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What is a Mattress Pad, and Why Should You Use One?

Mattress Resources
Read Time: 6 minutes

  • Function: Mattress pads provide an extra layer of comfort to your bed and can protect your mattress from wear and tear, but they do not offer waterproofing or complete protection against spills.
  • Variety: Available in various styles (fitted, flat, heated, etc.) and materials (cotton, synthetic fibers, wool, etc.), catering to diverse preferences and needs for added comfort, temperature regulation, or protection.
  • Differences: Unlike mattress toppers, pads are thinner, offer minimal impact on firmness, and usually have a quilted design, while toppers are thicker and designed to change the feel of a mattress significantly.

When it comes to bedding accessories, consumers often confuse the terms “mattress pad,” “mattress protector,” and “mattress topper.” Although these products have some similarities, they serve different purposes. This article will clarify the meaning of a mattress pad and explore why you should consider using one. We will also discuss the differences between a mattress pad and other bedding accessories, such as a mattress topper. Let’s dive in!

Understanding Mattress Pads

A mattress pad is a thin layer of fabric on top of your mattress or mattress topper underneath a fitted sheet. Some models come with a deep pocket fitted skirt or elastic edges to ensure they stay in place. Mattress pads offer an extra layer of comfort to your bed and are often quilted. They range in thickness from 1″ to 1.5″. While a mattress pad is unnecessary, it can enhance your sleeping experience by providing additional cushioning.

Determining the Need for a Mattress Pad

Whether or not you need a mattress pad depends on your personal preferences and the condition of your mattress. If your mattress feels comfortable, you may not require a mattress pad. However, if you find your sheets to be too stiff, your mattress too soft, or your pillows lacking firmness, a mattress pad may be a suitable solution. It’s important to note that mattress pads do not offer protection against dust, bacteria, or spills. If these are concerns for you, consider using a mattress protector instead. Sometimes, you may even use a mattress pad and a mattress protector for added comfort and protection.

Benefits of a Mattress Pad

While mattress pads may not be waterproof, they can still protect your mattress from wear and tear. If your mattress feels too firm, using a mattress pad can offer an extra layer of softness, enhancing your comfort level. Additionally, mattress pads can help reduce pressure points, making your sleep more restful. This can be particularly beneficial if you have an old mattress with broken or worn-out springs that cause joint pain and body aches. Utilizing a mattress pad can prolong your mattress’s lifespan while improving the quality of your sleep.

Mattress Pad vs Mattress Topper: Understanding the Difference

Both mattress toppers and mattress pads can enhance the comfort of your bed. However, there are some key differences between the two. Mattress pads are relatively thin and lightweight, while mattress toppers are thicker and designed to change the feel of your mattress significantly. Mattress toppers are typically made of materials like latex, poly, or memory foam, providing increased comfort and support. In contrast, mattress pads usually have a padded layer and a quilted design.

To summarize the differences between mattress pads and toppers:

Mattress Pads Mattress Toppers
Thin and lightweight Thicker and more substantial
Padded layer with quilted designMultiple layers of padding or foam
Limited impact on firmnessCan significantly impact firmness
Less expensive than a new mattressLess expensive than a new mattress
Less effective at regulating body temperatureMore effective at regulating body temperature
Limited protection against stains and spillsLimited protection against stains and spills

Depending on your needs and preferences, you may use a mattress pad, a mattress topper, or both. Consider the level of comfort you desire and your mattress’s current feel when deciding.

Introducing Mattress Protectors

If protection against spills and stains is your top priority, consider a mattress protector. Unlike mattress pads and toppers, mattress protectors are designed to cover the top and sides of your mattress, providing a protective barrier against stains, dust, bodily fluids, and spills. Some models even encase the entire mattress. A mattress protector resembles a fitted sheet and can be made from various materials, offering protection against allergens, dust mites, mold, and bacteria.

It is particularly useful for those concerned about bed bugs or who have pets or children. If you already use a mattress pad or topper, you can place the mattress protector on top of them. However, if you opt for a mattress pad, consider placing it right underneath the sheets for easier access since mattress pads typically require washing every few months.

Exploring Different Types of Mattress Pads

Mattress pads come in various styles and materials, each offering unique benefits. Some mattress pads are designed to increase comfort, while others protect against moisture or allergens. Consider your budget and needs when choosing a mattress pad. Here are a few types of mattress pads to consider:

Fitted Pads with Elastic Sides

These mattress pads have elastic sides, ensuring a snug fit on your mattress. They are easy to put on and remove, making them convenient for regular cleaning.

Anchor Mattress Pads

Anchor mattress pads feature multiple thin straps that help keep them in place. Some models are reversible, allowing for longer use between washes.

Flat Mattress Pads

Flat mattress pads resemble thicker blankets and are placed on top of your mattress, underneath the sheets. They are simple to use and provide an additional layer of comfort.

Mattress Pads with Zippers

These mattress pads are designed to enclose your mattress, protecting it from all sides completely. They are ideal for individuals who want thorough protection against spills, stains, and allergens.

Heated Mattress Pads

For added warmth during colder months, consider a heated mattress pad. These models come in various materials, such as microfiber or wool, and can help regulate your body temperature for a comfortable sleep.

Choosing the Right Material

When selecting a mattress pad, consider the material it is made from. Different materials provide different levels of comfort and durability. Here are a few options to consider:

  • Cotton: Cotton mattress pads are breathable and provide a soft, comfortable feel. They are available in various price ranges, starting from $30 and up.
  • Synthetic Fibers: Mattress pads often use materials like rayon, nylon, or polyester. They are more affordable than natural materials and can offer good comfort and durability.
  • Feathers: Feather-filled mattress pads provide a luxurious feel and are known for their softness. However, they can be more expensive than other options.
  • Microfiber: Microfiber retains heat and is an excellent choice for colder months. It is a cost-effective alternative to natural materials like wool.
  • Wool: Wool mattress pads offer exceptional comfort and temperature regulation. Wool mattress pads provide excellent comfort and temperature control but often come at a higher cost. 

When selecting a mattress pad material, consider your budget, desired comfort level, and seasonal requirements.

Tips for Choosing a Mattress Pad

To ensure you select the right mattress pad for your needs, keep the following factors in mind:

  1. Size: Determine the appropriate size for your mattress pad. They come in various sizes, including Twin, Twin XL, Queen, King, and California King.
  2. Pocket Depth: Check the pocket depth of the mattress pad to ensure it best fits your mattress properly.
  3. Machine-Washable: Consider buying a machine-washable mattress pad for easy cleaning and maintenance.
  4. Thickness: Most mattress pads are relatively thin, ranging from 1″ to 1.5″ in thickness. If you require a thicker option, consider a mattress topper instead.
  5. Waterproof Feature: While most mattress pads are not waterproof, you can find models that offer this feature. Keep in mind that a waterproof protector may come at an additional cost.
  6. Hypoallergenic Options: If you have allergies or textile contact dermatitis, choose a hypoallergenic mattress pad to minimize potential reactions.
  7. Fill Count: Opt for a mattress pad with a higher fill count for extra softness. This can enhance your comfort level while you sleep.

Some brands offer money-back guarantees or a risk-free trial period for their mattress pads. Consider these offers, especially if you’ve never used a mattress pad before.

Are Mattress Pads Worth It?

While a mattress pad is not absolutely necessary, it can provide added comfort and protection for your mattress. The extra cushioning can enhance your sleep experience, and the pad can help protect against dust mites, bed bugs, and germs (though not as effectively as a mattress protector).

When deciding whether to purchase a mattress pad, carefully consider your preferences, budget, and long-term goals for your bedding. Determine if the features offered by mattress pads, such as waterproofing or organic materials, are worth the additional investment. Remember to focus on the quality and functionality of the mattress pad rather than falling for marketing hype.

FAQ about What a Mattress Pad

What is a mattress pad, and how does it differ from a mattress topper?

A mattress pad serves as a thin cushioning layer placed atop your mattress, primarily safeguarding it against stains and wear. It usually provides minimal additional comfort. In contrast, a mattress topper is thicker and designed to alter the feel and comfort of your mattress by adding extra cushioning or support.

What are the benefits of using a mattress pad or mattress topper?

Mattress pads and toppers can improve the comfort of your sleep surface, enhance pressure relief, regulate temperature, and extend the lifespan of your mattress. They offer added cushioning, support, and protection to suit your sleep preferences.

How do memory foam mattress toppers differ from wool, feather, or latex foam?

Memory foam mattress toppers conform closely to the body, offering excellent pressure relief. Wool and feather toppers provide a plush feel and added warmth, while latex foam toppers are resilient and offer a firmer surface.

Do mattress pads or toppers protect against bed bugs, dust mites, or spills?

Some mattress pads and protectors are designed with waterproof or protective barriers to guard against spills and stains. Additionally, certain models are made with materials that inhibit bed bugs or dust mites.

Can a mattress pad significantly alter the firmness level of an existing mattress?

While mattress pads provide some added softness or firmness, they typically do not significantly change the underlying firmness of a mattress. Mattress toppers, on the other hand, can have a more pronounced impact on the feel and firmness of your bed.


In conclusion, a mattress pad is a thin fabric layer placed on the surface of your mattress or mattress topper, delivering added comfort and safeguarding. While mattress pads are not essential, they can enhance your sleeping experience by adding cushioning and reducing pressure points. When choosing a mattress pad, consider your comfort needs, the condition of your mattress, and any desired additional features, such as waterproofing or hypoallergenic materials. Choosing the appropriate mattress pad can enhance both your sleep quality and prolong your mattress’s lifespan.

Christine Lapp is a full-time graduate student and part-time freelancer for Sleep Junkie. Since she was a little girl on the soccer field, Christine has had a love for sports, and she believes everybody should get up and get moving once a day. Now, she incorporates her love for exercise into her studies, pursuing a degree in exercise physiology. Christine understands that what you do during your waking hours has a direct impact on your night’s sleep. In our better sleep guides, she offers advice for developing healthy daytime habits to nurture a more peaceful slumber.

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