lady putting ethical bedding mattress topper on bed

Mattress Topper Vs Protector: What’s the Difference?

Author: James Higgins

When buying new bedding, it’s likely that you’ve come across a couple of products designed to enhance the sleeping experience: mattress toppers and mattress protectors. But what are they, and what’s the difference?

In this article, we’ve explained what each of a mattress topper and protector are, as well as their benefits, and explored the differences between the two so you can make an informed buying decision. 

What is a mattress protector?


close up shot of ethical bedding's mattress protector


A mattress protector is a cover that lies between your mattress surface and bed sheet, looking a little like a sheet itself. Just like bed sheets, they’re also often available fitted or flat, depending on your preference, and come in a range of materials from cotton and wool to polyester and eucalyptus silk

But what does a mattress protector do?

They’re used to create a thin, protective barrier between you and your mattress, whether you’re prone to spilling food and drink, suffer from night sweats, or just concerned about typical wear and tear. 

What are the benefits of a mattress protector?

Now we know what a mattress protector is, what are the benefits - and why might you consider investing in one?


  • Protects against spills and stains
  • Perhaps the primary benefit of mattress protectors is that they act as an effective and durable barrier against spills and stains, helping to keep your mattress clean and fresh. This is ideal if you regularly suffer from night sweats, are perennially clumsy, or share the bed with pets.

    If you do cause a mess on your bed, simply wash your mattress protector and replace. Without one, though, you’d have to go through the laborious process of cleaning your mattress, while taking care not to damage the fibres. 


  • Extends the lifespan of your mattress
  • A mattress typically last for between seven to ten years, depending on material and fabric quality, but you can extend this by combining it with a protector. 

    Either use a protector to help your mattress achieve a longer life, or as an inexpensive solution for a more comfortable sleeping environment if your mattress is showing signs of aging and natural wear and tear. 


  • Luxurious comfort
  • Sleeping with a mattress protector can help to improve overall night time comfort, thanks to their extra cushioning and (often) breathable properties. Not only does this keep you cosy, but you’ll also feel cool and dry no matter the temperature. 

    What is a mattress topper?


    lady fitting ethical bedding mattress topper onto mattress


    When it comes to mattresses and bedding, not all people’s preferences are the same. Some people prefer a softer feel, while others favour a firmer choice. 

    However, it’s not practical nor economical to buy a new mattress each time your preferences change. Instead, it’s worth considering a mattress topper

    But what does a mattress topper do?

    A mattress topper looks a little like a thin mattress, but in reality it’s an additional, comfortable layer that you place on top of your current mattress. Rather than sleeping directly on top of your mattress, the topper is between you. 

    Typically between 2-4 inches in depth, a mattress topper is often used to improve sleep and combat restlessness, but it can also be used to protect your mattress against dirt and grime (although shouldn’t be used in place of a protector).

    Mattress toppers are manufactured using a wide array of materials and fillings, ranging from wool and memory foam to eucalyptus and down, so there’s a topper to suit your preferences, whether you’re looking for firm or soft bedding.

    What are the benefits of a mattress topper?

    We know what a mattress topper is, but what are the benefits and why might you consider buying one to enhance your sleeping experience?


  • Increase your mattress’ lifespan
  • Sleeping with a mattress topper can go a long way towards extending the lifespan of your mattress. This is because you’re implementing a second layer, which protects your mattress from everything ranging from dust and dirt to ordinary wear and tear. 

    As an added bonus, you’ll find that increasing your mattress’ lifespan will also save you money in the long run, what with not having to replace your mattress as often. 


  • Improved comfort
  • Mattress toppers provide a great reprieve if you’re struggling to sleep as a result of ongoing discomfort. 

    Whether this is because your mattress isn’t quite right or it’s beginning to show signs of aging, rather than committing to the relatively huge cost of a new one, you can purchase a topper that effortlessly alters the feel and improves night time back support. 


  • A versatile sleeping solution
  • One of the main benefits of mattress toppers is their versatility. While a mattress is a fixed size and depth, which provides a constant level of support, one mattress topper can be switched out for another if your needs change

    This can refer to anything from the level of comfort required to swapping out warm, winter bedding for a lighter mattress topper to keep you cool in the summer months. 


  • Improved physical health
  • As well as the comfort, hygiene, and money-saving advantages of sleeping with a mattress topper, you can also enjoy a series of physical health benefits, including alleviated muscle aches and pains. Not only this, but a mattress topper often optimises your sleeping position too, which prevents future discomfort. 

    What types of mattress protectors are there?

    There are three common types of mattress protector, with a bedding solution suitable for almost every kind of sleeper. From waterproof fabrics to anti-allergy and cooling materials, find out which might be the best mattress protector for you. 

    Waterproof protectors

    You can only consciously guard against accidental spillages so much, especially if you have messy and energetic children. However, untreated liquids can quickly stain and ruin your mattress.

    With that in mind, it’s often useful to have a waterproof protector that acts as a durable barrier against unwanted spills and accidents, especially if you’re buying for kids or elderly relatives who may unwittingly wet the bed, or share the bed with pets. 

    Anti-allergy protectors

    If you’re prone to night time allergies or bedtime sneezing, or looking for ways to limit asthmatic episodes, you might want to consider an anti-allergy mattress protector. 

    They’re specially manufactured to provide hypoallergenic relief, and actively repel dust and mites for a more comfortable sleeping experience. And, just like other protectors, they’re machine washable, so you can keep them fresh. 

    Cooling protectors

    Cooling mattress protectors are the ideal bedding addition if you’re someone who struggles with overheating at night or suffers from regular night sweats. 

    Made from moisture-wicking and breathable fabrics, such as cotton and eucalyptus silk, cooling protectors help to regulate your body temperature, keeping you cool on hot summer’s nights and cosy in the winter.

    How often should you wash a mattress protector?

    Your protector performs a crucial role in shielding your mattress from spillages, night sweats, and mess, as well as preventing a build-up of dust, mites, and dirt. But this also means your mattress protector needs to be washed regularly.

    As a rule of thumb, aim to wash your mattress protector every other month to keep it in great condition. However, there are a number of instances where you should wash your protector more frequently:

    You have allergies

    If you suffer from allergies, you may want to consider washing your mattress protector every month to maintain a clean and fresh sleeping environment. This reduces the risk of a build-up of dust or mites that could threaten a skin rash or asthmatic episode. 

    You’ve suffered with illness

    If you’ve recently suffered a bout of sickness, make sure to wash and change all of your bedding as soon as you’re on the mend. The last thing you want is lingering illness that could slow down your recovery. 

    There’s been a spillage

    Of course, if there’s been a spillage, remove and wash your mattress protector immediately. Ideally, you’ll have a spare protector you can fit in the meantime. 

    Should I get a mattress topper or a new mattress?

    If your mattress is beginning to show signs of aging and expected wear and tear, you might be tempted to invest in a new one. However, this can be costly, and not always necessary. 

    Instead, you might choose to consider the inexpensive solution of buying a mattress topper, to improve comfort without breaking the bank. Instances where it might be appropriate to buy a mattress topper include:

    • Your mattress or the filling has become damaged
    • Your mattress has a noticeable dip that’s affecting your sleeping position
    • Your mattress has reached its typical life expectancy (around 7-8 years)

    In each case, using a mattress topper will inject new life into your bedding, and you’ll no longer notice the dips, clumpy filling, or worn fabric. 

    What types of mattress toppers are there?

    Mattress toppers provide an addition layer of comfort to your bedding, allowing you to alter the feel without buying a new, expensive mattress. But with a number of different types of mattress topper to choose from, it’s important to find one that suits your preferences. 

    Wool toppers

    Wool mattress toppers are the perfect addition if you’re looking to make your tired mattress that little bit more comfortable. Not only will a wool topper give your bedding a new lease of life, but it’ll help to provide improved support and keep you feeling warm in the chilly winter months. 

    Memory foam toppers

    Memory foam mattress toppers are an immensely popular choice, as they mould to your body to provide constant support and comfort as you sleep, allowing you to completely sink into your bedding as you drift off into a luxurious slumber.

    By taking your shape, memory foam also aids physical health, helping to reduce excessive movement during the night, which can be a contributor to ongoing aches and pains. And they’re a much cheaper solution to memory foam mattresses!

    Cooling toppers

    Cooling toppers are an excellent choice if you find yourself struggling to sleep at night through overheating or excessive sweating.

    Manufactured using high-quality moisture-wicking and temperature-regulating fabric, cooling mattress toppers efficiently regulate your body heat as you sleep, keeping you cool during the warmer months and cosy when the temperature drops.

    close up of ethical bedding's white mattress topper

    Shop Ethical Bedding's cooling Eucalyptus and Bamboo mattress topper


    Latex toppers

    Combining effortless breathability with high-quality comfort, latex mattress toppers provide a cushioned sleeping surface that reacts to your changing body temperature. Not only does this keep you cool and dry at night, but also combats aches and pains by ensuring body pressure is distributed evenly. 

    How to care for your mattress topper

    Not only are mattress toppers highly practical and cost-effective, but they’re also incredibly durable when looked after correctly. We’ve picked out some actionable hacks to ensure your mattress topper remains in tip top shape for years to come.


  • Wash regularly
  • It’s important to regularly wash your mattress topper, to prevent a build up of dirt and grime. Once every 1-3 months is sufficient, but make sure you use a suitable detergent – and check your washing machine is big enough! If not, you can always have your topper professionally cleaned. 

    Before washing your topper though, read all the care instructions provided to prevent clumping, and make sure it’s completely dry before using again.


  • Let your topper breathe
  • Don’t be afraid to pull back your bed covers and sheet to let your mattress topper breathe every now and then. This allows air to circulate effectively, which helps locked-in moisture to evaporate and keep your bedding feeling fresh. 


  • Rotate regularly
  • Regularly rotating your mattress topper will help to ensure even wear, which will improve longevity. You should rotate your topper at least every other month, but there’s no harm in spinning it more often, for instance each time you change your sheets. 


  • Use with fresh sheets
  • It might sound a little obvious, but sleeping on fresh sheets, and changing them regularly, will help to keep your mattress topper in great condition. Clean bedding starts with your sheets, so start as you mean to go on.


  • Shake out your topper
  • Regularly shaking out your mattress topper will make sure the filling remains consistent, and prevents clumping. It can be useful to get into a habit giving your topper a quick shake every time you rotate it. 

    What is the difference between a mattress topper and protector?

    Now we’ve explained what each is, it’s time to identify the key differences between mattress toppers and protectors. We’ve outlined how each differs in terms of use, durability, and maintenance.

    Mattress protector

    Mattress topper


    A mattress protector is used to shield your mattress from food or liquid damage, as well as dust, mites, and grime. They don't change the way your mattress feels, but can improve comfort if you're a restless sleeper who suffers from night sweats. 

    Mattress toppers for beds are used to extend the lifespan of your mattress by providing a comfortable layer that's typically 2-4 inches thick. They can significantly change the way your mattress feels, and in some cases even offer some physical health benefits. 


    A mattress protector will typically need replacing after one or two years, or as soon as you begin to notice physical signs of wear and tear.

    A mattress topper will typically last three to five years, which helps to significantly extend the life of your mattress. 


    Mattress protectors can be conveniently washed and dried with the rest of your bedding in the machine. 

    Mattress toppers can typically be machine washed, although you may have to take your topper to a professional if your washer isn't large enough. Otherwise, you can spot wash stains. 

    Mattress protectors and toppers: Do I need both?

    Choosing whether to buy a mattress topper or protector depends entirely on your own circumstances and needs. For instance, you might be wondering ‘do I need a mattress protector if my mattress isn’t showing signs of wear and tear?’.

    However, there is a third option: investing in both. While toppers and protectors might at first glance appear similar, they serve very different purposes, and you can benefit greatly from buying both. 

    The topper will improve comfort and give your mattress a new lease of life, while the protector will prolong the life of and prevent damage to your mattress and topper. 

    At Ethical Bedding, we offer a selection of high-quality mattress toppers and protectors, made from ethically-sourced eucalyptus silk and bamboo.

    Not only is investing in a bamboo mattress topper and bamboo mattress protector a sustainable solution to your bedding requirements, but you’re guaranteed long-lasting comfort that feels like you’re sleeping on a cloud. For even more helpful insight like this from our sleep experts, head on over to our blog.