Mattress Pad vs. Topper: How to Choose

Explore the difference between a mattress pad vs mattress topper and see which works for you.

By Nicole Gleichmann

May 9th, 2022

By clicking on the product links in this article, Mattress Advisor may receive a commission fee at no cost to you, the reader. Read full disclosure statement.

Mattress accessories are useful tools for mattress protection and comfort customization. Mattress pads and mattress toppers are commonly paired with both new mattresses and well-worn ones. The idea is that you can safeguard an investment, extend the life of a mattress, or enhance its feel simply and inexpensively. 

Mattress Pad vs. Mattress Topper

While the terms “mattress pad’ and “mattress topper” are often used interchangeably, they are different products that offer unique pros and cons. Understanding the difference is critical for you to choose the best mattress accessory for your needs.

What is a Mattress Pad?

Mattress pads are thin layers of quilted fabric or padding that you affix to the top of your mattress. Mattress pads are often manufactured as part of a fitted sheet or with straps on each corner that you tuck underneath the mattress. For this reason, mattress pads stay put as you move around at night. 

Mattress pads have two primary purposes. The first is to safeguard a mattress from spills or other damage. The second is to provide an additional layer of cushion for an added comfortable feel. Because this layer of comfort is thin, mattress pads are typically used for quiet, comfortable mattress protection rather than to dramatically change the feel of a mattress.

Mattress Pad Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to launder
  • Lightweight
  • Protects from stains and moisture
  • Adds a touch of softness

Mattress Pad Cons

  • No added support
  • Minor impact on longevity
Mattress Pad vs. Mattress Protector

Mattress protectors are thin waterproof mattress encasements that shield a mattress from spills, moisture, and sometimes, bed bugs. Mattress pads are not always 100% waterproof, but because of their thin layer of padding, they create a barrier that keeps a mattress in better shape. 

In comparison to mattress protectors, which can be noisy, mattress pads do not make noise as you move. Some people use a mattress pad over a mattress protector or in place of one to minimize noise while safeguarding a mattress from damage.

What is a Mattress Topper?

Mattress toppers are thick layers of foam or padding that you lay on top of the mattress. Because mattress toppers are relatively thick, they dramatically alter the feel and longevity of a mattress. 

Mattress Topper Pros

  • Extends the lifespan of a mattress
  • Protects from stains and moisture
  • Alters firmness (can make a mattress either softer or firmer)
  • Changes the feel of a mattress
  • Can add support or pressure point relief

Mattress Topper Cons

  • Sometimes expensive
  • Can be heavy
  • Tough to clean

There are three situations for which a mattress topper is used: with a new mattress, with an old mattress, or to create a custom mattress. 

When you purchase a new mattress, the hope is that it will be a great fit on its own. But after a few days, weeks, or months, it is not uncommon to find that a new mattress is too firm or too soft. Instead of buying a new mattress, you can buy a topper designed to attain the firmness or cushioning that you desire. Additionally, a mattress topper can extend the life of your new mattress and protect it from damage, like spills. 

Old mattresses slowly break down. With an innerspring mattress, the springs become less firm or start sagging. With foam mattresses, they can become softer over time. When you reach this stage, buying a new mattress is the ideal option. But if you need to extend the life of your mattress by a few months or a year, a mattress topper can help you do this comfortably. 

Lastly, consumers can attain the quality or feel of a high-end mattress with a lower price tag. For instance, Tempur-Pedic and natural latex mattresses are renowned for their quality and comfort. By pairing a budget-friendly firm mattress underneath a Tempur-Pedic mattress topper or natural latex topper, you can create the feel you desire for less.

Materials and Types of Mattress Toppers

Mattress toppers are made using a variety of materials including:

  • Memory foam 
  • Latex 
  • Wool
  • Featherbed 

The type of material and its thickness determine a mattress topper’s feel. Some toppers bring extra support, others more cushioning at pressure points, and others a plush layer of added softness. 

Memory Foam Topper

Memory foam toppers are the most popular type of mattress topper. The way that memory foam responds to body heat allows it to cradle curves and provide pressure relief. If you find that you wake up with hip, shoulder, back, or neck pain, a memory foam mattress topper could help.

Latex Topper

Latex toppers are similar to memory foam toppers in how they are used; however, when it comes to latex vs memory foam, latex is more firm and responsive. It contours to curves but not quite so closely as memory foam, and because of this, latex sleeps cooler than foam. Latex toppers are a good option for increasing firmness and support in a soft or older mattress. Latex is naturally hypoallergenic and resistant to mold and dust mites, making it good for those with allergies. 

Related: Best latex mattress toppers

Wool Topper

Wool is a natural bedding material that has gained a steady following in recent years. This 100% natural fiber is soft yet supportive, providing a similar feel to cotton with increased longevity when properly maintained. One of the biggest benefits of wool is that it is excellent at regulating temperature. It can help to keep you warm during winter while wicking away moisture and supporting air circulation when you sleep hot. 

Featherbed Topper

There is nothing that feels quite like a pillow top mattress. That fluffy, cloud-like envelopment feels fantastic and keeps you warm throughout the night. But, one problem with a traditional pillow top mattress is that the feathers can get matted down where you sleep. Instead, use a featherbed mattress topper on a mattress with no pillow top. With the feather topper not connected to the mattress, you can shake it out and fluff it up to boost its longevity.


What is the difference between a mattress topper and a mattress pad? 

A mattress pad is a thin padded material to add to your mattress, but a mattress topper is a thicker option that offers more cushion on your mattress.

Do I need a mattress pad and topper? 

You don’t need either of these items. Adding a mattress pad or topper to your mattress comes down to personal preference. If you want to make your mattress more comfortable or change the firmness, you may want to add a mattress pad or topper.

What is a mattress pad used for? 

A mattress pad is a padded, quilted material that you can place on top of your mattress to add comfort to your mattress, protect it from some wear and tear, and reduce allergens.

Mattress Pad vs. Mattress Topper: Which is Best?

When you’re looking for something to change the feel of your mattress, go with a mattress topper. But, if you love how your mattress feels, and you simply want to protect your mattress and add a touch of softness, a mattress pad is the way to go.

Mattress toppers and mattress pads are valuable resources to protect a mattress from spills, but only mattress toppers significantly alter the feel and longevity of a mattress by adding additional support at the surface of your mattress. For an inexpensive, soft mattress cover, go with a mattress pad. But, if you want to change the feel or lifespan of your mattress, a mattress topper is what you need.

If you’re ready to shop for a mattress topper or a mattress pad, check out our guides on our Bedding Accessories page.