Mattress Topper, Protector Or Underlay? Find the Best Option For You With This Buying Guide

Mattress Topper, Protector Or Underlay?

When it comes to bedding, we usually focus on what we can see and move about the bed - a smooth fitted sheet, billowy top sheets and a comfy quilt or duvet with matching pillows. But some of the hardest working parts of your bedding are underneath all that, surrounding your mattress and protecting it from dampness, bacteria and other nasties. Mattress toppers, protectors and underlays all play different roles in how they affect your sleep, and you can have one, all three or none at all on your bed and still sleep comfortably.

So what's the difference between these three valuable pieces of bedding, and what kind is right for you? Let's dive into what makes these pieces of bedding so special and how they can improve your sleep, as well as how they prolong the life of your mattress!

Quick Links

What Is A Mattress Protector?

Often used in hotels and by families with young children, a mattress protector does exactly what its name implies - protects your mattress from spills, stains and other incursions. A mattress protector is a thin, flexible piece of bedding that sits on top of your mattress and underneath a fitted sheet. A mattress protector can be a flat piece of material held in place by four bands around the corners of your bed, a flexible material that wraps around the top and sides like a fitted sheet, or a fully-encompassing cover that zips around your mattress and protects it from all angles.

A mattress protector isn't designed to change how your mattress feels, like making it softer or firmer. Its purpose is purely to protect your mattress, and it does this by creating a physical barrier between your mattress and liquids, dirt, bacteria and bugs that might try to make their way in.

A mattress protector helps keep your mattress free from liquids like sweat or spilled drinks, prevents the spread of dust mites and bedbugs and also keeps dirt and bacteria from staining your mattress. Because of the work they do, your mattress protector will need to be cleaned, but most can be thrown in your washing machine to keep them clean and fresh all year long.

What Is A Mattress Topper?

What Is A Mattress Topper?

If your bed is feeling a little hard or is starting to sag, a mattress topper may be just what you need to breathe new life into your mattress! A mattress topper is a light, quilted layer that goes directly over your mattress and underneath your fitted sheet, and is designed to improve the feel of your mattress. They also provide a little bit of protection from liquid stains, although not nearly as much as a mattress protector.

Mattress toppers are easy to remove and can also be used in other areas of the home - if you want to lie on the floor and watch a movie, simply whip out your mattress topper and you'll have a soft, comfy surface to relax on!

Some mattress toppers can be machine washed, while others will have a removable cover for washing while the inside can only be spot cleaned. Make sure to check your cleaning instructions if you think your mattress protector could use a refresh.

What Is The Difference Between A Mattress Topper And A Mattress Underlay?

Many brands use the terms mattress topper and underlay interchangeably, and it's understandable why. Both of these bedding pieces sit underneath your fitted sheet and are designed to make your mattress feel more comfortable. But there are subtle differences between the two!

A mattress underlay functions similarly to a mattress topper, except they are heavier and often made of wool. Underlays provide a firm but breathable layer of comfort, compared to the squishy feel of a mattress topper. You probably won't need to have both a mattress underlay and a topper on your bed, but if you choose to do so and want a mattress protector as well, make sure to choose one that can comfortably cover your topper, underlay and the mattress itself.

Materials Used to Make Toppers, Protectors & Underlays

These bedding layers can be made from a wide range of natural and synthetic materials, including wool, cotton, polyester and nylon. Natural materials are more breathable and durable, while synthetic ones are super soft and can even be waterproof. Some may also have additional properties like cooling, extra back support or being hypoallergenic. Make sure to carefully inspect the characteristics of the mattress protector, topper or underlay you are interested in to see what qualities it has.

Read more about the benefits of different materials:



- Thin and breathable

- Cool and temperature regulating

- Hypoallergenic


- Affordable options

- Hypoallergenic, suitable for those sensitive to natural fibres

- Waterproof options


- Durable

- Provides adequate cushioning

- More firm than other types

Memory Foam

- Conforms for body shape

- Soft and flexible

- Good for pressure points

Down or Feather

- Warm and heat retaining

- Soft and fluffy

- Cushioning without being too bulky


- Durable

- Temperature regulating

- Soft and comfortable

Mattress Protector vs Topper vs Underlay

Mattress Protector vs Topper vs Underlay - Pros and Cons of Each

Now that we have an understanding of the ins and outs, make the right decision for your bed with the comparison table below:


Mattress Protector

- Thinner layer designed to protect from spills and stains.

- Waterproof options available, great for kids beds.

- Various materials available including cotton and polyester.

- Different types to fit your mattress including elastic loops, full elasticated skirt or zip up.

- Easily machine washable.

- Does not provide a lot of extra cushioning or change the physical comfort.

- Mattress protectors cannot rescue an old mattress.

Mattress Topper

- A topper can drastically change the feel of an existing mattress.

- Thick cushioning helps relieve pressure.

- Different firmness and thicknesses available.

- Can help extend the life of your mattress.

- Spot clean only, however some have a washable cover.

- Usually not waterproof or stain resistant.

- Can be a more pricey option.

- Choosing the right firmness and thickness is important.

Mattress Underlay

- Adds a comfortable layer without being too thick or bulky.

- Can help with temperature regulation and cooling.

- Available in natural materials such as wool.

- Provides light cushioning but not as much as a mattress topper.

- Not as effective for old mattresses.

Find The Right Mattress Padding And Protection At Spotlight

No matter your bedding needs, you can find a fantastic range of mattress underlays, toppers and protectors at Spotlight. Our range is affordable and high quality, meaning you can make your bed comfortable without having to spend a fortune. Our range also includes leading brands such as Tontine, Ever Rest, Jason and Brampton House. Check out the entire range of bedding online, where you can have your order home delivered with your choice of payment, or visit your local Spotlight store to view our bedding range in person. Want more for your bed? Check out our other great buying guides on choosing the right pillow and the best bed linen for your sleeping habits to ensure you have everything you need for a restful night of sleep!



Get VIP discounts, attend exclusive events and more