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1. Comfort or cleanliness? That's the mattress cover question. Mattress toppers are all about comfort. Made from memory foam or latex, they add an extra layer of luxury to mattresses, which is useful for softening a too-firm bed or easing joint pain. Mattress pads, aka mattress protectors, are hygienic coverings that prolong the life of your mattress and protect it from stains and spills. High-quality mattress covers are hypoallergenic, and protect from bed bugs, dust mites, pet dander, and common dust.
2. If you or someone in your family has a dust mite allergy, an impermeable mattress pad is a must. Dust mites are about 10 microns in size, so look for hypoallergenic coverings with pore sizes below 10 microns. Machine-washable, super-absorbent, waterproof mattress pads help prevent accidents on toddler beds—or any bed that misbehaving pets have a tendency to "enjoy." If you're worried about the noisiness of a liquid barrier, we recommend a cotton terry covering rather than vinyl.
3. Even a well-covered mattress requires some care and attention over time. We recommend turning your mattress (head-over-heels if it's a non-flip or one-sided mattress) about twice a year to even out its wear. Running a hand vacuum over your mattress (or the upholstery attachment on a standard vacuum) during sheet changings is a good idea if there are allergy sufferers in the home. For stains or tough dirt, try cleaning with a mattress cleaner or upholstery shampoo.
4. Don't let the bed bugs bite! Bed bug invasions have been on the upswing in recent years. Even the cleanest households can pick bedbugs up as stowaways in hotel luggage, which is one reason why impermeable mattress covers are a good idea. If you think bedbugs have taken up residence in your mattress, take a look under the sheets for dark brown spots or light-brown shells. Check the frame, headboard, and even the nearby drawers (bedbugs are oval and reddish-brown). Spotting them is easier than eliminating them. You'll need to call a pest control pro.
5. There are many benefits to buying a mattress topper: better neck and back support, a better balance of softness and firmness, and an overall more comfortable sleeping experience without the cost of a new mattress. Most mattress toppers are made from memory foam or latex. Whichever material you prefer, it's best to buy a thicker, high-density topper, e.g. a three- to four-inch topper with a 3+ pound density.