Mattress protector vs mattress topper: which one do you need?


When it comes to a mattress protector and a mattress topper, it’s easy to confuse the two. In a nutshell, a protector is a thin layer that protects your bed from sweat, allergens, spills, and bugs. A mattress topper is a thicker slab of memory foam, latex, or other material that can instantly alter the feel of your mattress, making it softer or firmer to accommodate your sleep.

As we explain in our guide to the best mattress toppers, due to the big difference in thickness and differences in materials and price, it is very easy to tell them apart from the best mattress protectors. While mattress toppers add some degree of protection, and padded protectors can add slight comfort, it’s important to be clear about what these products do and why you might need one – or both.

If you’ve recently bought the best mattress for your sleep and budget, keeping it in good shape from the start will help it last longer. For this, a mattress protector is unbeatable. If your current bed is still a few years away, but it needs a dollop of extra comfort or support, nothing beats a mattress topper.

Find out here some of the main differences between a mattress protector and a mattress topper, in terms of price, function, design and comfort, as well as which one best suits your needs.

Mattress protector vs mattress topper: what is a mattress topper?

  • A mattress topper is usually 2 to 4 inches thick
  • They can dramatically change the feel of an existing mattress
  • They are usually washable only, but some have washable covers

Tempur Topper Supreme

The Tempur Topper Supreme (pictured) is one of America’s top rated mattress toppers (Image credit: Tempur-Pedic)

Mattress toppers are a quick and affordable way to upgrade your existing mattress. So if yours is currently too firm, you might need the extra pressure relief of thick memory foam or a feather option. If you sleep warm but don’t have the budget for one of the best cooling mattresses, a cooling mattress topper will help you regulate your bed temperature.

These typically start at around 1-2 “thick, some going up to 4”. They are usually made with the same materials that are found in different mattresses in a box, such as memory foam or latex. Mattress toppers sit on top of your mattress, some having non-slip surfaces or elastic straps to help hold it in place under you.

Using a good quality mattress topper can extend the life of your mattress by a few years. However, they shouldn’t be used on aging or sagging mattresses as they still need a decent foundation to help give your body the support it needs while you sleep. If your current bed has seen better days, nothing can replace a brand new mattress.

But if your existing bed is still in good condition, but you need a firmer surface to support your spine, there are plenty of foam mattress toppers that provide great support, while additional cushioning options take the strain off your feet. pressure from knees, hips and shoulders.

Mattress protector vs mattress topper: what is a mattress protector?

  • A mattress protector protects against spills, dirt and allergens
  • Most can be machine washed and dried
  • They won’t change the physical comfort of your bed

Best mattress protectors: The Nectar mattress protector in white

The Nectar mattress protector (photo) is typical of a more upscale offering with waterproofing qualities (Image credit: Nectar Sleep)

Mattress covers (protectors) are made with a fabric that is generally waterproof or water resistant. They are compatible with most beds and are a must have if you want to keep your mattress in good condition for as long as possible.

Essentially, they ensure that you sleep on a surface that is cool and hypoallergenic – and that often wicks away sweat. These thin but durable cloth diapers can be machine washed and are quite inexpensive, often starting at just $ 10.

Regardless of the price you pay or its padding, a mattress protector will not alter the physical feel of your bed. So if you are looking for extra support, cooling or softness, you should choose a mattress topper instead.

Protectors can be used on all kinds of beds, including hybrid and memory foam mattresses. It’s worth checking the depth of your mattress before purchasing a mattress protector to make sure it will fit. Most use simple elastic straps or attach in the same way as a fitted sheet.

Mattress protector vs mattress topper: the differences

  • Protectors ensure hygiene; the toppers provide comfort
  • The protectors are thinner and machine washable
  • Mattress toppers are thicker and normally only clean stains

Brown haired woman lies on a 3 inch blue Linenspa gel infused memory foam mattress topper

(Image credit: Linenspa)

A mattress protector is essential, while a mattress topper is optional. In other words, no matter what, you need to use a protector to keep your bed in good condition. This is especially true if you’ve recently purchased a new mattress, as you could risk voiding the warranty or voiding the terms of the trial period if you don’t keep it in good condition. The other key differences are as follows …

Protectors fit over a mattress to create a barrier against sweat, allergens and spilled liquids. And while mattress toppers also offer protection, they have the added function of adding firmness, softness or cooling, to dramatically change the feel of your bed.

However, if you sleep warm, some mattress covers are made of cooling fabric and can often be machine washed, although some come with removable washable covers.

Mattress protectors are thinner and are made from bedding fabrics such as cotton or polyester, with additional waterproofing to prevent liquids from seeping in. Mattress toppers are typically made with the same foams – including memory foam or gel –
to provide the extra support needed to align or cushion the body.

They sit on top of your bed, while the protectors provide a tighter fit with elastic straps or fabric sides that drop down like a fitted sheet.

Mattress protector vs mattress topper: Leading brands and prices

  • Toppers are more expensive than protectors
  • Some mattress toppers cost as much as a mid-range mattress
  • Mattress protectors start at just $ 10

A little boy and his white dog sit on a children's mattress covered with a white Tuft & Needle mattress protector

(Image credit: Tuft and needle)

Whatever your budget, there will be something within your price range, the difference being quality, feel and performance. Mattress covers start at around $ 10 and are easy to purchase on Amazon, or you can look online to see what Casper, Nectar, Saatva, or others have to offer.

The options from the biggest brands are often made with higher quality materials and are designed to last longer, offering better resistance to wear and repeated washing, for years to come. This means that you get better value for your money, even if you spend more to start.

It’s the same story for mattress toppers, which typically start at $ 50 on major retail sites like Walmart, Target, and Amazon, with versions from major brands (think Tempur-Pedic or Saatva) numbering in the hundreds. . If yours comes with extra features like rustle-free fabric, cooling technology, or certified organic materials like in the best organic mattresses, you should expect to pay extra.

Most mattress manufacturers offer risk-free trial periods, and some offer the same for their mattress toppers, although this is much less common for protectors. There is usually a guarantee, as well as free shipping, although some brands and retailers require you to spend a minimum amount to qualify for free shipping.

How much you spend is completely up to you. If you are looking for something for occasional use for an extra bed, a budget version is usually fine. But if you’re looking for something sturdy that will stand up to everyday use, it’s always worth spending a little extra because it’ll be better value in the long run.

Mattress protector vs mattress topper: materials and design

  • Mattress toppers are made from latex, memory foam and other materials
  • Mattress protectors are normally made with a water resistant fabric
  • You can buy refreshing and organic versions of both

A person lifts a mattress topper by the corner when placed on a blue bed

(Image credit: Amazon)

Both products are designed to perfectly fit the size of your bed. The guards have a tight fit and fasten securely with elastic straps or in the same way as a fitted sheet, to keep them from moving.

Mattress toppers usually rest on the mattress without any ties, although some have straps. If you’re worried about it slipping and sliding, look for a mattress topper with a non-slip coating. Or just place a fitted sheet on top to hold it in place.

The materials used to make each product vary. Most mattress protectors are made from fabrics such as organic cotton, bamboo derived viscose, or polyester, and have additional waterproofing, and sometimes a thin layer of padding on top to add a bit of comfort.

Most mattress toppers tend to use the same materials as mattresses, such as memory foam or latex, and many also feature the same cooling technology such as graphite or gel infused foam. Both products are often hypoallergenic and free from harmful toxins, although it is always worth seeking certifications such as GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard), GOLS (Global Organic Latex Standard) or Oeko-Tex.

Mattress protector vs mattress topper: which one to buy?

Protectors and toppers will keep your mattress in good condition for longer, whether that is adding an extra layer of protection against wear, sweat, urine and accidental spills.

However, if you are looking to transform the feel of your existing bed, a mattress topper is the only real choice, adding extra pressure relief, cooling, or support depending on your needs. They come in a variety of sizes, prices, and thicknesses, and can be used to make a hard bed softer, a soft bed firmer, and a warm bed a little cooler.

That said, a mattress topper will never outperform a mattress protector in keeping your bed cool and free of allergens. These fabric covers are also much easier to maintain and can be washed much more frequently, making them a great choice for improving your hygiene in bed.

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