Mattress Pad vs. Mattress Protector

If you’re deciding between a mattress pad or protector, keep reading to see which is best for your sleeping preferences and your mattress too.

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Looking to go the extra mile for your bed? Mattress pads and mattress protectors are both great ways to increase the durability and comfort of your bed. However, they each have unique pros and cons too. Let’s see which one (if not both) is best for you.

Before we jump into the mattress pad versus mattress protector comparison, it’s worth noting what exactly each accessory is and what it does. 

What Are Mattress Pads?

In short, a mattress pad is generally a layer of padding that is placed between your mattress and your fitted sheet with the purpose of increasing softness and comfort. But, since there are a lot of different things you can technically put on top of a mattress, a mattress pad specifically is about an inch thick, is about $50 to $100, and can be made from a variety of materials like foam, latex, cotton, and polyester.

That said, it can still be easy to confuse a mattress pad with a mattress topper. Unlike mattress pads, toppers are more than an inch thick (about three to four inches), much heavier than mattress pads, and more costly too. Lastly, regardless of whether your bed has a topper, protector, or any other accessories, a mattress pad will always be placed directly on top of the mattress itself.

What Can a Mattress Pad Do?

Let’s talk more about the actual function and benefits of a mattress pad, now that we’ve covered what it is. Whether you’re looking for more comfort, support, or protection for your bed, there’s lots of benefits to having a mattress pad.

  • Improve the mattress feel—Mattress pads, especially high quality ones, can make a noticeable difference in the feel of your mattress, giving you the option of adding more softness or more firmness and support. 
  • Boost mattress durability—Mattress pads aren’t just good for you—but your mattress too. Not only do mattress pads protect your bed from allergens, contaminants, and stains, but they also reduce wear and tear on older mattresses. Plus, mattress pads themselves (depending on material) are super durable and can last well over 10 years.
  • Keep cool—If you’re a hot sleeper, or someone who sweats a lot a night, a mattress pad (especially one made from cotton or latex) isn’t just a more breathable alternative to a thicker mattress topper, but it’s also a great way to protect your bed from sweat stains.

What Can’t a Mattress Pad Do?

There’s only a few things a mattress pad can’t do when it comes to boosting your sleep quality, so let’s jump in.

  • It’s not spill-proof—Like we mentioned earlier, a mattress pad is a great way to protect your bed from sweat, dust, or allergens, but if you’re looking for something totally waterproof, a zip-up mattress protector will be a better fit for you.
  • You can’t completely change mattress feel—If your bed is getting older, a mattress pad can add some extra support to your mattress. But, if you’re looking to add a significant amount of cushion or firmness to a bed, a thicker mattress topper will be a better investment.

What Are Mattress Protectors?

We’ve hit all the ins and outs of mattress pads, so let’s go over what mattress protectors are, plus their pros and cons. 

A mattress protector is a thin covering (typically under an inch thicker) that fits to your mattress and is designed to protect it from any contaminants or spills. Unlike thicker pads or toppers, mattress protectors weigh as little as five pounds, and they offer little in the way of extra comfort. And, lastly, unlike toppers and pads which add only some protection, actual mattress protectors can encase the entire mattress.

What Can a Mattress Protector Do?

  • Waterproof protection—If you’re looking for serious mattress protection, from any spills, dust mites, or allergens, mattress protectors are the end-all-be-all. Zip-up mattress protectors encase your entire bed for even more protection.
  • Improves mattress durability—As mentioned above, mattress protectors do, well, a lot of protecting. So, in the long-run, shielding your mattress for unwanted stains and moisture will give you more years to enjoy your bed.

What Can’t a Mattress Protect Do?

  • Provide airflow—Especially for waterproof mattress protectors, or those made from materials such as vinyl, airflow is pretty limited. So, if you’re a hotter sleeper, then finding a more breathable mattress protector (such as one made from cotton), may be necessary.
  • Change mattress feel—While mattress pads can offer some extra cushion, a mattress protector won’t change the feel of your bed at all. Because protectors are so thin, they won’t affect your sleeping experience aside from slightly reduced sliding on your sheets.
  • Last long—Mattress protectors are great for your bed’s durability, but they aren’t super durable themselves. Since your protector will be taking the worst of any spills or allergens, you’ll likely want to wash it weekly, meaning it’ll wear out within a year or two.

Is a Mattress Pad or Mattress Protector Best For You?

Mattress Pads Are Best For

  • Shoppers wanting a durable accessory—Mattress pads can last for many years, depending on their quality. As a general rule, they also outlast most mattress protectors across the board. This is because protectors are much thinner and, depending on their use, will need frequent washing.
  • Hot sleepers—Mattress pads are more like an extra layer of cushion as opposed to a full-on barrier. So, if you’re looking for the more breathable option of the two, a mattress pad is the way to go.

Mattress Protectors Are Best For

  • Sleepers who like the feel of their mattress—If you’re just looking to thoroughly protect your bed without changing its firmness or support, then a mattress protector gets the job done.
  • Sleepers wanting extra mattress protection—What mattress protectors lack in extra comfort, they make up for in terms of waterproof protection. They’re the only mattress accessory that can completely cover your whole bed while protecting against liquid spills and virtually any allergen.

Mattress Pad vs. Mattress Protector FAQ

Can You Use a Mattress Pad and Protector?

Yes. You can technically combine a mattress pad and protector (with the pad underneath the protector), but you’ll likely get similar benefits at a better price from buying a hybrid product that combines features of both. But, if you already own both accessories separately, using them together won’t hurt.

Which Material is Best For Mattress Pads?

Mattress pads come in a variety of materials, and the best one for you depends on your breathability, price, and firmness preferences. For a more cooling pad, we recommend materials like latex. For a cheaper material, we recommend a down alternative, and for a more firmness, we recommend latex mattress pads.

Can I Sleep On Top of Mattress Protector?

Mattress pads and protectors are designed to go underneath sheets. For correct use, a mattress pad should be directly against your actual mattress, and, for a mattress protector, you’ll likely be more comfortable on top of sheets. This is because protectors are often made from less skin-friendly synthetic materials.