What Is a Mattress Protector?

Mattress protector being removed from bed

The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

Also called mattress covers and mattress pads, mattress protectors create a protective barrier between your mattress and the environment, i.e. your bedroom. A mattress topper is a protective, removable layer, similar to a fitted sheet, that shields against spills and other contaminants to protect your mattress.

When their children are little, parents often place mattress protectors on their beds to protect against overnight accidents. While this is an excellent use of a mattress protector, you don’t have to wet the bed to want or need to sleep on a mattress protector. Ultimately, mattress protectors are effective tools to help you keep your mattress in top-notch shape for as long as possible. 

What Do Mattress Protectors Do?

Mattress protectors have several benefits. Not only do they keep your mattress squeaky clean, they also keep it in like-new condition and extend the life of your mattress.

While mattress protectors are primarily used as a waterproof barrier to protect your mattress from moisture damage, they are also effective at shielding against contaminants including:

  • Sweat
  • Dirt and debris
  • Dust mites and other allergens
  • Bacteria
  • Bed Bugs

By protecting your mattress from these damaging contaminants, mattress protectors can extend the life of your mattress while improving your overall hygiene and the cleanliness of your space.

Types of Mattress Protectors

There are three main types of mattress protectors: encasement, elastic strap, and fitted. Each type fits your mattress differently.

  • Encasement mattress protectors zip around your mattress to cover it completely, even under the bottom of the mattress.
  • Elastic strap mattress protectors sit on top of your mattress. They come with attached elastic straps that you can wrap around the four corners of your mattress to secure it.
  • Fitted mattress protectors are similar to fitted sheets, tucking under your mattress with pocketed corners. Most are still thin enough that you can fit fitted sheets over them.

Mattress Protector Materials

Mattress protectors can be made from several different materials, each with different qualities. Some, like vinyl and polyurethane plastic, are waterproof. Others are made to be hypoallergenic, noiseless, and cooling. Before you buy a mattress protector, look at its label for more information on its material. You can find mattress protectors made from the following materials (or a blend of multiple):

  • Cotton
  • Polyurethane
  • Vinyl
  • Latex
  • Polyester
  • Spandex
  • Wool

Differences Between Mattress Protectors, Mattress Pads, and Mattress Toppers

There is, in fact, a difference between a mattress protector and a mattress topper, though they sound similar. Mattress protectors generally safeguard the top layer of your mattress without having a significant impact on the overall comfort of your mattress. They’re relatively thin and, while they may have some thin cushioning, don't necessarily add plushness or support to your bed's surface.

Mattress toppers both protect and add comfort to your mattress, although mattress toppers are more substantial and are meant to significantly change how firm or soft your mattress feels, and they can be used in tandem with mattress protectors. Toppers are thicker than mattress protectors, providing a plush layer of comfort and acting as an extension of your mattress. 

Toppers do slightly protect your mattress from contaminants, though not as effectively as mattress protectors. Theoretically, you can put a mattress protector over a mattress with topper as long as you have a protector big enough. But protectors come in a wide variety of sizes and are made to fit anything from a crib to a king-sized bed, so finding one shouldn’t be a problem.

Do I Need a Mattress Protector?

Even if you already know how to clean a mattress, taking an extra step to protect it is a safe choice. Using a mattress protector will protect your investment (mattresses can be pricy) and extend its life by protecting its integrity.

Mattress protectors protect against an array of contaminants, which means your mattress will be free of unwanted substances at all times (though you do have to clean your mattress protector, particularly if it's gotten dirty).

Mattress protectors are especially useful for people who suffer from seasonal allergies or have sensitive skin. The right mattress protector can provide an extra layer of protection to prevent your allergy symptoms from acting up, shielding you from things like bed bugs. They’re also useful for children who tend to have overnight accidents, protecting the underlying mattress and making it easier to clean and sanitize the bedding.

Article Sources
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  1. Doggett, Stephen L et al. Bed bugs: clinical relevance and control optionsClinical microbiology reviews, vol. 25, no. 1, 2012, pp. 164-92. doi:10.1128/CMR.05015-11