Topper or full mattress?

Phoenix, if you read this - and from my browsing of your site here you see pretty much everything as far as I can tell - a very sincere thank you for putting this site together and your constant help to all here! For the first time I feel somewhat knowledgeable about the industry and more “in-control” of my decisions. I only wish I had found your site a year or two earlier!

I do have a question that I was hoping you - or anyone, for that matter - could answer. My wife and I are considering purchasing a latex topper in lieu of a full mattress, but want to try and make a sound decision since many of your select vendors list a topper as a “personal item” and therefore will not be eligible for returns. We have a king-sized bed and are currently unhappy with our current innerspring mattress that we’ve had for only 16-18 months. Unfortunately we purchased it as a trade-in/credit for a Serta innerspring that we had purchased in 2010 when that one had already dipped enough for us to claim the warranty (there is a long story here, but don’t want to clutter with unnecessary details). We both wake with lower back stiffness/soreness when sleeping on the Sealy, her even more so than me.

I am 6’7" and 230 lbs (my wife is 5’7" and 135 lbs) and we have another king bed, a rather firm 6" “flip” mattress, currently in the basement. When we tried sleeping on it instead of the Sealy in our search for a more restful sleep, both of us woke with sore backs and shoulders worse than what we were experiencing with the Sealy. We took that as an indication that the mattress was too firm for us. It did get me wondering, however, if it would act as a suitable “base” layer for a latex topper. I don’t believe our current Sealy mattress would be as good of a base as it’s softer and isn’t flat anymore; it was initially a very comfortable bed before the (probably) inferior components broke down inside it and left us again laying upon “dips”. The apparently short lifespan of the Sealy for us also has me leary :).

My basic concerns with going the topper route are:

  • “bottoming out” the topper - as a heavier guy, will a 2" or 3" topper be thick enough for me?
  • durability - will my larger/heavier frame shorten its effective lifespan?
  • longevity - typically how long would a topper last relative to a full mattress purchase when not even considering my size? Should I just “bite the bullet” and attempt a full mattress solution instead of trying to piece something together like this?

Again, many thanks for the refuge this site provides and for any helpful advice you can give us!

Hi Janax,

How effective a topper may be will depend on the underlying cause of your symptoms and on the layering of the mattress it is being added to. Typically, pressure issues lead to tingly feelings or discomfort in the areas of contact (such as hips or shoulders) or limbs falling asleep. Alignment issues typically lead to joint or back issues because the joints or spine are out of their “range” of neutral alignment (for you).

There are two types of “support” that can lead to alignment issues.

One of these is deeper support that “stops” the heavier parts from sinking in too deeply. If the deep support is too soft or the comfort layers are fairly thick and soft and have softened to the point where they have little firmness left … this is very difficult to “fix”. Some suggestions that may have limited or temporary effectiveness for this are in post #2 here along with post #4 here.

The second of these is the secondary support of a mattress that “fills” in the gaps in a sleeping profile and is more connected to the thickness and softness of the comfort layers. If the comfort layers (in combination with the upper part of the layers below them) are not thick and soft enough to “allow” enough sinking in so that the 'gaps" in your sleeping profile are not supported (there is only “air” or very light support under them) … then a topper can work well.

Both types of support issues can lead to back problems as the spine is out of it’s neutral alignment. This could be why both the old mattress (too firm and comfort layers that are too thin and/or firm) and your newer mattress (developing dips and too soft in the comfort layers apparently) are producing similar symptoms.

Finally if the problem is pressure relief … again because the mattress doesn’t have a thick and soft enough comfrt layer to re-distribute the pressure of your pressure points … then a topper can also work well.

In both cases where the topper is a good idea … the trick is to use the minimum thickness ppossible because a topper that is too soft and/or thick can compromise support because pressure relief and supuport are opposites. Sometimes a topper that provides more localized pressure relief (such as shredded latex or memory foam or wool) can provide more specific pressure relief to pressure points and compromise alignment less.

If a mattress has dips or areas where it is too soft (even if the dips aren’t apparent when you are off the mattress) … then a topper will just follow these. On the other hand … if a mattress is too firm … then a topper can work well.

All the layers of a mattress interact together and while a topper would bottom out if it was used alone on the floor or say a wood base … on a mattress (even a very firm one) … there is already some softness there and you “want” a topper that would bottom out by itself. If it was so firm and thick that it wouldn’t bottom out … then it wouldn’t be suitable as a topper. A topper in other words is meant to add to existing softness rather than be enough by itself. In almost all cases … 2-3" would be fine and there are some cases (depending on the layering of the mattress that it is being added to and the type of topper) that even an inch can make a significant difference even though everyone would “bottom out” on a 1" topper by itself.

Yes. Heavier weights are one of the factors that will lower the lifespan of any material in a topper or in a mattress. This would be a good reason to use a topper with a more durable material so that it will last as long as a less durable material would for someone else. this can be somewhat offset and evened out though by flipping and rotating the topper so that you are using both sides (side to side and top to bottom).

There are too many variables in the longevity of various materials to give any type of specific answer to this (you can see post #2 here for a discussion about the many factors involved in longevity) but it will be less than a similar material that is used inside the mattress. Perhaps about 1/2 to 2/3 as long. The advantage though is that if the topper wears out sooner than the comfort layers of the mattress (and they usually will) … then you only have to change the topper and not the whole mattress.

This would depend on the condition and layering of the mattress it was going on. If it was a “fixable” condition and there wasn’t so much soft foam in the upper layers of the mattress that adding a topper would turn the soft mattress layers into part of your support system (and some firm mattresses have a surprising amount of soft layers in the upper part of the mattress) … then a topper can work well. If it is a condition that a topper would only provide a temporary or less than ideal solution and some of the other less expensive suggestions haven’t worked well … then I would consider looking for a new mattress

Hope this helps.


Many thanks for your quick reply! Your post does make sense and helps confirm my initial thought that a topper would help the older, thinner “firm” mattress and not the newer “dippy” mattress. We had never purchased a topper before and as I had mentioned above, the lack of a warranty/trail period for them left us feeling a little cautious. You also gave some good information on the durability issue, and though you made me feel more comfortable with a topper solution in general, we’re concerned about having to replace that within a short timeframe as well.

We thought we might try to find a local retailer to try out latex mattresses to get a “feel” for them and see if we might like to make our move in that direction. Can you please recommend location(s) relatively close to zip 52233? I’ve looked at your member list and though Midwest Mattress is in Des Moines (~2 hr drive from here), their site makes it look like they sell more memory foam than latex; their latex mattresses all seem to have some memory foam in them as well. What do you think about the Lebeda Reve model? The link from that page indicates that it has 805-coils, so we’re not sure we’d get a representative feel for a latex-only mattress.

Thanks once again!

Hi Janax,

Bear in mind that most toppers usually do have a warranty but like mattresses, this is connected to impressions not softening and softening is the biggest reason that most toppers (and mattresses) will need to be replaced. The variables in durability have as much to do with the mattress they are on and the person using them as they do with the topper itself. Better materials like latex will soften and break down much more slowly than other less durable materials. “Real life” durability depends on how much any softening affects your support and alignment on the mattress and the softening of a thinner topper will have less effect here than a thicker one. The “best” choice of a topper is “just enough” thickness and softness and this will also be the most durable. Better materials like latex will tend to keep you inside the “range” of your support and alignment needs longer than other materials because they will retain more of their resiliency and original properties for longer but “how long” will depend on where in the range you were when the topper was new and how much “room for softening” you have. All toppers though will not last as long as the same materials inside a mattress cover. Because a latex topper may need to be replaced because of softening well before it has actually “worn out” and because there are so many other variables, I tend towards more conservative estimates.

Midwest mattress has stores in Des Moines, Ames, Urbandale, and Ankeny, IA and does carry “mostly latex” mattresses (they use a polyfoam stabilization layer on the bottom) and because they deal directly with their factory … they can also make some custom adjustments to a degree. They are good quality and good value and of course like all the members here I think very highly of them. I would avoid the Serta mattresses that they also carry.

Other factory direct outlets or retail “possibilities” (on a mattress by mattress basis and always depending on the materials in each mattress you are considering) that are closer to Cedar Rapids (closer than Des Moines) that I’m aware of are … Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, (and other locations in IA.).Regional factory direct outlet that produces a range of mattresses including latex, memory foam (incl gel) and innersprings. Moline, IL and Bettendorf, IA. They make two sided innersprings, latex innerspring hybrids, and an all latex two sided Talalay latex mattress.

Furniture Row® Store Locations - Store Hours & Addresses Waterloo, Davenport, IA, Madison, WI, Rockford, IL. Regional manufacturer that has a wide range of mattresses including a mostly latex mattress, a memory foam latex hybrid, and innerspring mattresses. I would avoid the mainstream mattresses they also carry. Dubuque, IA. Talked with Doug and they are a sister company to Comfort King and make the same mattresses (except the 3000 coil german innerspring). They make innerspring hybrid mattresses with latex, 1.8 lb polyfoam, memory foam and gel memory foam.

Directory of Verlo Mattress Locations. Find a Verlo Mattress store in your town. Dubuque. Regional manufacturer that also makes a wide range of memory foam, latex, and innerspring mattresses. Fairfield, IA. I taked with them and they are good people. They sell 6" organic Dunlop latex cores and 2" and 3" Dunlop latex toppers as mattress components in various firmness levels. They also sell fabric and have a local connection which can sew them into mattress covers. The cores are available for local testing for those who want to test different firmness levels. They also sell wool toppers. Retailer in Waterloo, Ottumwa, Fort Dodge, Marshalltown, Coralville, Mason City, West Burlington, IA. They carry Restonic latex hybrids and gel (no all latex). Cedar Falls, Coralville, IA. Restonic (including some Healthrest). Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Coralville, Davenport, IA. Englander and Spring Air and Easy Rest again on a “mattress by mattress” basis (has spring air Latex hybrids and gel memory foam).

It’s not at all uncommon that websites are not up to date so I would strongly suggest a phone call first to get a clearer sense of what to expect at each store and what they have available, especially if it involves a significant drive.

A big part of the “feel” of a mattress is the upper comfort layers but every layer will affect both the performance and feel of a mattress so if you compare a mattress that has an innerspring with polyfoam comfort layers to another one that that uses a similar innerspring with latex comfort layers or a similar innerspring with memory foam comfort layers you will get a very general sense of the difference between the materials. Keep in mind though that all materials have a wide range of softness/firmness levels and performance in different layerings so make sure you avoid the tendency to think that a particular material is either “softer” or “firmer” and focus on the general qualities and “feel” of the material rather than the specifics of how well it meets your pressure relief and alignment needs (which has more to do with the layering of the mattress and how all the components and layers interact together).

Of course fast response materials like latex and polyfoam will have a much different feel than slow response materials like memory foam and will be more similar in their “feel” … even though having latex in the comfort layers will make for a more expensive and also much more durable mattress. The closer to the top the latex is (either less or no polyfoam on top of the latex) … the more you will be able to feel the material itself without the modification that will come from other layers above it. So comparing the Reve with another similar mattress that uses polyfoam instead of latex will give you a sense of the difference in how they feel. Post #2 here has some general specs of the 3 latex or latex hybrids that they make.

They may also carry latex toppers as well which you could test on various “firm” mattresses to give you a sense of which may work best for you but they are not listed on their website so I don’t know if they do.