Mattress Pad vs Mattress Protector vs Mattress Topper — Which is Right for You?

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If you’re shopping around for mattress accessories, you’ve likely come across these three products: mattress toppers, mattress pads, and mattress protectors. If you’re wondering what the differences between these three products are, no worries — I’ve got you covered.

In this article, I’ll be going over what each of these products is for, as they all serve different purposes, to help you decide which one(s) you might want for your own bed.

What is a Mattress Topper?

A memory foam mattress topper.

First up, let’s go over what a mattress topper is. A mattress topper is a bit like a miniature mattress. Most mattress toppers are between one and four inches thick, made with materials like memory foam, latex foam, or down/down alternatives, and are an additional layer that can be added on top of your mattress.

A mattress topper is generally used to change the feel of the mattress. Most mattress toppers will make the bed feel softer or add more cushioning, but there are some firmer mattress toppers out there. 

Mattress Topper Pros

  • Mattress toppers can improve sleep quality on an old or uncomfortable mattress at a cheaper price than a new mattress.
  • Toppers can relieve pressure on the shoulders, hips, and back — while also providing additional support.
  • They are a good option for improving college dorm room mattresses, since many dorm mattresses are firm and can’t be replaced.
  • Mattress toppers can extend the life of your mattress by reducing wear and tear.

Mattress Topper Cons

  • Mattress toppers are generally the most expensive of these three mattress accessories.
  • Some mattress toppers are difficult to clean or only have a washable cover.
  • While there are cooling mattress toppers on the market, adding another thick layer to your bed can contribute to trapping body heat.

What is a Mattress Protector?

bear mattress protector corner
A mattress protector.

A mattress protector is designed to… well, you guessed it, protect your mattress! They’re usually designed like a fitted sheet, but made out of a material that can keep the mattress clean. Most mattress protectors are made to protect against dust mites and allergens, as well as often being waterproof to protect against spills. Waterproof mattress protectors are especially popular for children’s beds. 

Unlike a mattress topper, a mattress protector generally won’t add any comfort or cushioning to your mattress. Its sole purpose is to act as a barrier against allergens and/or spills.

Mattress Protector Pros

  • People with allergies especially can benefit from a mattress protector, as the mattress protector will keep dust mites and other allergens out of your bed.
  • A mattress protector can keep your mattress safe from spills or other potential messes, making them a good option for those with pets and kids.
  • Using a mattress protector will ensure your mattress stays in the best condition for as long as possible, giving you the best bang for your buck.

Mattress Protector Cons

  • A mattress protector doesn’t add any additional comfort to your mattress.
  • Some mattress protectors have a plasticky feel that may be uncomfortable or even noisy, if it crinkles loudly.
  • Mattress protectors could also trap heat easily due to their materials, which isn’t ideal for hot sleepers.

What is a Mattress Pad?

slumber cloud mattress pad review
A mattress pad.

I like to think of a mattress pad as the middle ground between a mattress topper and a mattress protector. A mattress topper provides lots of cushioning and a small amount of protection for your mattress, but it is primarily for changing the comfort level of your mattress. A mattress protector doesn’t add any comfort, just protection. Thus, a mattress pad adds a little comfort and a little protection.

Mattress pads are usually similar in design to a fitted sheet, but with a plush comfort layer. This can be a quilted top filled with fiber that’s fairly thin — usually no more than an inch or so. Because they usually have this plushy comfort layer, mattress pads do add a small amount of cushioning and padding, but don’t really alter the feel of your mattress as much as a mattress topper will.

Mattress Pad Pros

  • Mattress pads create an additional, washable barrier between your mattress and bedding to protect from moisture and stains.
  • Mattress pads can reduce the crinkling noise and plasticky feel of a mattress protector.
  • They are generally inexpensive, particularly compared to a mattress topper.
  • They are easy to put on your mattress and won’t shift around, since they attach like a fitted sheet.

Mattress Pad Cons

  • Mattress pads are generally not as protective as a mattress protector; most are not waterproof.
  • They also will not change the feel of your mattress as significantly as a mattress topper would, nor will they offer any additional support.
  • Because they are fairly thin, a mattress pad may be prone to damage.

Should I Buy a Mattress Topper, Mattress Protector, or Mattress Pad?

Still not sure which of these mattress accessories is right for you? Keep in mind that you might want to use some of these products in conjunction with one another, so don’t think you have to choose just one. For example, you could put a mattress pad over your mattress protector to reduce the plasticky feel. Or you could put a mattress pad over a mattress topper that doesn’t have its own cover.

  • If you are uncomfortable on your current mattress, experiencing pressure buildup in your shoulders or hips, or need more support from your bed, a mattress topper is probably your best option.
  • If you want to create an additional barrier between your mattress and your sheets without sacrificing comfort, I would recommend a mattress pad.
  • If you need some serious protection for your mattress against liquid or allergens, I would recommend a mattress protector.

Final Thoughts

Now that you know the difference between these three common mattress accessories, hopefully you’re ready to get your bed setup exactly the way you want — whether that’s adding an additional comfort layer, extra protection, or something in between.

Be sure to check out our best mattress toppers, best mattress pads, and best mattress protectors to see our favorite picks in each category.

Amelia Jerden

Amelia is a Senior Staff Writer for Sleepopolis. She primarily covers bedding and sleep accessory products in reviews, how-to guides, and more. You can also find her over on the Sleepopolis YouTube channel. Amelia is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with double majors in media and journalism and in dramatic art. Outside of work, Amelia can usually be found on a hike, traveling to a new city, or at her local thrift store.