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Mattress Pad vs. Mattress Topper + Our Top Picks For Each

Mattress Pad vs. Mattress Topper + Our Top Picks For Each
Image by mbg creative
October 30, 2022
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While a mattress is the foundation of a good night's sleep, some sleepers benefit from adding another layer of support and comfort. This is especially true if your mattress is starting to sag or is too stiff for your liking. So, if you happen to be looking for a mattress pick-me-up, you might be wondering about the benefits of a mattress pad vs. a mattress topper.

Both products can easily be placed on top of your mattress for added plushness, cushioning, and support, but each has its own best-use cases. To help you decide whether a mattress pad or mattress topper will best suit your needs, we spoke with experts and dove deeper into the mattress pad vs. mattress topper decision.

Below, learn more about the difference between these two sleep-supporting products, and find our picks for the best mattress pads and the best mattress toppers.

A quick peek at the best mattress pads & mattress toppers of 2022:

What is a mattress pad?

"A mattress pad is a thin layer of padding (typically 1 to 2 inches tall in height) that adds extra plushness and cushioning to your mattress," explains certified sleep science coach Alex Savy. "Mattress pads typically utilize cotton, wool, feather, or synthetic fiber filling materials and can be washed in the laundry machine."

While mattress pads can make your mattress feel a bit softer, Savy adds that they won't alter how your mattress feels. That's why it is still important to make sure you have the best mattress, as it truly is the foundation of good sleep.

What is a mattress topper?

"A mattress topper is a thicker layer of padding used to add an extra layer of support. Toppers vary in height but typically fall somewhere between 2 and 6 inches," Savy explains.

Like mattress pads, mattress toppers are made of similar materials (foam, latex, feathers, or wool) and can help to make a firmer mattress feel soft. However, because they come in different densities.

According to Savy, mattress toppers are best suited for sleepers who need extra pressure relief as they sleep. "Mattress toppers are often used to make people dealing with chronic pain feel more comfortable," he says. "For example, latex and foam toppers excel at pressure relief and can have a pain-relieving effect, even when the mattress itself isn't that cradling." 

One major downside of mattress toppers is that most are not machine-washable and instead need to be spot-cleaned.

Can you use a mattress topper and mattress pad together?

"You can use a mattress topper, a mattress pad, or both, depending on your needs," says sleep coach and nutritionist Annika Carroll.

To use a mattress topper and a mattress pad together, sleep psychologist Katherine Hall, Ph.D., advises to "make sure that you always place your mattress topper on top of the mattress pad." Hall further explains, "Together, you'll create a mattress that's supportive, has a good balance between firm and soft, and one that's protected from stains."

How to choose a mattress pad or mattress topper.

To find the perfect mattress topper or mattress pad, Hall recommends keeping density level, materials, and price in mind as you shop.

Density level

Products with a higher density (mattress toppers) are firmer and can be helpful in providing cushioning and support to the body. Lower-density products (mattress pads) may be more attractive to those who want added softness.

Materials 

While mattress pads and mattress toppers tend to use similar materials (cotton, wool, or feathers), it's always important to be mindful of the materials you're sleeping on. As with mattresses, you'll want to look for products that are organic, natural, or have nontoxic certifications.

Price

Much like a mattress, Hall says it's best to choose higher-quality products, as they will last you for years to come. "In most cases, mattress toppers are more expensive than pads," she explains. "However, mattress toppers are usually thicker and more well made than pads and have the advantage of lasting longer."

How we picked:

Reviews

We read hundreds of positive and negative reviews to ensure each mattress topper and mattress pad provides adequate support, cushioning, and softness.

Materials

We paid close attention to the materials used in each mattress pad and mattress topper. We prioritized products with certifications to ensure safety and quality.

Price

Some mattress toppers and mattress pads are more expensive than others. We included a range of price points on our list.

Density

We selected mattress pads and mattress toppers with different density levels to ensure there's an option for everyone.

Our picks for the best mattress pads & mattress toppers of 2022:

Best thick mattress topper: Tempur-Pedic TEMPUR Adapt Mattress Topper

Pros:

  • Provides extra support and pressure relief to back, hips & shoulders
  • Features corner straps to prevent topper from slipping and sliding
  • Durable design holds up over time

Cons:

  • Not as cooling as other toppers on our list
Materials: TEMPUR® Material
Sizes available: TwinTwin XLFullQueenKingCalifornia King
Trial period: 90 nights
Warranty: 10-year

Providing extra support and pressure relief, this topper is perfect for people who struggle with back pain throughout the night. Not only are there three layers of cushioning TEMPUR® material to work with, but the topper also has corner straps to prevent slipping and sliding.

Another added perk is that, despite its thicker construction, the topper contours to your shape without sinking or denting—even if you happen to change positions. While it may not be as cooling as other toppers on our list, you have 90 nights to test it out, plus a 10-year warranty to back it up. 

What Reviewers Say: 

While it may be expensive, reviewers love the extra support this topper provides. "Has helped with fibromyalgia and a compressed spine," one-five star reviewer writes. "Sleeping more and waking with less pain." Other reviewers appreciate it for its durability and exceptional construction. "This topper is durable yet soft and contours to your body," wrote another.

Best memory foam mattress topper: GhostBed Cooling Memory Foam Mattress Topper

Pros:

  • Cooling
  • Targeted comfort zones benefit sleepers of all positions

Cons:

  • No trial period
Materials: Gel-infused memory foam
Sizes available: TwinTwin XLFullQueenQueen-Upper FlexKingSplit KingKing-Upper FlexCalifornia King
Trial period: None
Warranty: 5-year

Adding three layers of cooling and support to your current mattress, this memory foam topper is a solid option for hot sleepers. The materials are moisture-wicking and help regulate your body temperature throughout the night. While memory foam is not a sustainable option, these foams are at least CertiPUR-US® certified, which is the bare minimum certification we check for in sleep products. 

If you are looking for something that can support your many sleeping positions, this topper's targeted comfort zones will support your body and its pressure points through every toss and turn. The pressure-relieving effect also makes this a great choice for anyone with back or joint pain. To top it off, the elastic-banded sides keep the topper in place as you snooze. 

While the brand offers a 5-year warranty, be advised there is no trial period, refund, or return policy, unless the product is unopened and unused.

What Reviewers Say:

"The foam topper stays in place and provides a cooler sleep," confirms one five-star reviewer. Others add that it's a must-have for those seeking pain relief. "Buy the topper, especially if you have pressure point issues with pain," wrote another. "We have significant pressure point issues with shoulders, back, joints, and hips; this is definitely the sweet spot—you'll feel like you are cradled in comfort without the uneasy feeling of sinking in foam." However, here's a heads-up: In addition to no trial period, there are no negative reviews of this topper on the GhostBed site, making it important to research the product (and/or the brand) a little more before purchasing to get further, in-depth insight.

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Best soft mattress topper: Avocado Organic Latex Mattress Topper

Pros:

  • Made from organic and nontoxic materials
  • Two plushness options
  • Contours to the shape of your body

Cons:

  • Requires time to off-gas
Materials: GOLS organic certified latexGOTS organicOEKO-TEX Standard 100 certified woolGOTS organic certified cotton
Sizes available: TwinTwin XLFullQueenKingCalifornia King
Trial period: One year with 30-day minimum
Warranty: 10-year

Like its mattresses, Avocado's Latex Mattress Topper is made from nontoxic GOLS organic certified latex, GOTS organic and OEKO-TEX Standard 100 certified wool, and GOTS organic certified cotton—and the brand also offers a vegan mattress topper, which is made without wool. 

While nontoxic materials are an obvious perk, this mattress topper stands out with comfort, too, adding instant softness to your bed while still contouring to the shape of your body. Sleepers have two firmness levels to choose from (plush or firm), and this topper is exceptional at adding height, making it the perfect remedy for an already sagging mattress. 

Above all, this topper is ready to use from the moment it's delivered to your door. The topper arrives in a box and fits perfectly on your mattress once unpacked, no complicated setup necessary.

What Reviewers Say: 

"Added this topper to our new Avocado mattress and it was exactly what we needed—the right amount of firmness and softness for a perfect night's sleep," one five-star reviewer writes. "I have peace of mind sleeping on organic materials, eight hours a night. No harmful VOCS absorbing into my skin," another adds.

Best organic mattress pad: Saatva Organic Mattress Pad

Pros:

  • Machine-washable
  • Breathable
  • Lightweight

Cons:

  • Shorter trial period
  • Expensive
Materials: GOTS certified organic cotton
Sizes available: TwinTwin XLFullQueenQueen-Upper FlexKingSplit KingKing-Upper FlexCalifornia King
Trial period: 45 nights
Warranty: 5-year

Looking for a mattress pad that'll guarantee a cozy, healthy sleep? Well, you're in luck. This breathable and lightweight mattress pad is made from 100% organic, nontoxic GOTS-certified organic cotton. Unlike most mattress toppers, this mattress pad also has the advantage of being machine washable (along with keeping you comfortable all night long).

The trial is only 45 days, which may not be enough testing time for those who really like to become acquainted with a new sleep product before committing. However, it's fairly straightforward in design and softness, so you'll likely get the gist of how this mattress pad can benefit your sleep over that period. It fits a ton of sizes and can be used on mattresses up to 16 inches. Plus, it boasts elastic bands on each side to keep the pad in place.

What Reviewers Say:

"Who knew a mattress pad at any price could be so well made," says one five-star reviewer. "Very heavy with commercial grade bare rubber elastic all around. Doesn't just slip on easily like a sheet." Other reviewers applaud the softness of this mattress pad. "Fits generously, and the fabric it is made of is like satin," another reviewer wrote. "Truly luxurious, and in line with my other purchases: exceeded expectations."

Most negative reviews center around the high price, but it's helpful to consider this as an investment product you can use for years to come.

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Best waterproof mattress pad: The Company Store Mattress Pad

Pros:

  • Repels liquids and stains
  • Available in two heights
  • Machine-washable

Cons:

  • No warranty
Materials: Diamond-quilted shell with poly fillThin waterproof layerWaterproof barrierCotton jersey
Sizes available: TwinTwin XLFullQueenKingCalifornia King
Trial period: 90 nights
Warranty: None

With a waterproof layer and barrier for ultimate protection, this mattress pad is great for anyone trying to protect their bed from accidents, spills, or stains. Layers of cotton jersey provide a breathable, comfortable sleep, while a waterproof lining prevents the padding from absorbing unwanted liquids.

Choose from two heights (11 or 18 inches), depending on whether you're using a thin mattress or something taller. 

Another major bonus? There's no crinkly, uncomfortable, or stiff feeling from the padding, so it won't be too noisy to sleep on. Just keep in mind there's no warranty for this mattress pad, although there is a 90-day trial period.

What Reviewers Say: 

Take it from this five-star reviewer: "My mother purchased this mattress cover for my parents' guest bed, and I was so impressed by it that when I returned home after visiting my parents I immediately ordered one. I had no idea that waterproof mattress covers could feel like normal mattress covers—no crinkly, waxy, plastic-y feeling at all—I would not even believe it was waterproof if I hadn't seen how well it does the job. What a great product!"

Best budget mattress pad: Land's End 400 Thread Count Premium Supima Cotton Mattress Pad

Pros:

  • Machine-washable
  • Works well on thick mattresses

Cons:

  • Not as cooling as other toppers on our list
Materials: Supima® cottonPolyester
Sizes available: TwinTwin XLFullQueenKingCalifornia King
Warranty: None

Made with Supima® cotton with 100 polyester pockets, this mattress pad is a great choice for thicker mattresses (i.e., those that need deep sheets). The simple design easily slips onto your bed without wrinkling or popping off, and it's also machine-washable. Although significantly less expensive than other options, it still adds comfort and plushness. However, the perks end there: Expect no cooling benefits or waterproof/sustainable materials.

The lower price point also means no warranty or trial period, but you can easily return this item if you aren't satisfied—just be sure to check the retailer's full return policy before adding this mattress pad to your cart. 

What Reviewers Say:

While this mattress pad doesn't offer cooling benefits, plenty of five-star reviewers love this mattress pad for the added layer of softness it provides. "This is a really high quality mattress pad, well made, excellent fabric, tight stitching, plush feel, snug fit of the elastic skirt on our 18" deep king bed," one five-star reviewer says. "We bought a new mattress that has deep tufting so while it has great support it's strangely lumpy. The pad evened the surface out and made it smooth and even more comfortable. Very satisfied."

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FAQ

Are mattress toppers good for your back?

"Some toppers can help with the relief of back pain," Carroll explains. "However, it is important to determine if the underlying mattress is causing the back pain—it might be a bad fit for the body type and weight. A topper can then be used to correct this or if the pain is caused by other factors such as an injury."

And while a mattress pad can add some plushness to your mattress, it's much thinner than a topper and is not the best option for back pain relief. "A mattress pad is thinner than a mattress topper, and it can't provide the support needed to help the spine align better and help the muscles to relax," Carrol confirms.

How long should you keep a mattress pad?

It will depend on the quality, materials, and other factors. "Since mattress pads and toppers can be made out of a variety of materials, they usually last anywhere between three to five years," Hall explains.

How thick should a mattress topper be for back pain?

If you are purchasing a mattress topper for back pain, Carroll recommends considering the thickness of the product before purchasing. "The thickness of a mattress topper depends on the body weight and preferred sleeping position of the user," she explains. A heavier person or a side sleeper should aim for a 3-inch topper, while a smaller person (or someone sleeping on their back) could try something a bit thinner (1 to 2 inches).

The takeaway.

Mattress pads and mattress toppers can be placed on top of your mattress to provide extra support and cushioning and give you an even more comfortable sleep. While mattress toppers tend to be longer-lasting and more durable, mattress pads are lightweight and breathable and are typically machine-washable. The two products are made with similar materials and (if you're really upping your sleep game) they can even be layered together. On that note, add a little luxury to your nighttime routine, with a set of silk sheets or a smooth silk pillowcase for the ultimate beauty sleep.

Meet The Experts

Courtney Leiva is a writer whose work has been featured in HuffPost, The Daily Beast, BuzzFeed, Women's Health, Business Insider, Yahoo Lifestyle, Well + Good, and more.