While some use the terms interchangeably, mattress pads and mattress toppers may mean different things to some manufacturers. A pad is a thin, quilted material that fits atop the mattress, offering a little extra protection from moisture or stains. A topper usually refers to thicker add-ons that also rest atop the mattresses. Toppers add extra firmness or softness and may be used to make the bed more comfortable.
While some companies use mattress pad as a catch-all term for both pads and toppers, much of the time a pad is the thinner of the two. A typical mattress pad is thin and quilted, made of washable fabric with batting inside, providing a thin layer of extra comfort for you and a little protection for the mattress.
The pad may attach to the mattress with elastic straps, or it may be designed like a fitted sheet, except with a meshlike material on the sides. The mattress pad protects the top of the mattress from general wear and tear. A fitted sheet fits over the mattress pad as if the pad isn't there.
Waterproof versions feature a protective nonporous layer, typically made from polyurethane or vinyl, covered by batting and a soft, quilted fabric on top. This offers some protection for the mattress against bed wetting. From the top side, this looks the same as a standard mattress pad.
A mattress topper is usually thicker than a mattress pad, designed to offer extra firmness or softness to make sleep more comfortable. Thick mattress pads change the feel of the mattresses beneath them.
Latex or visco-elastic foam adds firmness to the feel of the mattress. Down or down-alternative toppers make a firm mattress feel softer.
The thickness of the topper often determines the level of comfort offered; the thicker the pad, the more noticeable the difference in the feel of the bed. Any topper less than 2 inches thick won't offer much support.
Memory Foam Toppers
Memory foam and some latex toppers help reduce motion of the mattress when you or another person sharing the bed shifts position. This may be helpful if the box spring or mattress are worn out or too springy. A memory foam topper may also make you feel hotter or more sweaty in bed than when resting on a standard mattress without the topper.
Many mattress toppers are not machine washable. Because their composition varies greatly, check the package before purchase to know what to expect when it comes to mattress-topper care.