What is a pillow-top and do I need one on my mattress?

Marks & Spencer pillow-top mattress on left, Helix Midnight tight-top mattress on right
(Image credit: Marks and Spencer / Helix / Future)

When shopping for a new mattress, you'll likely come across the term 'pillow-top', or possibly 'Euro-top' or 'tight-top'. If you're not sure exactly what is meant by these terms, we're here to help. These are all bits of industry jargon that help explain what the top section of your mattress is going to look like. 

Many of our best mattress picks have a pillow-top, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you need one. In this article, we'll explain exactly what a mattress pillow-top is (and what a Euro-top and tight-top are, too), and if this style of mattress might suit you. 

What is a mattress pillow-top?

A pillow-top is a squishy 'pillow' that sits on top of the main body of your mattress. It's differentiated from the rest of the mattress by an extra bit of fabric in the side panel, which give the pillow-top a rounded edge. 

Pillow-tops are often found on hybrid and innerspring mattresses rather than all-foam models. A pillow-top adds extra plushness and cushioning to the sleep surface. It also makes the mattress look more high-end – a number of today's best luxury mattress models have a pillow-top. 

1050 Pocket Spring Medium Pillowtop Mattress

The Marks & Spencer 1050 Pocket Spring Medium Pillowtop Mattress (Image credit: Marks & Spencer)

What is a Euro-top?

A Euro-top is the same thing as a pillow-top – a cushioning 'pillow' that sits on top of the main body of your mattress – but with squared-off edges. Instead of there being a pleat of extra fabric to separate it from the rest of the mattress, it's often marked out by a different border fabric or some piping. 

Close up of Pillow top on Brooklyn Bedding Aurora Luxe

The Euro-top on the Brooklyn Bedding Aurora Luxe mattress (Image credit: 3Z Brands for Tom's Guide)

What is a mattress tight-top?

A tight top is the term given to a mattress without a pillow-top or Euro-top added. It's only really used as a comparison to a pillow-top model. The hem may sit on the apex between the top and side surfaces, or it may sit part-way down the side edge (as shown below). The latter is known as a 'waterfall edge'. 

If you have a tight-top mattress and want to give it a pillow-top upgrade, you can do so pretty easily by adding one of the best mattress toppers. There are a wide variety on the market, so you could opt for one stuffed with fibres to create a cushioned feel, or a memory foam topper to add a contouring feel.

Close up of tight-top on Helix Midnight mattress

The tight-top on the Helix Midnight mattress (Image credit: 3Z Brands for Tom's Guide)

Pillow-top vs tight top mattress

Choose a pillow-top (or Euro-top) if...

You want a cushioning mattress

Pillow-tops are almost always used for a plush, springy, non-dense stuffing. If you pick a pillow-top / Euro-top mattress, you can expect a cushioned upper level with a firmer feel underneath. This is a way to relieve pressure if you don't like the sink-in sensation of memory foam.

You want a luxurious mattress

A pillow-top or Euro-top gives a mattress a more luxurious, hotel mattress kind of vibe. The extra top section often bumps up the profile, making them taller (which always feels more luxe) and the extra padding tends to create a more sumptuous sleep feel. 

Choose a tight-top if...

You want a sink-in memory foam feel

Most pillow-tops are made from bouncy, responsive foam, so if you want the sink-in feel of memory foam, they're best avoided. (Note: we've never seen an all-foam mattress with a pillow-top added, but they do appear on hybrid mattresses.) For example, the Helix Midnight has a tight-top and a thick memory foam layer at the top. The Midnight Luxe adds a pillow-top, which masks the feeling of the memory foam beneath. If you want that body-contouring feel, you should opt for the regular version.

You have mobility problems

The addition of a plush pillow top can make the mattress less easy to move around on. Although you won't be fighting the quicksand feel of memory foam, for the most responsive sleep surface, you'll be best off with a tight top. 

You want the most durable mattress

The addition of extra seams around the edges of a mattress introduces new potential points of weakness. This is especially true of pillow-top mattresses, and likely to be less of an issue with the simpler Euro-top design. You might need to be a bit more careful with a pillow-top mattress when moving it, to avoid ripped seams. Obviously, you won't be able to flip a pillow top mattress to extend its lifespan either (although most modern hybrid mattresses aren't designed to be flipped anyway). 

Often, pillow-tops are made with less-dense foams, which are less durable, so could degrade or go flat more quickly than a tight-top mattress. Theoretically, you're better off adding a topper (which can be replaced if it wears out) to a tight-top than opting for a pillow-top. 

How is a pillow-top made, and what's in it?

Typically, pillow-tops and Euro-tops are stuffed with foam. It'll usually be a less-dense version of the mattress foams found elsewhere in the design. Occasionally, they might be stuffed with something like wool or other fibers. Contrary to what you might assume, the most pillow-tops aren't actually separate from the rest of the mattress – i.e. they're not wrapped all the way around. 

Ruth Hamilton
Sleep Editor, Certified Sleep Science Coach

Ruth Hamilton is a Sleep Editor and and Certified Sleep Science Coach who is qualified to offer advice on what mattress will suit you best, plus tips on how to improve your sleep habits. She was acting Sleep Editor on Tom's Guide for a year, and has now moved across to our sister site TechRadar. Ruth has tested more mattresses than her small flat can handle and will talk at length about them to anyone who shows even a passing interest, and has had to implement a one-in-one-out pillow policy for fear of getting smothered by them in the night. As well as following all the industry trends and advancements in the mattress and bedding world, she regularly speaks to other sleep experts to delve into the science behind a great night's sleep, and offer you advice to help you get there.