If you’re reading this guide, you’ve probably been thinking that your bed needs some changes. Maybe you’re struggling with back pain, waking up in a sweat, or dealing with a mattress that’s too firm.
One way of trying to remedy these issues is with a mattress topper. Rather than investing in a whole new mattress, you can place a topper on your current mattress and reshape your sleeping surface.
But there’s more to it than just picking out any given mattress topper and calling it a day. If you’re trying to adjust the feel of your mattress, you want a topper that won’t cause you to sleep hot. And if you’re already having issues with sleeping hot, a cooling mattress topper might be able to help.
Scroll through this guide to learn more about mattress toppers and key background when you’re shopping for them or click here to jump straight to our recommendations for the best cooling mattress toppers.
What is a Mattress Topper?
A mattress topper is exactly what the name implies: a product that goes on top of your mattress. The goal of the mattress topper is usually to modify the way that the mattress feels or the amount of support that the mattress provides.
You may come across other terminology, for example cooling mattress pads or mattress protectors. While there can be some similarities among these products, there are important differences to know about. Neither a mattress pad nor a mattress protector have the same goal of significantly altering the feel of the mattress. In the table below, we’ve detailed the key comparisons between these products.
|Mattress Topper||Mattress Pad||Mattress Protector|
|Where It Goes||Only on top of mattress||Fits around the entire mattress||Around the entire mattress|
|Usual Thickness||1/2″ to 3″||1/8″ – 1″||1/8″ – 1″|
|Usual Materials||Foam, latex, wool, down, fiber, synthetics||Cotton, polyester, rayon, down||Polyester, rayon, cotton blends|
|Level of Protection||Low-to-medium||Medium||High|
|Primary Uses||To alter support, firmness, or comfort level of mattress||To add light protection against spills and stains||To provide robust protection for mattress, including from bedroom allergens|
What is a Cooling Mattress Topper?
A cooling mattress topper is intended to remedy the issue of heat retention that can occur with many mattresses and traditional mattress toppers. Overheating can happen for several reasons:
- Limited airflow: the more that your body is pressed up against a mattress, the less room for air to move around the body and cool you down naturally. Over the course of the night, this can cause your body temperature to increase to a level that can cause sweating or waking up in the night.
- Heat retention by the mattress material: every type of material has different properties when it comes to temperature. Some are very breathable and do not retain much heat. Other types may collect heat throughout the night and create escalating issues with sleeping hot.
A cooling mattress topper can help with both of these issues. It may have a different feel that allows airflow. It may also be composed on materials that are more breathable. Keep in mind that while some of these products may be marketed as cooling mattress pads, a cooling mattress topper is generally a more accurate way to describe them.
Benefits and Drawbacks of Using a Cooling Mattress Topper
A cooling mattress topper can come in handy in several contexts, but there can also be downsides to using them. The table below helps to explore the benefits and downsides of a cooling mattress topper.
With a new layer often comes an increase in comfort. If your mattress was already comfortable, the topper may enhance this even more. And if your mattress was uncomfortable, a topper can offer the kinds of changes (such as in firmness or amount of support) that can dramatically affect your satisfaction with the mattress. Moreover, sleeping hot is uncomfortable! By reducing heat retention, a cooling mattress topper can be a tremendous boon to your overall comfort.
Cools Things Down
If your mattress is causing you to overheat, a cooling mattress topper may offer needed relief. If you choose wisely, you can find a topper that meets all your support needs while at the same time resolving problems related to heat retention.
Even though a cooling mattress topper isn’t built with the goal of protecting your mattress, it does provide one additional layer that separates the mattress from allergens, crumbs, and spilled liquids.
By adding a whole new layer, a topper decreases the amount of wear-and-tear on the top of your existing mattress. Since this top comfort layer is often the first to break down, adding a topper can enhance the useful life of your mattress. This is also important in that it can put the brakes on sagging, which can lead to lower back problems. For sleepers who weigh more than 230 pounds, this reduction in impact on the top of the mattress can be particularly valuable.
A Lower Cost Option
We all know that buying a brand-new mattress can be a major expense. This is especially true for mattresses that include advanced cooling features. By opting for a cooling mattress topper instead, you can reap huge savings while still upgrading your daily sleep experience.
Proper spinal alignment is essential to avoiding back pain and discomfort. When you use a mattress topper, it can often help to resolve spinal misalignment caused by a lack of support from your existing mattress. The result can be a noticeable reduction in pain.
Multiplies Your Options
With many mattresses, you’re stuck with whatever the default design is with regard to firmness, support, or the thickness of the comfort layer. A mattress topper remedies that by letting you in effect install a new comfort layer more to your liking. Furthermore, in some cases, this customization can be a huge benefit for couples. Depending on the size of your bed, you can purchase and install different toppers that let each side of the bed to have a feel more aligned with each individual’s preferences. Another benefit to this is reducing the amount of motion that is felt on one side of the bed from the movement of the person on the other side.
Can’t Save a Mattress That is Beyond Repair
A mattress topper can go a long way to freshening up the feel of a mattress, but sometimes a mattress is just too worn down. If the mattress is already sagging or giving out, a mattress topper usually can’t resolve the underlying problem and may just be throwing good money after bad.
Reduction in Edge Support
It’s very rare to find a mattress topper with reinforced edge support. Consequently, a topper may be more inclined to pose problems when it comes to sitting on the edge of the bed or even sleeping right near the outermost part of the topper.
Toppers are not always the exact same size as your mattress. In fact, it’s not uncommon for them to be a bit smaller, which can affect how well your sheets fit. For some people, an awkward fit of the topper may be noticeable and bothersome.
Movement of the Topper
Because a topper isn’t affixed directly to the mattress, it can move around on top of the mattress. This isn’t an issue with all toppers, and the movement may not be significant. But for some people, it can affect comfort and may also be inconvenient if they are constantly having to adjust the positioning of the topper.
Odor and Offgassing
When a mattress topper is first unboxed, it can give off a distinct smell. This primarily affects foam mattress toppers that have been compressed for easier shipping and delivery. Though the smell normally goes away quickly (ranging from hours to days), it can be offputting to some customers.
What to Consider in a Cooling Mattress Topper
If you’re trying to find an optimal cooling mattress topper, you’ll want to consider a handful of different issues. Each of these factors plays a role in identifying an ideal mattress topper.
- Topper composition: each kind of topper has certain benefits and downsides. There is no one “best” type of topper, and becoming informed about your options can help narrow down your choices. When considering this, take into account your needs in terms of support, bounce, and feel. Once you select one or two types that are most likely to work for you, you can focus on the brands or models that fit your budget and other preferences.
- Topper size: you can find toppers in a wide range of thicknesses, and it’s easier to comparison shop if you make sure that you’re looking at toppers of the same thickness. Elements you’ll want to take into account include the height of your mattress, how deep your sheets are, your sleeping position, and your weight. People who have more pronounced pressure points and who weigh over 230 pounds usually have better results with a thicker topper.
- Foam density: this applies primarily if you are looking at a foam mattress topper. Some people conflate density and firmness, but density is actually more closely related to the durability of the mattress topper. High-density foams last longer without sagging or wearing down. Be aware, though, that a denser foam is heavier and may be more challenging to move and position. This may make a high-density topper tedious and superfluous if it is only going to be used rarely or if it is going to be used in a situation when it is regularly taken on an off (e.g, with a futon or fold-out sofa).
- Firmness: the comfort of a mattress is determined in large part by its firmness. Mattress firmness can be described using terms like Plush, Firm, Medium-Firm, etc. and/or using a firmness scale with numbers 1-10 (with 10 being the firmest). Firmness is discussed in much more detail in our Guide to Mattress Firmness.
- Durability: another important consideration is how much use you hope to get out of a topper. If it’s something that you only expect to use every now-and-again, durability may not be a primary concern. But if you’re planning to use it every night, you’ll want to put a greater emphasis on how likely the topper is to hold up well with daily use.
- Hypoallergenic features: an extra feature on some toppers, including cooling mattress toppers, is a hypoallergenic cover. Since dust mites and other allergens can build up in your mattress, a cover of this type can help to reduce respiratory symptoms for some people. Keep in mind also that many toppers are made of latex, wool, or down, which can also provoke allergic reactions in some people.
- Motion isolation: the term motion transfer refers to the degree to which movement on one part of the mattress is felt on another part of the mattress. For couples, a mattress topper with strong motion isolation properties can help prevent disruptions during the night.
- Intimacy: some mattress topper materials may interfere with sex by inhibiting motion on top of the bed. This most commonly happens when people sink deeply into the mattress topper and feel “stuck” in the bed. Toppers with more resilience or bounce are less likely to have this issue.
- Sleeping position: the optimal composition, thickness, and firmness of your mattress topper can be affected by your sleeping position. Sleepers in almost all positions can have issues with toppers that are too firm or too plush. In general, a medium, medium-firm, or firm mattress works best for most sleeping positions.
- Warranty: though mattress toppers do not usually have warranties that are nearly as long as actual mattresses, you can still benefit if a topper has a basic warranty that covers you against any defective materials.
Types of Cooling Mattress Toppers
You can find many different types of cooling mattress toppers on the market, and there are pros and cons for all of them.
A common material to find in mattress toppers is memory foam (technically known as viscoelastic foam). Memory foam is excellent at providing support because it compresses its shape to fit the body’s weight. This means that support is tailored to your body. The downside to memory foam is that this contouring can cause airflow and heat retention problems. A cooling gel mattress topper has gel — either in infused beads or as swirled material — mixed in with the foam. Gel can also be infused into other foams, like polyfoams, that are technically not viscoelastic foam. The purpose of the gel is to try to improve the breathability of the foam and limit the buildup of heat. Many people find that the gel-infused foams offer a significant benefit in terms of cooling vis-a-vis traditional memory foam, but some people still may find that they sleeps hot.
Latex is a type of synthetic or natural rubber. It is poured into layers that can be used as a mattress topper. Latex is responsive enough to provide some contouring to the body, but it is also resilient. This means that when weight is removed from the topper, it springs back to its original shape rapidly. The combination of these factors — less contouring and more bounce — tends to help latex sleep cooler than traditional memory foam. For those same reasons, though, latex may not provide an equivalent amount of support and pressure point relief.
Some mattress toppers are made with wool. While some associate wool with warm clothes, it is a very breathable material and thus avoids many of the heat retention issues associated with other materials. Wool is also naturally moisture-wicking. The downsides to wool toppers are their price and their lack of supportiveness. Wool, especially quality wool or organic wool, often is quite expensive. In addition, wool does not offer the same kind of proportional responsiveness found with other materials like memory foam or latex.
Down refers to feathers, and these are typically from ducks or geese. Sometimes down mattress toppers are also called featherbeds. If you’ve ever used a down blanket, you know that they can have powerful heat retention capabilities. Though down often feels very plush, it won’t offer much responsiveness, and it also probably will not resolve issues relating to sleeping hot. Down also can be a very costly material.
Fiber mattress toppers usually employ a polyester blend or down-alternative that tries to capture some of the feel of down but without using feathers. Depending on the material that is used, fiberbeds (another name for these toppers) may also avoid the heat retention issues associated with down. They also are usually less expensive than comparable down toppers. However, they can become lumpy with regular use and rarely are able to offer the kind of pinpoint pressure relief and support that comes with other topper types.
Active Cooling Toppers
These involve installing a fan or water-based cooling system on your mattress. The fan-based systems blow air into the topper layer, and the water-based systems use heated or cooled water. These systems can be controlled with a remote or your phone, allowing you to adjust the temperature in real-time. While these systems offer major benefits as far as cooling goes, they also have major drawbacks. First, they are generally very expensive. Second, they rely on electric components that, if they break, can prevent the effective use of the topper. Third, the gains in temperature regulation typically come with losses when it comes to responsiveness and overall support.
With so many toppers out there, sometimes you just want some clear recommendations, and that’s what we’ll provide in this section. These 3 toppers aren’t listed in any particular order, but we’re confident that you’ll have a cooler and more comfortable night’s sleep with any of them.
This topper makes the cut because it captures the supportiveness and pressure relief of memory foam without the problem of heat retention. It does this through the specialized cover with phase-change materials (PCM) that are designed to respond to your body temperature to prevent overheating.
This topper is available from Amazon and some other department stores and retailers.
Material: Memory foam with phase-change quilted, polyester filled cover
Price range: $152 – $267
Firmness: Medium (5 on typical firmness scale)
Density: Not listed
Available sizes: Twin, Full, Queen, King, California King
Return policy: Returns are subject to retailer’s return policy
Warranty: No specific warranty policy is listed for this product.
Sleep on Latex Pure Green 100% Natural Latex Mattress Topper
The Sleep on Latex Pure Green mattress topper is built with top-notch latex and provides both supportiveness and bounce. Because of its resilience, this topper does not restrict airflow around the body and can facilitate a cooler night’s sleep.
Material: Dunlop latex
Price range: $99 – $389 (depending on size, thickness, and firmness)
Thickness: offered in 1”, 2”, and 3” options
Firmness: Soft (20 ILD), Medium (30 ILD), Firm (44 ILD).
Density: 5 PCF
Available sizes: Twin, Twin XL, Full, Queen, King, California King
Return policy: the topper can be returned for a full refund within 30 days.
Warranty: 5-year warranty covering defects in manufacturing or materials
ExceptionalSheets’ Bamboo Mattress Topper
This is a fiber mattress topper with bamboo-based rayon as its top layer. The material inside this cover is a down-alternative fiber that provides softness and comfort without the heaviness and heat retention of down.
This topper is available online from Amazon and from many other online retailers.
Price range: $89.99 – $119.99
Thickness: approximately 2”
Firmness: Medium (4-5 on firmness scale)
Available sizes: Twin, Twin XL, Full, Queen, King, California King
Return policy: when purchased from Amazon, the company’s typically 30-day return policy applies, and the company also offers a full money-back guarantee
Warranty: No specific warranty policy is listed, but the company offers a customer satisfaction guarantee
After You Buy
Now that you’ve found a mattress topper, you can start thinking about what to do when it arrives. Here are a few pieces of that process:
- Give it some air (if needed): if you buy a memory foam topper, it may have some initial smell when you unbox it. We recommend leaving the topper out, without a sheet, for a few hours to allow the smell to dissipate.
- Put it in place: this part tends to be pretty easy as you simply need to place the topper on top of your current mattress. Check the alignment of the corners and edges and then put your sheets over the mattress and topper. Tries to get your sheets as tight as possible to help hold the mattress and topper in place.
- Take care of your topper: you probably won’t need to do all that much maintenance on your topper, but you may want to adjust its positioning anytime you take your sheets off the bed. If you notice that it has moved, you can re-align it then as well. It can be useful to wash your sheets frequently as this helps to keep allergens and irritants (dust, dirt, sweat, etc.) from taking hold in the topper. If you want to wash the topper itself, be sure to only do so in accordance with the specific instructions from the manufacturer.