Anyone who has slept in a bed would remember the layers that existed between him/her and the wood/iron of the bed frame – the mattress, a thin white foam/eggcrate foam layer called mattress topper and the bed-sheet. Conventional wisdom tells us that the mattress topper provides many benefits that make the bed sleepable in the first place. These days however, many companies claim that their mattresses offer properties that make mattress toppers redundant. As folks who have used such “miracle” products will tell you though, some inherent qualities of the mattress are such that even if the claims are not totally hollow, the mattress topper is required to maintain the mattress and one’s health, in good shape. This of course, naturally leads one to ask which mattress topper would be the best. Therefore, in the following article we shall discuss both these questions – why a mattress topper is needed, and how one can choose the best mattress topper for his/her bed/s.
What is a mattress topper?
Though mattress toppers are quite common in many households, it is difficult to explain their present day importance without going briefly into the “what” and the history of this highly useful product. In very simplistic terms, a mattress topper is a thin block of foam or cloth that is of the same width and length, but usually of much less thickness, than the mattress. Mattress toppers are primarily used to ensure that the springs built into the mattress remain in good condition, while the person sleeping on the mattress does not have to experience the hardness, the excessive bounce and the lack of give in the mattress.
Given that mattresses have always been hard, mattress toppers have been around a long time. While richer folks used various solutions to get rid of hard mattresses, the modern ancestor of today’s mattress topper is undoubtedly the eggcrate foam topper. Used quite widely by folks ever since the first coil spring mattress came into being in 1865, the late Victorian mattress topper was more of an improvisation than a real ready-made product. Users would normally have thick eggcrate foam cut to the size of their beds and use them for their excellent waterproofing qualities and their ability to provide more padding to the user than the ordinary mattresses.
Cut to the late 20th Century, and we have mattress toppers that fulfil a diverse range of functions. They are softer than eggcrate foam toppers, have far less tendency to flatten out and become hard over time and most vitally, come in specific sizes to fit bed/mattress sizes. Apart from the comfort that these features provide, these toppers also ensure that the mattress itself does not become an abode for insects and vermin of various types, including some that can cause allergies and illnesses.
Characteristic Benefits of Toppers
While we shall study the benefits offered by various types of mattress toppers in detail below, it is best to look at the benefits briefly first
1. They keep the mattress waterproof
The oldest and most vital of the functions of the best mattress topper has been to keep the mattress from becoming wet. Wet mattresses tend to become saggy, develop smells (from rotting cloth inside) and also become the preferred abode for various types of vermin. Mattress toppers, being impervious to water, tend to keep the mattress free of rain water, seeping fluids from spilled drink and these days, even from sweat produced during sleep. While the latter is definitely not produced in enough quantity to drench the mattress, it can lead to unpleasant discoloration and over time, create odours.
2. Protect the mattress against bug infestation
Bugs, ranging from bed bugs and dust mites to full-sized rats, can infest your mattress over time depending on the overall infestation status of your home. While some of the bugs can move through the top layers of the mattress and feast on your blood during the night (and impart some diseases as well), others can cause allergies and illnesses through their excreta.
Dust mites, for instance, can produce a large amount of excreta, both solid and liquid on the top surfaces of the mattress. These can rise and block the lung entrances, leading to breathing problems and allergies. Mattress toppers prevent such occurrences by covering the mattress completely and thus keeping new vermin out while trapping those already inside. Note however that for such a policy to work, the topper has to be kept on the mattress constantly for a year at a stretch.
3. Keep the bed cool
Excepting memory foam (which is known for retaining heat to great extents), mattress toppers are made using materials that have better heat conductivity and hence pass on the heat to the mattress or to the exterior. This ensures that the bed is warm but not hot when one goes to sleep at night. Further, the smells produced by sweat (or urination by infants) are also removed along with the heat.
4. Provide sufficient padding/cushioning
The best mattress topper provides sufficient cushioning to the user, allowing the body to achieve its natural recline instead of being forced to adjust to a hard surface. Mattress typically are too hard for the user to recline comfortably, given that the springs are meant more to provide adequate support than comfort. Using a topper however, the user can “sink” into the bed.
It should be noted however that this applies only for firm mattresses that can hold up the topper itself. If the mattress is old and giving way, the topper too would sag and this would force the body into an odd shape. In such cases, the mattress should be replaced before placing the topper.
Types of Mattress Toppers
Now that we have seen the basic characteristic benefits being offered by all of the best mattress toppers, it is time to look at the pros and cons of each type of mattress topper. Note that some of these products are also used to make mattresses, and it is easy to confuse toppers with mattresses when shopping.
1. Eggcrate Toppers
Though wholly outdated, eggcrate toppers are preferred by those having a very low budget or looking for temporary products. Modern “eggcrate” toppers are often made of foam that is not actual eggcrate foam, but nevertheless belongs to the broad family of industrial packaging foam.
- Cheap and light and so can be carried around and disposed at will.
- Resistant to water and can even be used to encase pillows etc.
- Generally disliked by vermin and small rodents.
- Rather thin and can flatten out easily.
- Low cushioning value and can aggravate muscle problems.
- Not impervious to bugs and their excreta.
2. Memory Foam Toppers
By and large the most popular topper category, memory foam toppers offer a special type of foam that adjusts to the contour of the body rapidly as the body shifts during sleep, thus providing it adequate support at all times.
- Provides the best support among foam products
- Great for those needing variable support for back and neck pains.
- Due to excellent adjustability, movement on one end of the bed does not disturb the partner sleeping at the other end.
- Never flatten out as the foam regains original shape when left undisturbed.
- Capable of fending off mites and vermin.
- Repels water, though rain has been known to clog memory foam cells and cause problems.
- Known to be rather hot, leading to some people having hot flashes.
- Cheaper memory foam products may be made of toxic chemicals that deteriorate over time and produce harmful byproducts. Getting a CentiPUR-US certified company’s topper would protect one against such risks however.
- Quite expensive and cannot be carried around easily as they do not fold with ease.
- Can trigger allergies in some rare cases.
3. Wool toppers
As the name suggests, wool toppers are made of lamb or alcapa wool, and they represent one of the truly natural means of enjoying a good night’s sleep. While their composition makes for only some standard sizes, they are known to be extremely durable compared to other products.
- Provides excellent natural warmth.
- Sufficient cushioning and can adjust to movement on the bed to some extent.
- Research has shown that it brings on Stage 4 Regenerative Sleep the fastest.
- Resistant to bed bugs and vermin.
- Alcapa wool toppers can be washed in a washing machine, something not possible with most types of toppers.
- Mixed wool products have the longest lifespan, beating even other wool toppers by a margin.
- Since they’re natural, chances of allergies and toxicity are reduced to a minimum.
- Extremely costly, running in the range of $1,000-$2,000
- Comes in only certain select sizes.
4. Horsehair Toppers
The choice for aristocrats in the pre-modern period when it came to comfortable upholstery, horsehair toppers are known for being the only type of topper that never “settles” down into a permanent flat shape. While the springiness thus created may be annoying for some of the older folk, horsehair is extremely durable, second only perhaps to wool.
- Extremely “springy” constitution, ideal for children and young adults.
- Retains adequate warmth if kept in an insulated setting.
- Hairs are open-ended as so allow passage of moisture, preventing buildup of sweat.
- Repel bugs, though some natural horsehair bugs may infest the toppers if there are animals in the house.
- Extremely durable, especially in colder conditions.
- Known to be “itchy” for some folks.
- People with allergies to horses or fur in general should avoid these toppers.
5. Silk Toppers
Somewhat thinner than other types of toppers, silk toppers are nevertheless known to be ideal for those who wish to sleep in a natural material but find wool or horsehair to be irritating and/or allergenic.
- Extremely soft and ideal for those with injuries/aches and pains.
- Light and thin, portable to some extent.
- Hypoallergenic and repels bed bugs
- Modern variants can get rid of sweat and odour with proper air circulation.
- Most affordable among natural products.
- Air circulation also ensures coolness and hence, enhanced comfort.
- Does not provide a lot of support.
- Thinness can be a problem for those wanting dense and thick toppers.
How to Select a Mattress Topper?
Now that we have taken a look at the top products in the market in 2015, it is time to finally go through the criteria that one should employ to find the best mattress topper in the market for one’s needs.
As the above reviews would suggest, densities in the range of 3-7lbs are ideal for most memory foam or even conventional foam toppers. Some units have a slightly lower density but they make up for this by providing special top layers. No matter how the density is ensured, it is a fact that such density allows the user to enjoy support. While excessive support may turn a topper into a mattress by removing the comfort factor, it is true that a certain degree of support is needed to ensure that arms, legs, neck and spine are in proper alignment and posture.
Density is not measurable for other types of toppers, but it is generally accepted that somewhat heavy units tend to be better at providing comfort and support than extremely light ones (eg. wool would be better than eggcrate foam).
2. Thickness and Age of Mattress
The thickness and age of the mattress are vital because they decide how thick and soft a topper should be. Ideally, mattress in the age range of 2-5 years should be provided with softer and thicker mattress toppers because they tend to become thinner and harder than new mattresses (less than two years in use).
3. Sleeping Alignment
Side sleepers tend to require a lot more support as one side of their body has to bear the weight of the entire body. Such folks need memory foam or an extremely soft topper like wool. Back and belly sleepers have more choice, though those with excess weight should also go for thicker and softer offerings.
4. Thickness of the topper
In general, the topper should at least be 3-4” thick, when measured without any additions, top layers or covers. This thickness can provide adequate comfort, while products thinner than this would act like thick bedsheets placed on the mattress. Extremely thick units would offer too much support, making one feel like he/she is lying on two mattresses at once.
5. Price Considerations
Contrary to what many users think, cheaper is not always worse, nor is costlier better. Some memory foam offerings provide excellent comfort without forcing anyone to take out a mortgage. Eggcrate foam is of course the cheapest, but it is on its way out and should only be purchased by those having extremely limited budgets. Horsehair alternatives like down, synthetic down and microfiber are also quite affordable.
If one has a higher budget though, anything from high quality memory foam to wool and horsehair can be used. Silk forms a middle road between the two categories, and it is not uncommon for folks to upgrade from the lower end of the spectrum to silk later on.
As the above guide to understanding toppers and buying the best mattress topper in 2015 shows, the options are many but comfort is really not that difficult to understand or split up into specific features. Using these features as a guide, it is not difficult to select the best material depending on one’s needs and budget/s, and then go in for a final selection using our list as a reference. While we have not been able to cover every facet of the mattress topper, we do hope we’ve managed to impress upon the reader the importance of this simple mattress, sleep and health guarantor for him/her to purchase a good topper for himself/herself and his/her family and so ensure that everyone receives the best sleep while safeguarding their beds and health.