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Mattress Pad vs. Mattress Topper

Written By Certified Sleep Science Coach
Bedding Resources
Read Time: 5 minutes

Mattress pads and toppers are protective layers that go on top of the mattress to add extra support and comfort. While they serve similar purposes, they are not the same thing. So, what is the difference between a mattress pad and a mattress topper, anyway, and which one is better? Our post will answer just that!

Mattress Pads

Mattress pads have one primary goal: to protect your mattress from stains and everyday wear and tear. They are thinner than mattress toppers, easy to clean, and are typically machine-washable. They also provide extra comfort to your bed since they have a layer of cushioning materials sewn within.

Mattress pads can be filled with materials like wool or cotton and covered with quilted fabric. Most of the time, mattress pads go over your mattress like fitted sheets, but sometimes they come with straps or zippers to keep them in place.

Benefits of Using Mattress Pads

Using a mattress pad is a cheap way to protect your mattress and add a little extra comfort while you sleep, much like a mattress protector.

Mattress pads can make your mattress feel softer, so they work on too-firm mattresses. However, mattress pads are not overly thick, so they usually can’t soften extra-firm beds.

Bed bugs, dust mites, dead skin cells, and sweat can seep into your mattress over time, causing allergies and health problems. Fortunately, mattress pads can protect you from these things, and you can sleep comfortably knowing you’re safe from dirt, germs, and other irritants.

Mattress Toppers

Unlike mattress pads, the primary goal of a mattress topper is to change your mattress firmness levels. Mattress toppers rest on top of your mattress and are thicker than mattress pads, so they have more of an impact on the bed’s feel. These are perfect for correcting too-soft or too-firm mattresses.

Benefits of Using Mattress Toppers

Mattress toppers can improve your sleep quality and save you money. Whether your mattress is too firm or too soft, a mattress topper can help. Toppers change the feel of your bed depending on your preference.

If you’re a back sleeper or having back problems and need a firmer mattress, you can add a supportive mattress topper instead of having to purchase a brand new mattress for back pain.

It works the other way around as well. If your bed is too firm and you want something softer, cushioning mattress toppers can help. Using a mattress topper can help your mattress last longer by preventing sagging, saving you money in the long run.

See also our guides on how long two of the most popular types of mattresses last:

However, note that mattress toppers are not the same as mattress protectors, and you will need one of those as well to shield your bed from stains, water, and other damage.

Types of Mattress Pads and Mattress Toppers

Mattress pads and toppers come in all different kinds of materials, and each material provides different pros and cons.

Wool

Wool mattress pads are popular for their softness; many people claim sleeping on wool is like sleeping on a cloud. In addition, organic wool can be excellent at warding off mold, dust build-up, and wicking away moisture. It’s also allergen resistant and a natural insulator, meaning you’ll stay warm and cozy.

However, wool mattress toppers are not very popular because they can’t prevent spills from seeping through to your mattress, and they tend to get matted down and hard.

Cotton

Cotton is a popular material for mattress pads because it’s machine-washable, affordable, and lasts long. Hot sleepers may even want to pair them with a set of cotton sheets for a breathable surface.

However, since cotton is absorbent, spills and sweat can seep through cotton mattress pads and get onto your mattress. If you plan on using a cotton mattress pad, you’ll want to use a waterproof protector beneath to shield your bed from damage.

Mattress toppers don’t come in cotton because they can only make your mattress softer, but not firmer.

Latex

Latex mattress pads are bouncy and durable. They ward off dust mites and mold, and they protect from spills and stains. Another perk? Latex is also naturally hypoallergenic.

Latex toppers provide responsive support and are good at enhancing mattress firmness. They are also more breathable than most mattress foams, making them the ideal cooling mattress topper.

However, latex toppers can be expensive and difficult to maintain. Latex toppers with organic certifications, such as GOLS (Global Organic Latex Standard), may also have a higher price tag.

Memory Foam

Memory foam mattress pads are an option, but they are not popular because they are difficult to clean.

Memory foam mattress toppers are popular because they offer lots of comfort with pressure point relief and are great at conforming to your body. Gel memory foam is also an option for mattress toppers if you want to make your mattress cooler.

Like memory foam mattress pads, memory foam toppers need to be cleaned.

Feather

Mattress pads with feather fillings are recognized for their warmth and cozy feel. They are expensive and difficult to clean, but can provide a nice softness to your mattress.

Feather mattress toppers can be filled with down feathers or synthetic feathers. Down feathers are great because they keep you warm during cold months and cool during warm months. However, feather toppers are one of the hardest materials to clean because they can be fragile.

Common Questions

Do I need a mattress pad and topper?

You do not need both a mattress pad and a mattress topper. A mattress pad is a thin layer of padding that will protect your mattress without changing how it feels. However, a mattress topper is thicker and can protect your mattress while also making it softer or firmer. You should choose only one based on if you want your mattress to feel different or not.

How often should you clean your mattress pad?

Your mattress pad should be cleaned once every two to three months to get rid of dust, sweat, and other germs. There are normally cleaning instructions on the tag, but washing on warm with a mild detergent works well for most mattress pads. See our guide on laundry care symbols and double-check your pad’s care label before washing.

How long should you keep a mattress pad?

You should replace your mattress pad every two years. Mattress pads are subject to a lot of wear and tear because they are used every night. Replacing your mattress pad every couple of years will help you prolong your mattress’s lifespan.

Does a mattress topper help with back pain?

Some mattress toppers can help with back pain because they offer an additional layer of support to improve your bed’s overall comfort. The extra support from a firm mattress topper can encourage better spinal alignment while you sleep and relieve back pain.

Others may use a soft topper to create more pressure relief with a too-firm mattress.

Is a mattress pad necessary?

You don’t need a mattress pad, but we recommend some kind of mattress protection because your mattress goes through a lot, and it can become worn-out and dirty without it. A waterproof mattress protector is the best way to keep your mattress safe from accidents. They can also prevent allergens from penetrating the mattress.

Conclusion

Using a mattress pad or mattress topper can be valuable for your comfort and your wallet. If you want to protect your mattress without changing its feel, a mattress pad is a great option. However, if you just want to make your mattress softer or firmer, a mattress topper is the way to go.

Meg Riley Certified Sleep Science Coach

Meg Riley is a Certified Sleep Science Coach and a full-time writer focused on sleep and mattresses. She is currently the Editor-in-Chief of Sleep Junkie.

Meg started to focus on the sleep industry in 2018. Since then, she has written over 70+ articles on sleep hygiene, product reviews, and the newest trends in the mattress and bedding industry.

A non-exhaustive list of some of the topics she has written on: the effectiveness of alarm clocks, how to prevent jet lag, the NREM & REM Sleep Cycle, and causes and treatments of Restless Legs Syndrome.

Meg Riley has her undergraduate degree from Pennsylvania State University where she studied Advertising and Public Relations and wrote articles on the student experience for College Magazine.

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