Mattress Pad VS. Mattress Topper: What’s The Difference?

Take one step into any bedding store and you’ll see just how many ways there are to enhance your sleeping experience. Mattress protectors, mattress pads, and mattress toppers are just a few healthy and comfortable ways to make sure you get a good night’s sleep (and to increase the lifespan of your mattress).

Check out our best-reviewed mattress protectors, here.

If mattress protectors, pads, and toppers were all members of a family, mattress pads and toppers would be siblings, and the mattress protector would be their cousin.

All three types of bed products are made to help enhance your mattress, but pads and toppers have more in common with each other than they do with mattress protectors.

Mattress Pad

Mattress pads add an extra (thinner) layer of comfort to your mattress and are usually attached with a fitted sheet design or with straps that hold it to the mattress.

The main goal of any mattress pad is to add a comfortable layer over the surface of your mattress. You may need this for several reasons:

  • You need additional support and/or comfort or customization for medical reasons
  • Your mattress is too firm – you can add a mattress pad or topper to adjust the firmness
  • Your current mattress is older and no longer comfortable but you are not ready to replace it
  • You want to waterproof/protect your bed but you don’t want a mattress protector
  • Your mattress protector makes noise and you want to muffle it with a comfortable mattress pad

Some mattress pads come with waterproof properties and prevent dust mites and allergies. Others are made from materials that merely create a more comfortable sleep environment but offers no mattress protection.

Mattress Topper

The mattress topper is like an upgraded – often thicker – version of a mattress pad. They are both designed to make your current mattress more comfortable.

Mattress toppers usually sit on the top of your mattress (some do have straps to attach them to your mattress).

Since they tend to be on the thicker side, mattress toppers can be filled with a variety of materials. You may see toppers in the following materials (among others):

  • Down
  • Foam
  • Memory Foam
  • Gel Memory Foam
  • Cotton
  • Fiberfill (polyester cluster puffs)
  • Latex

Some mattress brands make their own mattress toppers. For example, Tempur-Pedic makes their own topper filled with “TEMPUR material.”

Bottom Line

When it comes down to choosing between a mattress pad or a mattress topper, it really is a personal choice and all about how much you want to change the surface of your bed.

You may choose a mattress topper over a mattress pad if you are trying to change the entire surface feel of your mattress.

For example, if you have an innerspring mattress but would like to change it up, you could consider a memory foam mattress topper.

On the other hand, if you enjoy your mattress surface – but would like some added comfort or just an additional layer between your mattress and your sheets – you could choose a cotton mattress pad.


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Katie Golde

Katie manages the day to day operations of the Mattress Clarity news site and reviews sleep products in addition to writing and editing sleep news.She hails from Austin, where she lives with her growing family. She is a Certified Sleep Science Coach and has a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University and has a background in health and science content. Her work can be found in print and online publications like Discover Magazine, USA Today and The Huffington Post.

9 thoughts on “Mattress Pad VS. Mattress Topper: What’s The Difference?”

  1. I’m a college student sleeping on a pull-out couch to save space in my room and it’s really firm and hard. I have a memory foam pad and it helps but it’s still really firm and there are points that stick out. Would a mattress toper help, or maybe even a second pad, and can you/should you combine the two? Thank you

  2. I have an adjustable bed. Mattress is getting saggy. I have had back surgery with placement of rods and screws in lower bacl. I need extra support. Which topper should I get?

  3. Do mattress toppers change the support or spinal alignment from an encased coil mattress? Would a topper on an encased coil mattress be bad for the growth/development of a 5 year old? Many thanks!

    • It wouldn’t change the support that much. It would change the overall comfort. It’s typically used if you think the mattress is too firm and you want to soften it up a little bit. It should be fine for a 5 year old.

  4. Our mattress is still in pretty good condition; we bought the mattress topper for added comfort.
    Since the original mattress pad is still in near new condition, discarding it feels wasteful. If we decide to continue using it, should it go between the mattress and the topper —or on top of the topper?

  5. We have a foam type mattress that is too firm and causes back ache. What type pad or topper do you recommend

    Thank You

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