Which Is Right For You? A Guide to Mattress Pads and Mattress Toppers

Whether you’ve just purchased a new mattress or have an existing one, you might be wondering if there’s something you should add to your bedding ensemble to protect it or make it more comfortable.

If you’re unclear what the difference is between a mattress pad and a mattress topper, this quick guide will help you figure out which fits your needs the best.

Quick Comparison: Mattress Topper vs Mattress Pad

What is a Mattress Topper?

  • A mattress topper's primary purpose is to provide added comfort for the user, particularly if the original mattress is too firm or too soft
  • Can help expend the life of an older mattress
  • Provides pressure point relief and can alleviate joint pain
  • Typically made of memory foam or similar material, which molds to the user’s body to provide additional support.

What is a Mattress Pad?

  • A mattress pad's primary purpose is to protect your mattress from stains and damage, e.g. from spilled beverages, excitable pets or people who have problems with mobility and can’t get out of bed quickly enough when nature calls
  • Reduces effects of allergies and asthma
  • Is much thinner than a mattress topper and usually has a waterproof backing.
4-Inch True Support Memory Foam King Mattress Topper from Dream Serenity

4-inch mattress topper with memory foam

More about Mattress Toppers

Mattress Toppers Provide Pressure Point Relief

People who are mobility impaired and stay in bed for long periods of time, or suffer from hip or back pain, can find comfort with a Mattress Topper that has just the right firmness for his or her needs.

Because a Mattress Topper can mold to the body, it is much more comfortable than a traditional mattress for those who have pressure point issues.

Mattress toppers for hip pain have been successfully used for decades.

Fitting a topper to the mattress

Buying the right size topper for your mattress is essential. Whether you have a twin, king or queen bed – there’s a mattress topper to fit them all.

To prevent a mattress topper from shifting down the mattress, which usually happens if it isn’t secured, place three or four non-skid mats on the mattress, and then place the topper on top of that and a fitted sheet over it all.

The more expensive mattress toppers will come with straps that will slip over the corners of the mattress to hold them securely in place.

Gel Memory Foam King Mattress Topper

Mattress topper from Serta with gel cooling technology

Mattress topper cooling and heating technology

Toppers are usually made of “memory” foam or gel foam. Memory foam toppers have been criticized for “sleeping hot” – meaning they absorb heat. A gel foam topper solves this problem because it can provide better air circulation.

There are technologies to counteract memory foam’s heat-absorbing properties.. One brand even has micro-tubes fitted inside that can circulate heated or cooled liquid through the topper. As you can imagine, this is one expensive topper.

What is moisture wicking?

Synthetic fabrics are specially engineered and treated so that small amounts of liquid – such as sweat, are brought to, or stay on; the outer surface of the fabric so that it can dry quicker. When purchasing a pad or topper, it will say on the package whether or not it has this much-desired capability.

And what’s hypoallergenic fabric?

Hypoallergenic means that the fabric is known to cause fewer allergic reactions than a material that is not hypoallergenic. Bear in mind that even a hypoallergenic fabric can cause a reaction to someone who is extremely sensitive to certain allergy-causing elements.

Cleaning mattress toppers

Typically, mattress toppers cannot be placed in a washer because of the materials from which they are made. It’s best to vacuum them every week to remove dust mites and dead skin cells that we all shed.

Life span of mattress toppers

As you might expect, the more expensive a topper, the longer it will last. Well-cared for, a topper may hold its properties for up to ten years.

Memory foam toppers come in a variety of thicknesses – 2-inch, 3-inch, and 4-inch are the most common. 4-inch toppers are best for those individuals who weigh over 250 pounds.

When the memory foam ceases to “remember” and stops molding to your body and providing comfort, it’s time to get a new topper!

Mattress pad from Sealy providing moisture, odor, and stain protection

More about Mattress Pads

Mattress pads help relieve allergies and asthma

People with allergies and asthma often find that dust mites – which can work their way through a fitted sheet into a coil or spring mattress – can trigger attacks. Also, when we lie in bed, our body heat is transferred into the mattress, which can cause mold or mildew over many years.

The solution is a mattress pad that does not give dust mites a place in which to thrive.

Cleaning mattress pads

Typically, fabric pads are machine washable. Be sure to read the label and follow the directions for your particular pad.

Fitting a mattress pad to the mattress

Mattress pads come in a variety of sizes, from twin to king to queen. Be sure to purchase the right size for your bed. As with toppers, if you have a problem with the pad constantly shifting, try using non-slip mats between the mattress and the pads. The higher- end mattress pads will have corner straps.

Life span of mattress pads

Mattress pads can last a long time, especially if they are rotated every couple of weeks to prevent one side from becoming flatter than the other side. With proper care, a mattress pad can last indefinitely.

Who needs a mattress pad or mattress topper?

Mattress pads are typically a good idea for everybody – just when you think you’d never spill your cherry lemonade on your bed, over it goes!

As for toppers, people who are satisfied with the comfort of their mattress do not need a topper. But if you wake up with shoulder, back or in particular hip pain, a memory foam mattress topper, with a good density - may be the solution. They also work great and provide added comfort to a pullout couch, or a college dorm bed.

The cost of a pad or topper is directly related to how large of a pad or topper you buy – a topper that fits on a twin-size mattress will be less expensive than one that fits on a king or queen – and its included features (such as heating/cooling technology). Mattress pads are typically less expensive than mattress toppers.

What's the best mattress topper for me?

Mattress toppers may work for one person but not for another. Just as some people like soft mattresses and others more firm ones, preferences for the thickness of a mattress topper vary also. If possible, try before you buy! Find a friend or relative that has the type of topper you are thinking of purchasing and see what you think!


There are many varieties of mattress toppers and mattress pads on the market. No matter which brand you decide to purchase, make sure it is manufactured from hypoallergenic materials that will help prevent allergic reactions and even contact dermatitis.

Category: Your Life

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