8 mistakes you want to avoid while unboxing your new mattress
I've opened more than my share of boxed mattresses. Don't make the blunders I've made.
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Boxed mattresses are compact when they arrive—how else can they ship a bed that can sleep two right to your door? But they can be absolute beasts to unfurl, and if you go at it the wrong way, you might be in for a literal backache.
As the sleep writer at Reviewed, I’ve opened more than my share of mattresses in a box, and I’ve also made plenty of blunders along the way. (I still laugh over the time I let a still-boxed mattress go “sledding” down a small flight of stairs because it was just too heavy to carry, only to irritate my downstairs neighbors with a massive thud, then have a tremendously difficult time getting it vertical again...) But I digress. If you’re getting a new mattress, these are my top tips.
1. Know that you might not sleep on your new bed right away
From the moment the box arrives at your door, there’s no doubt you’ll be stoked for your first great night's rest that evening. But slow your roll. Opening the box to drifting off to dreamland could be a multiday process.
Brand-new boxed mattresses are prone to smelling due to a process called off-gassing, wherein chemicals leftover from manufacturing that were trapped by the packaging are released. It’s not the worst odor in the world, and I’ve tolerated sleeping on a stinky mattress—but why go through that, if you can just let it air out? Plan on giving your mattress at least one night in a room other than your bedroom to breathe. This will ensure you get the most out of your new bed starting the first night you actually sleep on it.
2. Read the unboxing instructions
I know the little booklets and pamphlets that come with most products may seem useless or unnecessary—and sometimes they are. But I’ve skipped reading them on more than one occasion when opening mattresses, and it’s come back to bite me. In addition to airing out, mattresses in a box may need time to ‘firm up’ before you can start sleeping on them—a step I accidentally skimmed over once. It didn’t make a difference in the long run, but with such a pricey investment, I advocate for playing it safe. Plus, sleeping on a bed that’s squishier than it should be could leave you with an unfairly bad impression of your new purchase.
3. Check that your space is big enough—before you start opening the box
This might seem like a given, but if you’re opening a mattress anywhere other than onto your bed frame (which I would suggest, given the recommended air-out period), you don’t want to start unfurling it only to realize that you underestimated the floor space you’d need. Once the plastic is pierced on these things, they’re like those capsule animal sponges that you submerged in a water glass as a kid. They just grow and grow, and it’s fast. If you miscalculate and don’t give yourself enough space, it can result in a mad scramble to move objects out of the way as the mattress rapidly expands.
And I would know. I’ve done it. When I’ve overzealously unrolled, the mattress has bumped into furniture and made things fall over in the living room, and jostled the slats that support my mattress out of place in my bedroom. The slats getting misplaced is just a minor inconvenience. But the furniture? Well, that had the potential to cause serious disarray. Let’s just say that 90 pounds of condensed foam doesn’t play nicely with an overbrimming bookcase. It is satisfying to yank the plastic out and watch the mattress roll, but you don’t want to get carried away, unless you have significant unencumbered floor space.
4. Be mindful as you move the box
Most queen-size mattresses weigh 80 to 90 pounds. When still compacted in their boxes, they’re not so heavy that they’re impossible to move, but the weight is not insignificant. Be sure that you’re not straining your back as you lug the thing to its next destination. I’ve woken up stiff and sore the day after moving a mattress, and it’s not pleasant, but can be avoided with mindful lifting, a dolly or hand truck, or another person’s help.
I’ve also had mixed experiences using the punch-out handles most mattress companies include on the boxes themselves. Sometimes they’re fine under the strain of me tugging the mattress across the floor and into an elevator, but other times I’ve torn the cardboard from the handle right up to the top of the box. If they break, it’s not impossible to move the box, but it might be more awkward. Unfortunately there isn’t much you can do to rectify this issue; it’s just something to keep in mind. Maybe you could fortify them with tape, but given you're just going to throw the box out at the end of the day, I'm not sure it's worth it. So just be careful.
5. Be sure that it’s facing the right way up before you get into the final frontier of plastic
Mattresses in a box are usually vacuum sealed in thick plastic, then folded width-wise and rolled up, like a jelly roll, with another thick layer of plastic to hold things in tightly (think Bridgerton corset, but for a mattress). Once you’ve freed the beast, expansion starts happening quickly, so it’s important to make sure you have the mattress facing the right way before you totally let go.
Sara Hendricks, a Reviewed editor who also tests mattresses, and I have also both had the terribly awkward experience of trying to flip over mattresses that are quickly growing. The only problem is that at this point they’re far bigger than what they are when they first come out of the box, but also aren’t flat in a way that makes them easy to turn over. It’s tough to tell which way is up when the mattress is in full sausage-roll form, so you should check it's facing the right direction when it’s unfurled to the point of being folded in half. From there, it’ll be a breeze.
6. Recruit a helper if possible
Opening and moving a boxed mattress solo is perfectly doable. I’m far from a bodybuilder and I manage just fine. But it’s much nicer and easier when someone else is on hand to help. Moving the box is just part one of the saga—once you’ve done that, you still have to get the jelly-rolled mattress out of the cardboard, and that can be a real chore. I often have to pull the plastic-wrapped mattress out while holding the box to keep it at bay. It’s not pretty. More often than not I wind up sitting on the floor holding the box with my feet as I yank. And that’s just one thing.
And, of course, a half-expanding and fully unwrapped mattress is even more problematic to handle once it's freed from the plastic. At this point, you really benefit from enlisting another set of hands. The mattresses can be unruly in their floppiness and their size makes them inherently awkward. Some, like the Avocado Green Mattress, were so jello-like that they refused to even stand propped up against the wall even for a moment as my roommate and I paused to think about how to best move the bed, leaving both of us constantly adjusting it in hopes of stopping it from slowly sliding down.
TLDR: Having someone else to help makes your life easier.
7. Have at it, but take your time and use good tools
Sara and I have unboxed numerous mattresses and we’ve never had mishaps significant enough to leave lasting damage. But the final frontier of mattress plastic—the deepest layer that’s sucking the mattress in like a pair of Spanx—isn’t a joke. Some mattresses come with a slicer that makes getting through all that plastic a breeze, but for the most part, you'll need your own supplies. Sara and I have both relied on scissors to free mattresses with mixed results. On one occasion, Sara was cutting the plastic and the mattress bumped her hand as expanded causing her to almost poke herself in the eye with the scissors. Just go at it strategically with something that’s sharp and easy to use, and be aware that the mattress might bump you as it expands. And while you’re at it, be careful not to accidentally cut the fabric or bed itself.
8. When it's done airing out, have a moving strategy in mind
If you aired the mattress out in another room and are ready to haul it onto your bed frame, again, a helper will come in clutch. Giving your new mattress a couple days to firm up makes a world of a difference, but sometimes it still won't be totally firm—even though it’s ready for sleeping—which can make it difficult to move. When you’re moving the mattress, look for handles on the side that could make it easier to maneuver and grasp—otherwise you’ll be stuck trying to hold onto the edge of the bed itself, which is challenging to grip.
Even with the assistance of someone else, it's good to preemptively plan how you'll get the mattress from point A to point B. A couple of times, my roommate and I have just gone at it, resulting in situations that are, if nothing else, laughable. Once we moved an ultra-floppy mattress into my room only to realize that the top side was facing the bed frame, and it would go onto the frame bottom-up unless we flipped it around. We were determined not to lug the mattress all the way back into the entryway to turn it around, which resulted in a lot of awkward jostling before we finally got the mattress in place. And let me assure you, after all that effort, I slept especially well that night—and so will you, once your new mattress lands in its final resting place.