Different Types of Mattress Toppers Explained

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Written by: Alex Savy
Read 12 minLast updated on February 27, 2023

A topper is a sure way to add some comfort to your mattress without spending all the money in the world. 

But there are so many of them! Memory foam clouds, latex slabs, and those filled with fibers, to name a few. How do you choose the right one among them?

I can help you with that!

Below, I’ll explain to you all the pros and cons of different mattress topper types, so you can find a perfect fit for you.

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Memory Foam Mattress Toppers

Memory foam is a compound material with chemically enhanced viscosity that allows it to contour your body really closely and relieve the pain and stiffness. Memory foam toppers are available in a vast range of thicknesses and designs and usually have good value for money, which makes them suitable for almost any user.

Memory Foam Mattress Toppers

Here are the main types:

  • Solid memory foam toppers. The most basic option, a solid memory foam pad makes a great purchase if you need to mask the imperfections of your mattress surface and bring the comfort back into your sleep.
  • Egg-crate memory foam toppers. These models feature a special peak-and-valley design that makes them more suitable for those who sleep hot. Chronic pain sufferers may also benefit from the convoluted design due to a slight massage effect.
  • Infused memory foam toppers. Certain brands add graphite, copper particles, or different plant oils with high antimicrobial properties to prevent bad odors and mold development, thus prolonging the lifespan of the mattress pad.

“There are also dual-layer mattress toppers that combine a denser base and a gel-infused or open-cell foam on top for better airflow.”

So, what’s good about memory foam toppers?

  • Great pain relief. If you’re looking for a mattress topper for hip pain relief or something to alleviate your back issues, in most cases you will end up with a memory foam model.
  • Good durability. Memory foam is denser than polyurethane foam and can withstand active use for a longer time.
  • Low motion transfer. Memory foam easily absorbs movements and ensures a peaceful sleep for both you and your partner.

However, memory foam isn’t perfect, and you should keep in mind its most common drawbacks:

  • Off-gassing. Almost all memory foam pads have an odor, and its severity will mostly depend on the quality of the compounds used. Some brands try to make odors less pronounced by adding pleasant scents such as lavender or aloe vera, but simple aeration can also help eliminate the odor.
  • Heat retention. Memory foam has a closed-cell structure, meaning that your body heat will be trapped inside the cells instead of dissipating into the air, which can lead to hot sleeping.
  • Mold and mildew. This is somewhat connected to the previous point. Excess heat and sweat from your body create condensate inside of the foam cells which can lead to mold development in the long term.

Also, memory foam is a temperature-sensitive material, meaning that it may feel more rigid during the cold months and become softer in the summer. 

Gel Memory Foam Toppers

This subtype of memory foam mattress toppers deserves a separate mention because of its popularity. 

Gel-infused memory foam is sort of self-explanatory: take a traditional memory foam and add the microbeads of cooling gel. That’s why you often notice a wavy pattern or different shades of blue and green on those toppers.

But how does it impact your sleep?

  • You sleep cooler. Gel beads create an open-cell structure that allows for better air circulation and heat removal. Plus, they’re way more sensitive to body temperature changes, which means you cool down and fall asleep faster. 
  • You get better pain relief. Open-cell foam structure gives it a better hug and more prominent spinal support, which means that you can easily get comfortable in any position. Also, gel foam toppers tend to feel softer, so if you’re looking for the top-rated mattress topper for side sleepers, who tend to sink deeper into the foam, I recommend you go for the gel-infused option that will withdraw your body heat better. 
  • Gel mattress toppers require less maintenance. Better airflow isn’t only better for your sleep, but your topper as well. It prevents moisture from condensing inside your mattress topper and inhibits mold growth and bacteria, thus prolonging the lifespan of your topper.

Gel mattress toppers tend to be more expensive than standard memory foam slabs, but usually are worth every penny and provide you with much more comfortable shut-eye.

Polyfoam Mattress Toppers

Another common type of mattress toppers is polyfoam toppers. Polyfoam, or polyurethane foam, is very similar to traditional memory foam except that it’s less viscous and has a more spongy feel.

Polyfoam toppers are also available in solid and convoluted designs and can feature gel, graphite, or copper infusions. But aside from that, polyfoam has several distinctive advantages:

  • It traps less heat. All cells of polyurethane foam are interconnected, which helps the heat to dissipate into the air more quickly.
  • It doesn’t limit your movements. A springy polyfoam offers a quicker motion response and might be a good pick for individuals with mobility concerns.
  • It’s cheaper. Polyfoam usually takes fewer chemicals to be produced than memory foam, which reflects in the final price of the product.

As for the downsides, I’d like to mention a shorter lifespan than memory foam and oftentimes a more pronounced smell right after unpacking. However, due to the open-cell structure, this smell also dissipates more quickly than in the case of a memory foam pad.

Latex Mattress Toppers

According to my experience, latex mattress pads hold third place in popularity among all the models on the market.

Latex is made of the vulcanized sap of rubber trees with some chemical additives to make them more viscous and cradling. 

Natural latex can be made through the Dunlop or Talalay manufacturing process, which defines its final properties to a small extent. There are also latex blends that combine natural and synthetic latex in certain proportions. The quality of such products, as you might have guessed, will depend on the quality of additives used.

So, why do people love latex toppers?

  • Breathability. Latex has an open-cell structure, similar to polyfoam, but it withdraws heat from your body much more effectively.
  • Hypoallergenic properties. Natural latex has tiny pores and is resistant to mold and dust mites, the two most common allergens in the US homes.
  • Eco-friendly materials. One rubber tree can produce latex for up to 25 years, so it’s considered renewable material. If you want to take a step toward eco-conscious living, choosing this type of mattress toppers is a good way to do so.

However, latex pads also have some downsides: particularly, they’re pricier than synthetic foams and may not suit those on a tight budget. Also, latex toppers may have an intense rubber smell for the first couple of nights, which can be a turn-off for some users.

Also Read: Best mattress toppers for stomach sleepers

Natural Down & Down Alternative Mattress Toppers

Natural down mattress toppers, also known as featherbeds, are filled with bird’s down — a layer of soft feathers that are hidden under tough exterior feathers and help keep a bird warm. Typically, the down of geese or ducks is used for bedding products, as it’s soft and lightweight.

Down alternative, also known as fiberfill, is a synthetic material made of polyester. You’ll immediately point out this mattress topper type among the others because they usually have a quilted design that prevents the fiberfill from lumping and migrating to the corners.

Also, fiberfill models may feature a dual-layer construction with a foam core layer to add some durability and contouring. In addition, this is a really good mattress topper for side sleeping. 

The most prominent advantage of both down and fiberfill is that they can mold to your body like a feather pillow. Thanks to their fluffiness, they can offer great comfort levels and relieve your pressure points.

Also, both natural and synthetic down creates a breathable layer around you and can easily adjust to temperature fluctuations. Down mattress toppers are a great fit for both hot sleepers and those who are constantly freezing, because they will maintain just the right temperature in your bed.

The drawbacks of natural down and its alternatives include:

  • Quick wear-out. If your model doesn’t feature a memory foam core, chances are that it will go flat in the first couple of years.
  • Difficulties with care (for natural down toppers). Most of the models with polyester fiberfill can be washed and even fluffed in a tumble dryer, according to the manufacturer’s instruction. Natural down requires only dry cleaning and may be difficult to clean from stains and spills. And without proper care, it might easily become a home to a colony of dust mites.

Also Read: Best Mattress Toppers for Lower Back Pain Relief

“The average lifespan of a mattress topper is 3-5 years. Fiberfill toppers, however, are less durable and may only serve you for 2-3 years before losing their support.”

Wool Mattress Toppers

Wool Mattress Toppers

Natural wool toppers are rare on the market. 

Typically, they are lightweight and thin, so they may feature a fitted design with a skirt or have straps that secure the topper in place and prevent it from sliding.

Speaking of the good sides of wool mattress toppers, I’d like to mention the following:

  • Excellent thermoregulation. Natural materials always have better thermoregulation than synthetic ones, and wool is a great material to use all year round. During cold months, it traps some amount of your body heat and works like a heating pad, while in summer, a wool layer promotes airflow and absorbs sweat without feeling wet.
  • Softness. Natural wool is very soft and fluffy, so it can add comfort to an overly firm mattress very easily. Also, the wool is more durable than synthetic fibers, so it will maintain the shape and fluff for longer.
  • Organic material. Natural wool doesn’t feature any additives and harsh chemicals, which makes it a good purchase even for people with extra sensitive skin.

Sounds almost perfect, right?

Well, unfortunately, wool mattress toppers do have some downsides (aside from being hard to find). It’s the ‘sheep’ smell, which can last for up to several weeks after unpacking, and higher prices — a wool pad may cost you as much as a decent latex topper.

Have you used mattress toppers before?  Which type worked best for you? Let us know in the comments!

Dual-Layer Memory Foam Toppers

Finally, there are two-layer mattress toppers. They feature a memory foam core with an additional layer of fiberfill padding, which can be detachable or sewn together.

Those aren’t very common but are still worth mentioning because of their great properties, such as:

  • They can make your mattress softer. Two-layer mattress toppers are generally 3 or 4 inches thick, which can alter the feel of your mattress. You probably don’t want to do this to a new mattress, but if your bed is old and lumpy or if it’s on a firmer side, a dual-layer mattress topper is a great way to add some comfort.
  • They offer exceptional cradling. The fiberfill padding layer instantly adjusts to your body shape and cradles pressure points, which results in painless sleep. This is especially useful for people with chronic pain and active sleepers who tend to toss and turn a lot.
  • They sleep cool. Fiberfill padding works well at heat removal and prevents you from overheating during sleep. Plus, it prevents moisture from traveling deeper into a memory foam layer, thus protecting it from mold.

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