Mattress Toppers: Pros and Cons of Different Types

Choose the Right Type for Your Needs

Mother and daughter playing on bed
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Your mattress gives you support and comfort while you sleep, and your bedding is the star of the bedroom. There’s another important component to the well-made bed, however, one that generally receives little attention and goes unseen most of the time. That extra component is a mattress topper. Though not absolutely necessary, a mattress topper can help keep you cozy, regulate your body temperature, and offer extra support through the night. A well-chosen mattress topper can even give you an extra year or two before you need to replace a mattress that's past its prime. Here's a few things to consider when shopping for a mattress topper

Defining a Mattress Topper

Don’t confuse a mattress toppers with the products known as mattress pads or mattress protectors. A mattress topper, as the name suggests, sits on top of your regular mattress to add extra cushioning. A mattress protector is a thin, protective covering—often waterproof—designed to prevents fluids, oils, allergens, and dust mites from penetrating into the mattress. The term mattress pad is sometimes used interchangeably with mattress topper, but it, too, is actually a different product. Although most mattress pads do offer a bit of cushioning, they are generally thinner than the typical mattress topper. Many mattress pads combine the function of mattress topper and mattress protector by protecting the mattress from stains, fluids, allergens and dust mites while also adding comfort.

Your best plan is to use both a mattress topper and a mattress protector. Place the mattress protector over the topper to help hold it in place, and to protect the topper from body fluids and dust mites. Just be sure you choose a mattress protector deep enough to fit the combined height of your mattress and the mattress topper.

Benefits of Using a Mattress Topper

As mattresses age, they can lose their cushioning support. A mattress topper won’t restore your mattress to its glory days, but it can significantly increase your comfort, allowing you extra time before you need to purchase a new mattress. Be aware, however, that a topper won’t help a mattress with a saggy middle.

Alternatively, if your new mattress is just a bit too firm for your liking, a soft mattress topper will act as a cushion. Plus, mattress toppers made from memory foam or latex relieve pressure on your joints, providing sweet relief to those with arthritis or other painful skeletal conditions.

Different Types of Toppers

Visit the nearest bath and bedding shop, and you’re likely to find an entire aisle of mattress toppers. Choosing the best one for your needs can be confusing, and as toppers can be quite expensive, you don’t want to get home only to discover you’ve wasted your money on a product that ruins your sleep instead of enhancing it. The most common mattress topper materials are:

  • Latex
  • Memory foam
  • Polyester blends
  • Feathers
  • Wool

Latex

Natural latex is made from a liquid found in the rubber tree. There are many synthetic latex toppers on the market as well, so if green living is important to you, make sure your latex topper is labeled natural.

Pros:

  • Antimicrobial and non-allergenic, unless you have a latex allergy
  • Firm but bouncy, usually firmer than memory foam
  • Good support for arthritic or painful joints
  • Natural latex is very durable
  • Latex doesn’t transmit motion, meaning if your partner tosses and turns during the night, you won’t be disturbed

Cons:

  • Natural latex is expensive
  • Rubber smell, at least initially
  • Can be hot
  • Some people find latex to be too firm
  • Can have a "bouncy" feel that some people don't like
  • An allergen for some people

Memory Foam

Memory foam is polyurethane with chemically enhanced density. These very popular mattress toppers come in a wide range of thicknesses and densities and provide excellent cushioning and support.

Pros:

  • Soft and comfortable
  • Reduces pressure on arthritic or sore joints
  • Adds considerable comfort to an aging, hard, or unsupportive mattress
  • Reduces motion from a tossing, turning bed partner

Cons:

  • Can be hot
  • Can make it difficult to turn over or shift in bed
  • Expensive
  • Odor, especially when the topper is new

Polyester Blends

This is the least expensive mattress topper material, and the least supportive. Polyester blends, often called fiberfill, are a good substitute for those who like the feel of feathers but have allergies.

Pros:

  • Inexpensive
  • No odor
  • Provides some softness

Cons:

  • Not a lot of support or cushioning
  • Can be hot
  • Can become lumpy over time
  • Tend to compress with use

Feathers

These toppers, often called featherbeds, are similar to a duvet stuffed with feathers. They are luxuriously soft but provide little support. Some people are allergic to feathers; be sure you aren’t one of them before purchasing a feather topper.

Pros:

  • Very soft
  • Less expensive than memory foam or latex
  • Doesn’t retain heat
  • Doesn’t hinder turning over or moving in bed

Cons:

  • Feather shafts can poke through the fabric
  • Can be noisy and crinkly
  • Feathers tend to compress over time, requiring periodic shaking
  • Create allergies for some people

Wool

Natural wool fleece mattress pads are not always easy to find, but they are a comfortable solution if you want extra cushioning that doesn’t hold body heat.

Pros:

  • Soft and comfortable
  • Cool in summer, warm in winter
  • Doesn’t hinder movement in bed
  • Very durable
  • Naturally antimicrobial and hypoallergenic for most people

Cons:

  • Can be hard to find
  • Expensive
  • Mild "sheep" odor when new

A good mattress is your number one requirement when it comes to sleeping comfortably. Add extra comfort to your mattress with a topper that offers the support you need and the softness you love. It’s a small investment with big returns when it comes to catching a good night’s sleep.