The major types of mattress toppers
If you have trouble getting a good night's sleep on your mattress, a mattress topper might be the perfect solution. It can boost the comfort level of an old mattress for a fraction of the price of buying a new set. Sometimes called a pillow-top mattress pad, a topper is a cushion you place on top of the mattress to add softness or support. The terms "mattress topper" and "mattress pad" are often used interchangeably, but the latter also refers to a thinner type of cover that's placed over a mattress mainly to protect it from stains. This report focuses strictly on the type of pads used for added cushioning.
Editors of SleepLikeTheDead.com, a leading sleep-product research site, say the most common reason people decide to add toppers to their mattresses is to add new life to an older bed. Innerspring models in particular tend to compress over time, losing their ability to shape themselves to a sleeper's body. A mattress topper can add an extra layer of cushioning, relieving pressure points and enhancing sleep quality.
Some mattress pads -- specifically those made of memory foam or latex -- can also improve the supportiveness of a mattress, which may help reduce back and joint pain. However, editors stress that a mattress topper "is not a miracle worker." While it can make up for some loss of springiness, a mattress topper can't compensate for major problems such as sagging, sinkholes or springs poking through the mattress cover.
Users might also add a mattress topper to adjust the firmness level of a newer mattress. If you buy a new bed and determine after a short time that it's too soft or firm for your taste, adding a topper can adjust the firmness to your liking without the hassle and expense of trading in a nearly new model. Placing a topper on just one side of the bed can also help couples who prefer different levels of mattress firmness.
Just like mattresses, mattress toppers come in many styles. Each one offers something different, and what may be an ideal choice for one person might not work for another. Editors at SleepLikeTheDead.com identify and explain the five major types of mattress toppers:
- Memory foam is the most popular, and it tends to be the most effective at improving mattress comfort. Made from polyurethane, memory foam contains millions of open, spherical cells that respond to pressure and heat. It comes in many thicknesses and densities: In general, a thicker topper will have a softer feel, while a denser foam will provide more support. However, memory foam tends to trap body heat, and the way it cradles the body can make it difficult to move around on. Many memory foam toppers also give off an unpleasant odor when new. They cost anywhere from $75 to $450 depending on size and brand.
- Latex foam is similar to memory foam, but it's made of either natural or synthetic latex rubber. It comes in many grades of thickness and firmness like memory foam, but generally tends to be a bit firmer. It's also somewhat less likely than memory foam to trap body heat and emit an unpleasant odor, but the "new mattress smell" can still be a problem for some users. SleepLikeTheDead.com editors say latex is very good at providing both softness and support, and editors of Allergy Consumer Review recommend it for allergy sufferers because it's resistant to both mold and dust mites. However, latex itself can be an allergen for some people. Latex toppers are also very expensive, ranging from $120 to $705.
- Feather mattress toppers, or featherbeds, are basically cushions stuffed with feathers or down. These add softness to a mattress, but not support. While they don't retain body heat as much as foam toppers do, they tend to compress under a user's weight and must be fluffed or shaken regularly to restore their shape. Other potential problems include feathers poking through the cover and a crinkling noise when you lie on them. Featherbeds are less expensive than foam toppers, typically costing between $55 and $145.
- Fiberbeds filled with a soft polyester fiber are a synthetic alternative to featherbeds. They can be a good choice for those who are allergic to feathers. Like natural featherbeds, they add softness but tend to compress with use. This type of topper is generally the least expensive, priced between $40 and $95.
- Wool mattress toppers are good at softening a firm mattress, but they don't add support. Their natural fibers tend to keep users warm in winter and cool in summer, and wool toppers are very durable. They can be pricey, however, with the most popular brands costing anywhere from $110 to $340.
While there are no recent professional tests of mattress toppers, there's an abundance of user feedback at sites such as Amazon.com, Walmart.com and Viewpoints.com. Moreover, editors at SleepLikeTheDead.com analyze thousands of owner reviews and break down the data to provide specific information about different mattress topper types and brands.
Our research turns up three main factors to consider when shopping for a mattress topper. Since a topper's job is to improve the comfort of a mattress, we give particular importance to how well each pad cushions and supports the body, as well as such criteria as whether it retains body heat. Yet a mattress topper can't enhance comfort if you can't get it onto your bed, so we also consider how easy it is to unpack the pad and keep it in place on the bed, as well as any problems with odor.
Finally, a good mattress topper needs to stay comfortable over time, so we examine how well each model holds up with use and whether it needs special maintenance to keep it in good shape. Based on these factors, we identify the best mattress toppers of each type and list their pros and cons. Which one is right for you depends on your personal needs and preferences.