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Should I buy a mattress topper or a new mattress?

Should I buy a mattress topper or a new mattress - featured. Close up of person's hands as they put a topper on their mattress.

No idea whether you need to invest in a whole new mattress, or if you could get away with a topper? We’re here to help you decide

Since sleep is vital to our health and wellbeing, having the right bedroom setup is of paramount importance. A good mattress can make all the difference when it comes to allowing us to sleep well and wake up feeling revitalised, so if yours is getting on in age, or if it’s leaving you feeling achy, it might be time to think about buying one of the best mattresses on the market.

However, before you part with all that cash, consider that purchasing a brand-new mattress might not be necessary – sometimes, simply investing in one of the best mattress toppers is enough to revolutionise your sleep. A topper can change up the feel of an existing mattress, or simply add some contouring or cooling.

When it comes to comparing a mattress topper with a new mattress, there are a few factors you should take into consideration. We’ll run through the differences between the two and give you some pointers on which will be more suitable for your needs.

What is a mattress topper?

Also known as a bed topper, a mattress topper is a thick layer that sits, unsurprisingly, on top of your mattress. They attach to your mattress using straps or elasticated skirts to hold them in place and are made from similar materials to those you’ll find in a lot of modern mattresses. Generally, they are between two and four inches thick and, in this respect, a mattress topper is quite different from a mattress protector, which is usually a much thinner piece of material that’s only designed to protect your mattress from spills and stains.

However, this extra height may mean you need to buy some new bedding; as Theresa Schnorbach, a sleep scientist from Emma, explains: “Keep in mind that a topper can add anywhere from one to four inches to the height of your mattress so, depending on the bedding you already have, you may also need to invest in a tightly fitted sheet to ensure your topper doesn’t slide.”

You’ll find mattress toppers made from various materials, with these being the most common:

  • Memory foam: Used widely in mattresses, some of the best toppers are also made with memory foam. Known for its ability to mould to a sleeper’s body and relieve pressure, memory foam can also retain heat.
  • Gel-infused: Hotter sleepers who still have their hearts set on a memory foam topper should look for one that’s been infused with gel to help keep cool. Charcoal and graphite-infused toppers can also do a great job of regulating body temperature.
  • Synthetic filling: These toppers are usually made with microfibre or hollow fibre and tend to be the cheapest option when it comes to toppers. They’re great for allergy sufferers.
  • Wool: Wool is naturally breathable, often organic and extremely durable, leading to a soft and luxurious topper.
  • Latex: Natural latex is extremely durable, while also giving some ‘bounce’ to a topper. They can be pricey but are very popular with combination sleepers.

READ NEXT: Emma vs Simba: Which is better?

When should I choose a mattress topper?

Let’s look at the reasons you should consider a mattress topper over buying a new mattress.

Should I buy a mattress topper or a new mattress. A bed with a mattress topper on the mattress in the corner of a room.

1. To change the feel of a mattress

“If you’re looking to change the feel of a mattress that is still in good condition then a topper can certainly be the answer,” explains Katy Gilroy, a marketing assistant at Panda London. “Toppers can make a firm mattress softer, or a soft mattress firm, depending on your preferences.”

Theresa Schnorbach agrees: “A mattress topper is a great option for a mattress that may have lost some of its comfort. If your mattress is still intact, but the firmness isn’t quite to your liking anymore, then a topper can help to improve the quality of your sleep by offering an additional layer of support.”

At Expert Reviews, we’re big fans of the Panda Memory Foam Bamboo Mattress Topper, which was our top pick in our best mattress toppers round-up.

2. To help keep you cool at night

Memory foam mattresses in particular can be prone to overheating – the sinkage you get with the foam traps body heat, making it uncomfortable. So, if you love the memory foam ‘hug’ and you don’t want to move to a different type of bed, a topper could be the perfect solution.

“When made from the right material, mattress toppers can also help to improve your sleep by keeping you fresh and cool throughout the night, providing another breathable layer on top of your mattress which aids in regulating your body’s temperature,” points out Theresa Schnorbach.

We recommend you look for a memory topper infused with gel, charcoal or graphite to help keep you cooler at night. Of course, this might not be enough if you’re a particularly hot sleeper, in which case we would suggest looking at one of the best cooling mattresses to regulate your temperature.

3. To prolong the life of your mattress

If your mattress is beginning to show signs of age, a mattress topper can help prolong its life. By adding a deep layer of cushioning, you’ll stop the mattress from being worn down so quickly, extending its lifespan. It can also help to smooth out some minor lumps and bumps that may have formed.

4. To help keep your mattress clean

We all sweat and shed skin cells, and it’s pretty difficult to clean a mattress thoroughly – it’s not as if we can put it in a washing machine. This is where a mattress topper can come in handy. As Theresa Schnorbach explains: “If the mattress topper cover is removable and made from the right material, you can easily wash it in your machine which will help to prolong the life of your mattress.

“My advice would be to look out for toppers with washable synthetic fills or naturally hypoallergenic fills. It’s also worth bearing in mind that memory foam and synthetic toppers are easy to keep clean and help keep bacteria away. Wool is also a great alternative as it’s naturally hypoallergenic and washable.”

READ NEXT: Best firm mattresses

When is it time for a new mattress?

Mattress toppers are great and can fulfil several needs, but sometimes you really have to invest in a new mattress. These are the signs to look out for:

Should I buy a mattress topper or a new mattress. Two people, holding one end of the mattress each, lift it off the bed frame

1. If your mattress is more than ten years old

“If your current mattress is over ten years old, we would recommend purchasing a new one,” says Katy Gilroy.

Even the most expensive and well-made mattresses have a finite lifespan. Modern hybrid and memory foam mattresses will last around ten years, while the slightly older-fashioned innerspring mattresses only last for around five to seven years. The exception is natural latex, as these mattresses can last for around twenty years. You can find some more information in our guide on ‘How often to change a mattress’.

2. If your mattress is sagging or lumpy

“You’ll recognise it’s time to invest in a new mattress if your mattress is sagging a lot or showing signs of erosion,” says Theresa Schnorbach.

Ageing mattresses can start to develop lumps as the materials inside them begin to compress and settle. While some compression is normal – mattresses are meant to mould around our bodies – over time you’ll start to notice that the mattress doesn’t quite spring back to shape when you get off it. You can extend the lifespan of your mattress by regularly rotating it – and/or flipping it, if appropriate – but at some point, the sagging will overtake the maintenance.

3. If you wake up in pain

“If you have an old, worn-out mattress that is causing you significant back and neck pain or restlessness while sleeping, this may not be helped by the addition of a topper and you should consider replacing the mattress,” says Theresa Schnorbach.

Waking up every day with aches and pains is often a sign that your mattress is no longer supporting your pressure points or spine. One little thing to note here is that if you do a lot of exercise, or you have a physically demanding job, you may be suffering from DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) so it might be worth getting this checked out with your GP first.

4. If your mattress has turned yellow

All mattresses will decay over time due to oxidation, a completely natural process that’s caused by exposure to the oxygen in the air. These stains aren’t smelly, but they won’t come off if you try to clean them either.

Bearing this in mind, take the time to check that these stains haven’t been caused by anything else, as sweat, along with dust mites, bacteria and mould, can all cause discolouration in a mattress. Follow our guide on ‘How to clean a mattress’ before you go to the expense of replacing it.

5. If the coils are poking through

Even the best hybrid mattresses will deteriorate over time, and innerspring mattresses can be even worse. As the top layers start to wear down, more pressure will be put on the coils underneath and this pressure can lead to them starting to poke through, making for a very uncomfortable sleeping experience. This is another situation where replacing the mattress really is the only option.

6. If you sleep better anywhere else than at home

If it gets to the point where you find that you’re sleeping better at a hotel, at a friend’s house or even on your sofa, than in your own bed then it’s time to invest in a new mattress. If you’re tossing and turning all night, or struggling to get comfortable, that probably means your mattress is no longer supporting you as it should.

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