Want to improve your bed without buying a whole new mattress? A mattress pad or mattress topper can go a long way to making your sleep setup more comfortable. Plus, these products help defend your bed from wear and tear, protecting your investment.
This guide will walk you through the similarities and differences between these two accessories and help you determine which is best for your sleep situation.
Mattress Pads vs. Mattress Toppers: Comparison Chart
Protects Your Mattress
Adds Cushioning and Comfort
Quality options start around $200
Quality options start around $350
What Is a Mattress Pad?
A mattress pad is a cushioning layer you can add to any bed. They consist of an outer fabric shell and infill that provides the pad's plushness and volume. Mattress pads are much thinner than mattress toppers, closer in structure to a comforter that goes under your bedding.
While adding luxury, mattress pads also protect your mattress. They essentially act as a mattress protector, but with added padding. If you have a mattress pad, you do not need to use a mattress protector underneath.
Depending on the type of mattress pad you purchase, it may be waterproof, moisture-wicking, antibacterial, hypoallergenic, machine-washable, or a combination of these qualities. A mattress pad will help protect your mattress from regular wear and tear, extending its lifespan.
Like fitted sheets, mattress pads typically attach to your mattress with elastic-lined pockets in each corner. They fit snugly against your bed, and your fitted sheet and other bedding go on top.
Who Should Buy a Mattress Pad?
Mattress pads are great for sleepers who are happy with their mattress and want to protect it while adding a touch of padding. You'll notice the difference in the cushioning of your bed, but it won't completely transform its feel. A mattress pad won't save the day if your mattress lacks support or pressure relief or is way too soft or firm for your liking. However, it will keep your mattress safe and clean.
What to Look for in a Mattress Pad
We recommend a mattress pad with a soft, smooth, breathable, and highly durable fabric shell. Extra points for moisture-wicking and temperature-regulating fabrics that help keep your bed cool. If you tend to sleep warm, avoid potentially heat-trapping synthetics like polyester and nylon.
Bamboo, organic cotton, and eucalyptus are our favorite mattress pad fabrics, particularly bamboo for its antibacterial action.
If you opt for a waterproof mattress pad, look for one with a thin backing. The last thing you want is to trap heat beneath the pad or add a crinkly layer to your bed that rustles every time you move.
The point of using a mattress pad rather than a standard mattress protector is to add softness and cushioning to your sleep surface. The pad's filler material will largely determine its feel; down, down-alternative, cotton, microfiber, polyester, bamboo, and wool are the most common mattress pad fillings.
If you want something natural, bamboo, cotton, and down are the way to go. However, we don't recommend down for people who sleep hot. All three materials are soft and cushioning, but bamboo is the most breathable.
To avoid overheating, we also suggest staying away from microfiber and polyester. Plus, these synthetic materials aren't quite as comfortable or durable as their natural counterparts.
What Is a Mattress Topper?
A mattress topper sits on top of your mattress, providing extra comfort and support. They're thicker and more structurally substantial than mattress pads—quality mattress toppers significantly affect the feel of your mattress. Mattress toppers can also add contouring, pressure relief, and cooling.
Like mattress pads, mattress toppers have protective benefits. They add another layer between you and your mattress, defending it from wear and tear. However, mattress toppers sit on top of your bed—they don't encase any part of the mattress. So, if you want to waterproof your mattress or protect it from critters, we recommend using a mattress protector along with your mattress pad.
Who Should Buy a Mattress Topper?
Mattress toppers are ideal for anyone who wants to alter or improve the feel of their bed. For example, if your current mattress is too firm for your needs, you can add a plush topper to soften the feel and add contouring. If your mattress is too soft and doesn't provide enough support, you can purchase a firmer mattress topper to keep your spine aligned.
What to Look for in a Mattress Topper
Not all mattress toppers have covers, but we prefer those that do. A cover adds an extra layer of cushioning and protection, and covered mattress toppers are far more durable.
As with mattress pads, we recommend soft, durable, and cooling outer fabrics. Again, we think organic cotton and bamboo work best. These breathable materials allow easy airflow and wick moisture, keeping the mattress topper cool. They're also exceptionally soft and comfortable.
Foam or Filling
On the inside, mattress toppers consist of a single foam sheet, or they're stuffed with a loose filling.
The first type tends to offer more structure and support. You'll most commonly see mattress toppers made with memory foam, another polyfoam, or latex foam. We suggest steering clear from memory foam, which contains heat-sensitive viscoelastic chemicals. These harsh chemicals trap heat, make the foam's firmness fluctuate with temperature, and cause it to degrade faster.
On the other hand, viscoelastic chemical-free polyfoams and latex foam make excellent options. The Nolah Mattress Topper uses AirFoam™️, our proprietary polyfoam blend. Compared to traditional memory foam, it offers four times better pressure relief, dissipates heat 20 percent faster, and is 300 percent more durable. It's the same foam we use for our award-winning Nolah Original and Nolah Signature mattresses.
Like AirFoam™️, latex is also breathable, supportive, and pressure relieving, making it a good fit for a mattress topper.
When it comes to loose infill mattress toppers, down and down-alternative are the most common options. While soft and cushioning, stuffed mattress toppers don't offer as much support as the foam versions. They work great for sleepers who want to add plush comfort but not those who want to make their mattress feel firmer or who need to improve spinal alignment.
Thickness and Firmness Level
Your ideal mattress topper thickness and firmness level depend on what you hope to get from it. As previously mentioned, you can use a topper to make your bed softer and more contouring or firmer and more supportive. When deciding on a topper firmness level, think about it relative to your current mattress. Head over to our Mattress Firmness Guide to learn more.
Enhance Your Mattress with a Pad or Topper
Whether you choose a mattress pad or a mattress topper, the extra layer will add comfort and protection to your bed. Pads and toppers are worthwhile investments, as they lengthen the lifespan of your mattress and help you get the restorative rest you deserve.