Do mattress toppers actually work or are they a waste of money?

Woman lifting a mattress topper off bed
(Image credit: Amazon)

Mattress toppers are designed to boost the comfort and performance of your current mattress, rebooting your sleep without having to splurge on a brand new bed. But do bed toppers actually work, and are they worth buying?

Even the very best mattress for your body and sleep needs can have a few issues — perhaps it could be a tad firmer, plusher, or cooler, for example. Different mattress toppers are designed to fix different problems, but there's been some debate about whether they actually serve their purpose or are an added extra that you simply don't need. 

Here, we'll discuss what mattress toppers are for, if and how they work, and whether they're worth buying. We'll also take a look at the average lifespan of a bed topper and the best places to buy one for less in this month's mattress sales.

What are mattress toppers for? 

A mattress topper is an extra layer of padding placed on top of a mattress to change the feel of its sleep surface. They resemble mini mattresses, and are often between two to four inches in depth. Bed toppers are commonly made from memory foam or latex, with more expensive options filled with feathers.   

The function of a mattress topper can vary. Some mattress toppers are designed to make firm mattresses softer, while other toppers are made to make soft mattress firmer. There are also gel-infused bed toppers that are designed to make warm-to-the-touch mattresses cooler.

Do mattress toppers work?

We've tested some of the best mattress toppers you can buy, so we can say that the majority of mattress toppers do work — as long as you choose the right one for your sleep needs and bed. 

Mattress toppers are designed to fulfil a certain function. For example, if a topper is supposed to act as a comfort layer, then it will add softness to your mattress. If a topper is designed to be a support layer, it will make your mattress firmer. 

A man and a woman unroll a Tempur-Adapt Mattress Topper onto their bed

(Image credit: Tempur-Pedic)

So, when shopping for a new mattress topper, make a note of whether you want to add more comfort or more support to your mattress. If you also want to add some temperature control to your bed, then look for a cooling mattress topper (which are usually infused with cooling gel, copper, or graphite). 

That said, some mattress toppers do not work, and there are certain warning signs to look for while shopping for a topper:

  • It's less than 2 inches thick: If a topper is thinner than 2", then it's unlikely to make a difference to your mattress or provide any additional support or comfort. 
  • It's thicker than 4 inches: On the other hand, a topper that's extra thick will likely be too squishy and you may feel trapped when trying to change sleep position. 
  • It has no straps to attach to your bed: Good quality toppers come with anchor bands to attach to your mattress. However, some toppers don't have these straps, causing the topper to shift on the mattress when you're moving around on it. 

Which mattress toppers are the best for you?

From our experience testing mattress toppers, the best mattress toppers are between two inches and four inches thick, come with anchor bands to keep the topper in place, and have a removable, machine-washable cover. 

In terms of material, side sleepers will find memory foam toppers to be the most comfortable, while back, stomach and hot sleepers will enjoy gel, copper, or graphite-infused foam toppers. Those looking for a clean, hypoallergenic sleep should opt for an organic latex topper. 

How long do mattress toppers last?

When answering the most common questions about mattress careM&S Mattress textiles expert Lydia Lloyd told us that the lifespan of topper is relatively short: “It’s important to make sure to replace your mattress topper every one to two years, to help your mattress last longer.”

That said, latex toppers are naturally more durable, and should last longer than standard memory foam toppers. 

A woman sits on a mattress holding a hand to her lower back

(Image credit: Getty)

Do mattress toppers help with back pain?

If you sleep on your back or stomach, then your hips need to be supported so they don't sink into the topper and misalign your spine (which leads to lower back pain). When looking to ease back pain, invest in a medium-firm topper for extra back support. 

Avoid any topper over four inches, as these will likely be too soft to support your body, and look for a high-quality topper that is stable enough to support you.  

Bottom line: Do mattress toppers work and are they worth it?

In short, yes. If you buy a topper that's two to four inches thick, comes with anchor straps, and is designed to fix your mattress's specific issues, then it's a great, cost-effective way to give your bed a makeover. 

If your mattress sleeps warm, for example, then buying cooling bed topper is a lot more budget-friendly than buying one of the best cooling mattresses. That said, toppers have a short lifespan, so don't spend too much on a memory foam topper as you'll need to replace it every two years. 

There are also certain problems that a topper won't be able to fix, so don't bother buying a mattress topper if your bed is over 10 years old and your trying to save it - especially if it's torn, stained, or has sagging that's more than two inches deep. Instead, you should invest in a new mattress altogether. 

However, mattress toppers are a great way to refresh or improve a mattress, so a mattress topper is worth buying in the following instances:

  • You want to make a supportive mattress firmer
  • You want to make a supportive mattress softer
  • You want to make a supportive mattress cooler
  • You want to refresh a guest room bed 
  • You're saving up for a new mattress and need a temporary fix

Where can I buy a mattress topper?

Many brands behind the best memory foam mattresses and hybrid mattresses also make bed toppers, including Tempur-Pedic, Viscosoft, and Birch Living, You can also find the best cheap mattress toppers on Amazon (but be aware that these can be too thin and don't last as long) if you're on a tight budget. Here's a few of our top picks for best mattress topper:

Tempur-Adapt Topper: $319 $191.40 at Tempur-Pedic

Tempur-Adapt Topper: from $319 $191.40 at Tempur-Pedic
In contrast to their mattresses, the Tempur-Adapt topper is regularly discounted at Tempur-Pedic, with an evergreen Tempur-Pedic mattress deal knocking 40% off. In Tempur-Pedic Tempur-Adapt topper review, reviewers said its plush cushioning was a great fit for side sleepers in particular, and offers the trademark cloud-like pressure relief of a Tempur-Pedic mattress for a fraction of the price. 

ViscoSoft Active Cooling Mattress Topper$334 $249.94 at ViscoSoft

ViscoSoft Active Cooling Mattress Topper: from $334 $249.94 at ViscoSoft
This mattress topper is great if you want to add some firmness and coolness to a plush, warm mattress, with testers for our Viscosoft Active Cooling Mattress Topper review finding it offers great support to back sleepers. The average and current discount is around 20% off, so now you can get a queen size ViscoSoft Active Cooling Mattress Topper for $349.95 (was $469.95). 

Turmerry Latex Mattress Topper: $150 $99 at Turmerry

Turmerry Latex Mattress Topper: from $150 $99 at Turmerry
This mattress topper is perfect for those seeking a non-toxic, hypoallergenic and organic mattress topper. You can currently save around 20% on this sustainable topper, with a queen size discounted to $189 down from $235. This is the price of a standard soft topper, but the  firmness of this mattress is customisable. However, be aware that the firmer you go, the more expensive it becomes.

Frances Daniels
Sleep Staff Writer

Frances Daniels is a Sleep Staff Writer at Tom's Guide and her role includes covering all mattress and sleep news, in addition to mattress reviews and buyer's guides, plus sleep accessories such as pillows and mattress toppers. Frances is a PPA-accredited journalist and is hugely interested in the relationship between good sleep and overall health. When not writing about mattresses and sleep for Tom's Guide, Frances enjoys writing about women's issues, health and wellbeing, the environment, and her native Wales.