What’s the Difference Between a Mattress Pad and a Mattress Topper?

Mattress topper on a bed

Andrey Popov / Getty Images

Whether you're purchasing a new mattress or have an older one whose life you would like to prolong, you may want to consider adding a mattress topper or a mattress pad. The two mattress accessories sound like they basically do the same job, so what's the difference?

Ultimately, both a mattress pad and a mattress topper are designed to improve your sleep quality, but there are some major differences when it comes to the function, purpose, and design of each. Read on for a breakdown of the pros and cons of each, as well as information about their main features and distinguishing qualities so that you can decide which of the two is best suited for your current needs.

What Is a Mattress Pad?

A mattress pad is a padded layer made from materials such as cotton, latex, or memory foam that protects the mattress while also making it softer and a little more comfortable. A mattress pad attaches to a mattress in the same way that a fitted sheet does, wrapping around the sides and tucking underneath, which ensures that it doesn't move out of place while you sleep.

Model placing mattress pad on top of a mattress

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Mattress pads are thinner than mattress toppers, usually about an inch or two in thickness, and generally easy to care for—sometimes even machine-washable! A mattress pad is a good option if you want to add a little bit of plushness but aren't necessarily looking to completely change the firmness level of your bed and you don't need something that will help relieve discomfort or pressure.

When it comes to durability, thanks to the fact that mattress pads are pretty easy to care for, they should last you for anywhere from three to five years. A mattress pad is a great cost-effective solution, too, as it can cost less than half of what a topper costs. If you suffer from allergies and are worried about the pad making them worse, there's no need to worry; there are hypoallergenic versions that help minimize allergies and ensure you get a peaceful night's sleep.

Pros
  • Machine-washable and easy to maintain

  • Cost-effective

  • Protects mattress from spills and dirt

  • Adds plushness

  • Lasts for up to five years

Cons
  • Doesn't regulate temperature

  • Doesn't change the feel of the mattress

  • Only provides thin padding

  • Doesn't provide support to alleviate discomfort

  • The thin design means it's more easily damaged

What Is a Mattress Topper?

Unlike a mattress pad, a topper actually has the ability to completely alter the feel of your mattress and bed. It's thicker than a pad and therefore acts as almost an extension of your mattress. If you have an old mattress that has lost its firmness or that feels as hard as a rock, a topper is the better option out of the two for you for adjusting the feel of your mattress. It'll prolong the life of your old mattress and almost make it feel like you just bought a new one, for a fraction of the cost!

Model placing mattress topper on top of a mattress

Andrey Popov / Getty Images

A topper is usually made from memory foam and is about twice as thick as a mattress pad, so up to four inches thick. Some types of toppers are designed to provide support and add firmness, so if that is what you are looking for, memory foam toppers are the best choice. If you're looking for one that does the opposite and adds a soft feel, then go with a feather one. For a hypoallergenic option, latex is the best material to go with, and there are many other alternatives that specifically help with temperature regulation and alleviating discomfort.

When it comes to maintenance, a mattress topper is not quite as easy to keep clean as a pad, because it cannot simply be thrown in the washing machine. It may have a removable cover that can be thrown in the wash, but the interior will require spot cleaning. It does, however, have approximately the same lifespan as a mattress pad, which is up to about five years. It can cost up to twice as much as a pad, but given that it can revive an old mattress and even truly transform it, it may be worth the investment for you.

Pros
  • Can completely alter the feel and comfort of a bed

  • Provides support

  • Prolongs the life of a mattress

  • Can have temperature regulating properties

  • Can provide both firmness or softness

Cons
  • Machine washing not usually advisable

  • It is more expensive

  • Non-hypoallergenic ones can cause allergies

  • Some types can become lumpy and uncomfortable over time

  • Memory foam toppers can start losing elasticity over time

Article Sources
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  1. Best Hypoallergenic Mattresses. Sleep Foundation.