Buying Guide – How to Shop for Cooling Mattress Pads and Toppers
Many different factors go into choosing a mattress pad or topper. In the following guide, we’ll walk you through several different factors, including:
- Differences between mattress pads and toppers: Although the two sound similar, they actually have some key differences, from lifespan to effectiveness and additional performance ratings.
- How cooling pads and toppers work: Learn more about active and passive cooling toppers, including the materials they use and how that changes their effect.
- Pros and cons: We’ll go through item-by-item to compare criteria such as temperature regulation, durability, odor potential, and noise between active and passive cooling toppers.
Taking all these elements into consideration will help you pick a mattress pad or topper that fits your needs and helps you sleep better every night.
What’s the Difference Between a Mattress Pad & Topper?
A mattress pad, also known as a ‘mattress protector,’ is a relatively thin layer that tucks over the top surface of a mattress with elastic edges similar to those of a fitted sheet. The pad’s primary purpose is to protect the mattress.
The term ‘mattress topper’ refers to an individual layer of additional cushioning that can be placed on top of a mattress or other sleep surface in order to provide extra softness, comfort, and support.
Some toppers rest freely on the uppermost layer of the mattress (known as the comfort layer), while others are designed to fit beneath the top sheet. Pads and toppers come in sizes that correspond to standard mattress sizes. Toppers may also be used to create a ‘dual-firmness’ surface for couples using Queen- or King-size mattresses.
How do Cooling Pads & Toppers Work?
A ‘cooling’ pad or topper is designed to help sleepers maintain a moderate, well-regulated body temperature throughout the night. They can also reduce sweating. These pads and toppers can be beneficial for people who tend to sleep hot or warm, as well as those using mattresses that act as heat traps.
Generally speaking, two types of cooling pads and toppers are available. Below, we’ll go over the differences between active and passive cooling pads and toppers, including factors that will help you pick the right one for you.
Active Cooling Pads and Toppers
Active cooling pads and toppers go beyond padding materials to heat you up or cool you down. These products are outfitted with attachable fans or water pumps that help sleepers remain cool and comfortable.
Many are customizable, allowing owners to maintain their ideal sleep temperature. They may also be used to warm up sleep surfaces during colder times of the year.
Passive Cooling Pads and Toppers
Rather than using fans or other attachments, passive cooling toppers are constructed with specialty materials (such as gel-infused foams) that absorb and transfer body heat. The term ‘passive cooling topper’ also refers to toppers made with materials that are naturally cool, such as:
- Natural latex, a material extracted and processed from the sap of rubber trees
- Gel-infused memory foam, or viscoelastic polyfoam, a polyurethane-based material treated with chemicals to make it exceptionally soft and responsive to temperature, then infused with cooling gel beads or swirls.
- Feathers from ducks or geese.
- Wool from sheep or lambs.
Regardless of the cooling topper type, most models feature covers made of materials that help sleepers stay cool. These include cotton, rayon, and/or bamboo fabric.
Additionally, some models feature covers made from phase-changing material, or PCM. PCM absorbs body heat until the sleeper reaches a certain temperature and then stop retaining heat, allowing the sleep surface to maintain a steady, comfortable temperature throughout the night regardless of how hot the sleeper feels.
Please note: Some brands offer toppers that need to be placed in a refrigerator or freezer prior to being used. Most of these toppers keep sleepers cool for a reasonable length of time, but their coldness will wear off — and most need to be refrigerated or refrozen each night. These toppers are fairly rare compared to active and passive cooling toppers. As a result, we have exclusively evaluated active and passive cooling pads and toppers for the purposes of this article, and did include any refrigerated pad or topper models in our analyses.
Pros and Cons
Both active and passive cooling pads and toppers carry unique benefits and drawbacks for owners. The table below looks at some of the similarities and differences between the two product types in terms of lifespan, effectiveness, and other performance metrics.