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Mattress Pads, Toppers and Protectors: What’s the Difference?

by Michael Webster

Everyone deserves to sleep deeply and rejuvenate after each day. And how well you recover for the next day depends on how well you sleep on your mattress. If your mattress just isn’t supplying the type of support you’re looking for at the end of the day, it may be time to look into a couple simple solutions that will help instantly bring you relief.

If counting sheep isn’t doing it for you anymore (and you don’t feel like completely replacing your mattress), or if you’re stressed about protecting your investment (your mattress!) overnight or in the long run, adding a mattress pad, topper, or protector could be the answer to getting your proper rest back on track. All three options will add a layer to your bed that will help in providing extra comfort and protection.

How do you know if a mattress pad, topper, or protector is right for you?

Check out our comparison of mattress pads, toppers, and protectors, to make a confident decision about how to improve your current sleeping situation.

Mattress Pad

A furnished bedroom with a mattress topped by a mattress pad

Chances are, you’ve seen what a mattress pad looks like; it’s that layer of quilted, light padding that’s placed on top of mattresses like a fitted sheet and forms a layer between the sheets and mattress. If you thought that’s just how mattresses came, don’t sweat it — you’re not the only one!

The primary purpose of a mattress pad is to improve the overall comfort of your mattress by adding an extra layer of cushion. Along with offering extra padding, a mattress pad’s fabrics help keep you cozy in the middle of the night by effectively managing heat and moisture.

As an added benefit, mattress pads offer a slight degree of protection from stains and spills. Some accomplish a small amount of protection by simply being a layer between the mattress and sheets, and others purposefully offer spill and stain-resistant properties built into the fabric.

A mattress pad’s level of protection also depends on the material of the fabric cover and the interior composition. For example, feather mattress pads are fairly ineffective against spills, and while wool and latex feel luxurious, they can’t be machine washed. Cotton mattress pads, however, can generally be machine-washed and are reliably durable.

You might see the terms “mattress pad” and “mattress topper” used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. Keep reading to explore the differences.

Mattress Topper

Close up of a blue and a white mattress topper laid out on a mattress

Mattress toppers are similar to mattress pads, but their main purpose is to enhance comfort and improve your sleep experience, not to protect your mattress from stains. If your bed is too firm or too soft, a topper is the mattress accessory you need. You can shop for mattress toppers that will give you a firmer surface on which to sleep or soften up that rock-hard mattress your sleep partner insisted on.

A mattress topper goes underneath your sheets and on top of your mattress and is generally thicker than a mattress pad, which means you might have more trouble cleaning it. And mattress toppers tend to run more expensive, as they are much thicker and made of more material.

Though a mattress topper isn’t designed to protect your mattress from spills, it can lengthen the life of your mattress by being a delightfully comfortable barrier between you and your bed. It can also vastly boost your satisfaction with your mattress by improving your comfort in bed and making your sleep all the deeper.

Mattress toppers can provide relief of back, bone, and joint pain, and they can even help you put space between your body and a mattress that makes you feel like you’re boiling hot at night.

Mattress Protector

Mattress protectors, our final mattress accessory in this comparison, are decidedly less luxurious and much thinner than mattress pads or toppers, but they do what their name says: They protect your mattress.

If …

  • You have two- or four-legged sleep partners, accidents happen.
  • You like to watch TV or read in bed with a beverage, spills happen.
  • You sleep so hot that you’re always waking up with a dewy glow (we mean if you sweat at night), stains happen.

a blue drink being spilled and not absorbed by a Protect A Bed mattress protector

Check the product details to ensure you’re getting a waterproof mattress protector if that’s what you need, but be aware that you may hear slight crinkling noises if the protector is vinyl or plastic. Otherwise, mattress protectors made with polyester and rayon might provide less watertight protection but won’t emit sounds when you move around. All that said, the sounds of a mattress protector are pretty minimal and nothing you won’t get used to quickly.

Be aware that some mattress protectors may cause you to sleep a little hot if the protector blocks the airflow of your mattress. However, you can adjust or try a new model if that happens — and replacing a protector, while annoying, costs less money than voiding a warranty on your mattress because you got it wet and/or stained it.

Let Us Help You

We know that a mattress is a big investment, and while we hope that you sleep sublimely on your mattress every night, we understand that sometimes, you need a little extra help to get there. If you have any questions about whether a mattress pad, topper, or protector is right for you, give us a call or send us a message. And if you’ve exhausted your options and a new mattress is in your future, shop our mattress catalog by comfort level and mattress type to find the ideal sleep solution for you.