The Complete Guide to Mattress Pads and Toppers

Complete Guide to Mattress Pads and Toppers

If your mattress is causing you to get a poor night’s sleep, you might consider adding something like a mattress pad or topper. Still, you might be wondering whether or not they’re really worth it and how you can find the best one for your individual needs if they are. Fortunately, that’s where we come in.

Mattress pads and toppers can be used to protect your mattress and adjust its firmness. Pads add a little plushness, while toppers can go either way depending on what they’re made from. Toppers and pads are most commonly made from memory foam and latex, though those aren’t the only options. 

If you’re thinking about adding a mattress pad or topper to your bed, but you’re still not sure how to pick the right one, we’re here to help. In our guide below you will find answers to all of your questions. We address the difference between toppers and pads are before diving into the nitty gritty of each one. By the end, you should have a much better idea of what to look for. 

Do Mattress Toppers Make a Difference?

Before you take the time to parse out different types of mattress toppers and pads, you’ll want to know if they will make enough of a difference to warrant getting. The truth is it depends on what your needs are and whether they’re being met. 

Mattress toppers can improve your sleeping in many ways. They can help regulate your body temperature with the materials they’re made from, make your bed feel softer or firmer based on your needs, and protect your mattress so it lasts longer. 

Unless you’re already getting a perfect night sleep, a mattress topper is well worth the cost. If you’re like the rest of us and you could use a few extra high quality Zs at night, a topper or pad will help you do it. 

It’s not something you want to put off either. We spend a third of our lives sleeping in our beds. That time is meant for us to recharge so that we’re ready for the next day. If your mattress is uncomfortable it will not only reduce the quality of your nights but your days as well.   

Mattress Toppers vs Pads: Is There a Difference 

Let’s start by defining some terms. In exploring your options, you’ve probably wondered why there are both mattress pads and mattress toppers. Are these interchangeable for the same thing, or is there a difference between them?

Below we’ve sketched out some quick definitions for you that we will expand upon throughout this guide: 

  • Mattress Pads: These are thin pads wrapped in quilted fabric with a surface area to fit a bed. They’re usually attached to a sheet that holds them on the bed. These are primarily used to make a bed a little bit softer and more plush. They can also be used to add a little warmth or coolness to a bed, though not to the degree of a topper.  
  • Mattress Toppers: These are kind of just thicker versions of mattress pads.The biggest difference is that they can be used to add firmness. Of course they can also add softness to your bed as well. They too have the temperature regulating features for those who are too hot or too cold at night. 

Which is Better? Pads or Toppers 

One really isn’t better than the other, they just work well for different situations. If you want to narrow your search, you can start out by determining whether a mattress pad or topper is more in line with what you need. 

Pads are great when you’re looking to add a little plushness without going overboard. If your mattress is just a hair too firm, a pad will be the perfect fix. On the other hand, if you need more firmness or a higher degree of softness, a topper is what you should be looking for. Being thicker, toppers are able to absorb more weight and diffuse it in different ways. 

Your sleeping body temperature should also be considered when deciding which route to take. If you need more warmth, the pads will give you some. Some, like latex pads, can also add a little coolness. Toppers can be used for both cooling you off and heating you up, though to a greater degree. Same with firmness. We’ll explore this in more detail in the next section. 

Decide Which Features of Pads and Toppers Are Most Important 

Before you select the right mattress pad or topper, you need to first prioritize what features are most important to you. This will help with the process of elimination and get you closer to picking the perfect one. 

No matter your need, you are likely to have multiple options available to you when you’ve narrowed your search by the features you want. Still, it’ll be much easier to make up your mind from a small list than the huge number of different toppers and pads that are out there.  

Mattress Pad/Topper Features: What Can a Pad/Topper Do For You?

The simplest and most efficient way to explore the features of mattress pads/toppers, is to view them through the prism of what they can help you with, and distinguish which ones do what. 

In our section on the difference between pads and toppers we briefly mentioned that they can both soften or firm up a bed, and keep you warmer/cooler depending on what they’re made from. Here we will explore how they do those things and why in greater detail, as well as other features that may not seem as obvious.

  • Adjust the firmness of your bed: Back and neck pain can be caused by both a bed that is too soft and a bed that is too firm. When you’re looking at toppers, make sure the materials they’re made out of adjust it in the direction you want to the degree you want.  
  • Regulate your body temperature: As we’ve mentioned previously, when you’re too hot or cold at night, you really want to be careful about which topper you buy. Some of the materials trap in heat, whereas others like latex usually tend to stay cool. 
  • Make your mattress less reactive: If you, your spouse or your partner tosses and turns in their sleep, waking the other person up in the middle of the night, you want to find a topper that will make your mattress seem less reactive. Materials like memory foam are famous for their ability to do this. 
  • Protect your mattress: If you just want protection for your mattress a pad can do the job. Find one that covers the bed and prevents debris from getting through and normal wear and tear. This can amount to doubling your mattress’s lifespan in some cases. 

Know the Pros and Cons of Mattress Pads and Topper Types

Know the Pros and Cons of Mattress Pads and Topper Types
Know the Pros and Cons of Mattress Pads and Topper Types

Hopefully, we’ve stressed enough the importance of picking the right materials for your mattress pad/topper. With that out of the way, let’s actually take a look at the different types that are out there and what they can bring to the table. 

Memory Foam Mattress Pads and Toppers

For a long time memory foam became all the rage when it came to mattresses. There were endless commercials of people jumping on their beds without a glass of wine they had set out on it spilling. Though the initial hype has died down, many people still enjoy the soft luxuriousness of memory foam. 

The pros of memory foam mattress pads and toppers include: 

  • They’re soft and can adapt to your body: If you’ve never tried it, laying on memory foam is almost like a warm hug. You almost feel as though you’ve sunk into it. It is very malleable and forms around any place you put pressure to diffuse it.  
  • They stabilize your bed space: Previously, we discussed the way that some toppers are good for couples when one of the partners tosses and turns. This is one of them. Due to the efficiency with which memory foam absorbs impact, the whole thing doesn’t wobble like other materials. 
  • They can keep you warm: Memory foam keeps you warm because no air circulates through it and it can’t really absorb moisture either. If you feel like you’re too cold at night, this may be a plus. 
  • They’re known to help arthritis: If you suffer from arthritis, memory foam may give you some relief. Because of the way it gently surrounds and supports weight put on it, your bad joints will have relief from pressure. 

The cons of memory foam mattress pads and toppers include: 

  • Lifespan can be an issue: Unfortunately, memory foam toppers are known for collapsing in on themselves more quickly than any of the other types will wear down. That said, even though they don’t last long, they still tend to be some of the softest toppers available. 
  • Initially they might have an odor: A common complaint about any product dealing with memory foam is that there is an odor that comes along with it. At least for a while before it fades. This is caused by off-gassing. That’s when the odor of chemicals involved in the making of these products are still stuck to them when they’re first taken out.
  • They can be too soft: If your mattress is too soft it can cause you aches and pains. The extreme softness of memory foam certainly isn’t for everyone. That said, keep in mind that if you’re older you’re more likely to receive benefits from them. 
  • They can be expensive: Despite the fact that they’re known to go bad relatively quickly, memory foam mattresses are actually pretty expensive. They average somewhere between $150 and $300 to cover a queen size bed.  

Latex Mattress Pads and Toppers

Latex mattresses are cool and supportive. The latex itself can be made from either natural or synthetic materials. Whichever type you chose to use, they both share many of the same upsides and downsides. 

The pros of latex mattress pads and toppers include: 

  • They’re usually nice and cool: If you find yourself overheating at night, a latex mattress will make a big difference. The material stays nice and cool through the night because it allows for good airflow.
  • They provide firmness: If you sleep on your back and you just need a firm mattress to avoid any aches, a latex mattress topper can help. The material has some sponginess to it, so it’s not completely stiff, but it maintains a degree of firmness that’s comfortable.  
  • They stabilize your bed space: Like memory foam, latex mattress toppers don’t react much to movement on them. You can set something down on the bed and get up without knocking it over. 
  • They can help with back pain: Like memory foam, latex sort of depresses and wraps around you when you lay on it. This can have a cradling effect on areas of the body where you have pain. It’s particularly noted to be good for both neck and back pain. 

The cons of latex mattress pads and toppers include:

  • Not compatible with latex allergies: If you have an allergy to latex, this definitely isn’t the best pick for you. They are usually made out of real latex and not alternatives, meaning they would set off your allergies. 
  • Sometimes they have an odor: Like memory foam, latex mattress toppers can also give off an odor right after you’ve just gotten them. People complain that it smells strongly of rubber. The smell should fade, but it could take up to 4 weeks for that to happen.
  • They’re difficult to move: Latex mattresses can be 20 to 40 pounds. Add that to their large size that already makes them awkward to carry and they can be hard to move.  

Wool Mattress Pads and Toppers

Before there was fancy latex and memory foam, there were wool pads and toppers. These are some of the sturdiest mattress pads and toppers out there. While they may not have the consistent level of support that comes from latex and memory foam, they have enough for most people. 

The pros of wool mattress pads and toppers

  • They are fire resistant:  Wool is naturally fire resistant, providing a nice safety feature for your mattress pad or topper. 
  • It softens and straightens out your mattress over time: The pressure from the wool topper will actually make a hard mattress softer over time and smooth out any lumps or sags. The toppers themselves, of course, are also known for being nice and soft to use. 
  • It’s really efficient at protecting your mattress: Not even germs can break through a wool mattress topper. It will keep your mattress free of any pollutants that could eat away the fibers over time and expand its lifespan. 
  • They can last a long time: As long as you don’t do anything crazy with it a wool mattress topper/pad will last you at the very least 4 years. Still, they are quite durable and can last many more years than that if you take care of them.  

The cons of wool mattress pads and toppers 

  • They can be fairly expensive: Wool mattress pads tend to be the second most expensive (behind latex) type of topper on this list. They can cost all the way up to $300. Though we should note here that you tend not to have to replace them as often as others, so it may even out in the end. 
  • They’re not as supportive as other types: You won’t be able to get the kind of perfectly even support you get with memory foam and latex. That’s not to say you get no support, just that you don’t get as much. 
  • They aren’t sold in as many places: With latex and memory foam being the two biggest players on the market, it can sometimes be tricky to track down a wool mattress topper. 

Featherdown Mattress Pads and Toppers 

Featherdown mattress pads and toppers are about as soft as it gets. They can be extraordinarily comfortable to use for a time. However, you pay for that in that they don’t seem to last as long and they don’t provide a huge amount of support. 

The pros of featherdown mattress pads and toppers:

  • They’re soft, really really soft: The most popular reason people are drawn to featherdown is just how soft it is.
  • They stay really cool: Featherdown mattress toppers stay really cool because they get great airflow, making them perfect for hot sleepers.  
  • They’re very light and easy to move: This one is sort of self explanatory. When your topper is mostly feathers, it’s not going to be nearly as heavy as one made from other materials.  
  • They’re relatively inexpensive: While they’re not as cheap as fiberbed mattress pads and toppers, they do tend to be less expensive than the others. They usually aren’t more than $150. 

The cons of featherdown mattress pads and toppers:

  • They aren’t that durable: Sometimes they sort of self-district in that the feathers end up poking through the covering. If that doesn’t happen, you can expect to watch them slowly sink in over time. All of the toppers we’ve talked about should last at least four years–assuming no accidents–but these will only make it two. 
  • They can make rustling noises when you move on them: The shafts of all the feathers can click together and make little wrapping noises when you put pressure on featherdown mattress toppers. 

Fiberbed Mattress Pads and Toppers

Fiberbed mattress pads and toppers are made from polyester and comparable alternatives. People often buy them because they are not as expensive as the other types and they can help soften a mattress over time. Of course, you also have to be willing to deal with the fact that they flatten over time as well. 

The pros of fiberbed mattress pads and toppers: 

  • They can soften your mattress: While they may not be as soft as memory foam or featherdown, they do have a decent amount of softness to them. They were actually developed specifically as a substitute for featherdown that was cheaper and didn’t cause allergies. 
  • They’re cheap: The big draw of fiberbed mattress toppers has more to do with their price than their quality. You can get one on average for as little as $60.
  • They’re easy to move: These are relatively lightweight and convenient to move from one place to another compared to other types of toppers.   

The cons of fiberbed mattress pads and toppers: 

  • They develop lumps and flatten over time: Unfortunately your fiberbed mattress topper will get less effective overtime as it develops lumps and flattens out.  
  • They’re sensitive to movement: These are the opposite of a good solution if you have a problem with your spouse or partner tossing and turning all night. Any little movement on one of these is going to have somewhat of a rippling effect. 
  • They can make sounds when moved on: It’s not uncommon to hear a crinkly kind of sound when you move on a fiberbed mattress topper. It’s not the worst in the world but if you’re the type of person who can’t fall asleep if there’s any tiny noise in the room, it may bother you. 

Double Check the Materials

Always double check what materials a pad or topper is made out of before you buy it. To make that easy for you, we’ve put together a table below that lays out the most common materials and their features. With this you can come back and quickly consult it anytime you’re shopping for a new topper or pad and not sure you remember which material was generally good for what.  

MaterialsFirmnessTemp RegulationLifespan Average Cost 
Memory Foam Extra SoftWarm to hotThree to four yearsBetween $150 and $300
LatexFirmCoolMinimum of four years, but likely many moreBetween $100 and 400
Wool SoftCool in summer, warm in winter Minimum of four years, but likely many moreBetween $150 and $300 
FeatherdownExtra Soft CoolAround two yearsBetween $100 and $150
Fiberbed Semi-SoftWarmUp to five yearsBetween $35 and $125

Further Options for Temperature Regulation 

We should note here that the temperature column in the table above, just refers to a given material’s raw ability to regulate your temperature–whether it will make you hot or cool. It doesn’t take into account the fact that some companies add a cooling gel to the cover of memory foam mattress toppers.

Sometimes they will even infuse the covering with metal like copper in order to draw in more cool air.    

Get a Topper or Pad That is Compatible With Your Sleep Position 

The position you sleep in provides another clue as to which topper or pad is right for you. That’s because your sleeping position determines where and how much support your body needs when you sleep. In fact it can even have an effect on how cool or warm you are as well. 

Below we’ve listed out the most common sleeping positions along with whether or not they call for a firm or soft mattress topper in most cases: 

Sleep Position Firmness of Mattress Topper
Back Medium-Firm 
Stomach Medium to Firm
Side Sleeper Medium level of firmness

Make Sure the Topper or Pad Goes With the Mattress 

Last but not least, let’s talk about making sure your mattress topper or pad is made of materials compatible with that of your mattress. Up to this point we’ve just focused on your own experiences and how they affect what topper or pad is a fit for you. While all that is true, making sure it’s compatible with your bed as well, is just as important. 

What we mean by “compatible,” is that the topper or pad’s covering should be made from materials that won’t cause any damage to the mattress. This primarily has to do with the type of fibers the mattress and the topper’s coverings are made from. 

If your mattress is made of natural fibers, placing a topper over it whose covering is synthetic will suffocate it. Natural fibers need to be able to breathe. Matching them with other natural fibers will prevent this issue. 

So Really, Do I Need Mattress Pads/Toppers?

With their ability to both protect your mattress and address a litany of sleeping issues, using mattress pads or toppers is a no brainer. It can be a little harder to decide which specific mattress or pad is right for you. There are no right or wrong answers, just what works for you and what doesn’t. 

If you need to be cooled off at night a latex or featherdown pad will do the trick. That said, if you’re set on something like memory foam anyway, you can get one that’s copper infused or set up with a thermogel. Regular memory foam is best for adding warmth. If you consider all of these factors you will have one that seems tailored just for you in no time!


Hi there! I’m Alex, the one behind this website. I ran and operated a Local Furniture Store in Southern California. The store opened in 2010, during the “Great Recession,” It is still thriving today; however, I have dedicated my time to helping our online customer base. My primary focus is to help you with all your furniture & mattress questions.

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