Are Mattress Protectors Necessary? We Find Out!


Mattress Protector

Every time you buy a mattress, there’s always someone (or some algorithm) trying to offer you a mattress protector, too. But though most people understand the general usefulness of a protector, there’s still some confusion about whether they’re really necessary.

Mattress protectors are strongly recommended to shield your mattress and extend its lifespan. They prevent moisture, allergens, bugs, and other unsavory materials from ruining your bed. Depending on your needs, there are several different varieties of mattress protectors available.

While they serve one main purpose (i.e., protecting your bed), there are quite a few compelling reasons to invest in a mattress protector.

Why Mattress Protectors Are Necessary

Mattress protectors extend the life of your mattress and keep it clean by protecting against moisture, spills, allergens, dust, bed bugs, and more. Without a protector, your mattress may not last the expected 7 – 10 years.

While mattress protectors will result in higher bedding-related costs upfront, and do need to be periodically replaced, they immediately return value by protecting what may be the most often used pieces of furniture in your home. Depending on the type and size of your mattress, it may have also been one of the most expensive pieces of furniture.

Here’s a quick rundown of why mattress protectors are necessary, all of which we’ll go into more depth in the sections that follow:

  • They protect against a wide variety of substances that can stain your mattress
  • There’s many different types of protectors to suit your needs and lifestyle
  • They add an extra layer of comfort on top of your regular bedding
  • They protect you from harmful allergens that would otherwise stay in your mattress
  • They’re easier to clean, maintain, and replace than mattresses
  • They provide a vital layer of protection that mattress toppers don’t

Mattress protectors will keep your mattress in its “like new” condition far longer. It will reduce the impact of the various contaminants we briefly mentioned above, but will also help the sheets and other bedding protect the mattress from your nighttime activity.

Depending on the warranty you have, a mattress protector may also help you preserve the warranty. Some spills and other damage, even if they’re not your fault, will void your mattress warranty or ability to return the mattress.

The Purpose Of Mattress Protectors

The primary purpose of a mattress protector is to cover your mattress and protect it against external contaminants, such as moisture and bugs. This has the added benefit of preserving and potentially extending the lifespan of your mattress and other bedding.

Even if you’re attentive (or obsessive) about keeping yourself and your spaces clean, debris and bacteria will build up. Mattresses are similar in function to a sponge this way; they absorb the materials and substances around them. And even if you clean your mattress, residue remains behind. Over time, this can create real problems.

So while you may be hesitant about purchasing a mattress protector— which is understandable, since no one wants to waste money— rest assured that you’ll get a return on your investment.

Here’s a list of the many things a mattress protector will keep away from your mattress:

  • Moisture – Sweat, oil from your skin, humidity, and the occasional spilled drink all create moisture that quickly damage a mattress or lead to long-term issues. Even if you promptly clean up, moisture may seep into deeper layers and build up.
  • Bodily Fluids – Just like any other liquid, mattress protectors ensure that urine, mucus,  and other body fluids won’t soak into the mattress. This is especially useful for young children (or pets) who are still potty training or couples with an active romantic life.
  • Allergens – Common allergens like dust, pollen, pet dander, and even mold can cause serious flare-ups if they become embedded in your mattress. A protector ensures this won’t happen and creates a more hypoallergenic and peaceful sleeping experience.
  • Bed Bugs – Bed bugs are unfortunately hardy and often hitchhike their way into unsuspecting homes. But a mattress protector shields your bed and prevents bugs from turning it into an impromptu hotel.
  • Grime – Dirt, lint, cosmetic residue, hair, dandruff, and other grime will inevitably get on your bed at some point, whether it’s because you want to take a midday nap, you went to bed sans-shower, or your pets, kids, or significant others tracks it in. 

Any one of those would be undesirable on its own and reason enough for a mattress protector.

When You Need Mattress Protectors

Mattress protectors are vital on both a daily and long-term basis. Every time you sleep, you release moisture in the form of sweat. In turn, this perspiration and the humid environment created by bedding can make your mattress and sheets a breeding ground for bacteria and germs.

This environment is attractive to dust mites and other bugs, which additionally feed on the dead skin you shed every night.

Beyond this, the activities of everyday life mean that we’re out and about in the world more often than not— and whatever we encounter out there, you’re naturally going to bring into your home. And since most people don’t sanitize themselves before going to sleep, it’s also going to end up in your bed.

Even if you’re a tidy and hygienic person who doesn’t eat in bed and has no pets or children, mattress protectors are still useful. You never know what the future holds, and just because you haven’t spilled something on your mattress thus far doesn’t mean you never will.

Mattress protectors offer us insurance so that, if and when our bedding is soiled, the mattress itself is preserved and clean.

While your sheets and comforters provide a modicum of protection, everything in the bed will eventually transfer onto (or into) the mattress itself. And while sheets can be easily cleaned, mattresses can present a challenge.

But mattress protectors solve this problem. They collect all the grime and moisture of life until you wash it away by throwing the protector into the washing machine.

Types Of Mattress Protectors

Mattress Cover
Mattress Cover

There are a variety of available mattress protectors to suit your specific protecting needs and mattress type.

Just like there are tons of different mattress now— memory foam, extra support, and the list goes on— there are a wide selection of mattress protectors for you to choose from. Some are fairly basic that serve their purpose and nothing more; others are designed to offer more extensive protection.

Protectors may fit the mattress differently. Some completely enclose the mattress and zip shut, while others only slip over the mattress and provide multi-sided protection.

Some mattresses are better suited to specific mattress protectors. For example, mattress protectors made of natural materials are recommended for memory foam mattresses or ones that are designed to cool sleepers down.

Other times, you should make sure the mattress protector fits your lifestyle. For example, waterproof mattress protectors would work best if you’re prone to snacking in bed or make a habit of letting pets sleep with you.

Finding Your Mattress Protector Type

Some of the different types of mattress protectors include:

  • Mattress Encasements – These types of protectors are geared towards shielding against bed bugs. They completely enclose your mattress and seal off any potential openings for bugs. You’ll be able to quickly spot and get rid of any bugs, if they do appear.
  • College Mattress Protectors – These are specifically geared for the dimensions of dorm room mattresses and tend to be more sturdy and/or thicker. This helps them stand up against more serious wear and tear.
  • Memory Foam Mattress Protectors – This type of protector is made for memory foam mattresses. Because of their materials and structure, these memory foam beds are more prone to holding moisture and allergens.
  • Waterproof Mattress Protectors – These protectors are guaranteed to protect your mattress from absorbing liquid or moisture. They are made of hydroponic materials that will deflect and push liquid away from your mattress.
  • Quilted Mattress Protectors – Despite their intended purpose, not all mattress protectors are designed to shield against heavy liquids. Some are more geared toward protecting against lighter contaminants, such as dust.
  • Temperature Control Protectors – While these mattress protectors themselves won’t keep you warm or cool you off, they will allow the mattress below to do so. These protectors are designed to highlight the features of the mattress, not dull them.
  • Layered Mattress Protectors – The more high-end mattress protectors may have more than one layer. The top layer may have performance fabrics that keep you cool, while bottom layers consist of waterproof material that block moisture, allergens, etc.

Typically, layered mattress protectors and protectors made of natural materials are more expensive than plastic-based, heavy-duty mattress protectors.

Are Mattress Protectors Uncomfortable?

Mattress protectors can be uncomfortable if you don’t choose a material and thickness that’s well-matched to your sleeping arrangements and needs. For a comfortable night’s sleep, you’ll need to select a mattress protector whose features, material, and thickness suit your sleeping patterns.

When you think of a mattress protector, you may picture a shiny, plastic material that crinkles and cracks when you turn over at night. It’s true that mattress protectors used to be like that, but they’ve long since evolved into a more comfortable experience.

Now, mattress protectors are made of more lightweight material. More than likely, you won’t be able to feel the protector at all unless you buy a thick one made of heavy-duty material.

Make sure to do your research prior to purchasing a mattress protector. Make sure it will be able to fit all of your protection needs and, more practically, is sized to fit your mattress.

It’s also important to make sure your mattress protector is easily cleaned. While most are machine washable, it’s always best to double check. Similarly, make sure it can be thrown into the dryer so that you can put it back on your mattress as soon as possible.

Materials Mattress Protectors Are Made From

Just like sheets and comforters come in a variety of materials, mattress protectors are also made from different materials depending on their features. Heavy sleepers may be able to tolerate nearly any mattress protector, but a light sleeper with thin bedding should probably err more toward a thinner material.

These materials include:

  • Cotton – If you want a lightweight or quilted mattress protector, this is the material for you. Cotton protectors act just like another fitted sheet, but with an added layer or two for protection.
  • Polyester – Heavier than cotton but not as durable as PVC, polyester is a great compromise in terms of an effective mattress protector. It’s suitable for everyday homes 
  • Bamboo – This eco-friendly material is perfect for people who need breathable protectors, such as if you have a cooling mattress. It’s also better suited for people who are more prone to sweating or moving at night.
  • Vinyl – This material is perfect for waterproof protectors. Flexible but sturdy, vinyl protectors create a comfortable sleeping experience without sacrificing serious protection.
  • PVC – If you want serious protection, this is the right material. Mattress protectors for college dorm rooms and other high-traffic sleeping spaces benefit from this sturdy yet functional material.
  • Terry Cloth – Also a more naturalistic material, this is often a blend of cotton and polyester. Though it won’t offer heavy-duty protection like PVC or vinyl, it is more substantial than cotton or bamboo. 

Cotton, polyester, vinyl, and terry cloth mattress protectors are suitable for most (if not all) sleepers and beds. PVC protectors are the only ones that may be noticeable under your sheets and other bedding. However, this can be helped with a mattress pad or topper.

How Mattress Protectors Help With Allergies

Mattress protectors ensure that common allergens don’t reach your mattress, preventing them from causing short-term reactions and affecting your sleep long-term. They create a more hypoallergenic space that’s easier to clean and maintain.

Millions of people in the U.S. have allergies— approximately 50 million, to be more precise. Allergies are also one of the leading causes of chronic illness and are one of the most common health issues affecting children.

Common types of external allergens that cling to mattresses include: 

  • Pollen from trees, flowers, grass, and weeds
  • Mold spores
  • Dust and dust mites
  • Cockroaches
  • Pet and rodent dander

Unfortunately, these allergens enter our home in a number of ways. Kids and pets track them in, they enter when windows and doors are left open, and the list goes on.

Even if you have seasonal or returning allergies rather than year-round allergies, such triggers can still cause a serious reaction.

And if the allergens get into your mattress, it won’t matter how often you replace your bedding. The allergens will always make their presence known, especially if you’re sensitive.

Allergic Symptoms Mattress Protectors Shield Against

Because your bedroom is a high-traffic area, it’s extremely likely these allergens will get onto your bed and, if left unprotected, your mattress.

These can easily trigger a reaction if not promptly removed via a thorough cleaning. Reactions can range:

  • Skin inflammation
  • Eczema
  • Hives
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sinus swelling
  • Eye irritation
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pains
  • Headaches or migraines

There are several strategies to mitigate allergic reactions: avoidance, elimination, or decreased exposure. When it comes to allergens in your mattress and bedding, the only viable solutions is elimination.

Mattress protectors make this possible since you can ensure that all allergens are removed once the protector and bedding has been washed and dried.

Hypoallergenic mattress protectors ensure that no allergens embed themselves into your mattress. This way, when you clean your sheets and pillowcases, you’ll have a safe and allergen-free environment.

Mattress Protector Replacement And Maintenance

Mattress protectors are much more easily cleaned, maintained, and eventually replaced than mattresses themselves. This is because protectors are essentially another layer of bedding, much like the fitted sheets or pillow cases.

Most mattress protectors will last between 5 – 10 years depending on the type of materials it’s made of and how much wear and tear it goes through while shielding your mattress.

If you don’t often have drastic incidents which require serious cleaning, such as mud being tracked onto the bed or a glass of juice spilling, then your mattress protector will likely last longer.

However, it will still need to be cleaned and maintained on a regular basis. While you don’t have to wash it as often as you do the sheets or duvets, it should still be removed and washed every 2 – 3 months.

This schedule is affected by several factors, however, such as:

  • The mattress protector’s materials
  • How easy or hard it is to remove the protector from the mattress
  • If you can clean the protector while on the mattress
  • How often you wash and refresh your bedding

Obviously, mattress protectors made of more natural materials will need to be washed more often than those made of plastic-based materials. Similarly, plastic-based materials are easier to clean while still on the mattress; you can just wipe them down with a washcloth or cleaning rag.

Signs You Need To Replace Your Mattress Protector

Even if you rarely have bedroom-related accidents and regularly clean your mattress protector, it will eventually need to be replaced. After all, you’re still using it on a daily basis for (hopefully) at least eight hours.

Just like your TV, refrigerator, clothing, and other major investments that see daily use, mattress protectors have a limited lifespan. Correct care can extend that lifespan, but not forever.

Here are a few signs that your mattress protector may need replacing:

  • Holes or thin spots
  • Damaged parts, such as zippers or elastic banding
  • Warping or fraying

And those are just the physical signs. If you have allergies and notice that you’re having more flare-ups recently, it could be because your mattress protector is old and no longer as effective.

Even if you’re unsure if your mattress protector needs replacing, it’s safer to do so after 10 years. 

Alternatively, you should invest in a new mattress protector every time you get a new mattress for yourself or someone in your household.

Mattress Protectors Vs. Mattress Pads

Mattress Pad
Mattress Pad

Though often mistaken as interchangeable, mattress protectors and mattress pads are two distinct bedding additions. While a mattress protector serves as a safeguard, mattress pads are designed to provide additional comfort.

Mattress pads, also known as mattress toppers, enhance your bed by changing the feel of your mattress. Typically, this is through added cushion. However, toppers may also add other features, such as: 

  • Firmness
  • Back or Lumbar Support
  • Cooling Abilities
  • Moisture-wicking

All of these make your mattress more comfortable. They’re also a more affordable alternative to buying a new mattress if your current one doesn’t meet your needs.

Much like mattresses themselves, mattress pads come in a variety of materials to suit your needs. These include: 

  • Memory Foam
  • Synthetic Fibers
  • Feathers
  • Wool

Typically, mattress pads are thick. Whereas a mattress protector is generally thin (one inch or less), toppers can be anywhere from 2 – 4 inches thick.

Mattress pads also tend to be more expensive than protectors as a result of their size and materials, though they have a significantly shorter lifespan.

Comparing Mattress Protectors And Mattress Pads

There are several key differences between mattress protectors and mattress pads. These differences primarily fall into the following categories: purpose, placement, material, thickness, cost, and lifespan.

Here’s a quick rundown of the differences between mattress protectors and pads that we’ve discussed above:

Mattress ProtectorMattress Pad / Topper
PurposeProtect mattresses against contaminantsChange the feel of mattresses
PlacementAbove the mattress, under pad/ topper and beddingAbove the mattress and protectors, under bedding
MaterialCotton, Polyester, Bamboo, Vinyl, PVC, Terry ClothMemory Foam, Synthetic Fibers, Feathers, Wool
ThicknessLess than 1 inch2 – 4 inches on average
CostApprox. $20 – 5$0Approx. $50 – $200
Lifespan5 – 10 Years2 – 5 Years

While not everyone needs to use a mattress pad, it is wise for anyone with a traditional bed and mattress to buy a mattress protector.

How To Find The Best Mattress Protectors

If you’ve made the decision to buy a mattress protector or are just interested in how feasible they are for your lifestyle and budget, it can be overwhelming to begin looking for one.

As we’ve already covered, there are a wide variety both in terms of materials and functions.

Luckily, there are a few simple steps you can take to make this process easier and more efficient. These include:

  • Identify Your Needs – Think about your mattress, lifestyle, and the level of protection you want. Are you more worried about allergies, spills, everyday buildup, or something else? (Or all of the above?) Pin down what features you’ll need in a protector.
  • Don’t Forget the Basics – Now that you know your needs, you can choose which materials would suit them best. And, of course, you’ll also be able to narrow down your choices based on the size you need, both in terms of length and height.
  • Read The Reviews – When it comes to figuring out if a mattress protector’s performance holds up to marketing claims, reviews are the best way to go. You’ll be able to gauge its strengths and weaknesses and determine if it’s a good product overall.
  • Consider Practicalities – Before you buy, make sure to think about the practicalities of the protector. Will you be able to wash it regularly? How easy will it be to remove from your mattress? These are just two considerations that will impact its usefulness.

Again, we can’t stress the importance of research. Look into the return policies and warranties, which can often be found online or upon request.

It’s also a good idea to see if there are any unboxing videos on YouTube or another platform. These are reviews taken one step further, and will give you a more realistic idea of what the mattress protector will look like in real life.

If you’re unsure about which mattress protector is right for you, you can also ask any employees or use the online help service. Describe what you’re looking for, especially the level of coverage you’ll need, and directly ask which mattress protectors (if any) would work best.

Conclusion – Why You Should Invest In A Mattress Protector

Here are just a few other reasons to think about using a mattress protector:

  • Practical – It’s easier to clean a mattress protector than the mattress itself, especially because you can confirm the protector is clean throughout. It’s easier, quicker, and cheaper to clean a mattress protector.
  • Hygienic – Cleaning a week’s worth (or longer) of sweat and dead skin (or worse) off a mattress is nearly impossible, as compared to a mattress protector. Every time you strip the bed to wash your sheets, you can clean the protector, as well.
  • Hypoallergenic – If your allergies are triggered by the debris or other substances clinging to your mattress, you can hardly throw it out. But a mattress protector is more easily and affordably cleaned or disposed of, if necessary.

Mattress protectors are effective, comfortable, and come in a wide variety of materials to best fit your sleeping and protection needs.

Light sleepers can rest easy knowing that a bamboo or layered protector is keeping out dead skin and sweat, while heavy sleepers can similarly relax with sturdy mattress protectors that are guaranteed to keep their mattress clean.

If you want to protect your mattress from the wear and tear of everyday life and extend its lifespan, the best way to do so is investing in a mattress protector.

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