of them.

That's the unpredictability of any manufactured product; no two items will age the same way, especially something as personal and usage-dependent as a mattress. People are different, their sleep patterns are different, and the care they take in maintaining their mattresses is different. All these factors, coupled with a dash of good fortune, can determine how long a mattress can last.

What makes your situation remarkable is that your Stearns and Foster mattress has lasted well over 20 years, a feat that I would venture to guess less than 5% of those mattresses ever achieve. You're in the upper echelon of mattress longevity, a club that few can claim to belong to.

This could be down to several factors. Maybe you've taken extraordinary care of it, or perhaps your specific model was just exceptionally well made. Or, let's be honest, maybe you just got lucky.

Plus, it's intriguing how our perceptions of quality often have a nostalgic bent.

Take the perception of Stearns and Foster, for instance. I recall conversations from the early 2000s where folks lamented the 'golden era' of the brand, harking back to the 1980s and beyond, pre-Sealy's stewardship. People were convinced that the mattresses were superior then, better constructed, more durable, and more comfortable.

Interestingly, it's a sentiment we see across industries, not just mattresses. There's a universal tendency to romanticize the 'good old days', to believe in a perceived golden age where products were made better, lasted longer, and somehow embodied a greater sense of authenticity.

Is it always grounded in truth? Not necessarily. There can be elements of bias, as we tend to remember the past more favorably than it may have been. But it's also not without merit, as manufacturing practices, materials, and priorities have indeed shifted over time.

Coming back to your mattress, it's managed to defy this nostalgia-infused narrative by delivering steadfast performance well beyond its expected lifespan, irrespective of the perceived decline in Stearns and Foster's quality post the 80s.

This leads us to a poignant observation: while collective opinion and historical trends are important, individual experience and care can also significantly shape a product's life cycle. Your journey with your trusty Stearns and Foster is a testament to that.

Let's steer this ship back to your immediate need - a firmer sleeping surface.

Relocating the Mattress - The Floor Experiment

Here's a direct and pragmatic experiment you could try out: relocate your mattress to the floor for a night or maybe two. It may seem overly simplistic or even a little odd, but sometimes the problem isn't with the mattress itself. Instead, the culprit could be a worn-out box spring or a sagging frame.

Consider this: If your car's tires wore out, would you rush to replace the entire vehicle? Probably not, right? You'd replace the tires and continue enjoying the ride. In much the same way, sometimes the infrastructure supporting our mattresses needs attention or replacement, not the mattress itself.

Now, should you discover that your mattress feels noticeably more comfortable on the floor, that's a significant clue. It suggests your bed frame or box spring might be due for retirement. And if that's the case, I implore you to not cut corners when replacing them. A quality bed foundation is crucial. Just as a house is only as good as its foundation, the comfort and durability of a mattress are profoundly influenced by the bed frame and box spring that support it.

Remember, skimping on these foundational elements might land you back where you started, wrestling with comfort issues and wondering why your mattress isn't performing as it should. So, consider this experiment and its outcome seriously - it could be a crucial step in resolving your dilemma.

The Adventurous Approach - Mattress Surgery

If the floor experiment doesn't yield the desired firmness, and you're armed with a touch of bravery and some DIY spirit, you could opt for what I'd call 'mattress surgery'.

This essentially involves cracking open the mattress and either removing or replacing some of the inner layers. It's a rather direct approach to adjust the comfort, albeit a daring one.

However, before you don your surgical gloves, do bear in mind that this venture comes with its risks. There's a delicate balance to be maintained within a mattress, and disturbing it can sometimes have unforeseen consequences. While you could potentially save money, especially if you already have materials at hand, there's equally a chance it could end up costing more, particularly if things don't pan out as envisaged.

Tinkering with the internal structure of your mattress could lead to a voided warranty, if it still exists, or an uncomfortable sleep surface if not done right. Therefore, I recommend this approach only for those comfortable with a bit of uncertainty and willing to invest some time and effort into the project.

Remember, mattresses are more than just their outer fabric. They're carefully engineered for support and comfort, and changing one layer could impact others. It's a little like pulling on a thread in a woven piece of cloth. But with careful planning, it's possible you could tailor your existing mattress to better meet your needs.

Replacing the Mattress

Of course, the next logical step if the previous options don't work out or appeal to you is looking into a new mattress. Given the satisfaction you've derived from your long-lasting Stearns and Foster, I'd suggest sticking to a similar construction style when hunting for a new one. A mattress with a similar design is more likely to deliver the same comfort and support you've become accustomed to over the years.

Selecting the Right Mattress Construction

Let's delve into some specifics here. The hybrid mattresses you've been considering typically employ pocket coil technology, while your Stearns and Foster mattress uses an open coil design. These two aren't the same and can offer quite different sleeping experiences. If you prefer the feel of your current mattress, an open coil mattress might be more to your liking.

One thing to note, though, is that open coil mattresses are generally not available for online purchase. The reason for this is simple - they can't be roll-packed for easy, cost-effective shipping like many of the mattresses you'll find online.

However, this doesn't mean they're unattainable. You could find an open coil mattress at a local factory direct store, which can bypass the middleman and provide high-quality mattresses directly to consumers. Shopping locally also gives you the opportunity to try the mattress in person before buying, which is always a benefit when it comes to big-ticket items like mattresses.

Understanding Negative Bias in Mattress Reviews

Bear in mind that a few bad reviews can't encompass the whole user experience. There's a natural tendency for disgruntled customers to voice their dissatisfaction more loudly and frequently than contented ones. We humans are just wired that way; we're quicker to express our grievances than our contentment. It's a phenomenon known as "negativity bias."

In this regard, when you're reading reviews, it's important to view them through this lens. A handful of negative comments might be quite loud, but they don't necessarily represent the experience of the majority of users. Especially for popular mattresses that have sold thousands of units, a few complaints are statistically inevitable and don't necessarily denote a poor-quality product.

So, as you continue your mattress hunt, be mindful of this bias. Take the negative reviews into account, sure, but also try to seek out the positive ones. Most importantly, trust your instincts and personal comfort. After all, you're the one who will be sleeping on the mattress. Reviews can provide insight, but they cannot dictate what feels right for you.