Mattress Pad vs Mattress Protector

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Not long ago, shopping for a mattress and accessories to go with it was simple. As the bedding industry has become more saturated and technologically-advanced, that world has transformed into one of choice and, for some, overwhelm.

It can be confusing to figure out the differences between products and brands, even when it comes to mattress pads and toppers. If you need to understand what is a mattress pad, what is a mattress protector, the pros and cons of each, and which might be right for you, you’ll find the information you need in this guide.

What is a Mattress Pad?

A mattress pad goes on your mattress to add some comfort to your bed. It usually lays between your bedding and mattress and covers just the surface. While a new mattress will usually feel comfortable immediately and not require additional padding, a mattress pad could make a firm bed feel a little plusher. Mattress pads also often come with hypoallergenic and waterproof properties which are additional reasons to consider one.

The main goal of mattress pads and toppers is to increase the comfort or adjust the firmness of the sleeping surface.

Mattress toppers will generally cost more than mattress pads, as they’re filled with more material. The fill of toppers can vary and include anything from down to memory foam, cotton, latex, and more. If you’re deciding between a mattress topper and a mattress pad, it will come down to how much you want to change the feel of the surface of your mattress as well as your budget. A topper will cost roughly $50 to $400, and a pad will cost roughly $50 to $100.

Mattress Pad Benefits

Should you opt for a mattress pad instead of a mattress protector? Let’s look at some of the advantages of this:

  • If you can’t afford a new bed yet , a mattress pad could help you make your bed a little more comfortable in the meantime.
  • They need additional support and/or comfort or customization for medical reasons
  • Their mattress is too firm – they can add a mattress pad or topper to adjust the firmness
  • Their current mattress is older and no longer comfortable but they are not ready to replace it
  • They want to waterproof/protect their bed but they don’t want a mattress protector
  • Their mattress protector makes noise and they want to muffle it with a comfortable mattress pad
  • Pads and protectors help keep contaminants like allergens and bacteria off the mattress’ surface.

Mattress pads tend to cost more than protectors since they usually have more filling. If you want to add a mattress pad to your bed specifically for comfort reasons, try to find one that has a thick design. Also read user reviews to determine that the pad actually has a plush feel, because some of them have only a small amount of filling.

Some Drawbacks Of Mattress Pads And Toppers To Consider:

  • Many pads and toppers don’t protect against spills and stains.
  • Thin, more affordable pads won’t improve softness or comfort to a noticeable degree.
  • Mattress pads tend to be a little more expensive than mattress protectors but both can be found in a range of prices that fit most budgets.
  • Both pads and toppers are limited with regard to how much they can change a bed’s feel, especially when compared to a brand new mattress.

What is a Mattress Protector?

You can probably guess what mattress protectors do by their name: they’re designed to protect your bed. Mattress protectors come with a number of benefits and most of them involve preventing stains or damage to your mattress. They come in a wide range of prices but usually cost around $20 to $30.

Mattress protectors are cotton or polyester sheets designed to keep a mattress’ surface clean. Usually one inch or less thick and less than five pounds heavy, they’re much thinner and lightweight than pads and toppers. Protectors are typically secured with elastic, like a fitted sheet, but some will zip over the mattress and are called “full encasement” protectors.

Mattress Protector Benefits

Most protectors are waterproof, helping wick perspiration and moisture away from the mattress. A protector won’t alter the feel of the bed in a significant way since its primary purpose is to keep allergens, dust mites, and bacteria from harming the mattress. Here are a few reasons someone might invest in a mattress protector:

  • Serve as contaminant barrier, protecting against dust mites, bacteria, and water.
  • Most are waterproof or water-resistant, shielding the mattress from perspiration, urine, spills, and other liquids.
  • Keep mattresses from retaining moisture that could lead to mold in humid regions.
  • Can aid in keeping mattress toppers in place.
  • Most are hypoallergenic and won’t trigger sleeper allergies.
  • Help prevent bed bugs infestations.
  • They extend the life of your mattress, protecting it from the various issues and elements listed above.
  • Some mattress protectors come with specialized fabric and materials that help breathability and temperature regulation while people sleep

Mattress protectors are generally less expensive than mattress pads and toppers. Buyers can expect to spend roughly $15 to $70 on a protector. It’s important to note that a protector will not improve the feel or comfort of your existing mattress.

Some mattress protectors have a bit of additional quilting that provides some extra comfort. Keep in mind, though, that mattress protectors are designed to provide a barrier against damaging elements and not to be comfortable. If you’re looking for something to make your bed more comfortable, you’d be better off going with a mattress pad or topper.

Some Drawbacks Of Mattress Protectores To Consider:

  • Depending on the materials the protector is made with, it may sleep hot.
  • Protectors with waterproof qualities may cause a crinkling noise when you move around at night.
  • Protectors should be washed weekly and, as a result, can degrade quickly.

Mattress Protection

The most important reason for a layer under your sheet and above your mattress has nothing to do with how you sleep; it’s much more pragmatic than that.  Most mattresses come with guarantees, but when you read the fine print of that warranty you will see that those warranties or guarantees require steps on your part--such as a clean, stain-free mattress.

Even if you do not eat in bed and consider yourself a sheet washing neatfreak, sheets do very little to protect the mattress itself.  For that, you need another layer. At the bare minimum you need a mattress protector.

Before you worry that mattress protectors sound like vinyl and resemble a urine guard for children, you should know that materials have greatly improved.  Today’s mattress protectors can:

  • Protect a mattress from stains or discoloration
  • Prevent mites and other allergens
  • Prevent bed bugs
  • Maintain softness, flexibility and breathability

Some mattress protectors do offer some layer of padding, but that is not their primary purpose. Use a mattress protector if you have allergies, a night sweater (or bed wetter), or if you do not plan to use a mattress pad.

Mattress Enhancement

Mattress pads come in a tremendous number of materials and serve a variety of purposes.  One of the main purposes of a mattress pad is to provide enhanced comfort. While you want your mattress to provide the comfort you desire, you may use a mattress pad if:

  • You wish to have a “flippable” mattress, without much padding, and prefer the mattress pad to provide the cushioning.
  • You wish to extend the life of your mattress for the time being, before purchasing a new mattress.
  • You like the feel of mattress pads over the padding that mattresses provide.
  • You have different needs to meet in the same bed, such as when one partner does not want a mattress pad and the other side of the bed does.

If you have two sleepers seeking two different levels of cushioning, it can make for a slightly “lopsided” looking bed, but it is rarely actually noticeable.  If you do plan to cushion only one side of the bed, though, do also use a mattress protector, so that both sides of the mattress are kept clean.

Mattress pads can do everything that a mattress protector can do, so there is generally no need for both. Use a mattress pad if it feels better to you, such as wanting a layer of memory foam, being fond of egg crates, or customizing your mattress experience.

Final Verdict

Mattress protectors exist to protect your bed against allergens, liquids, and stains. They can also help protect it against bed bugs, dust mites, and bacteria. Mattress pads can give your bed a little extra comfort and protection, although they won’t be as protective as a waterproof mattress protector.

Do I Need Both?

No, slepeers probably don’t need both a mattress protector and a mattress pad. There are some amazing mattress protectors and mattress pads on the market that do double duty and are able to offer both padded comfort and protection.

Deciding which is best for someone should start with their priorities. Do they need to protect their mattress from frequent accidents or do they suffer from serious allergens? Consider a mattress protector. But if you are simply looking for another layer of comfort for your mattress surface, consider a mattress pad.

Which is Right for You?

The decision between a mattress pad or topper and a mattress protector will ultimately come down to your needs. If you’ve recently purchased a new mattress and want to protect your investment, a mattress protector can do that for you. If you have an old bed or are unhappy with your current mattress’ comfort or firmness level, a mattress pad or topper in the appropriate thickness and material can help improve your sleep experience.

10 Frequently Asked Questions

1. How Often Should Mattress Protector Be Washed?

At least every two months, but more if you have pets, have allergies, of if the protector has suffered any spills.

2. Do You Put Fitted Sheet Over Mattress Topper?

Sheets with deep pockets can typically accommodate up to 22 inches in height, while regular fitted sheets may accommodate as little as 11 inches. If you use a regular fitted sheet with your mattress topper, you will not be able to pull the elasticized portion of the fitted sheet to the bottom of your mattress.

3. How Long Do Mattress Protectors Last?

Using a mattress protector can extend the life of your mattress by five to 10 years, depending on the quality of the mattress and the protector.

4. Do Mattress Protectors Make You Sweat?

The waterproof barrier provided by the mattress protector can make some people feel hot or sweaty, especially if they are already prone to overheating whilst sleeping. In the other hand, draw sheets don't have a waterproof layer but instead absorb any dampness caused by sweating.

5. Do Bed Bug Mattress Covers Really Work?

They're called mattress encasements and yes, they do work If you get the right kind of encasement and if it's properly installed. A properly designed encasement completely envelops and seals the mattress and box spring, trapping bed bugs inside. The bed bugs are then unable to feed and will eventually starve.

6. Does a Waterproof Mattress Cover Protect Against Bed Bugs?

Plastic mattress covers, or waterproof mattress protectors, are designed to protect your mattress from liquid spills. Even though bed bugs can't chew through plastic, they don't need to. Waterproof mattress protectors don't encase the whole mattress, so bed bugs can crawl underneath.

7. How Often Should You Change Your Pillowcase?

Dermatologists recommend changing your pillowcase and bedding at least once a week, they suggest you do it even more if you have acne, oily-prone skin. Some even suggest using a fresh pillowcase everyday, particularly for bad acne.

8. Are Waterproof Mattress Protectors Safe?

Polyurethane on its own can be relatively safe, depending on how it's formulated. If you see a waterproof mattress protector made with polyurethane plastic, you'll need to dig deeper to determine its safety. It's difficult to know if a plastic is off-gassing, but sometimes the toxic smell will give it away.

9. Can you machine wash mattress protectors?

There is nothing bad like having clean sheets on a dirty mattress protector. You will need to follow the care label for the specific cleaning directions but in general terms, most mattress protectors can be machine washed in warm water and then tumbled low to dry.

10. Can you sleep on a mattress without sheets?

The short answer is yes. Because almost all of us sweat while sleeping and bedsheets protect the mattress from making contact with your sweat. Also, sleeping on a mattress with no sheets exposes the mattress to grime, dust mites, dirt, and dead skin cells.

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