Mattress Pad vs Mattress Topper: What’s the Difference?

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If you want to enhance and protect your mattress, a pad or topper could be the perfect accessory for better mattress comfort and longevity. But what’s the difference between a mattress topper and a mattress pad, and which will give you the best results? 

Mattress Pad vs Mattress Toppers

While they may sound similar, a mattress pad and a mattress topper are two distinctly different accessories for your bed. Let’s break down the differences, purposes and pros and cons of each.

What is a Mattress Pad 

A mattress pad is a thinner mattress accessory designed to increase mattress longevity and enhance your mattress’s comfort levels slightly. Mattress pads are slimmer than mattress toppers; you’ll usually find a mattress pad in a 1″-2″ depth. Some mattress pads come with a skirt to wrap securely around your mattress.

A mattress pad on a mattress

Pros and Cons

  • Pro: Mattress pads can protect your mattress against wear, tear, dust and spills
  • Pro: Some mattress pads may have temperature-regulating features
  • Pro: Mattress pads are thinner than toppers and usually cost less
  • Pro: Mattress pads may be machine-washable, depending on material
  • Con: Mattress pads will not change the comfort level of your mattress
  • Con: Thinner pads may wear out faster than a thicker topper

Mattress pads provide a small layer of cushioning and are meant to protect your mattress against wear, tear, dust and damage from spills or accidents. While the material of your mattress pad may influence your sleeping comfort somewhat, a pad is more of a protective accessory than a comfort accessory. 

Mattress pads come in a wide variety of materials, from natural materials such as wool or cotton to synthetic or even technologically-advanced materials that may help regulate temperature as you sleep.

  • Memory foam pads may offer additional cushioning for joints
  • Latex mattress pads provide a buoyant sleeping experience
  • Cotton mattress pads can help regulate temperature; may be machine-washable
  • Wool mattress pads may regulate temperature and provide a soft cushion
  • Feather mattress pads can add a luxury “feather-bed” feel to your mattress

What is a Mattress Topper

If you want to enhance or even change the feel of your mattress, a topper may be the best accessory for your bed. Mattress toppers are thicker than a mattress pad, usually coming in at 2″-4″ depth. A mattress topper can help firm up a mattress that feels too soft or add more cushion to a mattress that feels too firm. 

A mattress topper on a mattress

Pros and Cons

  • Pro: Change the feel of your bed for added comfort
  • Pro: Some materials can help regulate body temperature
  • Pro: Protect your mattress against wear, tear, dust, spills and accidents
  • Pro: Choose from a variety of materials to enhance comfort and temperature
  • Con: More costly than a mattress pad
  • Con: Bulkier, heavier toppers are harder to move and clean

A mattress topper is larger and heavier than a mattress pad; it’s almost like a “mini-mattress” you can use to alter the feel of your bed. The best use of a mattress topper is to soften up a mattress that is too firm or add more support to a mattress that is too soft. Depending on the material, your topper can also impact body temperature more than a mattress pad. 

Because mattress toppers are heavier and bulkier than mattress pads, they aren’t often machine washable and can be more difficult to clean. If you choose a mattress topper for your bed, you may consider protecting it with a mattress protector, which is often waterproof and designed to resist spills. A mattress protector can be layered on top of a pad or topper.

  • Memory foam toppers can offer a thicker layer of cushioning for joints; special cooling memory foam toppers can help you sleep cooler
  • Latex foam toppers can offer a buoyant feel, hypoallergenic support and cooler sleeping environment than memory foam
  • Wool and cotton mattress toppers can help regulate temperature, keeping you cool in the summer and warm in the winter
  • Feather toppers can add a luxurious fluffy feather-top or feather-bed feel to your mattress

Difference between Mattress Pads and Toppers

Both mattress toppers and mattress pads can protect and increase the longevity of your mattress by reducing wear, tear and damage from spills and accidents. A mattress topper and a mattress pad can also provide extra cushioning and, depending on the material, alter the feel of your bed to some degree. 

Mattress PadMattress Topper
UseProtect your mattress against wear, tear, damage, and spills. • Add a slight layer of cushioning to your mattress.Enhance or completely change the feel of your mattress. • Protect your mattress against wear, tear, spills and damage.
FeelLike your existing mattress with a slight extra softness or cushioning. Materials such as memory foam or latex will impact the feel.Completely change the feel of your mattress, depending on material choice. Sink into a memory foam or feather top or float buoyantly across a latex topper.
DurabilityThinner than a mattress topper, it may not last as long. Longevity will depend on use and care.Thicker than a mattress pad, will likely be more durable and longer-laster, depending on use and care.
CostMore affordable than a mattress topper. Mattress pads are thinner and less costly.Costs more than a mattress pad but less than a new mattress. Think of it as a “mini-mattress.”
CareMany are machine washable, depending on the materials. Consult label for individual care instructions.Heavier and bulkier, usually requires spot-cleaning. Consult label for individual care instructions

Which Should You Choose?

A mattress pad provides a thin layer of cushion that can slightly alter your mattress’s comfort, while a mattress topper provides a thicker cushioning that can significantly alter the comfort, temperature or feel of your mattress. 

If you want to make a too-firm mattress softer or add more support to an overly soft mattress, a mattress topper can help you hit that Goldilocks zone of “just right.” If your mattress is already perfectly comfortable in firmness and temperature, a pad can protect it and ensure it lasts longer without overly changing the feel.


Mattress pads and toppers are similar in function and material. The biggest difference between the two is the size of the accessory. A slimmer mattress pad will primarily protect while offering some slight adjustments to comfort, while a thicker mattress topper will protect and significantly alter the feel of your mattress, depending on its material.

If you love the feel of your existing mattress, consider a mattress pad to help protect and extend its life. Your mattress pad can also add a small level of extra support, softness or temperature regulation. 

  • Add a memory foam pad for more cushioning
  • Add a latex pad for more “floaty” buoyancy
  • Add a feather pad for more luxury
  • Add a cotton pad for cushion and easy care

If you want to change the feel of your current mattress without investing in a new bed at the moment, a mattress topper can help you customize and personalize your sleeping experience. 

  • Add a memory foam topper for support for achy joints
  • Add a latex foam topper to feel supported and sleep cooler than memory foam
  • Add a feather topper for a deeply luxurious feather-bed feel
  • Add a wool and cotton topper for extra cushioning and temperature regulation

The Takeaway

The right mattress accessory can help you enhance and preserve the life of your mattress. When shopping for a mattress pad vs. mattress topper, the biggest considerations will be how much you want to spend and how far you want to go to alter the feel of your mattress.



Is a mattress pad the same thing as a topper?

No, a mattress pad and a mattress topper are two different accessories. While both will help preserve and protect your mattress, a pad is thinner and offers slight cushioning, while a topper is thicker and can more significantly alter the comfort of your mattress.

Do I need a mattress pad with a mattress topper? 

If you want to protect your mattress topper or mattress pad, a mattress protector can be a wise addition to further protect against spills and accidents. Stacking toppers and pads together may not be a good idea: instead, seek a topper that offers the right cushion and materials for your comfort.

Is a mattress topper good for back pain?

A mattress topper can be a great solution if your current mattress isn’t relieving back pain. Your mattress may be aggravating your back if it is too firm, too soft, or made from a material that’s not supportive. The best mattress toppers for back pain will help improve your sleep experience by adding more cushion and supportive comfort to your bed.

Melissa Zimmerman

Melissa Zimmerman is a writer with a passion for sleep and wellness. When she's not researching and writing about health and wellness, you can find her reading books and spending time with her son and dogs in her Northern California home. Connect with Melissa at