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What is the Difference Between a Mattress Pad, Mattress Topper, Pillow Top, and Featherbed?

Mattress toppers and pads are designed to work with existing mattresses to increase comfort and extend their life.
A woman asleep on a mattress.
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  • Written By: J. Beam
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 13 June 2014
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There are a variety of mattress toppers and mattress pads that individuals can use with their existing mattress. A mattress topper and a pad are both designed to work with an existing mattress to increase its comfort and extend its life. Sometimes, the words "topper" and "pad" are used interchangeably, but there are a variety of toppers and pads constructed of very different materials and designed to fill very different needs.

Unlike a pillow-top mattress, which is a mattress that cannot be flipped because of the added pillow-top feature, a mattress topper is completely separate from the mattress. Isotonic memory foam mattress toppers have become very popular in recent years. The theory behind the comfort of foam is the absence of springs and the way it molds to the body.

While many people find comfort in the molded support of foam, others prefer the softness of feather beds. Feather bed toppers may be filled with synthetic or genuine down. Like those made with foam, the feather bed is held in place on top of the mattress by the fitted sheet. Down is comforting to many sleepers because it is warm in cold weather and cool in hot weather.

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Though a mattress pads and toppers are frequently considered the same thing, they are actually different. A pad is usually not as thick as a topper and is most often made of quilted cotton or synthetic material. While they can provide additional padding to a mattress, they are most often used to protect the mattress. In addition, pads typically fit on the mattress like a fitted sheet rather than just lying loose on top. Many parents use them on their children’s beds to protect new big-kid mattresses from nighttime accidents. They're also convenient because they can be washed in large-capacity machines.

Consumers who are considering a mattress topper or mattress pad for a bed should first determine what purpose it needs to fill. They should visit retailers who have various types on display for testing. Many upscale department stores sell mattress pads and toppers in their white goods section and have placed them on display beds. In some cases, people can extend the life of an existing mattress by using a topper, but if a mattress is worn or non-supportive, it's unlikely to add enough cushioning to make a difference.

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Discuss this Article

anon262103
Post 13

I am wanting a topper pad of some sort that enables cold in hot weather and warm in cold. Is there such a thing?

anon258347
Post 12

Mattress pads are the best choice because they are machine washable. I'm not comfortable with mattress casings that aren't washable.

anon253128
Post 11

My dad bought me a memory foam pillow, and it is flipping hard, although with time it has got a bit softer. It can still give me a stiff neck!

anon252862
Post 10

I've always thought a mattress pad and mattress topper are the same thing.

anon221390
Post 9

I don't want to get too hot if I buy a mattress topper.

Which is the coolest type?

Duck down/feather; goose down/feather; memoryfoam; microfibre or hollowfibre?

I heard memoryfoam can get too hot. But what about the others?

anon136589
Post 8

Is it possible to use a feather bed "topper" on a water bed mattress? The water bed mattress is a sectional one, not the type that is one huge bag. Other than it might cut down on the warmth coming from the water, is there another reason one couldn't be used?

anon121118
Post 6

If it's heat you are seeking, buy a Gel mattress pad. Too hot for us! But beware, they are not soft at all!

anon109885
Post 5

Can I put a feather mattress topper on a foam top mattress? Thank you. --Sylvia

anon65142
Post 4

Is it possible to use a feather bed "topper" on a water bed mattress? The water bed mattress is a sectional one, not the type that is one huge bag. Other than it might cut down on the warmth coming from the water, is there another reason one couldn't be used?

anon59480
Post 3

should I use a mattress pad on top of my feather bed?

anon36385
Post 2

I did not like a feather topper as the feathers shift everytime you sleep on it so that means you have to take the sheet back everyday to fluff the feathers. The synthetic top is not as bad. They are not as expensive if you should happen not to like it.

anon21907
Post 1

I am interested in purchasing a mattress topper (feather bed). My husband gets much warmer than I, so it sounds like I should consider a synthetic top rather than down. Is it as comfortable? I do not have a local retailer that carries these, so I cannot "shop locally" to determine what is best for me

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