What’s The Difference Between A Mattress Pad Vs. Mattress Protector?

May 18, 2021 | Casper Editorial Team
Mattress with protector Mattress with protector Mattress with protector

Pads, protectors, toppers, covers, encasements… the list goes on and on. Every mattress owner has faced this confusing stew of product labels, but not every shopper knows what each label really means.

Rest easy, because Casper’s sleep experts are here to help answer the frequently asked questions—“what is a mattress protector?” and “what is a mattress pad?” And more importantly, what is the difference between a mattress pad vs mattress protector? A mattress pad is meant to provide extra comfort to your bed while a mattress protector protects your mattress.

From plushy comfort to protective barriers, each product has its place in your bedroom. You’re about to learn where that is as we explain these two main categories of mattress accessories more in depth.

Give your mattress the protection it needs for long-lasting durability.

What is a Mattress Pad?

A mattress pad includes any thin layer that adds additional preservation, support, or comfort to your bed—in other words, a broad range of products. 

Usually, mattress pads sit on top of the mattress and beneath any topper, protector, or sheets. Most have a quilted fabric lining that contains their “padding” material. Since everyone prefers a different feel or “plushness” to their sleep, mattress pads come in many shapes and sizes.

To that end, here are some different mattress pad materials and their benefits:

  • Cotton – All natural, machine-washable, hypoallergenic, and breathable. Cotton mattress pads work particularly well for those who like a softer feel or have sensitive sleep needs.1 However, they have less protection against mattress wear and tear.
  • Wool – A less common and more expensive natural option, wool pads are thinner and soft in texture. With antimicrobial properties, they help regulate body temperature.2
  • Down – The luxurious under-feathers of duck or geese, down makes for the coziest mattress pad. While expensive and stain-absorbent, they keep sleepers plenty warm. 
  • Polyester or rayon – These synthetic fiber pads are incredibly durable, resisting stains, bodyweight pressure, and allergens. Check for machine-washability, since some are dry-clean only.
  • Memory foam – For the most physical support, memory foam is your best option. The polyurethane material molds to your body’s shape, reducing joint pain as you rest.
  • Latex – Firm and antimicrobial, latex mattress pads add extra support and structure. However, the rubber smell and heat retention may bother certain sleepers.

What Does a Mattress Pad Do?

A better question might be what does a mattress pad not do? Mattress pads are the jack-of-all-trades for beds. Depending on material and model, they can offer benefits like:3

  • Increased mattress life 
  • Anti-allergen and antibacterial protection 
  • Extra support and comfort
  • Temperature regulation
  • Breathability or airflow

You might hear the terms mattress pad, topper, and cushion used interchangeably. While similar, there are slight distinctions. 

A pad is thinner, usually providing less physical support and more overall mattress protection. A topper or cushion is thicker, adding extra comfort and bed height. At Casper, we’ve combined the best of both worlds. Our latex foam mattress topper provides plush support, breathability, and mattress protection—a winning trifecta.  

How to Choose a Mattress Pad

From organic cotton to memory foam, you’ve got a lot of options in the mattress pad department. So where do you even begin?

To narrow down your choices, consider your top priorities as a sleeper and bed owner. Do you sweat at night? Are dust mites your sworn enemy? Is it difficult to find a comfortable position to sleep in? Ranking your sleep concerns will help you choose a pad material that fits your sleep needs.

Some top decision factors for mattress pad shoppers:

  • Physical support – Achy joints and sore muscles need a little extra cushion or structure. Usually, foam and synthetic mattress pads reduce strain on the body more than thinner, natural materials.
  • Allergens or bacteria – Itching and sneezing through the night? Look for pads with a hypoallergenic or antimicrobial label. Their nonporous structure will block mites, allergens, and bacteria from disturbing your sleep.
  • Temperature and breathability – Breathable natural materials, like cotton and wool, innately regulate body temperature. For synthetic options, make sure “airflow” or “cooling” are mentioned.
  • Price – A down mattress pad feels like luxury—and so will its dry cleaning bill. Make sure to factor in buying price and cleaning expenses for your mattress pad. Typically, synthetic materials cost less overall than natural materials.

What is a Mattress Protector?

Bare-footed children. Overly-excited puppies. That weekday evening glass of Cabernet. Sometimes, certain “dangers” creep up on your bed… and those threats turn into unhappy accidents. 

Mattress protectors or covers block those bed-ruining mishaps (and more). These barriers lie between your sheets and any mattress pad or topper. That way, stains stop at your fitted sheet, sparing your mattress a deep clean—or worse, an early replacement.

With different levels of coverage, mattress protectors come in a few fits:4

  • Encasement – These zippered protectors fully enclose your mattress, protecting against any elements from top to bottom. 
  • Fitted – As the name suggests, this model covers mattresses like a fitted sheet. While there’s slight exposure on the bottom, a fitted mattress cover still guards against most stains and human contact.
  • Anchor – With elastic bands for security, anchor protectors only cover the top layer of mattresses. Typically, they are not effective barriers.

At Casper, we prefer a fitted mattress protector for its hybrid of coverage and flexibility. Whether California King or Twin size, our cover can accommodate mattress heights up to 16 inches high. 

Additionally, mattress covers also span a range of materials. From organic natural fibers to synthetic blends, here’s a look at some favored base materials:5

  • Polyurethane – This porous, synthetic material is breathable, waterproof, and bug-proof (that’s why we use it in our Waterproof Mattress Protector). Combined with a natural fiber, it makes for an effective barrier.
  • Polyester – A go-to waterproofing material, polyester is in the majority of mattress protectors. However, quality may vary—make sure the cover’s touch and noise level match your sleep needs. Our Breathable Mattress Protector is made with a blend of polyester, tencel, and spandex for the perfect blend of protection, comfort, and durability.
  • Cotton – Full cotton protectors don’t block out stains, but they can be comfortable and are usually pretty affordable. 
  • Vinyl – While it is more of a rubbery material, some mattress protectors use vinyl to help protect against bed bugs, dust mites, and other unwanted critters. 
  • Spandex – You’ll find spandex in fitted or stretchable mattress protectors, which allows them to mold to your precise bed height and shape.

Curious how to wash a mattress protector without compromising the structure of the material? Check the label! Whether you have a polyester or cotton protector, each material requires unique care.

What Does a Mattress Protector Do?

Stains aren’t the only bed invaders out there. From blocking critters to dust, a mattress protector can improve both your bed’s cleanliness and your sleep health. 

Depending on the material and coverage, mattress covers can block:

  • Liquid stains
  • Dust mites
  • Bacteria
  • Sweat and skin cells
  • Fungi or mold growth
  • Allergens
  • Overall dirt
  • Mattress wear-down

Overall, mattress protectors are there to guard both you and your entire mattress. No matter your sleep preferences or lifestyle, they’re a necessary mattress accessory for any bed.

Mattress Pad vs. Mattress Cover—The Best of Both Worlds

Still debating the difference between mattress pad vs. mattress cover? Stop right there! There’s no need to compare apples to oranges. 

Both mattress accessories have their place and purpose on your bed. Combined, they’re an unbeatable duo for optimizing your sleep, hygiene, and mattress shelf life. For a quick summary, let’s break down the main differences of each product:

Mattress Pad 

  • Usually thicker (up to one inch)
  • Adds physical support
  • Increases bed height
  • Prevents mattress sagging 

Mattress Protector 

  • Usually thinner 
  • Provides a waterproof and spill-proof barrier
  • Prevents critter and bacterial contact
  • Can help wick away perspiration

However, both products overlap on certain sleep benefits:

  • Temperature regulation
  • Hypoallergenic protection

To keep it simple—pads generally improve your sleep, while protectors improve your hygiene and mattress quality. Put them together, and you’ve got a winning team (and a great night’s rest). 

Casper for The Sleep Support You Deserve

Complete your bed’s five-star hotel room transformation with our expertly crafted mattresses, pillows, and more. We design our bedroom products to fit every mattress size and sleeper, from cooling gel mattresses to plush down pillows. 

Now that you know the differences between a mattress pad and protector, go check out our collection today so you can rest easy tonight.

Sources: 

  1. Designer Living. Mattress Pad Buying Guide. https://www.designerliving.com/get-inspired/buying-guide/mattress-pads/590
  2. Ullman, Michelle. Pros and Cons of Different Types of Mattress Toppers. https://www.thespruce.com/whats-the-best-mattress-topper-350741
  3. Yerger, Natalie. Mattress Pad vs. Mattress Protector. https://www.mattressnerd.com/mattress-pad-vs-protector/
  4. Tuft & Needle. Using a Mattress Protector. https://www.tuftandneedle.com/resources/do-i-need-mattress-protector/
  5. Slavin, Tonya Mozias. Mattress Protectors: A Buyer’s Guide. https://www.saatva.com/blog/mattress-protector-guide/