Mattress topper vs new mattress: Which one do you need?

The Tempur-Pedic Topper Supreme and an Emma Original mattress on a pink background
(Image credit: Tempur-Pedic / Emma Sleep)

When it comes to getting great rest, a good quality mattress is essential for helping you sleep well and wake feeling refreshed. But if yours is causing you to feel achy, wake frequently in the night or to overheat, then it could be time to re-think what you’re sleeping on. Luckily, there’s plenty of choice when it comes to the best mattresses and many are very affordable.

That said, if your existing bed is relatively new or still in good condition, adding one of the best mattress toppers instead could give you the added comfort, cooling or body contouring you’re looking for. There are other reasons why you might choose one over the other, and we look at those too in our comparison piece on mattress  vs mattress topper.

Mattress topper vs new mattress: Differences

When it comes to deciding between these two options, there are a few things to consider, which will be different for each sleeper. So before you make your decision, it helps to think about the main differences between mattress toppers vs new mattresses, including hybrid memory foam mattresses. These are as follows:

Thickness: At two to four inches, even the thick toppers are much thinner than mattresses. While this makes them more practical and easier to transport, it also makes them far less durable. However, this added layer could be all that’s needed to transform your current bed, plus it’s easier to maintain (read our how to clean a mattress topper feature for tips). 

The Zinus Green Tea mattress shown on a bed in the centre of a well-lit bedroom with a log burner and coffee table

(Image credit: Zinus)

Price: Because toppers are made with fewer materials too, they are usually cheaper than a new bed, which makes them a more attractive purchase. But if your existing mattress really has seen better days, then we’d recommend opting for a new mattress instead. Affordable models are sometimes of a similar price to luxury toppers. For one such example, read our Zinus Green Tea Mattress review.

Longevity: The best mattresses in a box last anywhere from six to 10 years, while natural models (such as latex) can last up to 25 years. Toppers typically last around three to five years at the most. The best organic mattresses last much longer, with some lasting over 15 years.

So if your bed is on the way out, then it’s often a better idea to replace it. Why? Because in order to be truly effective, a topper still needs a stable surface beneath it, rather than one that is sagging. For further guidance, read our feature on how often should you replace your mattress.

Mattress topper vs new mattress: Key benefits

Updating or upgrading your mattress can help you sleep better, and with a huge choice of both products available now, it’s never been easier to tailor your bed to how you like to sleep. The main benefits of investing in either a mattress topper or new mattress are:

Better spine alignment – No matter what your sleep position (side, front, back or combined), keeping the spine aligned and supported as you sleep will help minimize aches and pains. The best mattress for side sleepers is typically medium or medium-firm, while stomach and back sleepers should definitely choose something less plush – either a medium-firm or one of the best firm mattresses. If you've chosen wrongly, then there will be a new mattress or mattress topper that will add softness or firmness to keep your back happy. 

Better temperature control – If your existing bed is overheating you, then a temperature regulating mattress or topper is your next step. You can find both products made with innovative cooling gels and breathable cover fabrics that promote good airflow and wick away sweat. Take a look at our best cooling mattress guide for more guidance, including our top pick, the Eight Sleep Pod Pro. 

The Eight Sleep Pod Pro shown on a grey fabric base and dressed with white pillows

(Image credit: Eight Sleep)

Better pressure relief – Staying comfy as you sleep can be tricky when the body’s pressure points (shoulders, hips, knees) aren’t properly cushioned. A good bed or topper will provide an extra cushioning layer that cradles these areas to make sure they stay as pressure pain-free as possible.

Mattress topper vs new mattress: Prices

Depending on whether you want luxury or affordable, the price of a new mattress can span from less than $200 to over $9,000 (hello, Tempur-Pedic). The type of bed you go for (hybrid, memory foam, innerspring, latex or a fully organic mattress) also affects the price. 

Mattress toppers are normally much cheaper but they don't last as long, so the price element of this comparison article needs to be weighed up in terms of the cost right now versus the long-term investment in your sleep and general health. 

That said, some luxury toppers can run to several hundred dollars, which is well over the price of an affordable queen size bed. For example, Nectar sells a fantastic all-foam mattress from just $499 (see our Nectar mattress sales and deals guide), while Saatva makes a bed topper that costs up to $470 (see our Saatva mattress sales and discounts round-up).

Winner: It’s a draw. Why, when new mattresses are clearly more expensive? Because if you buy a mattress topper for a sub-par bed, the overall cost to your sleep and posture will be higher in the long-term rather than spending a little more now to get a new mattress that suits your body and sleep. 

That said, if your bed is perfectly decent but needs to be a little firmer or softer, ditching it for a completely new mattress isn’t necessary. You’ll save money by opting for the right topper, and you won’t be adding to landfill either.

Topper vs mattress: You have a small budget

If you have a small budget and need to update your current mattress then it’s worth asking yourself the following:

How old is your current mattress? If it is more than seven years old, then it’s worth shopping around for a decent affordable mattress, which will be better value in the long run as it should last longer. While very cheap mattresses can be suitable, they generally don’t last as long as they are made with lower-quality materials. If your existing mattress is still in good condition, then there’s plenty of affordable choice when it comes to mattress toppers.

The Lucid 4 Inch gel memory foam mattress topper on a grey fabric covered bed base

(Image credit: Lucid)

What are your sleep comfort requirements? If your mattress is in good condition, but you need extra cushioning or cooling for instance, then adding a topper could be an excellent solution. You can pick up cooling toppers or comfy pillow-top versions cheaply online, and don’t forget to check the big brands for regular sales and discounts too.

Winner: We’re declaring this one a draw. With most of the top brands offering excellent sales throughout the year, you can usually pick up a decent new bed without breaking the bank. If your mattress is still in good condition, then there are plenty of affordable toppers around.

Topper vs mattress: Your current bed is sagging

If your mattress is stained, sagging, ripped or has an unpleasant smell, then it’s time to get a new mattress. Putting a topper on top of an unstable, sagging mattress means it will have no solid base to rest upon and you won’t get proper support. 

Meanwhile adding a topper onto an unhygienic mattress is just masking the problem. If your mattress is more than seven or so years old then the staining could be age-related, which is another indication that it’s time to upgrade. Learn more in our feature answering why is my mattress yellow?

The Nectar Memory Foam Mattress sat on a wooden bed frame and dressed with a white comforter and white pillows

(Image credit: Nectar Sleep)

Winner: New mattresses win here, no contest. You'll be wasting your money if you buy a topper to sit on an old, stained, smelly or sagging mattress. It won't be that effective, you won't get the boost in comfort you're craving, and you'll be back to square one in no time. Check out our Nectar Memory Foam Mattress review for an affordable choice for all sleepers.

Topper vs mattress: You need better support

Toppers offer a quick and easy solution if you need to upgrade your mattress to give your posture better support. However, with most new beds, support comes from the foundation layer up, so investing in a mattress that offers the right level of support is important. While a topper offers some relief, if you place one on top of an unsupportive bed it will not last as long.

If you only need a slight tweak to improve the support, then a bed topper is a good compromise, but if the lack of support is causing you aches and pains, a suitable new mattress is better for your long-term health.

Winner: A new mattress comes out on top for us here. Opt for one that delivers proper comfort and support from the foundation right through to the top, as this is essential for keeping your spine healthy, especially if you are prone to back pain. For a bed made with natural and certified materials, read our best organic mattress guide.

Topper vs mattress: It's for your guest room

If you have a bed that is only used occasionally, adding a mattress topper is a good way to make it more comfortable. Toppers also keep the mattress fresh and protected, and can be easier to clean than a mattress with many offering removable and machine-washable covers. 

Winner: If you’re looking to give an existing mattress a refresh for a guest bedroom, then a bed topper is a quick, convenient and cheap way to do it.

Mattress topper vs new mattress: How to decide

Deciding between these two products depends on your needs as well as the condition of your existing bed. If your mattress is sagging, torn or stained, then a new one is in order. If your mattress is still supportive, but you would like it to be firmer, more plush, cooler or warmer, then a mattress topper is the smarter option (and it will save you money). 

Other factors such as affordability will influence your decision, but remember that spending a little bit more can often see you sleeping more comfortably for longer resulting in deeper, more refreshing sleep. To enhance your shut-eye further, consider getting the best pillow for your budget too.

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Grace Franks

Grace is an experienced sleep writer and mattress reviewer who also contributes to our sister site TechRadar, among other Future plc brands. She's a big fan of organic sleep products and has recently invested in a wool mattress topper that she quite happily describes as "life-changing." (Hey, we're serious about our sleep products). When she isn't testing mattresses or writing about sleep, Grace enjoys reading and creative writing, and incorporates meditation and yoga into her wellness routine.