Do You Really Need a Mattress Protector?

Mattress protectors can extend the quality and longevity of your investment.

A hand with red fingernails checking out a mattress protector.
Mattress Firm

You’ve got the perfect mattress, a fitted sheet to go over it, and possibly accessories like a fluffy mattress topper and a mattress pad, so do you really need a mattress protector? The answer is a resounding yes.

Not only are they the first line of defense in protecting your mattress, the benefits of having a mattress protector include prolonging the lifespan of your mattress in a cost-effective way and improving the quality of your sleep by reducing allergens. Plus, they are much, much easier to clean than a mattress.

“Having a protector that comes with a stain guarantee on the mattress literally acts like insurance,” says Stephen Ferguson, director of merchandising and Sleep Expert™ at Mattress Firm.

We’ll tell you all the (sometimes gross) reasons why you need a quality mattress protector and how to choose the right one for you.

What does a mattress protector guard against, anyway?

  • Sweat and other bodily fluids 
  • Dead skin cells and dust mites 
  • Spills and stains  
  • Mold and mildew  

Yes, according to Ferguson, a mattress protector primarily protects our mattresses from us.

“You may say, I don’t eat or drink in bed, but that is not the real problem,” Ferguson says. He shares that the real problem is sweat, especially if you are a hot sleeper.

In one small study, 34% of participants said they experienced night sweats, with half of them reporting that they soaked through their bed clothes. But not only can night sweats and hot flashes disrupt sleep, the moisture can degrade the inner materials of the mattress over time and contribute to the growth of fungus or other bacteria.

On top of that, humans shed skin cells and hair, which can get into an unprotected mattress. Dr. Judy Wright, a family physician and medical director at Molina Healthcare, says that we lose over 30,000 dead skin cells every minute of the day. “That’s a heck of a lot of dead skin cells in an 8-hour sleep night — and pounds of dead cells per year,” she says. If you have pets who sleep on your bed — by day or night — that's an additional load of dander and fur accumulating on your sleep space.

With shedded skin cells come dust mites: microscopic insect pests whose fecal pellets and body fragments can trigger allergic reactions at night.

“Dust mites infiltrate our soft goods in our home which include pillows, towels, carpets, toys, sporting goods, wearable tech, and much more to eat off of the dust (your skin) and the moisture that builds up,” Ferguson says. Even more terrifying? Mites begin to accumulate almost immediately, which is why experts say you should buy and use a protector as soon as you bring home a new mattress.

“Stopping the food supply stops the food chain reaction of dust mites surviving in a mattress.” According to one study, mattress protectors can reduce the dust mite allergen load by more than 90%.

And for those of us who do have an occasional snack or drink in bed while watching television or reading a book, beware that spills can do irreversible damage to your mattress. Protecting your mattress from coffee, wine, soda, or water — or even a toddler who climbs into your bed and toting a sippy cup — is essential.

What makes a good mattress protector?

Child spilling juice on a mattress protector.jpg
Mattress Firm

A good mattress protector ranges in price. A basic protector can cost around $30. More deluxe mattress protectors, with additional features such as temperature regulation and added materials for softness, can cost $100 or even several hundred dollars for a queen-sized mattress.

Warranties for mattress protectors will vary, but a good warranty covers any manufacturer’s defects for the life of the mattress protector, or 10-15 years.

1. It’s waterproof

When choosing a mattress protector, waterproof and moisture-resistant are non-negotiable features. “Sweat is not just water but is also made up of salt and fat from the uric acid that can break down your mattress even faster,” Ferguson says. What makes mattress protectors waterproof is a thin, rubberized membrane on the back side of the protector that serves as a solid barrier.

“Using these protectors is like having an extra sheet on the bed, but this sheet keeps out all the nasty you don’t want nor need growing in your mattress,” Ferguson says. “They are also easy to wash. Most of them come with a cleaning cycle guarantee.”

2. It should be hypoallergenic

While there is no certification necessary in order to label a product hypoallergenic, there are certain qualities to look for:

  • Check the product description to see if any materials were used that you have sensitivities or allergies to, and avoid purchasing those.  
  • Make sure the protector comes in an encasement style. A truly hypoallergenic mattress protector must fully cover your mattress to keep out dust mites and other allergens.  
  • Additionally, the material must be tightly woven so dust mites cannot “sneak in.”  

Wright suggests that mattress protectors protect our bodies during sleep as well. “It would be wise to cover your mattress with waterproof and hypoallergenic material that also can be removed and laundered,” she says. “This not only helps with the upkeep of your mattress, but it helps to ensure better health.”

3. It's quiet and comfortable

While you want to keep as many outside elements from penetrating your mattress as possible, it shouldn’t come at the cost of your comfort.

Mattress protectors made of plastic and vinyl will provide the waterproof barrier that you want, but they can be noisy as they wrinkle underneath you during sleep. They also often lack breathability. The ideal mattress protector is undetectable to the sleeper.

4. It's made of thin and breathable materials

Polyurethane materials are super thin with a flexible membrane, allowing the mattress protector to remain silent and undetectable while you sleep. It’s also more breathable, allowing air to pass through and keep you comfortable overnight.

For those who sleep hot, there are also mattress protectors with cooling properties that can help with hot sleep.

Types of mattress protectors vs. toppers and pads

A woman choosing the right type of mattress protector.

While your mattress protector should cover the top of your mattress, there are other types of mattress protectors that can cover the sides and the bottom of your mattress. Depending on your living environment from how humid it is to whether you have kids or pets you may want a mattress protector that provides more coverage.

  1. Encasement. An encasement mattress protector provides the most protection of your mattress. It slides over your mattress and closes, covering all six sides. For bedbug protection as well as for those living with allergies, this is the best option.  
  2. Fitted. Much like a fitted sheet, this mattress protector goes over your mattress and is secured with built-in elastic. While the fitted mattress protector doesn’t cover all sides of your mattress, it is much easier to get on and off for regular laundering, making it a popular style. Some fitted mattress protectors are only waterproof on the top. 
  3. Strapped. While this is the most budget-friendly option, strapped mattress protectors provide the least amount of mattress protection. Secured at each corner of the mattress with an elastic loop, a strapped mattress protector only covers one of the six sides of the mattress.  

Mattress toppers and pads are not the same as having a protector. Toppers specifically relieve pressure and provide comfort while pads add cushion. And while they both may soak up spills and accidents, they are not always waterproof or help block dust mites from collecting.

Keep your mattress protector clean for optimal lifespan

If laundered according to the manufacturer’s instructions, a quality mattress protector is good for 10 years’ time.

Ferguson washes his mattress protector every two weeks, when he washes his bedsheets. “I always wash my mattress protector with my sheets to prevent it from getting too hot in the dryer,” he says. Avoid hotter temperatures and ironing your mattress protectors. High heat can speed up wear and tear on your protectors. “Medium tumble dry works perfectly on them,” Ferguson says.

For parents of children under seven, Ferguson recommends using two mattress pads on their mattresses. “Accidents happen and never at the easiest time to clean up,” he says. Think 3 am calls to a soaking wet bed. “Having a backup protector on the mattress that feels like sheets to sleep on is nice to have on the mattress, so you can pull the wet sheets and top protector off and get your child back to sleep faster.”

It’s never too late to protect your mattress, but here are a few signs that may indicate it’s time for a new one.