What Are Pillow Top Mattresses?

Buying a mattress can be a complicated undertaking with so many options to choose from. If the pillow top has made it to the top of your list, you may want to know more.

By Sheryl Grassie

You have probably heard the term pillow top in relation to mattresses for a while now. When they first came on the scene in the early 2000’s, they were quite the rage. They offered a new option in comfort at a lower price point than memory foam but with many of the same benefits. They can be made from a wide variety of different materials to accommodate everyone with eco-friendly and natural options. They come in basically all sizes from twin through California king, and they have some distinct advantages and disadvantages over other types of mattresses.

Airbeds, futons, innerspring, memory foam, waterbeds, latex, gel infused, organic, and pillow top mattresses, just to name a few, are all competing for your consumer dollars. Let us help you decide by deconstructing the pillow top mattress, so you can make a more informed choice with your mattress purchase.

Avocado mattress: standard (left) vs. pillow-top (right)

Pillow Top Mattresses Defined

Pillow tops, or euro tops as they are also called, are the extra layer of padding or cushion on the top of the mattress. They can look almost like there is a separate and thinner mattress attached to the top of a regular mattress. The pillow top essentially is a regular mattress combined with a topper.

Separate toppers entered the marketplace later than the pillow top mattress and have the disadvantage of moving around, whereas with the pillow top mattress, the top layer is sewn on. The pillow top has the advantage of the topper being a permanent part of the mattress and, in the case of the euro top version, it is even inside the mattress cover, so is difficult to differentiate.

Particulars of the pillow top includes an upper layer that is generally around the 2-inch mark, although it can be more, and it is covered in fabric to match the rest of the mattress. The pillow top can appear separate from the mattress, but no worries, it is securely attached to create one working system. This upper layer, or built-in topper, may be made from natural latex, cotton, memory foam, wool, fiberfill, gel, or other materials.

Pillow tops are most commonly found on innerspring mattresses or airbeds. The combination of a well-made innerspring with a cushy foam or cotton topper is a great combination and propelled this type of mattress into the top choices for consumers.

What Is the Difference Between a Pillow Top and a Euro Top Mattress?

Although the distinction between these two types of mattresses is minimal and largely aesthetic, you will find both options when you start looking at mattresses. With a traditional pillow top, the appearance will literally be that two mattresses, a larger and a smaller, have been assembled as a unit.

With the euro top version, the topper portion is placed directly on the lower portion of the mattress and the cover encases both. The euro top has the appearance of one mattress and has the advantage of stronger edges and a more tailored appearance. It can be more durable in some cases, but there is no real difference in the amount of support or comfort between the two options. They are both excellent choices.

Why Buy a Pillow Top? Advantages and Disadvantages

The extra separate layer, or pillow top, on a mattress creates some distinct advantages and disadvantages for the owner. In general, the extra layer adds comfort and softness, although pillow tops can be found in every density from soft to firm depending on your needs. Let’s look at some particulars that may sway you in one direction or another.

Advantages

  • Comfort: The advent of the pillow top raises the standards for mattress comfort. The base of the bed is usually innerspring or pocketed coils and combined with the additional layer, which came in various materials, made for what was often described as a cloud-like feel: light, fluffy, and extremely comfortable.
  • No Breaking In: A distinct advantage to a pillow top mattress is that it is comfortable right from the start. With the exception of a memory foam top, which can take some breaking in, pillow tops are known for being comfortable and supportive from the first night you sleep on them.
  • Less Off-Gassing: One complaint about comparable luxury mattresses is that they can smell bad and off-gas toxic fumes for weeks or months. This does not seem to be the case with your average pillow top, and consumers regularly rate them as not having any bad smell or fumes.
  • Affordable: A luxury mattress can be expensive, and although a pillow top will run about 30% more than a standard mattress, they provide luxury at a considerably lower cost than most memory foam or hybrid mattresses with a comparable level of comfort.
  • Less Motion Transfer: Another plus to the pillow top is that having the additional topper reduces motion transfer, especially if the pillow top has a foam component. This allows for less disturbed sleep when more than one person is sharing a bed.
  • Pressure Relief: The comfort of a pillow top is renowned for supporting sleep. They are preferred by side sleepers for hip and shoulder support and are considered great for reducing back and joint pain. They are overall exceptional for pressure point relief.
  • Can Combine Comfort and Support: Adding a top layer allows for the support of an innerspring with the comfort of a softer top layer. Many people find this combined support and comfort makes for the perfect bed.

Disadvantages

  • Heavier: If the weight of the bed is important to you, then it is good to know that pillow tops run about 20% heavier than standard mattresses. This can make them more difficult to move or rotate.
  • Require Rotation: And yes, rotation is required. Pillow tops do need to be head and foot rotated on a regular basis as part of bed maintenance. They do not require flipping unless the mattress is a two-sided pillow top. Turning it clockwise or counterclockwise ensures even longer wear and more comfort from the bed.
  • Sagging: One very real disadvantage of the pillow top style is the potential for sagging. The top layer materials do compress over time from body weight and natural deterioration. If the sag becomes significant enough, it can lead to back pain.
  • Not Good For Heavy People: Individuals carrying extra weight do not get the same kind of support and comfort as those in a more moderate weight range. The general wisdom is that, for best support, heavy individuals should consider other options.
  • Fit: Both your linens and your bed frame have the potential to be too small for a pillow top mattress. Although sheets now come in stretchy fabrics that can accommodate a range of mattress depths, a pillow top may well be considerably deeper than your present mattress. If that is the case, it may be too large for the sheets you currently have. The same might be true with your bed frame: the mattress may not fit depending on the type of frame you have. This can add dramatically to the cost of buying a new mattress if it means buying a new mattress pad and sheets or a new frame, or both.
  • Less Durable: There is some anecdotal evidence that pillow tops seem to wear out faster than a regular mattress, as reported by customers.
  • Traps Heat: For many, the pillow top traps heat and makes for a warmer sleep surface. About 8% of pillow top users reported experiencing this versus 4% of people who slept on a regular mattress. If the pillow top is foam, it may be more often the case that it does trap heat.

Summary

Pillow top mattresses are regular mattresses with a cushy top layer added for extra-comfort. They are known for relieving pressure and are considered extremely comfortable. There are two basic versions: the regular pillow top and the euro top. The regular is sewn to the mattress as a separate topper, and the euro is enclosed with the mattress. There are pros, like the exceptional comfort, pressure point relief, and cost, as well as cons, like potential sagging, durability concerns, and maintenance. In general, pillow tops were a well-received and great selling addition to the line of available mattresses when they hit the market, and they continue to be a favorite.


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