Mattress Pads Vs. Mattress Covers — Which Do You Need?
If you are unhappy with the feel of your current mattress or just want more comfort, support, or protection than it can provide, you can add mattress pads and mattress covers to your bed. The real question is: what qualities do you really need to add to your mattress?
The difference between mattress pads vs. mattress covers is that mattress pads are designed to make your mattress more comfortable whereas mattress covers are designed to protect your mattress from bed bugs, liquids, dust, and sweat.
Mattress pads and mattress covers or protectors are often confused. They may seem similar, at first, but they are not the same. Both options can help extend the life of your mattress and address particular health issues such as dust mites and allergens. Mattress pads are intended to make a bed more comfortable by changing the feel of the bed slightly, whereas mattress protectors are for creating a protective barrier.
Mattress covers are specifically designed to keep a mattress clean and are usually waterproof. Some will also help wick perspiration and moisture away. They are much thinner and lightweight than pads and toppers. Covers are typically secured with elastic, like a fitted sheet, but some will zip over the entire mattress, fully encasing it.
A mattress pad is a thicker layer that is put on the top of the mattress to make it more comfortable, whether that is through padding and softness, or breathability and temperature control, or some other desired quality.
- Wondering how to use a magnetic mattress pad?
What Is a Mattress Pad?
A mattress pad is a soft, thin, padded layer placed on top of a mattress that is designed to add cushioning to the top of a mattress so that your bed is softer or harder, warmer, or cooler, depending on the mattress pad you buy. Mattress pads are thin, so they won't the feel of your bed substantially.
There are cooling mattress pads that can help keep the bed from retaining body heat, ensuring the bed stays cooler and more comfortable. A breathable mattress pad can improve the air circulation in a bed that is too hot. Many are made with moisture-wicking materials that will help with nighttime sweating. Here’s a guide to fixing a mattress pad that’s hot or uncomfortable.
Depending on the type and design, a mattress pad may simply rest on top of your mattress, or it may have elastic straps to secure it in place. Others have sides that wrap the mattress just like a fitted bed sheet. Note that you can buy mattress straps separately on Amazon.
Many mattress pads are washable at home, so they are easier to clean than the underlying mattress. A mattress pad can help protect against wetness, moisture, spills, allergens, dust mites, or anything where a barrier between the sleeper and the mattress is helpful. Parents with small children who may wet the bed (or with over-excitable pets) should consider a mattress pad with a waterproof membrane. It will protect the mattress from getting wet and make cleanup of accidents easier.
- We’ve written a detailed guide to magnetic mattress pad benefits here.
- If you want to completely change the feel of your mattress, you can buy a mattress topper (which is much cheaper than a mattress). Here’s a guide to mattress topper benefits.
What Is a Mattress Cover? (Or Mattress Protector)
Where you would use a mattress pad to feel some extra comfort from your mattress, in contrast, you'd want to notice a mattress cover as little as possible. The less you feel a mattress protector, the better.
A mattress cover is a thin covering designed to protect a mattress against damage and allergens. Mattress covers typically wrap around a mattress and protect against spills , crumbs, bedwetting, bed bugs, dust mites, sweat and moisture.
The purpose of a mattress protector is to preserve the life of a mattress, not to provide additional comfort. A good mattress protector should go practically unnoticed by the sleeper, even when it has features that can improve the quality of sleep. For example, some use cooling materials for those who sleep hot, but, aside from feeling cooler at night, you would not want to be aware of the mattress cover when you sleep. Most covers are waterproof and may also help wick perspiration and moisture away from the sleeper. Here are some tips to replace a mattress protector that’s hot or makes you sweat.
A quality protector should not alter the feel of the bed in any significant way since its primary purpose is to keep moisture, liquids, dirt, allergens, dust mites, and bacteria from harming you or the mattress. The benefits of using a mattress cover include protecting your mattress (and its warranty). They are affordable, easily washable, and lightweight. Here’s a detailed guide on mattress protector benefits and why you need a mattress protector.
You need a mattress cover to safeguard the substantial investment you have made in your mattress and prolong the mattress’ lifespan. Children are prone to have accidents, so you really need to get a mattress cover if you have children. If you frequently have guests at your house, a mattress protector will help you to be a good host who offers his/her guests a hygienic place to sleep while protecting the mattress from spills or moisture from the different guests. We like this waterproof mattress protector from Amazon because it’s highly rated.
The disadvantage some mattress covers is that they can be noisy. This is because the waterproof material produces loud, crunchy, plastic sounds when sleepers move around. Most better quality mattress protectors will not be noisy, because they use quieter waterproof materials, and they will make that feature clear in their product descriptions. Here’s a quiet, waterproof, cotton mattress protector that you can purchase on Amazon.
Some types of mattress covers can cause heat retention which makes sleeping hot. Also, if they don't fit well, they can shift and bunch up under the sheets, causing discomfort. So, it’s important to get the right size and type of mattress protector that will be most comfortable while providing the specific protection you need.
If you may have come into contact with bed bugs, you definitely should get a mattress cover. Make sure that it is a complete mattress encasement specifically designed to be a bedbug barrier. To learn more about bedbugs, visit the special site the EPA has set up to educate the public about this health hazard.
What's the Difference Between a Mattress Protector and a Fitted Sheet?
You might be wondering why you would need to use a mattress protector if you are already using a fitted sheet on your bed? Wouldn’t a fitted sheet protect your mattress just as well as a mattress protector? The answer is no.
The difference between a mattress protector and a fitted sheet is that a fitted sheet is designed to provide you a soft surface to sleep on whereas a mattress protector is designed to protect your mattress. Sleeping directly on a mattress protector is not as comfortable as sleeping on a fitted sheet.
A fitted sheet provides a clean, pleasant outer layer of fabric to lie directly on when you sleep. The material you use for the fitted sheet will determine how comfortable it is. These brushed microfiber fitted sheets are comfortable and have excellent ratings! The bottom sheet will collect dirt and perspiration but it will not keep liquids or other dirt, dust, bugs, or allergens from getting into the mattress or mattress pad. Bed sheets are made of materials like cotton, microfiber, silk, or other blends, and every liquid or nasty can go right through them, onto whatever layer you have underneath.
A mattress protector, on the other hand, will keep spills, liquids, dirt, allergens, dust, dust mites, bugs, and other unwanted things out of the mattress or mattress pad. That is what it is designed to do. However, you don’t really want to sleep directly on it. You’ll want to cover it with a nice bed sheet.
Note: Mattress protectors can help even magnetic mattress pads last longer
The Difference between a Mattress Pad Vs. Mattress Cover
Mattress pads and mattress covers are not interchangeable. However, there are some products that do try to be a bit of both.
The difference between mattress pads vs. mattress covers is that mattress covers or protectors are primarily intended to protect the mattress, whereas mattress pads are mainly used to change the way a mattress feels when you sleep on it.
The primary function of a mattress cover is to protect the mattress from stains, spills, bedwetting, as well as allergens, and sometimes bugs. It will generally lack any sort of padding or even the quilted appearance of a mattress pad. Mattress protectors are normally made from materials such as polyester, cotton, or other fabric, plus a waterproof membrane such as vinyl or polyurethane. The qualities of that waterproof membrane are the most important things to consider when purchasing a mattress protector. Here are some of our favorite waterproof mattress protectors.
By protecting the mattress, you can dramatically slow down the rate at which the mattress’ internal padding and other materials deteriorate, preserving its “like new” performance for many years. And, by preventing spills from seeping into the fibers, you can stop potentially dangerous mold from forming.
On the other hand, the primary purpose of a mattress pad is to increase comfort. In addition to the plush feeling offered by the light padding, a typical mattress pad can help keep you cozy by managing heat and moisture through special fabrics. A copper mattress pad is especially good at thermoregulation. We’ve discussed the benefits of copper mattress pads here.
Most mattress pads offer a degree of protection from stains and spills as a secondary benefit. Some accomplish a small amount of protection simply by being an extra layer between you and the mattress, especially if it is washable. Others specifically offer spill and stain resistant properties built into the fabric. All that said, protection is an ancillary benefit of a mattress pad, with comfort being the primary feature.
Mattress pads are made from cotton, polyester, bamboo, or other materials and are fairly thin. The filling can contain polyester fiberfill, wool, cotton, bamboo, or down. Vinyl and polyurethane are often used in constructing mattress pads to be used as allergen barriers. Some pads are made of naturally cooling materials, which is ideal for hot sleepers.
Mattress protectors come in a wide range of prices, some for less than $10, with others costing hundreds, but you can find a satisfying protector between $10-30, whereas the price of a mattress pad is generally anywhere up to $100.
The average lifespan of a mattress pad is around three years, whereas a mattress protector should be replaced every four to six months.
Summary of Mattress Pads Vs. Mattress Covers
|Features||Mattress Pads||Mattress Covers|
|Primary Purpose||Enhance comfort||Protect the mattress and/or other layers put on the mattress|
|Materials They’re Made Of||Cotton, polyester, bamboo, Tencel, vinyl, polyurethane||Polyester, cotton, synthetics, polyurethane, vinyl|
|Location on a Bed||Layered on top of bed||Mattress protectors cover mattress pads, toppers, and mattresses|
|Price Range||Up to $100||$10-50|
|How Long They Last||Typically 3-5 years||Several years if you take care of them|
|Example Product & Price||Sealy Luxury 100% Cotton Mattress Pad - Queen ~$45||SafeRest Queen Size Premium Hypoallergenic Waterproof Mattress Protector - Vinyl Free ~$25|
Do You Need a Mattress Protector / Mattress Cover?
A quality mattress represents a significant investment that you want to last. You also want it to stay clean and healthy and to maintain the comfort and support you originally bought it for. Over time, that mattress can become soiled, start to deteriorate, and can accumulate dust, allergens, and other nasties that you don’t want in your bed.
You need a mattress protector if you want to keep your mattress safe from dirt, spills, perspiration, and other accidents. All of these can damage your mattress, void your warranty, and shorten its life expectancy. A mattress protector also provides a barrier against allergens such as dust mites.
Without a mattress protector or cover, any bed will accumulate dust mites which eat the dead skin cells that are shed by every person who sleeps in the bed. While dust mites are a common cause of allergies, they affect every person to some degree. A mattress protector will help to avoid that build up of shed skin cells and dust mites. This mattress cover from National Allergy is highly rated for its ability to reduce allergens from affecting you.
Additionally, some mattress covers are made with specialized fabrics and materials that help breathability and temperature regulation while people sleep.
However, a mattress cover is not what you are looking for if your goal is only to improve the comfort of your mattress, without needing the protective barrier..
Do You Need a Mattress Pad?
If your main goal is to have a little bit of softness, padding, breathability, temperature control, or other improvement to the surface comfort of your mattress, then a mattress pad may be what you need.
You need a mattress pad if you want to add some extra comfort to your mattress. Mattress pads can also protect a bed from some stains and moisture.
Parents with small children who may wet the bed should consider a mattress pad with a waterproof feature. It will protect the mattress from getting wet and make cleanup easier. This waterproof mattress pad can help protect a Cal King mattress that’s up to 18 inches thick.
You do not need a mattress pad if your mattress has lost its support, because the pad will not do much. In that case, you should consider buying a new mattress, or possibly a thicker, more supportive mattress topper.
Do You Put a Mattress Pad Over a Mattress Cover?
Because they serve different purposes, many beds will have both a mattress pad and a mattress cover. It’s a case of layering to get all the features that you want in your own bed. But what order should you layer them in?
You should put a mattress pad under a mattress cover to protect both your mattress pad and your mattress.
Whether you put the mattress protector over the mattress pad will generally have to do with the way the mattress pad is designed. Unless the mattress pad is designed to be very easy to wash or has its own protective features, then you will usually want to put the mattress protector over both the mattress and the mattress pad, protecting them both.
- How do you protect a mattress topper or mattress pad?
Do You Need a Mattress Cover for a Used Mattress?
As soon as you purchase a new mattress, you should always get a mattress cover to protect it. But what if the mattress you will be sleeping on is used?
You need a mattress cover for a used mattress to protect you from old stains, dust, dander, and other particles the mattress has accumulated over time.
If you buy or have been given a used mattress, you should definitely get a mattress cover, even if the mattress has been thoroughly cleaned. In some jurisdictions, it is not legal to sell used mattresses, or sales of used mattresses may be severely restricted. To find out more, read the FTC's article about buying used mattresses.
Used mattresses can sometimes have bed bugs, so you want to use good mattress encasements, if you have even the slightest question about the history of the mattress. This zippered mattress encacement is designed to protect against bed bugs.
If you are moving into a furnished home with a pre-loved bed, a mattress protector will give you a hygienic barrier to all the unknowns hidden in that bed. Also, if you are renting and responsible for damages, a mattress protector will protect the mattress from your wear and tear and any accidents that might cost you in the long run.
College kids living in dorm rooms are also good candidates for mattress protectors and pads since they provide an extra barrier between them and a used mattress. And they will be better able to leave the mattress in the condition they found it… for the next student.
Examples Uses of Mattress Covers vs. Mattress Pads for Different Needs
Both a mattress cover and a mattress pad will give protection for your mattress and most of them offer some protection against spills, stains, allergens, bed bugs, and dust mites. In addition, some will regulate the temperature and make your sleep comfortable and cool.
|Need||Recommended Type of Product (Cover/ Protector, Pad, or Both)||Why?||Recommended Product||Price|
|Spill protection||Cover||Protects mattress from spills and stains||LeakMaster - Full Sized Fitted Waterproof Mattress Cover||~$40|
|Padding||Pad||Adds comfort and support||Queen Mattress Pad||~$25|
|Allergies||Both||Prevents allergens from bothering the sleeper||SafeRest Full Size Premium Hypoallergenic Waterproof Mattress Protector |
and Hanna Kay Hypoallergenic Quilted Stretch-to-Fit Mattress Pad
|Heat regulation||Both||Temperature control||Cooling Mattress Cover for Queen Size Bed |
and Allrange Breathable Coolmax Quilted Mattress Pad
|~$30 and ~$35|
|Bed bugs||Cover (Six-sided fully enclosed mattress encasement)||Protects mattress from bed bugs||Linenspa Zippered Waterproof, Dust Mite, Bed Bug Proof||~$25|
For more information, make sure to also take a look at our article about mattress toppers vs mattress covers as well.