Mattress Pad vs. Mattress Topper: Putting the Debate to Bed

September 30, 2021 | Casper Editorial Team
mattress pad vs mattress topper mattress pad vs mattress topper mattress pad vs mattress topper

If you’re tossing and turning all night but don’t want to invest in a new mattress, you’ve likely considered a mattress pad or mattress topper.

But which is best for your current sleep situation? While mattress pads are designed as a slim layer of extra protection and comfort, mattress toppers are a thicker material designed to provide extra comfort and support to even the most unsatisfying sleeping situations.

To learn more about the mattress pad or mattress topper debate, check out this guide to see which one comes out on top (pun intended). 

Our innovative mattress topper is made of a premium latex foam and plush top layer to create a soft, buoyant feel that’s designed to fit perfectly atop your current mattress for instant comfort, all at a price that won’t break the bank.

Mattress Pad vs. Topper Comparison Chart

Mattress pads and mattress toppers serve similar functions: to cushion your bed. However, mattress toppers are typically thicker and can provide more tailored comfort compared to mattress pads. Check out how mattress pads stack up against mattress toppers below.

  Mattress Pad Mattress Topper
Thickness Up to 2 inches 2-4 inches thick
Feel Adds slight plushness Adds significant cushion
Support Provides light support Thicker layer offers more support
Cooling No cooling properties Some breathable foams can keep you cool
Protection Minimal spill and wear protection Thicker layer provides extra protection from spills and wear
Durability Typically lasts 3-5 years Typically lasts 3-5 years
Maintenance Typically machine washable Not machine washable
Average Cost $155-$289 $199-$359

While mattress pads and mattress toppers are both meant to provide extra comfort, mattress toppers can more significantly alter the feel of your mattress. Keep reading for a more thorough breakdown of mattress pads and mattress toppers below.

What Is a Mattress Pad?

mattress pad description

A mattress pad is a thin, usually quilted layer put on top of a mattress to make it slightly softer. Some mattress pads also serve as a protective layer to shield your mattress against dirt, pee stains, and allergens. 

Different types of mattress pads serve various purposes. While a feather mattress pad may provide added plushness, a fiber mattress pad may be more suitable for those who suffer from bedroom allergies

Common types of mattress pads:

  • Feather mattress pads: These are made from the feathers of waterfowl and are very plush but can get pricey.
  • Latex mattress pads: Made from natural or synthetic latex, these provide better protection against spills.
  • Fiber mattress pads: These are typically made from polyester, down alternatives, or other types of fiberfill and can help mitigate allergies.

Since mattress pads are typically 1 to 2 inches thick, they don’t significantly change the feel of your mattress. In other words, the princess from “The Princess and the Pea” wouldn’t be too satisfied with just a mattress pad. 

Reasons you might want a mattress pad:

  • Your mattress is too firm
  • You want protection from spills and dirt
  • Your bed is uncomfortable and you want a budget-friendly solution

Pros of Mattress Pads

  1. Can increase mattress life: Mattress pads provide a protective layer that may increase the longevity of your mattress.
  2. Can be hypoallergenic: Some mattress pads are made with hypoallergenic materials that can help minimize allergy flare-ups.
  3. Can provide extra support: The extra 1 to 2 inches can add some extra plushness to an uncomfortable mattress.

Cons of Mattress Pads

  1. Some aren’t spill or wearproof: Depending on the material, some mattress pads will soak up spills or dirt but won’t repel them.
  2. Can be noisy: Some spill-proof mattress pads are made with waterproof materials that can be noisy or squeaky during the night.
  3. Not as plush: Since mattress pads are thinner than mattress toppers, they may not provide as much added softness as desired.

If you’re looking for protection from spills or dirt, check out our waterproof mattress protector to everything-proof your mattress.

What Is a Mattress Topper?

mattress topper description

A mattress topper is a thicker layer placed on top of your mattress to alter the feel of your bed. Mattress toppers are typically 2 to 4 inches thick and function as a “mini mattress” to put on top of your actual mattress.

Mattress toppers can wear many different hats. While some are designed for added plushness, others are made to firm up a mattress that may be soft or sagging. Although mattress toppers typically aren’t spill-proof, they protect your mattress against spills and stains since they form a thick barrier on top of your bed. 

Types of mattress toppers:

  • Memory foam mattress toppers: These are made of foam and can provide added plushness and support where you need it most.
  • Latex mattress toppers: Latex foam toppers are more responsive and are hypoallergenic.
  • Wool mattress toppers: Wool mattress toppers are great for temperature regulation because they can pull away heat in the summer but insulate you in the winter.
  • Feather mattress toppers: These are usually made of feathers from waterfowl and provide an extra soft layer for a too-firm bed.

Some high-quality mattress toppers are also designed to regulate temperature while you sleep. Our mattress topper is designed with breathable memory foam that conforms to your body and has tiny pores to let hot air escape. In other words, even the princess wouldn’t feel a pea.

Reasons you might want a mattress topper:

  • You want extra support or firmness for an uncomfortable bed
  • You want to protect your mattress against spills or stains
  • You’re a hot sleeper who needs additional cooling

Pros of Mattress Toppers

  1. Can provide extra support: The 2 to 4 inches can provide significant support for a mattress that’s soft or sagging.
  2. Can provide extra plushness: For mattresses that are too firm, soft mattress toppers can provide a plush layer that molds to your body.
  3. Thick enough to alter the feel of a mattress: Since mattress toppers can provide up to nearly 30% additional mattress height*, a topper can significantly change the feeling of an uncomfortable mattress.
  4. Can help alleviate back pain/aches: Foam mattress toppers conform to the shape of your body to provide extra support that helps alleviate back pain.

*Based on a 3-inch mattress topper on a standard 11-inch mattress.

Cons of Mattress Toppers

  1. Can be more expensive: Since mattress toppers have more material than mattress pads, they’re slightly more expensive.
  2. Not machine washable: Most mattress toppers aren’t machine washable, but you can add a mattress protector to keep your mattress topper feeling fresh.

Mattress Pad vs. Mattress Topper Situations

Still can’t decide between a mattress pad or topper? Check out these common sleeper situations to figure out which one will help you catch Z’s

Situation #1: Your Bed Feels Too Firm

Consistently waking up with back, neck, or shoulder pain? Your mattress may be too firm for your needs. If this sounds familiar, either a mattress pad or mattress topper could work based on your personal preferences.

A mattress pad will give you that light, pillowy feel, so your bed has just a tad bit of extra plushness. Meanwhile, a mattress topper will provide significant extra comfort by creating a soft, buoyant feel on top of your current mattress.

Winner: Mattress topper

Situation #2: Your Bed Feels Too Soft

It may seem contradictory, but there is such a thing as a too-soft mattress. If you’re waking up with a sore lower back or struggle getting into and out of bed, your mattress may be too soft.

In this situation, a mattress pad may worsen the problem by adding a plush layer on top of an already too-soft mattress. You’d likely want to go with a firmer mattress topper to provide extra support.

Winner: Mattress topper

Situation #3: You’re Uncomfortable but Want a Budget-Friendly Solution

Most mattress pads and mattress toppers are within the range of $155-$359. While that’s not a negligible amount of cash, it’s often a more budget-friendly alternative for those looking to make their mattress more comfortable without spending too much. 

The range for mattress pads is typically between $155-$289, while a typical mattress topper is between $199-$359. It’s worth noting that while mattress toppers are a bit more expensive, they’re usually an investment piece that can extend the life of your mattress for up to five years or more. 

Winner: Mattress pad

Situation #4: You’re Sleeping Hot

You’re tossing and turning all night, constantly flipping your pillow over until there isn’t even a cold side anymore — we’ve all been there. While it’s ideal to sleep in a room that’s 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit, that’s not always a possibility.

That’s where cooling technology comes into play. If you’re sleeping hot, you’ll want to look for things like:

cooling properties of mattress toppers
  • Perforations to increase airflow away from your body
  • Graphite, cooling gel, or a similar cooling material
  • Breathable materials such as latex alternative or TENCEL™

Mattress pads are typically made of wool, latex, cotton, or feathers, while mattress toppers are commonly made of cotton or foam. Rather than looking at a mattress pad vs. a mattress topper in this situation, you’ll want to look at the materials it’s made of.

The Casper mattress topper comprises a cooling latex alternative cover and is designed with perforations to draw hot air away from your body.

Winner: Mattress topper

Situation #5: You Want Protection From Spills or Dirt

Mattress pads and mattress toppers are both great options if you want to keep your mattress protected from spills or dirt.

You can think of a mattress pad like the anti-scratch phone screen stickers. While mattress pads provide support from surface-level issues such as spills or dirt, they’re thin enough that a serious accident may still seep through to your mattress.

Meanwhile, mattress toppers are much more similar to glass phone screen protectors. Like a glass screen protector, a mattress topper adds some additional height to your mattress but provides a thick enough layer to prevent most major accidents from reaching your actual mattress.

If you’re looking for protection from spills or dirt, you may want to check out a mattress protector instead. These can be thought of like a phone case, providing a thin layer of protection over the majority of the mattress. 

Winner: Mattress topper

Mattress Pad vs. Topper FAQs

Check out some of the most frequently wondered questions about mattress pads and mattress toppers below.

How Is a Mattress Pad Different From a Mattress Protector?

While mattress protectors serve the primary function of protecting your mattress from spills or stains, the primary purpose of mattress pads and mattress toppers is to provide an extra layer of softness or support to your bed.

Can You Use a Mattress Pad and Topper Together?

mattress pads and mattress toppers as two sides of the same coin — they serve a similar purpose of making your mattress more comfortable, but which one you choose is up to personal preference.

Can I Buy a Memory Foam Mattress Topper Instead of a Memory Foam Mattress?

Memory foam mattress toppers can be a budget-friendly solution to get the feeling of memory foam for an affordable price. However, a memory foam mattress topper isn’t a one-to-one substitute for the feel of a memory foam mattress.

High-quality memory foam mattresses have ergonomic features such as Casper’s Zoned Support™  foam, which has three zones of support to align your spine for all-night comfort. 

Want the comfort of a memory foam mattress at a price that won’t keep you up? Check out the Casper Element for a seriously comfortable sleep at our coziest price.