Should you buy a mattress topper or a new mattress? Here's how to choose

The Siena Memory Foam Mattress vs the Lucid Memory Foam bed topper
(Image credit: Siena / Lucid Mattress)
Mattress topper vs mattress: Key takeaway

Choose a bed topper if your mattress is less than six years old and otherwise in good condition, yet you want it to be softer, firmer or cooler. Buy a new mattress if your current one is over eight years old (sooner if it's a cheap bed) and causes you physical pain or shows signs of deep sagging.

When it comes to a mattress vs mattress topper, both can improve your sleep, but to what extent depends on the type you buy. To help you choose between them, we've created this comparison that explains how mattresses and mattress toppers work, comparing them in terms of price, comfort, support and temperature control to help you confidently choose between them.

As bed experts we know that investing in the best mattress for your sleep can provide you with excellent full body pressure relief, support and comfort, which in turns help you sleep better at night. Mattresses come in four main types (hybrid, memory foam, innerspring and latex), with the average price of a US queen size costing $1,000 and a UK double costing £899 outside of monthly mattress sales.

The best mattress toppers are cheaper than most standard mattresses, with the exception of certified organic toppers vs budget mattresses. A good bed topper can instantly change the feel of your mattress and boost its cooling power. Mattress topper prices vary enormously, but on average a US queen costs $319 MSRP and a UK double costs £179 RRP. Let's take a closer look...

Mattress vs mattress topper: Key differences

  • Mattresses are 8-12" tall, while toppers are thinner at 2-4"
  • On average, mattresses are more expensive than toppers
  • Mattresses last 6-10 years on average; toppers last 2-5 years

A mattress is a thick sleeping mat designed for use on a compatible bed frame or base (a small few, such as Japanese Floor Mattresses, are designed to be used on the floor instead). Mattresses come in a range of sizes from twin to split king (US) / single to super king (UK), with the main types of mattress being memory foam, hybrid, latex and innerspring.

Some mattresses are delivered flat and in their original shape, while boxed beds are compressed and vacuum packed in a cardboard box for shipping to your door. You'll find this year's top-rated options in our best mattresses in a box guide.

A woman lifts the edge of her white mattress topper placed on top of a white mattress

(Image credit: Getty Images)

In comparison, a mattress topper is a layer of cushioning that's almost like a smaller, slimmer version of a mattress. But unlike a mattress, a bed topper isn't thick enough to be placed alone on a bed frame or base – they're designed to be placed on top of a supportive mattress to boost its comfort or support.

Mattress toppers also come in different sizes and materials. The most popular bed topper material is memory foam, but other types include latex, wool and down.

The biggest selling point of toppers is that they're cheaper than mattresses, adding more comfort and support without you having to buy a new bed

Mattresses are usually around 8" to 12" tall, compared to mattresses toppers that are usually 2" to 4" tall. Mattresses are more durable than mattress toppers and therefore last longer; the average lifespan is eight years for a mattress and three years for a topper. The best memory foam mattresses for example last for around 10 years before you need to replace them. In comparison, the best memory foam toppers should be replaced every two to five years. 

The biggest selling point of toppers is that they're cheaper than mattresses, adding more comfort and support without you having to buy a new bed.

However, while you can buy plenty of the best cheap mattress toppers under $50, organic latex or premium cooling bed toppers can actually cost more than the best cheap mattresses on the market. 

Mattress vs mattress topper: Price

  • The average price of queen mattress in a box is under $1,000
  • The average price of a queen mattress topper is around $319
  • On average, mattress toppers are 70% cheaper than mattresses

Both mattresses and mattress toppers come in a wide range of prices that are dependent on size, materials, design, and deals. However, mattress toppers are usually much cheaper than mattresses due to their thickness and relatively simple designs. 

For example, the average price of a twin, queen and king mattress is $475, $1,000, and $1,250 respectively. Meanwhile, the average price of a twin, queen, and king mattress topper is $220, $319, and $370 respectively; a significant price difference. 

Here's a breakdown of the average prices of queen mattresses vs mattress toppers when there are sales running:

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Material / typeSizeAverage sale price
Memory foam mattress Queen$989
Memory foam bed topperQueen$299
Latex mattressQueen$1,665
Latex mattress topperQueen$575
Cooling mattressQueen$1,407
Cooling mattress topperQueen$375
Affordable mattressQueen$349
Affordable mattress topperQueen$55

Most mattress brands throw evergreen sales, meaning that a lot of mattresses' and bet toppers' sale prices are actually their regular price. In fact, very rarely are mattresses sold at MSRP.

While there are plenty of permanent discounts and monthly mattress sales, the sales around major holidays are the best time to buy a mattress. These include Black Friday mattress deals during late November each year, and Labor Day mattress sales in September. 

Mattress vs mattress topper: Durability

  • Mattress toppers need to be replaced more frequently than mattresses
  • The average lifespan of a memory foam or hybrid mattress is eight to 10 years
  • The average lifespan of memory foam topper is two to five years

The lifespan of both a mattress and mattress topper depends on material and quality, but mattresses last much longer than a mattress topper. For example, the average mattress lifespan is 10 years, while the average lifespan of a mattress topper is less than five years.

Tom's Guide Sleep Staff Writer Frances Daniels places a blue kettlebell on the edge of a Helix mattress during testing to gauge durability

(Image credit: Future)

Memory foam mattress last around 10 years , while the average lifespan of a hybrid is around eight to 10 years. Hybrid's have a slightly shorter life expectancy due to springs and coils, which can wear out quite quickly. In fact, innerspring mattresses need to be replaced every five to seven years due to their all-spring construction.

If you're wondering how long mattress toppers last, memory foam toppers (the most popular kind) need to be replaced every two to five years, while a feather or down topper lasts only one to two years. 

While some come in a firm feel, the majority of toppers are designed to add pressure relief or softness to a mattress that's too firm

However, mattress toppers made from premium organic or natural materials are lot more durable due to their high-quality materials, For example, a wool bed topper has an average lifespan of 10 years, while a natural latex topper can be used for up to 15 years. 

The same goes for natural latex mattresses, which can last up to 25 years if looked after correctly. If you're wondering how to prolong the life of your mattress or mattress topper, check out our guides on how to rotate your mattress and how to flip or rotate your mattress topper.

Mattress vs mattress topper: Comfort

  • Memory foam, wool, feather, or down toppers add comfort
  • Memory foam and pillow-top mattress offer plush comfort
  • Mattress toppers are best option for adding comfort to a hard bed 

While some come in a firm feel, the majority of mattress toppers are designed to add pressure relief or softness to a mattress that's too firm. A lot of mattress toppers are made with memory foam, which is know for its body-hugging feel and soothing pressure relief, while the most affordable toppers are made with feather or down for an ultra-soft sleep surface. 

Wool can also add cushioning to firm beds, but latex mattress toppers tend to have a more responsive feel, which is great for combination or restless sleepers but not for those looking for an ultra-plush feel.

Meanwhile, certain mattress types have a focus on comfort, especially all-foam beds. Memory foam mattresses offer a body-contouring sleep surface which can cradle and soothe joints for ultimate comfort.

Image shows a white mattress topper made from synthetic materials anchored via elasticated straps on top of an older cream innerspring mattress

(Image credit: Getty)

The best hybrid mattresses and pillow-top mattresses can also offer a plush sleep surface thanks to comfort layers positioned at the top of the mattress. However, be aware that mattresses come in different firmness levels, and what may feel comfortable for some sleep positions and bodies may feel too hard for others.  

Overall, mattress toppers tend to be the best option for those whose mattress is supportive but too firm and want to add some plush comfort.

Mattress vs mattress topper: Support

  • Mattress toppers should not be used on unsupportive mattress
  • Choose to buy a new mattress if your current one is no longer supportive
  • Hybrid, latex and firm foam mattresses offer maximum support

First things first, a mattress topper will not save an unsupportive mattress. While you can use a firm mattress topper to add firmness to a too-soft bed, it should not be used to fix a mattress with significant sagging or a mattress that's over 10 years old. 

A new mattress, on the other hand, is the best option for those whose current mattress has lost its support. While significant sagging or dipping is a key sign that your bed is no longer supportive, another clue is lower back pain.

A medium-firm or firm mattress, particularly those with a hybrid or latex design, offer great support for people with back pain

Lower back pain can signify that your hips are no longer being supported (especially when back or front sleeping) causing your spine to become misaligned. 

A medium-firm or firm mattress, particularly those with a hybrid or latex design, offer great support for people with back pain because they're made with dense, sturdy materials such as coils, springs and Dunlop latex. 

Hybrids offer a near-perfect mix of comfort and support layers, with support layers usually consisting of spring tiers and a layer of sturdy and dense foam. You can also get firm and sturdy all-foam mattresses too. 

Mattress vs mattress topper: Temperature control

  • Dedicated cooling mattresses are the best choice for hot sleepers
  • Latex mattress toppers offer organic cooling – but at a high price
  • Avoid memory foam mattresses and toppers if you sleep very hot

You can find both cooling mattresses and cooling mattress toppers, which are specifically designed to cool you down at night. However, there are plenty of mattresses and mattress toppers that aren't cooling per se, but are still packed with cooling features or breathable materials to add some temperature regulation.

One of Tom's Guide's mattress testers places her hand on top of a luxury organic mattress to see if it's still cool to the touch after a night spent sleeping on it

(Image credit: Future)

The best cooling mattresses are best suited for those who suffer from extreme overheating at night or live in a very hot climate. If you're wondering what a cooling mattress is and whether it really stops overheating and night sweats, it really all depends on how severely you overheat and the cooling bed's design.

We've tested a lot of cooling mattresses over the years and found that mattresses which use advanced, sophisticated cooling features such as heat-dissipating Phase Change Material, airflow systems, smart tech, and cool-to-the-touch fabrics such as GlacioTex work well at keeping cool and protecting sleepers from heatwaves, night sweats, and general stuffiness.

There are also mattresses that aren't technically cooling but do feature breathable materials that boost temperature control, such as beds that use naturally breathable latex, ventilating coils or springs, and breathable cotton or wool covers.

If your otherwise comfortable and supportive mattress retains too much heat, save money by buying a cooling mattress topper to increase year-round breathability

While memory foam can trap heat, a lot memory foam beds are infused with cooling gel foam or have perforated foam to boost airflow. While these mattresses aren't the best for extremely hot sleepers, they are still great at providing enough cooling relief for those who are prone to feeling warm at night. 

However, if your otherwise comfortable and supportive mattress retains too much heat, save money by buying a cooling mattress topper to increase breathability. While most mattress topper are fitted with a breathable cover or gel foam, cooling mattress toppers provide the most cooling and are much cheaper than buying a cooling mattress. 

Mattress vs mattress topper: How to choose

Now that you have a good understanding of the differences in key areas between mattresses and mattress toppers, here’s how to choose the right product for your sleep and budget…

1. Consider the state of your current mattress 

Brand new or mattresses that have only been around for a couple of years can have their problems. Maybe the cooling features' performance has started to decline or maybe after a year of trying to break it in, your new bed is still too firm. 

Maybe the body-hugging feel of the memory foam bed that you initially loved a few years ago now feels too soft and stifling. That's where mattress toppers come in. 

Mattress toppers should be used to make a hard mattress softer, a soft mattress bouncier or firmer, and a warm mattress cooler. However, they should only be used on mattresses under seven years old that are still supportive. 

Image shows yellow stains on a mattress that needs replacing completely

(Image credit: Getty)

If your current mattress is unsupportive significantly sagging, damaged or covered in stains or rips, it's time to let go and buy a new bed. Sticking a mattress topper on a bed that needs to be replaced will not make any significant impact and may lead to a lack of sleep and waking up with aches and pains. 

2. Consider your budget 

If you can afford to replace your aging, uncomfortable mattress then we suggest you should. However, mattresses can be expensive, even those in the budget to lower-mid range can se you back hundreds of dollars, especially if you have a larger sized bed. Sometimes an affordable mattress topper can make a great stopgap for those saving up to buy a new mattress, with a lot of queen size mattress toppers available for under $100. 

That said, there are plenty of cheap mattresses that don't cost much more than some mattress toppers. For example, a queen size mattress topper usually costs around $300, but the average price of a good-quality cheap mattress can cost around $349. 

So it depends on whether you'd rather buy a cheap mattress topper for now and save up for a mid-range or even a luxury mattress, or buy an affordable mattress that doesn't have the bells and whistles of more expensive mattresses. 

If you go for the latter, we suggest you consider the 5 things you need to know before buying a cheap mattress for $400 or less.

3. Consider your sleeping position 

Last but not least, you should know how to choose a mattress or mattress topper that will work for your sleep position and body type. For example, side sleepers need something soft and cushioning to relieve pressure in their shoulder, hips, and knees.

A woman lies in bed looking peaceful and relaxed as she sleeps on her side

(Image credit: Getty Images)

While the best mattress for side sleepers are readily available, the majority of mattress toppers are designed to soften mattresses for greater pressure.

Back and front sleepers, on the other hand, need something firmer and supportive. While these sleepers can add a firm mattress topper to a sink-in soft mattress, a mattress topper may not be the best option if a front sleeper or plus-sized sleeper is in need of extra support. 

Choosing the best mattress for stomach sleepers or the best mattress for heavy people is probably the best option, as opposed to throwing a topper onto a bed that doesn't provide enough support. 

Mattress vs mattress topper: Which should you buy?

You should buy a new mattress if...

✅ Your mattress is too old. If your mattress is over 10 years old, its warranty is likely to have run out and it's time to replace.

✅ You can afford to buy a new bed. If you can afford to buy a new bed, a new mattress is always a worthwhile investment. 

 Your mattress isn't supportive enough. No mattress topper is going to fix a sagging, damaged, and unsupportive mattress. 

You should buy a mattress topper if...

 Your mattress is still supportive. If your mattress is under seven years old and still provides enough support, then a mattress topper is a great way to give it reboot.

You're on a tight budget. Mattress toppers are much more affordable than mattresses and can serve as a great stopgap when saving up to buy a new mattress.

✅ Your mattress is too firm or sleeps too warm. If your mattress is too firm or maybe doesn't have the best temperature control, a cushioning or cooling bed topper can fix it in an instant. 

Mattress vs mattress toppers: Our top 3 mattresses

Top 3 mattresses for every budget 

1. Saatva Classic:was from $1,395now $1,095 at Saatva
Hotel luxury

1. Saatva Classic: was from $1,395 now $1,095 at Saatva
This luxury innerspring hybrid is handcrafted in America, in your choice of three firmness levels and two heights. We awarded it a near-perfect score for lumbar support and pressure relief in our Saatva Classic mattress review, and it's discounted most months in the Saatva mattress sale with up to $300 off. A queen size Saatva Classic costs $1,795 outside of major holiday sales, and you'll get a year's sleep trial, lifetime warranty and free old bed removal.

2. DreamCloud Luxury Hybrid:was from $839 now $419 at DreamCloud
Great for couples

2. DreamCloud Luxury Hybrid: was from $839 now $419 at DreamCloud
There's a half-price DreamCloud mattress sale running each month, and that large discount makes the DreamCloud Hybrid the best luxury mattress for those on a budget, with a queen down to $665. Our DreamCloud mattress review loved how comfortable and supportive it was for all sleep positions, and loved its premium extras such as a 365-night sleep trial and a lifetime warranty.

3. Siena Memory Foam mattress:was from $499now$199 at Siena Sleep 
Excellent value

3. Siena Memory Foam mattress: was from $499 now $199 at Siena Sleep  
The evergreen Siena sale knocks up to 60% off this budget-friendly mattress. It's a huge saving and a remarkable price for a bed that impressed our testers for our Siena Memory Foam mattress review, who called a $399 price tag for a queen size excellent value. They also liked its firm support and motion isolation, loved its edge support, and were surprised how cool it slept for an all-foam bed. 

Top 3 mattress toppers for every budget

1. Tempur-Pedic Tempur-Adapt Topper: was from $319 $191 at Tempur-Pedic
Pressure relief

1. Tempur-Pedic Tempur-Adapt Topper: was from $319 $191 at Tempur-Pedic
Our top-rated mattress topper is on sale at 40% off most months with a Tempur-Pedic mattress deal, reducing the price of a queen size Tempur-Adapt Topper to $251.40 (was $419). That's excellent value for a thick topper made with NASA-developed Tempur foam to remove all pressure points along the body. 

2. Lucid Gel Memory Foam Topper: from $49.99 at Lucid Mattress
Budget cooling

2. Lucid Gel Memory Foam Topper: from $49.99 at Lucid Mattress
Our testers Lucid Gel Memory Foam Mattress Topper review loved the cushioning this budget topper offers to side sleepers, and we were impressed with how its gel-infused foam and ventilated design added some great temperature regulation. Right now there's no deal, but sometimes Lucid will offer up to 30% off. Either way, this mattress topper is affordable for most budgets at $69.99 for a queen.

3. Naturepedic Adagio Organic Latex Topper: from $499 at Naturepedic
Organic cooling

3. Naturepedic Adagio Organic Latex Topper: from $499 at Naturepedic
The Adagio is a luxury organic mattress topper with a luxury price tag – a queen costs $799, though sometimes there's a 15% discount. You'll get free shipping, a 100-night trial and 10-year limited warranty. Our Naturepedic Adagio Organic Latex Mattress Topper review says that, while it is very expensive, it's great for side sleepers, offers plush pressure relief, and is naturally cooling. 

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.