Mattress Protectors: What To Know Before You Buy

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An essential bedding accessory, we break down the ins and outs of that household hero, the mattress protector.

We all know that mattresses don’t come cheap, so it makes sense to do all you can to properly maintain and care for them. Mattress protectors to the rescue!

But with all the choices out there, how do you know which mattress protector is right for you?

To help sort this out, we spoke with fabric expert Jennifer Porter, a designer and sewn goods manufacturer at Satsuma Designs LLC. She shared her expertise and some insider tips about mattress protectors.

From what they are, why they’re important, what features to look for and how to care for them, here’s what to know about the must-have mattress protector.

What Is a Mattress Protector?

Often confused with a mattress pad or topper, which add a thick, soft layer of material for cushioning, a mattress protector (AKA mattress cover) prevents stains, odors, bacteria and microbes from damaging the mattress. It provides a barrier to liquid, leaks, sweat, dirt and allergens.

On top of that, a good quality mattress cover can offer cooling comfort and breathability, as well as prolong the life of the mattress. No wonder it’s considered an essential bedding accessory.

Why Buy a Mattress Protector?

  • A mattress protector allows you to sleep easy knowing if your child wets the bed, something is there to absorb the moisture and prevent it from damaging the mattress.
  • Some protectors are made of moisture-wicking material that keep you more comfortable if you sweat during the night.
  • A mattress protector is easy to clean. A mattress is not.
  • A majority of mattress warranties only cover manufacturer’s defects and not improper use, normal wear and tear, liquid stains or spills, all of which void the warranty. For this reason, most mattress brands encourage purchasing a mattress protector to prevent such damage.

Types of Mattress Protectors

  • Fitted sheet style: Slides on snugly to cover the top and sides of the mattress. It’s less likely to move around or bunch up.
  • Elastic bands: This lies atop the mattress, held firmly in place by stretch elastic straps on all four corners. The sides are not covered.
  • Encased/zippered: Provides complete coverage to block dust mites, bed bugs and allergens from getting into your mattress.
  • Cooling: Often made from superconductive materials or gel that draws heat and moisture away from the body. They’re excellent at regulating temperature.
  • Crib/toddler: Sized specifically to fit child-size beds, they’re usually lined with a waterproof material for obvious reasons.

Mattress Protector Features

Mattress protectors come with different characteristics. When choosing, consider you and your family’s needs. Here are some of the most common mattress cover features.

Moisture-repelling

A must for children and those who sweat excessively. A waterproof cover is laminated on the mattress side with a water-resistant or waterproof membrane that absorbs or prevents liquid from soaking through.

Fabric

Choose protectors made from 100 percent cotton (breathable), bamboo (sustainable), wool (insulating) or polyester (affordable).

If you prefer organic materials, look for a Global Organic Textiles Standard (GOTS) certified designation. “Shoppers should consider opting for a natural fabric as well as a low chemical load water barrier such as a GOTS-certified polyurethane barrier,” Porter says.

This mattress protector by Saatva is GOTS certified. It’s made of 100 percent breathable organic cotton that safeguards mattresses while wicking away moisture.

Size and depth

Besides the general size of the mattress (twin, full, queen, king), you also need to know its depth. “Use a tape measure or ruler to measure your mattress’s depth to ensure a good fit,” says Porter.

Comfort

Organic fabrics like eucalyptus-based Tencel are naturally antibacterial and hypoallergenic. Quilted or fleece-lined covers can add a little thickness, and organic cotton is naturally moisture wicking.

Cost

Given the cost of mattresses, a good mattress cover can effectively preserve your investment.

Costs range from as little as $30 to as much as $300. If you’ve just purchased a top-of-the-line memory foam mattress, spending more on a premium protector makes sense. If you’re sleeping on a hand-me-down mattress, a reasonably priced protector should be sufficient.

How To Clean a Mattress Protector

Most mattress protectors on the market are machine washable, but check the maintenance instructions before purchasing.

“Machine wash a mattress protector on warm or hot, according to care instructions, before the first use and launder each month after that,” Porter says. “In summer and springtime, dry mattress covers on a clothesline outdoors for a beautiful natural result.”

How Long Should a Mattress Protector Last?

According to Porter, a well-made, well-cared-for mattress protector should last two to three years.

Another way to get the most out of your mattress protector? Rotate it 180 degrees after each laundering, Porter says, so the top becomes the bottom and vice versa. This keeps areas from wearing out or fraying too soon.

DIY Tip: “Repurpose old mattress protectors by cutting and sewing covers into pillow inserts, pet beds and more,” Porter says.

Toni DeBella
Toni DeBella is a culture and lifestyle writer, reviews expert and DIY enthusiast covering everything from pests to painting to pool cabanas. Based in a medieval hill town in central Italy, when Toni isn’t documenting her travels around Europe, she’s tending her garden or honing her clay-court tennis game.