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How to Buy a Viscoelastic Memory Foam Mattress Topper Pad

Updated on September 30, 2017
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Dan has been a homeowner for some 40 years and has nearly always done his own repair and improvement tasks. He is a licensed electrician.

Why a Visco Elastic Memory Foam Mattress Topper?

Several years ago my wife and I needed a new mattress and decided to try a foam mattress, without the memory foam topper. Our budget was very limited (and these mattresses are not cheap!) but we found a damaged one on eBay for $100 and purchased it. The damage was to the plastic shipping cover which was torn, but the mattress itself was undamaged so it turned out to be a good purchase. Until we slept on it - while my wife was pleased, I found it to be far too firm for my taste. Nevertheless we used it for about a year with no problems.

Then I broke two ribs in an on-the-job accident. I was in constant pain and nights were the worst; out of 8 hours in bed I slept 2 hours if I was lucky. After several weeks my ribs were healing just a bit and I began to sleep better but then, reaching and twisting for a sheet of paper, I re-broke the ribs.

It was at this point that I decided something had to be done and we decided to try one of the visco elastic mattress toppers to see if it would help. I immediately began to sleep most of the night, waking only occasionally from the pain, and my wife decided she liked the mattress topper as well.

In addition to my own experience with the topper when injured, many people with arthritis, fibromyalgia or other back pain while sleeping have found relief when using these mattress toppers. While the percentage of people reporting such relief is only around 50% the cost of these mattress toppers is usually under $200; it can be a small price to pay for a good nights sleep and might be worth the cost to try one if you have back pain at night.

Another good use for a mattress topper is in an RV. Many of the beds in RV's are about as comfortable as a layer of brick, and a topper can make all the difference in the world. We liked the result in the house so much that we purchased one for our RV as well - the topper shown in the photos below is in a motorhome, and it turned the bed from an instrument of torture into a bed as comfortable as that in the house. Many times an RV bed is shorter than a normal bed, but toppers are easily cut with a sharp knife, and can be made to fit such shorter beds.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Because it was shortened about 4" the cover is a little large, but not objectionably so.Showing both mattress and topperThe cover is pulled back, showing the rather rough edge where the topper was shortened.Showing the typical memory foam recover after being compressed.
Because it was shortened about 4" the cover is a little large, but not objectionably so.
Because it was shortened about 4" the cover is a little large, but not objectionably so. | Source
Showing both mattress and topper
Showing both mattress and topper | Source
The cover is pulled back, showing the rather rough edge where the topper was shortened.
The cover is pulled back, showing the rather rough edge where the topper was shortened. | Source
Source
Showing the typical memory foam recover after being compressed.
Showing the typical memory foam recover after being compressed. | Source

General Considerations When Buying Memory Foam Toppers

A visco elastic (commonly termed "memory foam") mattress topper is a piece of foam rubber intended to lay over a mattress. The foam is different than most foams in that it is an open cell design and is relatively firm until heated. When first lying on these toppers there is little movement, but body heat will "soften" it and you will slowly sink into the foam. In this manner the mattress topper conforms perfectly to body contours while retaining the ability to provide support at all points.

With the unusual characteristics come a few different considerations that must be made when buying a topper. Density of the foam must be considered, as well as thickness. Size is probably the simplest thing to pick; it needs to fit your current bed.

While some manufactures seem extremely concerned that their mattress toppers exactly match a set bed size, I have not found it to be of concern. The topper I purchased for my California King sized bed is just a little small all the way around (sheet manufacturers also have the same problem, so I wasn't surprised) but I don't sleep on each and every inch around the bed anyway. Simply buy the size that fits your bed and don't worry if it is an inch too short. You'll never tell the difference while asleep anyway.

The thickness of the topper (discussed below) should also be mentioned when considering size as the extra thickness might be a problem with fitted sheets. A very thick mattress coupled with a thick topper could well be a greater size than a fitted sheet can accommodate. Be aware of this possibility when buying a topper.

Check the Density

Memory foam mattresses have a property termed "density" which is a measurement of the weight of a cubic foot of memory foam. It is not a measurement of the firmness of the topper as some people mistakenly believe, although it does have some small effect on it. One of the primary effects if varying density is longevity and that is the property probably most important.

Mattress toppers with a density property of less than 3 are probably of poor quality and even a rating of 3 should be considered marginal. A rating of 4 is far preferable and will last considerably longer while ratings of 5 or more are probably of superior construction. In general, the extra cost for a better topper is minor - if at all possible buy the better topper.

Thickness of the Mattress Topper

The thickness of a mattress topper has more to do with the feeling and appearance of softness than anything else. A thicker topper will allow the sleeper to sink further into it and may feel "softer" than a thinner one. Remember, you will sink into the topper, and the depression does not "move" as easily as regular foam. When moving or rolling over in bed the sleeper must move up and out of that depression, whereupon a new depression will form under you. A thicker topper will make a deeper depression to move out of.

Most people are happy with a 2" memory foam mattress topper. While heavier people might appreciate a thicker topper as they might "bottom out" on a thinner one, I weigh over 200 pounds myself and find the 2" just right. I would also recommend the 2" size for campers of all types - it is thick enough to help an extra firm bed while still being reasonably lightweight. A note of caution for campers; some beds are hinged to raise up, allowing storage underneath. These toppers are rather heavy for a piece of foam, and will make the bed somewhat more difficult to raise. Our bed won't remain up now - the cylinders aren't strong enough to hold it - and I had to cut a piece of closet pole to hold it up when working under it.

Most people won't find much value in a topper under 2", but toppers of 3" and 4" are available. These should only be purchased if a very soft feel is desired but for those people enjoying a soft mattress they make a viable option.

If you are not sure which one you would like best I would suggest the 2" thickness. In addition, some manufactures recognize that this is a new idea for many people and offer a money back guarantee; Soft Sleeper is one such brand, available through Amazon, and I've been very pleased with their product.

© 2010 Dan Harmon

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    • Reginald Thomas profile image

      Reginald Thomas 2 months ago from Connecticut

      Nice article Dan. I enjoyed your solution to a problem. Good thinking.

    • wilderness profile image
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      Dan Harmon 7 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      It seems like now would be the time to try a memory foam topper, then. I wish you luck with it; I wouldn't give mine up for anything and hope you will feel the same way.

    • profile image

      Mominsearchofsleep 7 years ago

      Finally!! Someone else who hates their sleep number bed. It really is horrible. I can't believe how much money we forked out for this thing - the only issue I had with our previous bed was that it was a Queen-sized bed and we wanted a King - other than that I slept great after I added a foam topper and another feather bed topper :). My husband loves the sleep number, as he had lots of back pain with our other bed, but I've never slept worse in my life. I'm going to try a foam topper while he's away in Iraq.

    • wilderness profile image
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      Dan Harmon 7 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      LOL, quite a turn of words there! I do sympathize - my period with broken ribs was pretty bad, but at least it went away in the end. I truly wish I could help, but my only suggestion is to replace the sleep number with a foam mattress plus a topper. Some of the better mattress manufacturers offer a money back guarantee of you don't like it and the cheap ones cost so little that you aren't out much if you don't like it.

      Unfortunately, with wifey loving the sleep number that probably won't work, in which case all I can offer is sympathy. If you do try something like that, let me know - I'd be interested if it helps.

    • Shadesbreath profile image

      Shadesbreath 7 years ago from California

      Dude, I would KILL for a solution to this nightmare that is our sleep number bed. God. I hate it to a degree and depth you can't possibly fathom unless you have lived in a dungeon where sadistic demons pounded railroad spikes into your lumbar vertebrae every night, doing it slowly and making sure not miss any nerve ending while laughing and stepping on your bladder to make sure you were aware you might as well go pee since you are already awake.

    • wilderness profile image
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      Dan Harmon 7 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      We had some smell, but it wasn't bad at all. At the same time we spread it on the mattress and let it set a couple of days before covering it up - maybe that had something to do with it. Other than that, I really don't know what to tell you. Is it possible that the odor has permeated the sleep number mattress and it also needs aired out?

      I was about like you, with a mattress that I hated but my wife loved - it's really amazing what a difference these toppers can make. We've had several people sleep on our RV bed and without fail they all comment about how well it sleeps, which is pretty odd for an RV.

    • Shadesbreath profile image

      Shadesbreath 7 years ago from California

      I'm not sure what brand name my wife bought, but she bought one of these foam toppers because, well, we bought one of those Sleep Number beds that's all over the place these days. For twenty years she had back problems no matter what bed we bought (and we went through water beds, and two really expensive spring and foam matresses)--none of the beds ever bothered me at all. So I bought the top of the line sleep number bed hoping this would be the one for her. It finally was. Except now we have a bed that is so horrifically painful I can hardly move some mornings and the pain doesn't go away during most of the day. It's aweful. I hate it more than any object I have ever owned, and yes I've been up and down the sleep number scale and talked to their help people and everything else. It's horrible, I hate it. Anyway, so my wife got one of those toppers (froms somewhere) and I slept great the first night, no pain that I can recall.... but that's because it smelled so horrendous I couldn't deal with it. She's been trying to air it out for months. It smells like burnt coco bean shells or something. It's terrible. Did yours have a smell with it, a horrible, chemically thing that permeated your skin and you could smell it on yourself even after you bathed? I'm thinking your brand did not, but if it did, what did you do to get rid of it?