When you’re not getting a great night’s sleep, it’s natural to start thinking about changing up your mattress, and we’ve obviously got you covered for all you need to know on that front. But in many cases, there’s another option: a mattress topper. A mattress topper can change the feel and support level of your bed and often at a fraction of the cost of a brand new mattress.

In this guide, we’ll give background about mattress toppers, the different types that are on the market, their benefits and drawbacks, and much more. Keep scrolling to read through this information, or click here to skip straight to our recommendations for the best mattress toppers.

What is a Mattress Topper?

A mattress topper is a layer placed directly on top of the mattress and is designed to alter the feel of the mattress.

A mattress topper is distinct from a mattress pad or a mattress protector. A mattress pad is simply a thin layer that goes over the top of the mattress and is designed to give one extra line of defense against spills or stains. A mattress protector is typically a product that fully encases the mattress rather than just going over the top of it. Mattress protectors are often composed of hardier materials and are often waterproof and/or hypoallergenic.

You can compare and contrast mattress toppers, pads, and protectors using the information in the following table:

Mattress Topper Mattress Pad Mattress Protector
Where It Goes Only on top of mattress Only on top of 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
Hypoallergenic? No Sometimes Often
Waterproof? Rarely Sometimes Almost always
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

Pros and Cons of Using a Mattress Topper

Mattress toppers can be useful in a number of different situations, though, there are certain issues that toppers bring about. Below, we’ve spelled out some of the key benefits and drawbacks to using a mattress topper:

Added comfort layer

One of the biggest benefits to using a mattress topper is that it acts as an additional comfort layer above and beyond what was already in place on your mattress. Based on your choice of topper, this can increase or decrease the firmness of your sleeping surface and can also increase or decrease its responsiveness or contouring level. All of these elements can dramatically affect your comfort and spinal alignment while sleeping.

Protects the mattress

By adding a layer above the mattress itself, a topper can serve as a barrier that reduces the extent to which stains, spills, and allergens permeate your actual mattress.

Extends the life of a mattress

The topmost comfort layer of a mattress typically faces the greatest amount of wear-and-tear. One of the main reasons that mattresses give out is that, as the comfort layer softens, more pressure gets put onto the supporting layers, which can exacerbate issues of sagging and lack of support. By adding more padding to the comfort layer, this process can be slowed down dramatically. This can be especially useful for heavier sleepers (over 230 pounds) or people with sharp pressure points who may put more impact on their comfort layer.

Cheaper than replacing mattress

The cost of purchasing a mattress topper is usually hundreds of dollars less than buying a whole brand-new mattress. In some cases, replacing the whole mattress is necessary, but when it’s not, buying a topper instead can save a significant amount of money.

Pain relief

When a mattress is not providing enough support or when it starts sagging, it can cause spinal misalignment that can lead to pain in the lower back, hips, and/or shoulders. Upgrading with a mattress topper may help deliver pain relief.

Adds customization to your bed

A mattress topper provides customization preferences in a few different ways. First of all, by allowing you to select a new comfort layer, you can focus on finding a topper with the features that you want. Second, some couples have different comfort preferences, and there are ways that mattress toppers can be used to allow one person’s side of the bed to have a dramatically different feel while also reducing motion transfer on the bed.

May not fix a mattress that is too far gone

If your mattress already has major issues with sagging or “bottoming out,” it may be past the point of no return. If this is the case, then adding a mattress topper may just be a sunk cost as it won’t fix the underlying problem.

Edge support issues

Most mattress toppers are uniform in their composition, which means that they are the weakest along the edge. This can create issues with edge support such that sleeping or sitting near the edge of the bed becomes challenging.

Fit issues

Many mattress toppers, including foam and latex options, are usually slightly smaller than the mattress that they go on top of. This can create a small but noticeable misalignment and can also sometimes create issues with the fit of the sheets.

Topper sliding and movement

Though not a huge issue with most toppers, some have issues with moving around on top of the mattress which can be uncomfortable and can disturb sleep. Some customers also may be frustrated by having to regularly reposition a topper.

Sleeping hot

An issue most commonly associated with memory foam (viscoelastic foam) is heat retention. Because memory foam contours so closely to the body, it can prevent airflow, causing both the mattress and the sleeper to heat up, often to levels that can interrupt a good night’s sleep.

Off-gassing with foam toppers

Most foam products give off a smell when they are first unpackaged. While this smell is not harmful and usually goes away within a few hours to a few days, some customers may still find it to be off-putting or more notice it for a longer period.

Who Should Buy a Mattress Topper?

Not everyone’s situation calls for considering a mattress topper, but these are some of the prime cases for when it might be a good fit:

  • Softening a firm mattress: if your mattress is uncomfortably firm, a topper with a softer feel or material can be used to better fit your comfort preference.
  • People who don’t get to choose their bed: if you’re a college student or a renter in a furnished apartment, you might not have any choice about the bed you use. In these cases, a mattress topper can give you the ability to modify your sleeping surface to your liking.
  • RV beds: RV beds are often built with low-quality materials, and a mattress topper can significantly improve both comfort and support.
  • Guest beds: if you have an old mattress that you’re using as a guest bed, you can use a topper to make it feel more luxurious for your visitors without a high cost.
  • Thin sofa-beds: anyone who’s slept on a pull-out couch knows that the lack of padding can be a real pain. Keeping a mattress topper to use on top of thin sofa-bed cushions can improve comfort remarkably.
  • Couples: couples who have very different preferences about comfort or firmness can use a mattress topper to allow each person to have a sleeping surface that works for them. In addition, adding a mattress topper can improve motion isolation, which helps to prevent disruption from a partner moving on the mattress in the night.

Mattress Topper Types: Features, Pros, and Cons

There are a few types of materials that are most commonly found in mattress toppers. In this section, we’ll describe these materials and their basic pros and cons.

Memory foam

Viscoelastic foam, also known as memory foam, is one of the most popular materials for mattress comfort layers and for mattress toppers. This material is known for its responsiveness: it compresses based on how much weight and pressure is applied. When pressure is removed, it slowly rebounds to its original size.

The major benefit for memory foam is its ability to take shape in proportion to the pressure from each part of the body, and this helps to relieve pressure points and improve spinal alignment. Memory foam is also widely regarded as the best material for motion isolation.

On the flip side, some people find that they feel like they sink too far into the bed when sleeping on memory foam. In addition, memory foam can retain heat and can cause people to overheat when sleeping. Some people also find that memory foam inhibits motion in a way that can impede sexual activity.

Cooling gel

These types of toppers also use memory foam, but the foam is interspersed with gel-infused beads. The goal of this is to help reduce heat retention in the mattress. Some customers find gel-infused memory foam to sleep cooler, but overall, reviews are mixed about this issue. Gel-infused memory foams are often comparable in price to traditional memory foam.

Latex

Latex is derived from rubber trees and is formed into a foam-like material that is used in mattresses and mattress toppers. While it is also responsive to where pressure is applied, it has more resilience, which means that it retakes its original shape much more quickly. This gives latex a bouncier feel that is also often associated with a slightly firmer feel than memory foam.

For many sleepers, this avoids the issues of excessive sinking and sleeping hot that may be experienced with memory foam. The main negative for latex is that it can fail to provide as much contouring and pressure relief as memory foam. In addition, latex is generally a more expensive material than foam.

Wool

Wool is used in all types of products, ranging from clothing to bedding. Wool naturally wicks moisture and resists heat buildup, but it tends to be a more expensive material and in mattress toppers, it does not provide the same kind of contouring support found in materials like memory foam or latex.

Egg crate

These toppers are made with different types of foam that is fashioned into a structure with many indentations rather than one solid piece of foam (this is why it looks like an egg crate). These toppers can be very affordable and may offer some additional comfort, but they usually are not dense enough to offer long-term durability or pressure relief.

Down

Down mattress toppers are made from feathers, usually from geese or ducks, and may also be referred to as featherbeds. Down can provide a plush feel but is often expensive. It also does not typically have the same kind of pressure point relief that comes with memory foam or latex, and it can still have issues with overheating.

What Should You Consider When Buying a Topper?

If you decide that you are in the market for a mattress topper, there are a number of factors to take into account to help you find the topper that’s right for you.

  • Topper material: a good starting point for choosing a mattress topper is deciding which type of material you think will be the best fit for your needs and preferences. Thinking about how much contouring, bounce, and firmness you want can help determine which material is likely to be the right one for you. If you can home in on one type or at least rule out a few types, this can help narrow the field and simplify your shopping experience.
  • Thickness: toppers come in various sizes, so you’ll want to settle on what thickness you want. Some of the things to consider when deciding the thickness include the height of your current mattress, the depth of your sheets, and your weight (as sleepers over 230 pounds typically do better with thicker comfort layers).
  • Density: for foam toppers, especially memory foam, one thing to pay attention to is foam density. While foam density can be related to firmness, its more important role is in evaluating likely durability. Foams that have higher density are more likely to hold up well with regular use. At the same time, they may also weigh more, so if you are expecting to regularly take the topper on and off (such as for a fold-out couch), then a high-density topper may be overkill.
  • Firm or Soft?: most topper materials can be built in a way that is firm or soft, so you’ll want to settle on your firmness preference before making a decision. Most sleepers do best with a medium-firm comfort layer, but if you need something firmer or softer, make sure to be on the lookout for that when shopping.
  • Durability: it’s important to think about how frequently you plan to use this topper and about how long you are hoping that it lasts. Doing so will help you know how much to prioritize durability, which you can get a sense of from both the foam density and from verified reviews.
  • Allergies: hypoallergenic covers are included on some mattress toppers, which can help prevent the buildup of some bedroom allergens and may be an attractive option for some customers. At the same time, some sleepers may have sensitivities to materials used in toppers including latex, wool, or down. Make sure to keep any allergies in mind before selecting a topper.
  • Motion transfer: if you share your mattress with another person, it can be helpful to think about whether your current mattress offers enough motion isolation. If yes, you will want to make sure that your topper offers at least as much motion isolation. If not, you may want to consider a topper with better properties for preventing motion transfer (such as memory foam).
  • Sleeping hot: if you are a hot sleeper or are easily awoken in the night if you start overheating, you may want to prioritize a topper with better airflow characteristics.
  • Sex: some topper materials, especially those like memory foam that permit more sinking into the mattress, can potentially interfere with sex. This can happen when the amount of sink and contouring inhibits movement on top of the mattress.

Choosing the Right Mattress Topper for You

Another important factor to consider in choosing a mattress topper is your sleeping position because back, stomach, and side sleepers need support in different parts of the body.

Side Sleepers

Side sleepers have more exaggerated pressure points at the shoulders and hips (and the knees for some people as well). If a mattress is too firm, it will likely put too much impact on these pressure points, but if a mattress is too soft, it will cause a side sleeper to sink too much in those areas, leading to spinal misalignment. As a result, most side sleepers do best with a medium to medium-firm comfort layer with a good amount of responsiveness. Memory foam and latex are both solid choices for side sleepers.

Back Sleepers

People who sleep on their back often put additional pressure on the lower back and need additional pressure relief to prevent the lower part of the spine from becoming misaligned. As a result, a medium firm to firm mattress works best for most back sleepers. Memory foam and latex usually are the top type of mattress toppers for back sleepers.

Stomach Sleepers

Stomach sleepers are at high risk of spinal misalignment because of the way that the lower-back can become positioned. It is important for stomach sleepers to avoid very soft comfort layers as they can exacerbate this misalignment issue. Medium-firm to firm comfort layers, including those made with memory foam or latex, usually work best for stomach sleepers who may also benefit from strategic pillow placement to offer extra support.

Our Top Picks

Below you’ll find our picks for the top 4 mattress toppers. Because there is no single mattress topper that is best for everyone, we do not rank these 4 options; however, we can say that they are the best bets to deliver a high level of performance and value.

Sleep on Latex Pure Green 100% Natural Latex Mattress Topper

The Sleep on Latex Pure Green mattress topper offers the combination of responsiveness and bounce that comes from high-quality latex. The manufacturer also makes a well-regarded line of all-latex mattresses.

This topper is available directly from Sleep on Latex and on Amazon.

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

 

DreamFoam Bedding Gel Swirl

The DreamFoam Bedding Gel Swirl memory foam mattress offers a 2” memory foam topper that can bring enhanced comfort and contouring at an affordable price.

This topper is available for purchase on Amazon.

Material: Gel-infused memory foam
Price range: $49.99 – $89.99
Thickness: 2”
Firmness: Medium-firm
Density: not listed
Available sizes: Twin, Twin XL, Full, Full XL, Short Queen, Queen, King, California King
Return policy: 30 days if ordered through Amazon
Warranty: 3-year warranty covering basic defects in materials

 

Sleep Innovations Dual Layer Mattress Topper

This topper from Sleep Innovations combines 2” of gel-infused memory foam with 2” of a quilted topper to provide both contouring and a plush feel.

This topper is available directly from Sleep Innovations and on Amazon.

Material: Quilted fiber-fill and gel-infused memory foam
Price range: $101.99 – $153.99
Thickness: 4”
Firmness: Medium
Density: not listed
Available sizes: Twin, Full, Queen, King, California King
Return policy: 30 days if ordered through Amazon
Warranty: 10-year warranty covering materials or manufacturing defects

 

Red Nomad Premium Elastic Mattress Topper

The Red Nomad topper offers another solid memory foam option from a company with a strong reputation for their customer service and support.

This topper is available for purchase on Amazon.

Material: Memory foam
Price range: $71.99 – $101.99
Thickness: 2”
Firmness: Medium
Density: 2.5 PCF
Available sizes: Twin, Twin XL, Full, Queen, King, California King
Return policy: 30 days if ordered through Amazon
Warranty: 5-year limited warranty for material defects

 

After You Buy

Once you’ve ordered a new mattress topper, you are well on your way to a brand new feel for your bed. When the topper arrives, here are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. If necessary, air it out: this only really applies to memory foam toppers because they can give off an odor when they are removed from the box. If you notice an odor when you first open the packaging, you can leave the topper out for a few hours before putting a sheet on it. The smell should rapidly dissipate in any well-ventilated room.
  2. Placing it on your bed: when you’re ready to put the topper on your mattress, place it directly on top of your existing mattress. Try to make sure that it is as well-aligned as possible, and then put your sheets on tightly over the top of the topper and mattress.
  3. Care and maintenance: a well-built mattress topper doesn’t usually require much maintenance, but it can be useful to re-align the topper anytime you change your sheets. You also want to make sure to regularly change your sheets to help prevent the buildup of dust, sweat, or other allergens. If you decide to clean the topper, make sure to closely follow the manufacturer’s instructions to prevent voiding your warranty.