Is a mattress cover really necessary?
July 22, 2008 2:00 PM   Subscribe

Do I really need a mattress cover?

We finally purchased a new pillowtop mattress (it is 14 inches tall, if that somehow matters, and it has memory foam in the pillowtop but is otherwise a firm mattress) and it's being delivered next week. The woman who sold us the mattress told us that we absolutely had to get a mattress cover, which she said is basically just a sheet that protects the mattress. I've looked around and I am concerned that this will just add another layer of wrinkle-prone fabric to my bed.

I hate wrinkled sheets. I make the bed properly and wash my sheets often, but my old mattress is ancient (we're talking 1970s) and I could never find properly-sized sheets for it, which may have been part of the problem. I don't have allergies and am not really concerned about getting any stains on the mattress itself, as it seems extremely unlikely since I've never had that problem before.

So: do you use a mattress cover? Why? Is it a necessary part of bedding that I have just been ignorant of until this point? If you do use one, do you have problems with wrinkles, or is that just unfounded paranoia?

If you do have a mattress cover and you particularly swear by it, tell me details -- what fabric is it made of? How often do you launder it? How has it changed your life for the better, or worse?
posted by k8lin to Home & Garden (35 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Over time, your mattress can get kind of funky: A mattress cover will greatly delay anything like that happening.
Besides, if you ever spill anything on your bed, you're much more likely to be able to salvage it.
posted by dunkadunc at 2:09 PM on July 22, 2008

I have a mattress cover. Apparently, it serves to help keep the mattress clean. I too loathe wrinkled up sheets, so I use Grippits on my bed, and they work fantastically. The sheets (and mattress cover) are always pulled night and taut.

I launder it with the sheets as normal. It appears to be made out of some kind of poly/cotton blend. You can get plastic ones, but unless you're incontinent, I don't think they're really necessary.

As to their effectiveness, I have no idea. The mattress I have is about 10 years old, and shows no signs of wear, but I haven't exactly scientifically tested this. It could be that the mattress would be clean anyway.

I would use one again, if only because it's worth the few quid it's going to cost me to get hold of one, for the peace of mind.
posted by Solomon at 2:10 PM on July 22, 2008

I do have a mattress pad. Just got a new one after the old one wore out. I'm pretty sure it protectes the fabric covering of the mattress from wear (as in friction from you rubbing against it when you toss and turn in your sleep). It's made of thicker material than sheets, so it can take more abuse. I wash it once a month or so.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 2:12 PM on July 22, 2008

I use one for one reason: the smell and keeping it clean. Sheets get dirty and I can clean them easily. Sleeping right on the mattress itself causes it to get dirty and is a pain to clean.
posted by jmd82 at 2:13 PM on July 22, 2008

Best answer: I don't have any Grippit-style thing on my bed, but the cover is always very taut - no wrinkle at all. I wouldn't bother for an ultra-ancient mattress, but they are useful for avoiding funk/stains/etc.
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:14 PM on July 22, 2008

Best answer: You don't need a cover.
But, it does work to protect the mattress from whatever ickiness might seep through the sheets.

We use a cheap cover. It's sort of a sheet of thick-ish felt-like material, held onto the corners of the mattress by elastic straps. Do we swear by it? No. It's a mattress cover. They all pretty-much do the same job. Buy one and forget about it. Launder occasionally.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:14 PM on July 22, 2008

So: do you use a mattress cover? Why? Is it a necessary part of bedding that I have just been ignorant of until this point? If you do use one, do you have problems with wrinkles, or is that just unfounded paranoia?

I've never had a problem with a wrinkly mattress cover, and I use one all the time for several reasons:

#1: I'm a female. We do that bleeding thing once a month. Sometimes, it gets on the sheets. The mattress cover keeps it from then getting onto the mattress itself.
#2: A nice memory foam mattress cover is like sleeping on heaven itself. Even a not so nice mattress cover can make the difference between slightly uncomfortable and totally cozy.
#3: This one time, this cat... that I live with... she peed on the bed. Again, things that I do not want on the mattress itself.

(This cat? Never allowed in bed ever again. But still. Can never be too careful.)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 2:16 PM on July 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Our mattress cover is like a fitted sheet with "sides" and elastic to keep it in place. So it's always taut. And yeah, it keeps the mattress clean and reduces wear and tear. Ours is actually nearly worn out after a decade - certainly cheaper to replace than a mattress.
posted by GuyZero at 2:17 PM on July 22, 2008

Best answer: A mattress cover will help protect your mattress against soil, stains, dirt and dust. It will prolong the life of our mattress. And given the price of a decent mattress these days, a cover seems like a good investment. I always had one on my bed growing up, and I still use one. I've slept on beds with no cover, and I think it's more comfortable with than without. Mine is somewhat wrinkled in the morning (so is the fitted sheet) but I think that is just a result of normal movement while sleeping. It's easy enough to fix when you make the bed. I launder mine every month or so. You can find them in almost any big box store, or department store, or online. Prices vary widely; I think mine was around $50 a few years ago.
posted by socrateaser at 2:20 PM on July 22, 2008

I just bought a new mattress with a great replacement warranty, but it was only in effect as long as I used a mattress cover (the company also replaces mattress covers for free, so it doesn't have to replace as many mattresses). I don't know how they can tell whether I actually use the mattress cover or not, but it's certainly worth it to me to have the warranty in effect. Maybe you should check your warranty.
posted by aswego at 2:27 PM on July 22, 2008

You sweat at night, perhaps even a pint or two. Some of that is going to get past your sheet and into whatever's below it. A mattress cover, you can wash; a mattress is just going to absorb the sweat.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:29 PM on July 22, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the comments so far. My old, ancient mattress never had a cover on it and it still looks brand new. I don't have pets and have never stained the mattress before, which is why I'm questioning the utility of a cover.

I'm not interested in a pad -- that is something that gives a little extra foam or cushion -- because I will now have a pillowtop which is basically like a stitched-on mattress pad. But do I need to cover that pillowtop with what seems to basically be a second sheet underneath my normal sheets?
posted by k8lin at 2:29 PM on July 22, 2008

Best answer: you can get a mattress pad for about $15. Isn't that a nice little bit of insurance against something unforeseen happening to your new investment?
posted by pearlybob at 2:34 PM on July 22, 2008

When I bought my last mattress, I was informed that the warranty was voided if the mattress was stained or soiled, so we got a mattress cover.
posted by gnutron at 2:36 PM on July 22, 2008

If I were buying a mattress second hand, I would definitely get a cover.

Otherwise, I think it's up to personal preference. I mean, I have one on my mattress right now, but only because I need one to rein in my aftermarket memory foam topper. My sheets are wrinkled but it isn't because of the cover.
posted by roomwithaview at 2:41 PM on July 22, 2008

I have a mattress cover - it's simple, looks like a plain sheet (save for a bit of a pattern on the top) and there's no evidence of the cover once we put the regular fitted sheets on.

Don't buy one from the mattress salesperson, however - they're incredibly overpriced.

We purchased one for each of the kids' beds, too, and they're definitely waterproof. The cost was under $30 CAD and so far they've saved a LOT of time and effort.

If you spill something - water, pee, whatever! - you can simply remove the cover in the middle of the night, toss on fresh sheets and go to sleep in a clean, dry bed. Way better than having to sleep on a bunched up towel just because you spilled your water - and way better, for the kids, than sleeping on the floor while waiting for the mattress to dry out.
posted by VioletU at 2:44 PM on July 22, 2008

> do I need to cover that pillowtop with what seems to basically be a second sheet underneath my normal sheets?

Do you NEED to? Of course not. But you might WANT to - for all of the reasons listed above.
posted by 2oh1 at 3:06 PM on July 22, 2008

I never saw much of a need for a mattress cover. Then last spring when I realized that the bronzer in my self-tanning cream was staining my mattress THROUGH my sheets. (Sheets were all dark colors, so no stains were immediately apparent.) Now my gorgeous comfy 2-year-old pillow top mattress has an orangey-brown stain in the shape of me sleeping, and I am the bitter, grumpy user of mattress covers.

So, yeah. Nthing the point that if you want your mattress to stay stain-free for longer, mattress covers are a good idea.

(Incidentally, I've always used pillow covers under my pillowcases, but that goes back to my high school hair-dyeing years.)
posted by elizardbits at 3:32 PM on July 22, 2008

Best answer: You can't launder a mattress. A new mattress is expensive. A mattress pad is cheap and easy to launder.

Is there no conceivable way that something could get through your sheets? A leaky roof? Pet? Illness? Natural discharge? Unnatural ones? Sex? Guest? Breakfast in bed+sneeze?

If you (or anyone sleeping with you) has allergies, it's a good idea to use one because it will keep the dust mite population much lower.

They're really no trouble.
posted by Ookseer at 3:44 PM on July 22, 2008

Best answer: I always thought the mattress sheet was supposed to be for another layer of comfort... Mainly to help even out the quilted 'lumps' that are part of the actual mattress. The type I usually buy are relatively cushy, quilted in a rectangle that fits perfectly on the bed and then with an "overhang" of a what I would describe as muslin-y material the exact height of the mattress with elastic around the edges to keep them in place. I used to use the type with straps but recently I've been using the completely fitted type, they fit more snugly (perfect for wrinkle-free sheets) and don't unhook themselves from the bed.
I've woken up many times at 3am to remake my bed because the sheet had unhooked and was bunching up.

I didn't launder the mattress sheet as often as the regular sheets because I figured the bed sheets trapped any dirt but after about 2-3 months of not washing the mattress sheet I could see it darkening in the areas I sleep in. I was pretty surprised because while I'm usually a morning shower-person I also frequently shower in the evenings and most of the time I sleep clothed (shorts and a t-shirt).

It was definitely easier to see because the mattress sheet was white, your actual mattress could be dirty but might be harder to see especially if it's colored or patterned. Now I toss it in the laundry for every other sheet change.
posted by simplethings at 3:47 PM on July 22, 2008

Do you ever read the Sunday paper in bed? With coffee? (Confirmed mattress padder here.)
posted by Morrigan at 3:48 PM on July 22, 2008

If you ever get food poisoning or have some other cause of digestive upset, you feel happier if you have mattress cover. The cover can be easily laundered. (and bleached!) The mattress cannot.
posted by Robert Angelo at 5:02 PM on July 22, 2008

Yes, a mattress pad, but I use it specifically because we have a big, thick feather mattress on top of our regular mattress, and the pad helps to keep it from shifting.
posted by ersatzkat at 5:10 PM on July 22, 2008

wrt the warranty, salesmen just want to sell -- they'll say almost anything. the warranty and the pad have nothing to do with each other.

you don't *need* anything on your mattress. my ancient mattress also looks like new, i didn't put a pad on my new pillowtop
posted by maulik at 5:44 PM on July 22, 2008

you might want to look at the material used in the outer layer of mattress. we used to have a cotton-covered futon and after a few years that was definitely stained (just darker where we lie - i never thought it a problem). our new mattress has some kind of synthetic(?) material (no idea what it is, but it's certainly not plain white cotton - slightly shiny) and looks like new some 3 years down the line (no extra cover in either case).

some of the comments above seem a bit far-fetched. i have had serious food poisoning and haven't crapped the bed; my partner has periods without bleeding all over the place...
posted by not sure this is a good idea at 6:04 PM on July 22, 2008

Thank you for this question and please forgive me if this comes across as an attempt to hijack the question...
I've been wondering about the mattress pad/cover thing ever since I bought a feather bed topper.
ersatzkat addresses this, but I'm curious, when using a pad or cover do you put the feather bed on top of or under the pad/cover? I assume on top of, but would like clarification. If the feather bed does not shift would there still be a need for a cover/pad on the mattress?
posted by illek at 8:40 PM on July 22, 2008

Our mattress cover is a very thin sheet of waterproof material that is zippered, so the mattress slips inside a very large cover bag. The pro if this approach is that there's no wrinkles, no slippage, no lumps. Con - harder to wash, but really you only need to wash the mattress cover if something nasty happens.

I am pro mattress cover after seeing the feminine stains on my old mattress (if either you or your partner is a gusher, GET A COVER).
posted by crazycanuck at 8:46 PM on July 22, 2008

Response by poster: I'm convinced! I'll get one of the zipper kinds and give it a good try. If it annoys me, though, I'll get rid of it, since the remote chance of something happening to the mattress is not worth worrying about at the expense of my comfort, if the cover is wrinkly and obnoxious.

I'm surprised that no one has any brand recommendations. Are they really all the same? I've seen a wide variety on shelves/online at all different price points.
posted by k8lin at 9:47 PM on July 22, 2008

my girlfriend and I have the problem that when she is warm enough I'm sweating like marathon runner.

We got a thick wool mattress cover which somewhat counter-intuitively helps a lot. It means she doesn't need as much covers to feel warm, and it wicks away the sweat and keeps me much drier.
posted by lastobelus at 9:51 PM on July 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

I find sleeping on a latex foam topper without a mattress cover is uncomfortable, as the foam doesn't breath at all. A mattress cover with a cotton pad built in makes for better temperature regulation. I don't wake up slick with sweat.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:06 AM on July 23, 2008

Best answer: I sweat in my sleep. I use a mattress cover, even though my new mattress itself has a cover that is removable and washable (I admit, I don't trust it to get back on okay, after a washing).

I would not want one with a zipper. It will be larger than is simple to wash. I've never had problems with mattress covers that feature sides and elastic, which make them go on like a good fitted sheet.
posted by Goofyy at 5:45 AM on July 23, 2008

Most of the higher end ones have huge deep elastic pockets that keep it on very very taut. I would never be comfortable without a mattress cover. People sweat, its going to soak through your sheets, and seep into your mattress. You keep mattresses for years,do you really want years of sweat, drool, and various other body fluids stewing underneath your clean sheets and clean body?
posted by stormygrey at 7:10 AM on July 23, 2008

Best answer: With a zipper? Wow, you really do want to hate the thing, don't you? Try something like this. This is what people are trying to tell you: It's not like a sheet, it goes on easily, it washes easily, it's reasonably inexpensive, it's replaceable, it's clean, it's comfortable, it's like underwear for your mattress.
posted by sageleaf at 11:49 AM on July 23, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for everyone's comments, and thanks for the suggestion, sageleaf. Although I don't want a cover with any extra padding, I'll get something similar to the one you linked to. We'll see if I can convince my sleeping partner to go for one with elastic -- we both think that a zipped on one that is the exact same size as the mattress just won't ever bunch. And I don't plan on washing it much, anyhow, unless it looks grungy (maybe once every few months?) since the alternative would be to just not have one at all. But elastic does seem easier...
posted by k8lin at 1:02 PM on July 23, 2008

Response by poster: Sorry to keep adding, but illek, in my exhaustive searching on the subject of mattresses and covers, I found many feather bed covers. So maybe you would want something like that in your case. Here's a link to a company (Pacific Coast Basic Featherbed Cover - they also have a deluxe version that is more expensive) that makes them; I bought some fantastic pillows from them and there are some good coupons on the net if you scour for 15% off.

I assume that you wouldn't need a mattress cover if you're using a feather bed topper because you've got something on top of the mattress protecting it, but it is quite possible that I am wrong.
posted by k8lin at 1:07 PM on July 23, 2008

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