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 are a few things to consider when shopping for a mattress topper.
What Is a Mattress Topper?
A mattress topper, as the name suggests, sits on top of your regular mattress to add extra cushioning and support. It can be made from a variety of materials—including latex, memory foam, and feathers—and in a range of thicknesses and densities.
Don’t confuse mattress toppers with the products known as mattress pads or mattress protectors. 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.
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.
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:
- Memory foam
- Polyester blends
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. This option provides a lot of support, but may not be ideal for those who prefer a softer bed. Of course, you'll want to avoid latex if anyone in your household is allergic.
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
Doesn’t transmit motion; if your partner tosses and turns during the night, you won’t be disturbed
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 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. Memory foam has become ubiquitous in products ranging from pillows to sneakers to bathmats, and for good reason: it makes shoes, floors, and beds far more comfortable for most people.
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
Can be hot
Can make it difficult to turn over or shift in bed
Odor, especially when the topper is new
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. These toppers, while initially fluffy, tend to squash down quickly, leaving the user with relatively little support or extra padding.
Provides some softness
Not a lot of support or cushioning
Can be hot
Can become lumpy over time
Tend to compress with use
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. Remember, too, that feathers are in fact plucked from birds; if you're a vegetarian or vegan—or are concerned with animal rights—you may prefer another option.
Less expensive than memory foam or latex
Doesn’t retain heat
Doesn’t hinder turning over or moving in bed
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
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. Bear in mind that these are mattress pads rather than toppers. While they can provide a bit of extra padding between you and the mattress, they're unlikely to help if your goal is support for issues such as arthritis.
Soft and comfortable
Cool in summer, warm in winter
Doesn’t hinder movement in bed
Naturally antimicrobial and hypoallergenic for most people
Can be hard to find
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.