Mattress pads and protectors are highly useful when it comes to preserving a mattress and protecting sleep surfaces from contaminants, stains, and physical damage. Although the terms ‘mattress pad’ and ‘mattress protector’ are often (and erroneously) used interchangeably, these two products perform slightly different bedding functions. This page will discuss the similarities and differences between mattress pads and protectors, offer some buying tips, and share our top picks as voted by pad and protector owners.
What Are Mattress Pads and Protectors?
A mattress pad acts as a barrier between the sleeper and his/her mattress cover. Many are quilted to provide an additional layer of cushioning to the sleep surface, but their primary purpose is to shield the bed from dust mites and other allergens, as well as bacteria. Some pads are also hypoallergenic. Most pads measure no more than one inch thick, and fit over the edges of the mattress much like a fitted sheet — although some rest freely on the top mattress surface.
Mattress protectors, like pads, keep contaminants like dust mites, allergens, and bacteria off the sleep surface. Additionally, most protectors are waterproof in order to shield mattresses from sweat, urine, and other stains. Many protectors are hypoallergenic, as well. Although some pads may be waterproof, for the purposes of this page: ‘mattress pad’ refers to non-waterproof layers, while ‘mattress protector’ refers to waterproof layers. Protectors are rarely quilted, and most will not alter the feel of a mattress to any noticeable extent. Protectors usually measure no more than one inch thick.
It’s important to note that the term ‘mattress topper’ is also used interchangeably with ‘pads’ and ‘protectors’; this is also inaccurate. Toppers are specifically designed to provide extra cushioning to mattresses, and most provide little to no protection against contaminants or stains. Most toppers are one to three inches thick, and some weigh as much as 30 to 40 pounds.
The table below illustrates the key differences and similarities between mattress pads, protectors, and toppers.
To act as a mattress barrier and protect the bed from contaminants, as well as minor comfort adjustment
To protect the mattress from both contaminants and liquid spills
To provide an additional cushioning layer that makes the mattress feel more or less firm
Less than $10 to more than $300 (varies by material)
What Are the Pros and Cons of Mattress Pads and Protectors?
Some notable benefits of using a mattress pad include the following:
Pads protect against dust mites and other allergens, bacteria, and other contaminants that may infiltrate the sleep surface and affect sleeper health.
Pads have a relatively low price-point; the average pad costs between $20 and $35.
Thicker pads can be used for moderate comfort adjustment.
When used with a topper, fitted pads can help keep the cushioning layers in place and prevent uncomfortable bunching.
Drawbacks of mattress pads include the following:
Mattress pads do not normally protect against liquid spills and stains; waterproof pads are somewhat rare.
Mattress pads tend to deteriorate quickly, often due to machine washing and drying.
Thin mattress pads do not improve softness or comfort to any noticeable extent.
Next, let’s look at some benefits of using a mattress protector:
In addition to acting as a contaminant barrier, most protectors are waterproof and will shield beds from bodily fluids like urine and perspiration, as well as drinks and other liquid spills.
Protectors are fairly inexpensive, with an average price-point of $20 to $50.
Many protectors are hypoallergenic, and will not trigger any allergies from sleepers.
Fitted protectors can help keep toppers in place and prevent bunching up, which negatively affects the feel and comfort level of the sleep surface.
Some drawbacks of using a mattress protector include the following:
Most mattress protectors will not improve the feel or comfort level of a mattress surface to any noticeable extent.
Waterproof mattress protectors can sometimes cause a slight noise when moving around a mattress due to their composition – think crinkling plastic wrap.
Because they are frequently washed and dried in machines, mattress protectors tend to degrade rather quickly.
Some sleepers claim that using a mattress protector will cause the mattress to sleep warm or hot.
Frequently Asked Questions about Mattress Pads and Protectors
This next FAQ section will look at some common questions and concerns about pads and protectors
How to pads and protectors attach to the mattress? Most pads and protectors can be attached to a mattress in one of two ways. Most models have elastic corners, and will stretch around the edges of the bed much like a fitted sheet. Some pads and protectors have an anchored design the item is attached to the corners of the bed using elastic bands. Select pads and protectors do not have elastic corners at all, and are simply draped over the top surface of the bed.
Will a pad or protector make the mattress feel softer? In most cases, a pad and protector will provide little to no feel and comfort adjustment. Thicker, quilted pads may be an exception to this rule.
Are pads and protectors suitable for children’s bedding? Pads and protectors can be great bedding accessories for kids’ bedding. They protect against dirt, grit, and other contaminants that little ones may track in. Waterproof protectors can also be highly beneficial for children that wet the bed.
How should pads and protectors be cleaned? Most pads and protectors can be machine washed. Although this can cause them to deteriorate quickly, machine washing and tumble drying is usually the only way to effectively clean and sterilize the product. It’s also important to note that care instructions are often stipulated in the warranty of a pad or protector (see below).
Will a pad or protector make the mattress sleep hot? Most pads do not sleep hot or warm. Protectors, on the other hand, have a tendency to sleep somewhat warm; cotton protectors may sleep cooler, since cotton is a more breathable fiber than polyester or rayon.
How can customers make sure their pad or protector will fit? The pad or protector size should always match the mattress size. For mattresses that are more than 12 inches thick, be sure to check the pocket depth of the pad or protector; some — but not all — provide extra coverage for mattresses with above-average thickness.
How much should someone pay for a new pad or protector? The average price-point for a standard mattress pad is $20 to $35, while the average protector is priced slightly higher at $30 to $50. Some pads and protectors are made from luxury materials (such as organic cotton), and may have much higher price-points.
Do pads and protectors come with warranty coverage? Some do. Warranty coverage for pads and protectors typically lasts no more than 10 to 15 years. It’s important to note that many manufacturers require owners to wash their pad or protector whenever it is soiled; otherwise their warranty may be voided. Additionally, most manufacturers will not warrant against certain types of damage, such as permanent stains from cosmetics, food, or bleach.
Buying Considerations for Mattress Pads and Protectors
Next let’s look at some important factors to consider when shopping for a new mattress pad or protector, or when comparing both products to decide which one will work best.
Size: Pads and protectors are typically sold in sizes that correspond to standard mattress sizes, including Twin, Full, Queen, and King. However, certain brands may not be available for other, more specialized sizes, such as Twin XL or California King. Pads and protectors that don’t properly fit can be a major nuisance, so measuring a mattress before buying one is highly recommended.
Pocket Depth: Pocket depth is often associated with fitted sheets, but it also applies to pads and protectors with fitted edges. Pocket depth refers to how far the fitted edges of a pad or protector will stretch over the sides of a mattress. This measurement is particularly useful for mattresses that are thicker than 14 inches, which are often too thick for standard fitted sheets. Pads and protectors generally have a pocket depth of 14 to 18 inches, but this varies by brand.
Liquid Protection: In some cases, a waterproof protector will be the best choice. These include bedding for young children who may wet the bed, as well as adults who are incontinent or tend to sweat in their sleep. Select pads are waterproof, but protectors typically offer a better waterproof barrier against bodily fluids and liquid spills.
Comfort Adjustment: Most pads and protectors are no more than one inch thick, and will not greatly affect the comfort level of a mattress. Thicker, quilted pads may provide some cushioning — but for those seeking a major adjustment, a mattress topper is recommended instead.
Weight: Most pads and protectors are lightweight, and weigh no more than four pounds, making them easy to move and adjust for most adults. This puts them at an advantage over certain types of toppers, such as latex and memory foam models, which can weigh more than five times as much.
Price: Because pads and protectors tend to be low-priced, cost is not a major concern for most shoppers. The vast majority of pads and protectors sold today are priced less than $50.
Warranty: A select number of pad and protector manufacturers offer warranty coverage for their products, while most do not. Warranty coverage may last anywhere from three to 15 years. However, given the low price of replacing pads and toppers, warranty coverage is not a major selling point for most shoppers.
Best Mattress Pads and Protectors: Brands and Models
In this next section, we’ll list our top-rated mattress pads and protectors according to customer reviews and feedback. The first table features our five picks for top-rated pads.
Basic Mattress Pad/Cover
Stretch-to-Fit Mattress Pad
Luxuria Ultra Plush Fitted Mattress Pad
Luxurious Fitted Down Alternative Mattress Pad
Quilted Fitted Mattress Pad
Cotton with polyfiber fill
Polyester and cotton blend with polyfiber fill
Cotton with polyfiber fill
Polyester with polyfiber fill
Twin Twin XL Full Queen King
Twin Full Queen King
Twin Twin XL Full Full XL Queen King Cal King
Twin Twin XL Full Queen King Cal King
$25.00 to $28.00
$22.95 to $24.95 (Amazon)
$29.99 to $34.99 (Amazon)
$29.99 to $49.99 (Amazon)
$15.29 to $28.99 (Amazon)
Customer Satisfaction Rating
90% (152 Customer reviews)
89% (6,332 Customer reviews)
85% (321 Customer reviews)
87% (1,823 Customer reviews)
88% (5,624 Customer reviews)
The next table features our five top-rated picks for mattress protectors.