Mattress Pad Vs. Mattress Topper

Mattress pads and mattress toppers are often thought to be the same product with different names, as they're both placed on top of the sleep surface to offer protection and adjust its comfort level. However, despite their likeness, they're distinct mattress accessories with different functions that you should consider before deciding which accessory suits your current needs best.

This post will explore the key differences and similarities between a mattress pad and a mattress topper to help shoppers narrow down the best choice for their mattress and sleep.

What is a Mattress Pad?

A mattress pad is a thin padded layer of materials such as latex, cotton, or synthetic fibers that protects your mattress from liquids, accidents, or dirt while making it feel softer. Mattress pads attach to beds like fitted sheets do, wrapping around each side and tucking underneath to ensure they don't move out of place at night while you sleep.

They're usually thinner than mattress toppers, having a thickness of 1 or 2 inches at most, so you can't rely on them to significantly change your bed's firmness level. Plus, they aren't designed to relieve pressure at painful pressure points, but you can use them to make your sleep surface feel plusher. However, precisely how your mattress pad changes the feel of your sleep surface majorly depends on the type of materials used to design it.

When it comes to A mattress pad is a thin padded layer of materials such as latex, cotton, or synthetic fibers that protects your mattress from liquids, accidents, or dirt while making it feel softer. Mattress pads attach to beds like fitted sheets do, wrapping around each side and tucking underneath to ensure they don't move out of place at night while you sleep.

Types of Mattress Pads

Mattress pads come in a wide range of materials for you to choose from according to your personal preferences. Some models are engineered to contour to your body and absorb excess heat and moisture, while others are designed to protect your mattress from everyday wear and tear.

Memory Foam Mattress Pad

Unlike memory foam mattresses, memory foam pads aren't a common purchase for sleepers. While they conform to the body and offer plushness to your mattress, they aren't thick enough to relieve pressure. Moreover, their maintenance may be difficult as they are not machine washable and ineffective at blocking stains.

Feather Mattress Pad

Feather mattress pads feature coatings from ducks and geese. Some even contain down, which are softer feathers found under the plumage. Feather mattress pads boast a soft, plush feel that creates a cozy sleep surface, making them a viable pick for sleepers who want to soften a very firm mattress. They're also fairly breathable, meaning heat buildup won't be an issue.

It's worth noting that these pads won't be a suitable alternative for individuals with allergies as they are not hypoallergenic. Plus, they're expensive and ineffective in protecting your mattress against spills.

Fiber Mattress Pad

Rayon, polyester, and down alternatives (fiberfill) make fiber mattress pads. These pads are usually suitable for individuals sensitive to down feathers and those shopping with a tight budget. Fiber mattress pads offer exceptional stain resistance and add extra cushioning to your mattress without inhibiting movement. While temperature neutrality can vary depending on the construction, most fiber mattress pads are fairly breathable.

Wool Mattress Pad

Wool mattress pads are an ideal alternative for hot sleepers, as this material is good at wicking away excess moisture and preventing heat from building up. Wool is also resistant to dust, mold, and allergens, offering more protection for your sleep surface. Maintaining a wool mattress pad can be challenging because most aren't machine-washable.

Latex Mattress Pad

Latex mattress pads feature synthetic or natural latex or a combination of both. They contour to the sleeper's body and offer bounce based on their thickness level. These pads are most effective when you pair them with a latex mattress. While they may be expensive, they can protect your mattress against spills and wear.

Cotton Mattress Pad

Cotton mattress pads are some of the most common in the market and are famous for their affordability and low maintenance qualities. They're also machine-washable and long-lasting. However, the downside is that they may not protect your mattress against spills and stains due to cotton's absorbent qualities.

Benefits of a Mattress Pad

A mattress pad can modify your bed's comfort level by making it feel softer. This is great for individuals using a firm mattress and crave a softer sleep surface.

Most sleepers usually opt for a mattress pad to safeguard their mattress from accidental spills. Depending on your chosen model, your mattress pad can also protect your mattress from dander, dust mites, and other allergens.

Although a mattress protector is uniquely engineered for this purpose, it's often noisy because of the waterproof material used in construction. A mattress pad can be a much quieter alternative that's more comfortable.

What is a Mattress Topper?

Mattress toppers are layers of cushioning materials that lie at the top surface of mattresses, usually tucked underneath fitted sheets. They're thicker than pads and therefore serve as almost an extension of the mattress. Unlike mattress pads, these sleep accessories can noticeably alter the firmness level of your bed.

Generally, a mattress topper aims to improve how a mattress feels. Over time, cushioning materials in a mattress deteriorate and soften, which makes the surface uneven from body impressions. This can decrease overall body support, leading to aches and pains. Most mattress toppers have soft and medium feels, intended to add cushioning to firm mattresses. However, others are on the firmer side, designed for an overly soft mattress.

If you're looking for a mattress topper designed to offer support and add firmness, a memory foam mattress topper is a solid choice. If you're hunting for one that provides the opposite effect, go for a feather mattress topper. Latex toppers are the best pick for hypoallergenic alternatives, and there are many other options that can offer excellent pressure relief and help with temperature regulation, as we'll discuss below.

Types of Mattress Toppers

Like mattress pads, there are plenty of toppers to choose from. However, you'll want to opt for one that's most compatible with your unique needs.

Here are some of the most common types of toppers in the market:

Memory Foam Mattress Toppers

These are the most popular toppers among sleepers. They're ideal for individuals who prefer to sink into their mattresses. Memory foam generally conforms closely to the body to evenly distribute weight and align your hips, shoulders, and spine. That's why many side sleepers opt for memory foam toppers. These toppers also isolate motion well and don't produce any noise, making them solid picks for couples and co-sleepers.

However, it's worth noting that this material tends to trap body heat, hence might be too hot for hot sleepers. Here, a good option might be purchasing a gel-infused memory foam topper instead. Alternatively, you can go for an egg crate mattress topper, which features cutouts in the foam layer that boost breathability.

>> Recommended Product: Ghostbed Mattress Topper

Latex Toppers

Made of natural or synthetic latex, latex toppers conform to the sleeper's body while maintaining a more responsive feel. You'll likely feel less pressure but won't sink too deep into the surface. Stomach and back sleepers who need a supportive sleep surface may find latex toppers more comfortable and supportive than memory foam models. And when ventilated with tiny holes that promote airflow, these toppers also sleep cool compared to foam models.

If you want to increase your bed's firmness level, go with a Dunlop latex topper, which is typically denser. On the other hand, those who sleep hot will enjoy the cooling properties of a Talalay latex topper.

>> Recommended Product: Plushbeds Organic Latex Topper

Wool Mattress Toppers

Wool mattress toppers are always sought out for their plushness and breathability. And since wool excels at temperature regulation, it will keep you warm during the winter months, and its moisture-wicking properties should keep you cool and dry during the summer.

>> Recommended Product: Plushbeds Natural Wool Mattress Topper

Feather Mattress Toppers

If you're craving the cloud-like fluffy feel of pillow top mattresses, the Feather mattress toppers might suit you best. While a pillow top mattress might feel matted over time, you can shake and fluff a feather mattress topper periodically for prolonged use. These toppers are also seasonally versatile, thanks to their excellent temperature-regulating properties.

Benefits of a Mattress Topper

Mattress toppers come with lots of benefits. They're popular alternatives because they can significantly enhance your mattress' comfort and supportive nature. A thick and plush topper will add extra cushioning to a firm mattress, whereas a firm model will provide a firmer feel to a soft bed.

With a mattress topper, sleepers can alter the feel of their old mattresses without buying an entirely new mattress. However, you need to keep in mind that your topper won't fully restore an old sagging mattress.

You can also use a mattress topper when you are not ready to replace your existing mattress but want to change how it feels. Plus, they really come in handy when you want to increase your bed's overall height or prevent premature wear and tear.

Mattress Pad vs. Mattress Topper Chart Comparison

Generally, mattress toppers and mattress pads serve similar functions - cushioning your sleep surface. However, a mattress topper is thicker and can offer more tailored comfort and support than a mattress pad. Choosing between these two products generally depends on whether your focus is on protecting your sleep surface or noticeably changing its feel.

As mentioned earlier, mattress pads are a perfect pick for sleepers who want to add some plushness to their mattresses while keeping them clean and dry. They won't drastically change your bed's firmness level, but they can either slightly reinforce or soften it depending on the design you pick. Plus, they can protect your mattress from dirt and moisture, which further helps to minimize unnecessary wear and tear.

Toppers, however, are ideal for those looking to significantly alter the feel of their mattress. They're better equipped to make your bed feel either firmer or softer as they're 2 to 3 inches thicker than mattress pads. Those with cooling properties can wick away excess heat and moisture and facilitate a cooler sleep.

And since toppers slow down normal wear and tear, they can help extend your bed's useful lifespan. They're also good at reducing body aches and pains by cushioning painful pressure points.

Check out our comparison chart below for a summary of the major differences between a mattress pad and a mattress topper.

Mattress Pad vs. Mattress Topper: Which Should You Choose?

When choosing between a mattress pad vs. mattress topper, it's crucial to consider your personal needs and preferences.

If you simply want to protect your mattress and increase its durability, go for a mattress pad specially designed to safeguard mattresses against dirt, stains, and spills. And since a mattress pad can add a bit of plushness to your mattress, it's a perfect pick if you're satisfied with the feel of your current mattress.

On the other hand, a topper is a solid choice for individuals who don't like how their sleep surface feels. If your mattress is too firm or soft, you can purchase a mattress topper to adjust its firmness level and significantly change how it feels. Toppers are also ideal for an old mattress starting to show signs of wear. You can also use them to protect a new mattress from premature wear.


Below are frequently asked questions about mattress pads, mattress toppers, and mattress protectors.

Do I need a protector as well as a mattress topper?

Both mattress toppers and mattress protectors are designed to serve different purposes. Waterproof mattress protectors generally protect your sleep surface from spills, dirt, and allergens, which extends your bed's lifespan. A mattress topper, on the other hand, is a thick layer usually placed on top of the protector to change your mattress' comfort and firmness level.

How's a mattress protector different from a mattress pad?

Mattress protectors don't add comfort to your sleep surface; their main role is to protect your bed and keep it clean. While mattress pads provide cushiony comfort throughout the night, they're thicker than mattress protectors and are often placed on top of a protector.

Can I replace my memory foam mattress with a memory foam mattress topper?

A memory foam topper can adjust your bed's firmness level but can't substitute for a top-quality memory foam mattress. If your old innerspring mattress is sagging or has indentations, a memory foam topper can breathe life into it by evening the surface, making lying on it more comfortable. However, this is only temporary, as a topper can't give you the same comfort as a new mattress.

Closing Thoughts

Understanding the detailed differences between a mattress pad and a mattress topper can help you make a smart investment in upping your sleep game. However, keep in mind that these products aren't a total replacement for quality mattresses. So, to ensure you receive a good night's sleep, invest in a good mattress that offers support and comfort so that you can benefit the most from mattress pads and mattress toppers.

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