A topper can provide additional comfort to sleepers who are unsatisfied with the comfort layer of the current mattress. Toppers are removable by design, though some simply lay on top of the mattress while others can be tucked beneath fitted sheets. Different types of toppers sold today include memory foam, wool, latex, and feather models (also known as featherbeds), although price and availability vary by type.
This page will look at what toppers do, pros and cons of using them, and some distinctive characteristics of each topper type, as well as some user’s guides for adding and maintaining optimal comfort levels.
What Is a Mattress Topper?
A mattress topper is simply defined as any separate layer of cushioning that can be added or removed from the top surface of a mattress. Toppers are primarily used to provide extra comfort as well as adjusting the firmness of the sleep surface. They may also serve other purposes, such as alleviating pain and pressure or cooling the bed. In addition to primary beds, mattress toppers can be used in RVs, hotels, college dorms, guest beds, or sofas.
The terms ‘mattress topper’ and ‘mattress pad’ are often used interchangeably, but these are in fact distinct products with different characteristics and uses. The table below breaks down the main differences between toppers and pads.
|Product||Mattress Topper||Mattress Pad|
|Primary Purpose||Toppers are designed to add an extra comfort to the mattress. ||Pads are designed to protect mattresses from stains and contaminants.|
|Material Composition||Toppers may be made from an assortment of different materials, including memory foam, latex, wool, feathers, or fibers.||Most pads are made from fibers like cotton or polyester.|
|Thickness||Some topper types, such as memory foam and latex, come in varying thicknesses to accommodate different sleepers. Other types may be limited in terms of thickness options. ||Thickness options are fairly limited for pads, and most are fairly thin.|
|Application||Toppers may rest freely on top of the mattress surface, or they may be tucked beneath fitted sheets.||Most mattress pads are designed to be tucked beneath sheets, and do not rest freely on top of the mattress.|
|Cushioning Potential||High. Toppers are made to create extra cushioning, and most are thick enough to alter the feel of an existing sleep surface.||Low. Most mattress pads are relatively thin, and do not change the comfort level of a mattress to a significant extent. |
|Mattress Protection||Moderate. Toppers may protect mattress surfaces from contamination to some extent, even though this is not their primary purpose. ||High. Mattress pads generally provide adequate protection for mattress surfaces. |
|Durability||The durability of a mattress topper varies by its material composition. Memory foam and latex toppers tend to have longer lifespans than toppers made of fibers, wool, or feathers.||Mattress pads are usually machine washable, but most have below-average durability and may wear out over time due to machine cleaning.|
|Average Price Range||The price range varies, as some topper types are more expensive than others. However, most have medium to high price-points||Mattress pads are typically low-priced. Most models cost $50 or less.|
Benefits of Using a Mattress Topper
Pros of using a mattress topper on an existing mattress include the following:
- Improved Sleep Surface: Toppers can add comfort to old mattress surfaces that have developed some sagging or indentations over time, as well as newer models that are too soft or firm for its current sleepers.
- More Support: Mattresses made of materials like memory foam or latex can help crate and maintain a stable, even sleep surface with enhanced neck and back support.
- Pain and Pressure Relief: Some mattress toppers, such as memory foam and latex models, conform closely to sleepers bodies. This helps align the spine and target pressure points in the neck, shoulders, lower back, and hips.
- Dual Comfort Options: For mattresses that are not designed with a dual-firmness comfort layer, a topper can be an inexpensive way to modify the feel of one side while maintaining the original firmness of the other.
- Increased Durability: Utilizing a mattress topper can help extend the lifespan of a mattress by reducing sagging and indentations in the comfort layer.
- Mattress Protection: Although they are primarily intended to add extra comfort, mattress toppers can create a buffer that protects the top surface of a mattress from stains, soiling, and physical damage.
- Minimal Noise: With the exception of featherbeds, which may produce rustling sounds, mattress toppers produce little to no noise when bearing weight.
- Better Sex: With the exception of memory foam toppers (which are considered less-than-ideal for sex), toppers are generally considered responsive enough for sex.
- Inexpensive Alternative to Replacement: Most mattress toppers cost less than $200, but even the most expensive toppers — such as wool and latex models — rarely exceed $400. As a result, using a topper is much cheaper than replacing the mattress completely.
Drawbacks to Using a Topper
Despite the benefits of using a mattress topper listed above, there are also some drawbacks associated with these products:
- Fitting Issues: Mattress toppers that do not lie freely on the sleep surface are usually smaller than the mattress itself, which allows sheets to fit over them. This may present two issues. One: the sleeper may need to purchase new sheets. Two: the topper may slide around beneath the sheet, depending on how it’s constructed, which can lead to uncomfortable bunching and an uneven surface.
- Edge Support: Due to the fact that toppers are slightly smaller than mattresses, this may reduce how supportive the bed feels around its perimeter where people tend to sit.
- Limited Improvements: Although toppers can significantly improve older mattresses with some sagging or indentations, they may not be as effective at changing the feel and comfort level of a mattress with extensive damage.
- Off-gassing: Some topper types — particularly polyfoam and memory foam models — may emit unpleasant off-gassing odors that eventually dissipate, especially in well-ventilated rooms, but these smells may be persistent.
- Sleeping Hot: Toppers made of feathers or wool tend to sleep fairly cool, but memory foam, fiber, and latex models tend to retain high levels of body heat and sleep somewhat hot as a result.
- Difficult to Move: The average topper weighs at least seven or eight pounds, and some topper types — such as latex — often weigh more than 20 pounds. This can make them difficult to move and maneuver during the night, especially if they are tucked beneath fitted sheets.
- High Maintenance: Mattress toppers are rarely machine washable, and usually need to be either dry cleaned or spot cleaned by hand. Some toppers, such as featherbeds, also require constant fluffing in order to maintain proper loft.
Who Should Consider a Mattress Topper?
A mattress topper is typically most suitable in the following situations:
- The mattress is too firm. The topper can create a softer, more comfortable sleeping experience for individuals who prefer less firm surfaces.
- The sleeper has no control over their sleep surface. Toppers can provide more comfort — and in some cases, support — for people sleeping in college dormitories, hotels, long-term care facilities, and other away-from-home accommodations.
- The mattress on an RV bed is not comfortable enough. RV beds often feature cheaper mattress models that offer minimal comfort and support, and toppers can significantly optimize these sleep surfaces.
- The sleeper is staying at a different residence. Toppers are ideal for guest beds, sofas, and other sleep surfaces that are normally reserved for overnight visitors (and may not be as comfortable as the guest’s primary bed).
- A couple has different comfort preferences. In the absence of a dual-firmness mattress, a topper can modify one side of the mattress for couples who prefer different sleep surfaces.
What Should You Consider When Buying a Topper?
Next, let’s look at some of the key factors to keep in mind when shopping for a mattress topper and browsing different types, brands, and models:
- Material: Different mattress topper materials offer different comfort experiences. Memory foam and latex conform closely to the sleeper’s body for improved spinal alignment and pressure relief. Wool and feather toppers do not conform as closely, which creates less resistance for people moving on top of the mattress, and they also sleep somewhat cooler. Shoppers should research the properties of each mattress topper type as they relate to their sleep needs and preferences.
- Thickness: Mattress toppers may measure anywhere from 1 to 4 inches thick. The thickness of a topper is should correspond to the mattress surface. If the mattress is much too firm for the sleeper, then a thicker topper will be needed to effectively adjust the comfort level. Thinner toppers may be suitable when minor changes are needed. Also, it’s important to note that thicker convoluted foam, memory foam, and latex models tend to sleep somewhat hotter than thinner models.
- Density: Like thickness, the density of a mattress topper corresponds to other performance factors. High-density memory foam toppers, for instance, offer better edge support and conform closer than low-density foam toppers; however, high-density models also tend to sleep hotter, produce more odor, and not be as good for sex.
- Firmness: Generally speaking, firmer toppers are ideal for sleepers who find their mattress too soft, while softer toppers work best on overly firm surfaces. However, a topper can also enhance the firmness of an older mattress. For instance, a medium-firm topper used on top of a medium-firm mattress can help preserve the original sleep surface while still maintaining the sleeper’s desired firmness level.
- Durability: Although lifespan varies by model, most latex, memory foam, and wool mattress toppers are considered fairly durable and will perform for several years without excessive sagging or indenting. Feather and fiber toppers, on the other hand, tend have below-average durability.
- Motion Isolation: Toppers made of foam or latex tend to absorb motion and isolate it to certain areas of the mattress, which can help reduce sleep disruptions. Feather, fiber, and wool toppers offer minimal motion isolation by comparison.
- Allergy Potential: Some topper materials, such as latex or feathers, may trigger allergies in certain sleepers. Other topper materials, such as fibers and wool, are hypoallergenic and should not cause allergies to flare up.
Mattress Topper Ratings by Type
Next, let’s look at some key similarities and differences between the six most common mattress topper types.
|Type||Convoluted Polyfoam||Feather||Fiber||Latex||Memory Foam||Wool|
|Composition||Egg-crate polyurethane foam||Feathers from ducks or geese||Rayon, polyester, and/or down alternative||Talalay and/or Dunlop latex||Viscoelastic polyfoam||Sheep or lamb wool|
|Average Weight||10 to 15 lbs||10 to 20 lbs||5 to 10 lbs||25 to 40 lbs||20 to 30 lbs||5 to 10 lbs|
|Thickness Selection||Limited||Somewhat Limited||Limited||Somewhat Wide||Wide||Somewhat Limited|
|Durability||Poor to Fair||Fair to Good||Poor to Fair||Very Good to Excellent||Good to Very Good||Very Good to Excellent|
|Support||Poor to Fair||Fair to Good||Fair to Good||Good to Very Good||Good to Very Good||Fair to Good|
|Conforming||Poor to Fair||Poor to Fair||Poor to Fair||Very Good to Excellent||Very Good to Excellent||Fair to Good|
|Pain/Pressure Relief||Poor to Fair||Fair to Good||Fair to Good||Very Good to Excellent||Very Good to Excellent||Fair to Good|
|Motion Isolation||Good to Very Good||Poor to Fair||Poor to Fair||Fair to Good||Very Good to Excellent||Poor to Fair|
|Noise||Very Good to Excellent||Poor to Fair||Good to Very Good||Very Good to Excellent||Very Good to Excellent||Very Good to Excellent|
|Temperature Neutrality||Poor to Fair||Very Good to Excellent||Fair to Good||Fair to Good||Poor to Fair||Very Good to Excellent|
|Odor||Poor to Fair||Fair to Good||Very Good to Excellent||Very Good to Excellent||Poor to Fair||Fair to Good|
|Sex||Fair to Good||Very Good to Excellent||Very Good to Excellent||Very Good to Excellent||Fair to Good||Very Good to Excellent|
|Ease of Moving||Very Good to Excellent||Fair to Good||Very Good to Excellent||Poor to Fair||Poor to Fair||Very Good to Excellent|
|Cleaning||Spot Clean or Dry Clean||Dry Clean||Machine Wash or Dry Clean ||Spot Clean or Dry Clean||Spot Clean or Dry Clean||Machine Wash or Spot Clean|
|Maintenance||Very Good to Excellent||Poor to Fair||Poor to Fair||Very Good to Excellent||Very Good to Excellent||Poor to Fair|
|Average Price||$10 to $30||$100 to $150||$60 to $100||$100 to $400||$100 to $250||$150 to $300|
|Customer Satisfaction Rating||74% (2,087 Customer Reviews||83% (4,365 Customer Reviews)||82% (9,763 Customer Reviews)||88% (1,321 Customer Reviews)||87% (12,380 Customer Reviews)||87% (1,154 Customer Reviews)|
Choosing the Right Topper for You
The right mattress topper for a given sleeper often comes down to two factors: sleep position and body weight.
- Side-sleepers: Side-sleeping creates an unnatural curvature in the spine that puts pressure on sensitive areas, such as the neck, shoulders, and hips. The topper should sink beneath these areas in order to straighten the spine and alleviate pressure. Lighter sleepers (less than 130 pounds) tend to feel most comfortable on softer, lower-density toppers, while those who weigh 130 pounds or more prefer firmer toppers because they don’t sink too deeply.
- Back-sleepers: Sleeping on one’s back naturally aligns the spine, which helps alleviate pressure, but a higher-density topper is needed to maintain adequate support. Toppers that are too soft cause the back and hips to sink too deeply, while overly firm toppers create a gap between the sleeper’s lower back and the bed. A medium-firm topper is considered the best option for people of average weights (130 to 230 pounds); lighter sleepers may feel most comfortable on slightly less firm toppers, while heavier sleepers usually prefer toppers that are slightly firmer.
- Stomach-sleepers: Stomach-sleeping is generally not recommended. Most people carry a large amount of weight in their stomach, and this can cause excessive sinkage around the hips and pelvis that can misalign the spine and increase the potential for pain and pressure. However, for those who prefer this position, a slightly firmer topper is usually best because it prevents sinkage in the stomach area and keeps the spine straight. The topper should also be somewhat thin, and carry a lower density; this holds true for all weight groups.
The table below looks at the ideal firmness, thickness, and density settings for different sleepers based on position and body weight.
|Position||Weight Group||Ideal Topper Firmness||Ideal Topper Thickness||Ideal Topper Density|
|Side||Less than 130 lbs||Soft to Medium Soft ||1″ to 2″||2.5 PCF and lower|
|130 to 230 lbs||Medium Soft to Medium||2″ to 2 1/2″||3 to 4 PCF|
|More than 230 lbs||Medium Firm to Firm||2″ to 3″||4 PCF and higher|
|Back||Less than 130 lbs||Medium Soft to Medium Firm||1 1/2″ to 2 1/2″||2.5 to 3 PCF|
|130 to 230 lbs||Medium to Firm||2″ to 3″||3.5 to 5 PCF|
|More than 230 lbs||Medium Firm to Firm||2″ to 3″||4.5 PCF and higher|
|Stomach||Less than 130 lbs||Medium Soft to Medium Firm||1″ to 1 1/2″||3 PCF and lower|
|130 to 230 lbs||Medium Firm to Firm||1″ to 2″||2.5 to 4 PCF|
|More than 230 lbs||Firm to Extra Firm||2″ to 3″||3.5 to 4.5 PCF|
Setting up and Maintaining a Topper
Toppers are fairly easy to set up and maintain, but here are three factors to keep in mind:
- Some toppers are designed to be tucked beneath the top sheet. For optimal comfort, be sure to flatten the topper as much as possible before tucking the sheet over it. This helps to prevent bunching and maintain a flat, even sleep surface.
- Off-gassing can be an issue for toppers, particularly those made of foam. Odors are usually strongest immediately after the topper is removed from its packaging. To help these odors dissipate, unpackage the topper completely and place it in a well-ventilated room. Sleepers may want to wait one to two days before using the topper, though some models will carry lingering smells that may never completely dissipate.
- Wool toppers are often machine washable. Some fiber toppers are also advertised as machine washable, but wash cycles may cause these models to deteriorate over time; dry cleaning may be best for long-term maintenance. Memory foam, latex, and feather toppers should only be spot cleaned by hand or dry cleaned, and should never be washed in a machine.