Mattress Pad vs. Mattress Topper: What’s the Difference?

Written by: Andjela Kastratovic
Updated: 09/26/2023

Have you ever tried to make your bed more comfortable? You might have encountered mattress pads and mattress toppers, and now you’re wondering which one’s the right pick. 

  • What is a mattress pad? 
  • What is a mattress topper? 
  • And are there any significant differences between the two? 

A mattress topper and mattress pad are both used to make beds more comfortable, but there are some key differences you should keep in mind when shopping.

Let’s get into it! 

What Is a Mattress Pad?

A mattress pad is a thin layer of material, about 1 to 2 inches thick, that you’re supposed to use on top of your mattress. 

Think of it as a quick way to make your bed feel softer. It won’t drastically change how your bed feels, but it will give it a touch of plushness. 

Mattress pads can be made from various materials, all covered in quilted fabric. And they’re not just about comfort – mattress pads are also used to protect your bed from damage and spills, and keep allergens at bay. And they can even be flame retardant

Also, they often come with straps or zippers to keep them in place, so you won’t have to worry about your mattress pad sliding. 

Mattress Pad Types

As mentioned before, mattress pads can be made from various materials. Here’s what the market has to offer. 

Cotton Mattress Pads 

Cotton mattress pads are known for being comfortable and durable. Cotton is a breathable material that can help regulate temperature and may be machine-washable. 

They are also cheap, except for organic ones. Remember that cotton is absorbent, so mattress pads made from it without blends may not protect your bed from spills.  

Feather Mattress Pads 

Feather mattress pads are like a cloud for your bed, filled with duck or goose feathers (and sometimes down). They make your bed feel plush and cozy. 

However, they tend to be a bit pricey and aren’t the best at protecting against spills, a trait they share with cotton pads. Also, you might need to fluff them often. 

Wool Mattress Pads 

Wool mattress pads are a cozy, breathable choice. Made from sheep’s wool, they naturally wick away moisture and keep you from overheating. Plus, wool is naturally fire resistant, adding safety. 

While soft and temperature-regulating, they can be pricey and require more care since most can’t go in the washing machine. Also, they aren’t the best at guarding against spills.

Fiber Mattress Pads

Fiber mattress pads, usually filled with polyester, are ideal for people with feather allergies. They’re lightweight, soft, and easy to toss in the washing machine. Great for those who want extra cushioning without feeling stuck. 

Also, they’re budget-friendly and relatively breathable. However, some synthetic fibers may be noisy, and not all are stain-resistant so maintenance can vary.

Latex Mattress Pads 

Latex mattress pads, made from natural or synthetic latex, offer responsive and body-contouring sleep. While they can be pricey and need careful maintenance, they offer protection from spills and wear. For the best results, pair them with a latex bed.

Memory Foam Mattress Pads

Memory foam mattress pads are rare but provide comfort by contouring your body. However, they might not relieve pressure as well as thicker toppers. 

Remember that they’re not the easiest to clean and can’t block stains as well as mattress protectors. Still, memory foam pads can add extra cushioning, especially if you have joint pain. 

Mattress Pad – Pros and Cons

Mattress pads come with specific pros and cons. 


  • They add slight comfort to your current mattress
  • Budget-friendly 
  • Easy to clean 
  • Some materials can help with temperature regulation 
  • Protects your mattress against spills and damage 
  • Variety of materials 
  • It can shield your mattress from dust, dust mites, bed bugs, and other allergens 


  • Some mattress pads can’t protect your mattress from spills 
  • Mattress pads made from waterproof materials can be noisy 
  • They’re not as plush and won’t change the comfort level of your bed drastically 
  • Thinner mattress pads can wear out faster 

What Is a Mattress Topper?

If you want a significant upgrade, go for a mattress topper. A mattress topper is a thick layer of material, ranging from 2 to 4 inches thick.

Unlike mattress pads and protectors, a mattress topper transforms the feel of the mattress rather than providing protection. They come in standard mattress sizes and offer elastic straps you can use to secure them to your mattress to keep them from sliding

If your mattress is too firm, a mattress topper can make it soft; if it’s too soft, it can make it firmer. It’s a budget-friendly way to revamp your bed, but it can only partially fix an old, sagging mattress. 

Mattress Topper Types

Mattress toppers can be made from various materials, all of which have different properties. 

Memory Foam Mattress Toppers 

A memory foam mattress topper is the go-to choice for extra comfort. Side sleepers and those with firm mattresses particularly enjoy them because they are excellent at relieving pressure points. If you wake up with aches, memory foam toppers might be your solution. 

They can also help with motion isolation. However, regular memory foam traps heat, so those who sleep hot should use gel-infused memory foam mattress toppers for cooler sleep. 

Latex Mattress Toppers 

Latex mattress toppers are all about contouring without that sinking feeling. They offer pressure relief but still give you some bounce.

Dunlop latex toppers are a great choice to make your mattress firmer with an additional layer of natural materials, and Talalay latex can help with cooler sleep. 

They’re also hypoallergenic, making them great for allergy-prone sleepers looking for responsive support, but they might come with a slightly higher price tag. 

Wool Mattress Toppers 

A wool mattress topper is known for its softness and breathability. They keep you cozy in winter and cool in summer by wicking away moisture. 

Great for year-round comfort and temperature regulation, they’re an excellent choice for those seeking a soft and supportive sleep surface. However, they can get expensive. 

Feather and Down Mattress Toppers 

Feather and down mattress toppers offer fluffy, cloud-like comfort, filled with goose or duck feathers or down. 

They’re very soft and comfortable, and their breathability makes them an excellent choice for hot sleepers who don’t want to break the bank. However, feather mattress toppers aren’t very durable and offer little support for your existing mattress.

Mattress Topper – Pros and Cons

Some of the benefits of a mattress topper include making your bed more comfortable and protecting it from wear and tear. However, there are also some cons you should keep in mind.


  • A mattress topper can dramatically change the feel of your bed
  • Some materials can help with temperature regulation
  • They protect your mattress from wear, tear, and dust
  • Some materials can protect your mattress from spills
  • Effective at reducing motion transfer 
  • They can add pressure relief to your bed and help alleviate back pain 
  • Make your mattress softer or firmer 
  • Can temporarily compensate for a sagging mattress and add support 


  • They cost more than mattress pads 
  • Bulky and heavy toppers are harder to maintain and move
  • Not machine washable, but they might have a washable cover

Mattress Pad vs. Mattress Topper – Key Differences

Mattress pads and toppers have a lot of similarities, but they also have quite a few differences. These are the main differences between mattress pads and toppers. 


Mattress pads and mattress toppers serve different purposes. 

A mattress pad is a comfy bodyguard for your mattress, adding a touch of pressure relief and protecting it from spills and wear. 

On the other hand, a mattress topper transforms your bed’s feel, making a firm bed softer and vice versa, and it can even breathe new life into an aging mattress or extend the life of a new one. 


A mattress pad adds a hint of softness and cushioning without drastically changing the firmness of the bed. But when it comes down to it, a thick topper transforms a bed.

Depending on the material, it can give you a new feel—sink into a plush memory foam mattress topper or float on a responsive, bouncy latex topper.


They also differ in how much support they give. 

A mattress pad offers a touch of extra comfort but doesn’t add all that much support. But if you need slightly more support, a mattress topper can help. 

Depending on the material, a mattress topper can make your bed firmer or softer and support you. Remember that mattress toppers can’t fix structural issues, and sometimes it’s better to invest in an entirely new mattress.


One of the main differences between the two is also in their thickness. 

Mattress pads are much thinner. They’re only 1 to 2 inches thick; some can be even less than an inch thick, just enough to give you extra comfort and plushness. 

On the other hand, mattress toppers provide an extra layer to change the feel of the mattress. They’re 2 to 4 inches thick, with enough material to fit their purpose. 


Hot sleepers know how uncomfortable it is to sleep on a mattress that traps heat, and they often look for easy solutions to cool off. 

Both mattress pads and mattress toppers can help with this, but it depends on what they’re made from. Materials like wool, cotton, and feathers are naturally breathable, but latex and gel foam are also good choices. 

Just remember that a memory foam mattress topper can trap body heat.


Both mattress pads and mattress toppers have similar durability, and you can expect to get a new one after 3 to 5 years. This also depends on the material. For example, feathers and foam are way less durable than natural latex. 


If you want to protect your mattress from wear and tear, both mattress pads and mattress toppers can help. But mattress pads are slightly better if you want to protect it from spills. 

This also depends on the material, as some mattress pads are made with waterproof properties, and some, like regular cotton pads, are absorbent and won’t protect your mattress from water damage. 

If you want to be safe, go for waterproof mattress protectors to keep your mattress clean and guard against spills. 


Mattress pads are easier to care for because they’re thinner, and most can be machine-washed. Mattress toppers might have removable covers you can wash separately, but that’s about it. 


Most mattress pads cost less because they’re made from less material, while mattress toppers can be pricey. The cost also depends on the material, since expensive and luxury options like natural latex and organic cotton can cost more. 

Which One Should You Choose?

Your choice between a mattress pad and a mattress topper mainly depends on what you need. 

You need a mattress pad if you want a mattress accessory that will give you moderate comfort and change and protect your bed from damage, but you want to spend only what is necessary. 

If you’re looking for significant comfort changes, want to revive your old mattress, or even seek pressure relief for your back pain, a mattress topper is the way to go. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How Is a Mattress Pad Different From a Mattress Protector?

The main difference is that a mattress pad adds comfort with a plush layer. In contrast, a mattress protector focuses on shielding your bed against spills, stains, and allergens without altering the feel of it. 

Can You Use a Mattress Pad and a Mattress Topper Together?

Yes, you can use a mattress pad and topper together to achieve added comfort and protection for your bed. The pad will give you more comfort and protect the bed, while the topper offers additional support or softness. You can also put a fitted sheet on top to keep everything in place. Just make sure that the dimensions are right.

Do Mattress Toppers Help With Back Pain?

Mattress toppers can help with back pain by providing extra support and comfort. They can improve spinal alignment and alleviate pressure points, potentially reducing discomfort if you have issues with your back. 

Final Thoughts

Mattress pads and mattress toppers are both handy tools to upgrade your sleep. 

Remember, mattress pads are like a protective shield with a hint of added comfort, while mattress toppers are like an extra-thick layer of comfort. 

The biggest difference? Thickness and plushness. Now, it’s your turn to decide which one suits your sleeping preferences. Are you all about that extra softness or just seeking protection? 

We wish you a good night’s sleep!

Reviews written by:

Andjela Kastratovic - Co-editor

Anđela is a content writer by the day and an Illustrator by night. She loves anything creative, but sleep takes the cake – that’s why she enjoys writing for Anatomy of Sleep so much!

While in high school, she got accepted for her dream job – a ‘professional sleeper’. Her job was to test new mattresses from a local mattress brand and write reports on the quality of sleep. Ever since then, she’s been in love with reviewing mattresses and putting her compelling research into ultimate buyer’s guides. While not exploring the latest brands, she likes to illustrate and spend time with her dog and friends.