People often interchange the terms mattress pads and mattress toppers; however, they are not generally the same thing. They are actually two different products with specific functions.
To put things in perspective, pads are generally used to give protection to your mattress and a marginally extra level of comfort or softness.
On the other hand, toppers are designed specifically to enhance the level of comfort of a mattress. So, although they make look like to be the same thing, they are designed for different purposes.
When you buy a mattress topper, you are basically paying for a higher level of comfort. Toppers are relatively expensive while pads are much cheaper. The defining difference is the thickness quotient. Mattress toppers are way thicker than pads. A topper provides only reasonable protection for your mattress while pads are excellent at that job.
Let’s summarize it one last time to make it as clear as possible:
You buy a PAD to simply protect the mattress at a very low price.
You buy a TOPPER to enhance you mattress’ comfort level, at a higher price.
How Should I Choose A Mattress Topper?
There is a wide variety of mattress toppers on the market and although at the end it boils down to your personal comfort preferences, there are several factors to keep in mind to narrow the choice.
Here are the main points that you will need to keep in perspective:
Which is the Best Material?
The first aspect that you will need to consider is the material for your mattress topper. You have a wide array of choices from cotton and latex to high quality wool. Each has their pluses and minuses to consider.
- Cotton: has great breathability and it can be machine washed; however, durability is questionable as it tends to wear down fast, especially on a mattress used daily. Cotton is also a great solution for people afflicted by allergies, as it is usually very well tolerated. This model for example is certified as hypoallergenic.
- Wool: although we usually link wool to winter and cold weather when we need its warmth, this natural textile is also great as a fresh material as it can absorb the latent heat of the body. In addition, wool toppers are resistant to mites and mold and durability is unquestionable, with a great track record going back generations. Just ask your grandma what she thinks! The downside of wool is that it is usually pricey (like this Merino premium topper) but there are some still some good quality products at a more accessible price, like this one.
- Latex: similarly to wool, latex toppers aren’t a good habitat for the various dust and bed parasites, and they are also extremely durable, with many products lasting more than 20 years. The downside of Latex is the fact that being a natural material, on the surface it can look a bit aged, with discoloration and small tears. However, it’s just an aesthetic problem that becomes invisible once the topper is covered with a bed sheet, without any effect on performance and comfort. In terms of price, it’s on the expensive side, in a range between around $150 (like this model) and $500 or more depending on thickness.
- Memory foam: the more modern foam alternative is a viable alternative to the above materials since it realigns itself to accommodate your specific body contours, adding a layer of comfort hard to replicate with any other material. It is much lighter and is thicker; however, in general memory foam tends to accumulate more heat, so if you are a particularly heaty person, you may want to make sure the model you select is engineered to remain cool (like this very popular model).
- Featherbed: these old-school (read: well-tested) mattress toppers are another alternative that might work great for most people without specific needs other than a general plushy feeling. They are extremely lightweight and soft. They are comprised fully of down feather and provide great, natural heat regulation. What this means is that it will actually keep you cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The problem with this material is that to source the feathers, geese were usually hurt. But today there are some fantastic alternatives that have the exact same feeling and function, without the cruelty. If this is the option you are considering, make sure you select a topper with a minimum thread count of 200, as they are significantly more durable without making a compromise on the softness quotient (like this one).
What Are the Advantages of Using a Mattress Topper?
Bring New Life to Your Old Mattress
Over time, mattress can become flattened out and loses out on its comfort quotient. You may forget how comfortable it used to be because you get used to the gradual downgrade over time, one tiny bit every night. It may be become uneven and compacted in some areas more than others (especially if you don’t rotate it of flip it regularly). You may even be at risk of developing back pains over time (if you suffer from chronic back pain, you might want to consider changing mattress altogether, as it’s not worth risking with your health. Make sure you check out our best back pain mattresses here).
This is why a mattress topper is a great investment, as it enhances or even fully restore the comfort level of your old mattress for a tiny fraction of the cost.
Adjust Support and Firmness to Your Needs
A mattress topper is not always used as an accessory to enhance the comfort level of your old mattress. You could also face the scenario where you have bought a new mattress, but you realize you are not comfortable on it because of a different level of firmness than what you expected, or because you changed your weight or you simply want to try something different.
In such a situation, a mattress topper can provide you with just the right level of firmness and comfort, as you can shop around targeting exactly what you need on the top layer.
For example, memory foam mattress toppers or latex toppers can increase the level of supportiveness a lot, while fetherbeds can give you a much softer sensation. This simple effect can help finally reducing a wide range of discomforts and pains.
Customized for Varying Levels of Comfort
Another interesting aspect of having a mattress topper is that you can adjust your mattress for two levels of firmness when two people sleep on the same bed. You can add a topper on just one side of the bed to achieve this. The advantage of having a memory foam topper is that to an extent, you can limit any disturbance caused by the motion of one person as the movement will be restricted to that side only.
In Which Case A Mattress Topper Shouldn’t Be Used?
As with any product, mattress toppers have their distinct disadvantages as well. Here are some of the most common disadvantages associated with mattress toppers.
There have been reports from users of mattress toppers stating that adding a topper didn’t actually make any major difference in their quality of sleep. You cannot expect your old bumpy mattress to be suddenly transformed into an island of comfort. Toppers offer an enhanced level of comfort to a reasonably aged mattress, not to a slab of concrete or an inflatable swimming pool mattress. So set your expectations right and be honest to yourself if it’s time to get a new mattress. You can get many great ideas in our updated Best Mattress Guide.
A sizable share of mattress topper users stated that they were unable to find the exact fitting topper for their mattress. A Queen-sized topper need not necessarily perfectly fit the dimensions of all queen sized beds, especially since many manufacturers use unusual dimensions vary of a couple of inches or more.
If you are the thread and needle type, you may be able to cut down to size an oversized topper, but if the topper is smaller than the mattress, you will end up with an awkward looking bed and a lower level of sleeping comfort.
A few mattress toppers are known to smell somewhat awkward when brand new. In rare occasions, the smell can be off putting to the extent that it disturbs the sleep quality for the most sensitive people. However, this generally diminishes considerably within a week by itself, so if you are concerned about this issue you can simply leave the topper out in the air for a couple of days before starting using it.
Make sure you read some reviews before buying a topper if you are very sensitive to odors.
Due to the fact that the topper is not a fixed layer of your mattress, there is a potential for movement if the surfaces of the mattress and topper are smooth. This can cause the topper to slip around a bit causing some awkward situations, especially in intimate moments.
However, this too has been reported by a very small segment of mattress topper owners, and if this happens to you there are inexpensive anti-slip sheets like these that can be used to increase stability and fix the problem.
Overall, mattress toppers have been effective in enhancing the comfort level of new and old mattresses alike, providing a better sleep experience for most people. Memory foam toppers are generally more preferred due to the fact that they are both easily available and provide a significant level of comfort. At the end of the day, if the right conditions are in place, it can make a lot sense to buy a mattress topper rather than to invest in a brand new mattress from an economic standpoint.