What Is a Mattress Pad and Which Type Do You Really Need?

A mattress pad, also referred to as a mattress topper or an underpad, is a layer of material designed to enhance the comfort of your mattress by providing more cushioning.

At least, that’s the simple definition of a mattress pad that most people are aware of. However, in reality, there’s a lot more to a mattress pad than meets the eye.

Today, we will be exploring the definition of the mattress pad along with the different types of mattress pads that have arisen from the original invention.

Mattress Pad vs. Mattress Topper

While the terms ‘mattress pad’ and ‘mattress topper’ are used interchangeably, even within the bedding industry, we should clarify that there is, technically, a difference between the two.

A mattress topper, if we’re being specific, is actually a thicker type of mattress pad. Basically, if you have a super uncomfortable mattress and feel that you’ll need all the extra comfort and support you can get to sleep through the night, you’ll probably want to ask for (aside from a new mattress) a mattress topper.

However, these days, the distinction between the two is becoming more blurred. You can find products advertised as extra thick mattress pads that serve more or less the exact same function as a mattress topper. As you can see, for example, this ViscoSoft Three-Inch Memory Foam Mattress Topper is also advertised as a ‘High-Density Ventilated Mattress Pad.’

To summarise, mattress pads are typically thinner than mattress toppers, although the terms are often used interchangeably, and you can find certain products on the market that fit both categories.

Types of Mattress Pads/Toppers

Types of mattress pads and toppers

Now that we’ve clarified the definition of a mattress pad and established the difference between and interchangeability of mattress pads and mattress toppers, let’s take a look at some of the different types of mattress toppers you can find on the market right now.

Memory Foam

These days, one of the most popular types of mattress pads is the memory foam mattress pad.

Memory foam is a relatively recent invention, developed by NASA employee Charles Yost in 1966. Interestingly, it was originally invented for use by astronauts to counteract the uncomfortable pressure of G force during takeoff.

Today, memory foam is incorporated directly into higher-end mattresses as well as mattress pads to enhance the comfort of the mattress.

Memory foam mattress pads comprise a thin layer of memory foam that contours the sleeper’s body, encouraging proper alignment and heat distribution.

If you can’t afford to replace your extra-firm mattress with a memory foam model, a memory foam pad can make all the difference to your sleep.

Pillow Top

A pillow top mattress pad is probably the most standard type of mattress pad. These are great if you like to feel as though you’re sinking into a cloud as you drift off to sleep.

Pillow top mattress pads usually consist of several pockets filled with soft yet supportive fibers, so although you’ll feel completely weightless, your spine won’t remain unsupported.


If you’re more of a fan of firmer mattresses but still want an extra layer of material between your body and your mattress springs, a latex mattress pad is the obvious choice.

Latex is a firmer, denser material than most types of memory foam (excluding the extra high-density foams), so while it will make your mattress more comfortable, it will feel firm and supportive underneath you.


Overheating during the night is one of the most common causes of interrupted sleep and sleep deprivation. For this reason, more and more restless sleepers are turning to gel mattress pads for relief from the stifling heat of summer nights.

The cooling gel inside a gel mattress topper is usually designed to draw heat away from the body to prevent overheating. Often, this type of gel is also incorporated into memory foam mattresses for a combination of comfort, support, and temperature regulation.


On the other hand, many people struggle with feeling cold during the night, which can be just as disruptive to a good night’s sleep as being too hot. There are only so many layers of sheets and quilts that you can heap on your bed before you start to feel suffocated. So, as an alternative, you could get an electric or heated mattress pad.

Unlike an electric blanket, which is designed to cover the sleeper, an electric mattress pad sits on top of the mattress and provides consistent and comforting warmth from beneath. This allows you to rearrange your covers however you like and still benefit from a little extra heat.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a mattress pad the same as a mattress protector?

In theory, no, a mattress pad and a mattress protector are two different things that serve different purposes, although there can be some overlap.

Primarily, a mattress protector is designed to protect your mattress from stains and other forms of damage. Mattress protectors are typically much thinner than mattress pads since they are not designed to enhance comfort, but cleanliness.

Now, some mattress pads and mattress toppers do have protective properties. In a sense, the presence of another layer of material between your sheets and your mattress is inherently a form of protection. Some mattress pads even feature internal layers of waterproof material to catch any liquid before it can soak through and stain the mattress. In this case, your mattress pad is also technically a mattress protector.

However, the primary purpose of a mattress pad is to ensure comfort, while the main reason for using a mattress protector is to keep your mattress in good condition.

Final Thoughts

In short, a mattress pad is similar and often interchangeable with a mattress topper, although the latter is typically thicker than the former.

Both mattress pads and mattress toppers serve the purpose of adding to the comfort of a mattress by providing extra cushioning and support.

Mattress pads can be filled with memory foam, fabric fibers, latex, cooling gel, or a combination of the above. They can even be electrically heated.

Mattress pads should not be confused with mattress protectors, which are usually thinner and designed to protect mattresses from stains, although a mattress pad can also act as a protector.