We all want to make our mattress as comfortable as possible. A common way to do this is by adding cushy, soft materials to the mattress top. Take the feather bed: a free-floating pad filled with goose down that rests on top of the mattress to create a softer feel.
Europeans have slept on feather beds for generations. About a decade ago, the American mattress industry took a cue from the Europeans and began to advertise “Euro-style” mattresses. These new designs featured “extra” padded layers sewn to the mattress top. The pillow-top mattress was born. Customers who pay a premium for such a pillow top mattress expect extra luxury. Instead, they get a mattress that breaks down and begins to sag prematurely and dramatically. Buyers also soon realize the extra foam padding in these mattresses can make them hot and sweaty. In truth, that “extra” foam—which suffers from durability problems—is often the only real padding between your body and a rigid innerspring. As a result, pillow top mattresses have developed a reputation for poor performance.
Rather than purchasing a pillow top mattress, some people add a foam topper to their existing mattress. Often this is done to soften an overly firm mattress. But more often than not, these toppers provide short term comfort as they wear out quickly. As a consequence, shoppers often struggle to figure out what type of additional cushioning they should purchase, what to expect from the product, and how much they should pay for it.
Facts about pillow tops and foam toppers
Think of a pillow top as the icing on the cake. A pillow top provides additional cushioning and soft support. It will enhance a good mattress but not fix a bad one. Also keep in mind that toppers vary greatly depending on what’s inside. For many years, feathers were the mattress topper filling of choice. Today's toppers are made from a range of different fillers.
Feathers/Down–Feathers, though traditional and initially fluffy, migrate and compress in short order. They don’t breathe well and create ideal habitats for dust mites. They inhibit moisture transport and can lead to sleeping hotter. A feather bed must be fluffed on a regular basis to maintain its softness.
Polyester–Manufacturers use polyester as a quilting over a foam layer inside a topper. Polyester lacks durability and has very poor moisture capacity; it often feels wet to sleep on. Polyester filler also presents a concern for shoppers who don’t want to introduce synthetics into the bedroom.
Wool–An extremely resilient, natural fiber. By itself, wool usually isn’t cushy enough for some people’s tastes. It is, however, natural, breathable, durable, and temperature regulating. Whether you sleep hot or cold, wool has the ability to help keep you dry (wool can hold up to 30% its weight in moisture before it feels wet). We think wool is the optimum fiber to quilt a topper.
Foam Toppers (polyurethane)–Foam toppers may be sold uncovered as a flat sheet or with an “egg crate” shape. The quality of foam toppers ranges widely. Better quality foam toppers do a good job of adding cushioning and support. However, they don’t transport moisture well and introduce a major source of bedroom toxins. Poor foam toppers have these same problems, and they wear out almost immediately.
Memory Foam Toppers–This popular high-contour material is durable and maps to form with great accuracy. However, memory foam is also hot and a source of bedroom toxins. Thick memory foam can inhibit one’s ability to shift positions making it a poor choice for anyone with mobility issues. Like regular polyurethane foam toppers, memory foam toppers are often sold as an uncovered overlay, which only exacerbates the problem of heat and humidity.
Latex Foam–High quality latex makes an ideal pillow top filler. It’s plush, non-allergenic, doesn’t off-gas, and wears well over time. Even though it does breathe better than other foams, it should be covered with cotton and/or wool to facilitate proper moisture transport. Latex isn’t always natural or well manufactured–make sure to confirm that the latex you choose is all natural, contains no fillers, and is properly washed. More info about that here.
When choosing a mattress topper, select a material that is appropriate for your needs. But you may want to avoid a mattresses with an attached pillow top. It’s important to buy your pillow top and mattress separately for a few reasons. While a mattress typically lasts ten years, a pillow top will wear in half that time. You want to be able to easily replace your pillow top as it wears. If something happens to an attached pillow top-style mattress, you have no choice but to replace the entire mattress. Keep in mind that a pillow top won’t reverse a pre-exisisting sag. Nor will a pillow top make overly hard mattress truly support you with softness.
What to Look for in a Pillow Top
A Good Pillow Top:
- Made with natural fibers such as wool and high-density all-natural latex.
- An addition to a mattress that already works well—not a solution to a broken down mattress
- Free-floating/independent for easy replacement
A Bad Pillow Top:
- Made with polyester batting and/or low-density foams that break down quickly
- Overly thick. Too much bad material creates too much potential for wear and sleeps warm
- Made with toxic materials like polyurethane foam that wears quickly and makes you sweat
- Attached to the mattress (not replaceable or removable)
- A false “extra” attached to an inadequately cushioned base
The European Sleep Works Solution
We don’t attach pillow tops to our mattresses. We've designed our mattresses to provide great comfort and support. If prefer a plusher, softer, more enveloping mattress surface, you can add our free-floating pillow top. To ensure breatheability, our pillow top features an organic cotton and Merino wool cover. We use 100% natural fill latex foam for cushioning. This design delivers the comfort a pillow top should without the performance issues associated with synthetic toppers and pillow top mattresses.