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We bought mattresses from 3 different companies online, and here's what we found

*We ordered mattresses from three companies
*Leesa seemed to be the overall best value

One of the hot trends in home furnishing these days is buying foam mattresses online.

Companies like Leesa, Casper and Tuft & Needle are three of the biggest in the space. People order them online, and the mattresses get sent to your door, in a giant box, spreading out right before your eyes.

But what's the deal here? Are these mattresses worth the money? Can you return the mattress if you don't like it? We checked it out.

We ordered one twin mattress from each of the three companies and considered a few categories: price, comfort and how easy it was to return. All three offer no-hassle returns.


Getting the mattresses

3 mattresses unpacked from their boxes.
Eric Chemi | CNBC
3 mattresses unpacked from their boxes.

First off: price. Casper was the most expensive at $500. Leesa came in 10 percent cheaper, at $450, because of a coupon given to us automatically during the checkout. Tuft & Needle was much more affordable: only $350 for a twin. In the price department, Tuft & Needle was by far the winner.

The online ordering process was about the same. None of them required us to setup an account, which was good. Basically we just submitted a credit card number and address to order the mattress in a couple minutes. Casper and Tuft & Needle arrived in four days, while Leesa took five days. In our book, that's pretty much the same, so we considered it a three-way tie.

Once we got the mattresses, we saw they were all similar. All three came in large boxes, and as soon as we opened up the mattresses from the plastic wrap, they all flattened out immediately. Within seconds, they looked pretty close to being flat, and a few minutes later they were almost ready to use.

The companies suggest consumers give the mattresses a day or two to be perfectly ready to sleep on. They have gas that has to dissipate from the inside. When I put my nose down to the mattresses, I could smell some kind of oily scent, but after two days, it was all gone. To be fair, I could barely smell it one day later, only by trying to notice it.

Getting on them

Eric Chemi tries them out.
Eric Chemi | CNBC
Eric Chemi tries them out.

For comfort: This is a personal issue for everybody, so it's hard to say which one was the best. Personally, I thought the the Leesa and Casper mattresses felt firmer, while the Tuft & Needle seemed a little bouncier. But my body size, shape and weight is probably different than yours — so your own experience would be different.

Because this is a mattress story, we had to do the stereotypical jumping-on-the-bed-with-a-wine-glass-on-it demonstration. First, we tried it with empty wine glasses, to be safe. Only the Tuft & Needle mattress allowed the glass to fall. Leesa and Casper held up the empty glass when I jumped.

Then we filled up the glasses. This is it when it got scary, and real. The Leesa and Tuft & Needle mattresses were able to hold up the full glass, but the Casper saw it spill all over.

Overall for our jumping demonstration, we scored Leesa as the winner, since their mattress was the only one that kept the wine glass up every time.

Getting rid of them

Wine spill test on a Casper mattress.
Eric Chemi | CNBC
Wine spill test on a Casper mattress.

Now, for the returns. We found that you get what you pay for. Remember those wide disparities in price earlier? They seemed to matter here.

Casper was able to get our mattress picked up extremely fast, within just a few days. We had to go back and forth online with a customer service rep explaining why we didn't want it any more, but for the most part this process wasn't terrible.

Leesa's pickup came 10 days after Casper's. Both Leesa and Casper used the 1-800-Got-Junk service, suggesting that these mattresses were going straight to recycling rather than donation. In the case of the Casper, we did have that giant wine stain on it. Thank goodness there weren't any questions asked about the state of our returned items.

All three companies say on their sites they will either donate the mattresses or trash them, but in our experience with Casper and Leesa, they're going right to the dump — without even looking at what the state of the mattress was at pickup.

For Tuft & Needle, however, the return process was more complicated. As of this writing, we are still waiting for the Salvation Army to pick up our mattress, since its earliest scheduled pickup date was several weeks out. That means we've had the mattress for almost an entire month now. Despite the delay, we hope this mattress can be given to a person who could use it. The winner in the returns department was Casper, because it was able to get ours taken away the fastest.

In the end, all these mattresses are basically the same. They felt similar, and it was hard to tell one from the other. If we had to pick a single winner, we would go with the Leesa, simply by being pretty good in all our categories. There was no one particular weak point for them that stood out.

What the companies had to say

We reached out to the three companies. When we described our still-ongoing return experience with Tuft & Needle, the company said it was going to improve the way it communicates return options to customers. The company told us it offers several options, including donation.

Our issue was that the wait for a Salvation Army pickup is taking many weeks. Tuft & Needle said if we had told our customer service rep that such a delay was unacceptable to us, it could have sent another pickup service sooner. This option was never specified to us at the time, but it's something for other customers to consider. It's possible you can complain more than we did to get better results. As far as why its price was lower than the others, Tuft & Needle said it's able to keep costs down because it keeps margins as slim as possible, selling the mattress for the price it has to be sold for, not the price it could be sold for.

Casper claimed its mattress was more expensive because of significant differences in the quality of the foam, though it wasn't clear to me exactly what those differences were. A spokesperson described the foam as "very bouncy, but not too bouncy."

Leesa, similar to the others, described its target customer as anybody who wants to buy a mattress. All three companies agreed on this point, that the mattress-buying customer is not limited by age or geography. People are more comfortable buying online these days, and the generous return policy allows customers to take a chance.

Tuft & Needle and Casper said their return rates were in the single digits, less than 10 percent. Leesa would not say what its return rates were.

Betsy Spring and Mark Fahey contributed reporting.