Pillow Top Mattresses Explained

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Pillow top mattresses have an extra layer of padding sewn into the top of the mattress. The pillow top layer can be made from synthetic materials, such as foam and fibre fill, and natural materials, such as wool. This top layer is usually supported by either foam or a spring system underneath.

Despite their popularity, pillow top mattresses come with a somewhat mixed reputation. While the padding on top provides a softer, more sumptuous feel, some pillow top mattresses may be prone to premature sagging due to their construction.

If you are considering purchasing a pillow top mattress, it’s helpful to weigh up the pros and cons before making a decision.

luxury pillow top mattress close up wiith dark coloured borders

What is a pillow top mattress?

Pillow top mattresses have an extra layer of padding sewn into the top of the mattress. The pillow top layer can be made from synthetic materials, such as foam and fibre fill, and natural materials, such as wool. This top layer is usually supported by either foam or a spring system underneath.

Pillow tops have grown in popularity, with many mattress manufacturers featuring them in their collections. These luxurious mattresses offer a softer, more sumptuous feel, often described as sleeping on a cloud.

How long do pillow top mattresses last?

Pillow tops typically have a shorter lifespan than other mattress types. The top layer is sewn into the mattress, often leaving a gap around the outside of the mattress. Because of this design, pillow tops tend to sag reasonably quickly around the edges as there is less support around the perimeter.

With correct care, most pillow top mattresses should last between 6 and 8 years. Some pillow tops may last longer, while others may wear out sooner. The lifespan depends on its usage, construction, material quality and quantity.  

Pillow tops are single-sided mattresses, where you can only sleep on the top side of the mattress. The underside of the mattress is unsuitable for sleeping on. Pillow top mattresses tend to deteriorate faster than other mattress types as all the wear and tear is concentrated on a single sleeping surface. In contrast, a double-sided mattress can be flipped over to even out the wear on both sleeping surfaces.

The longevity of a pillow top mattress also depends on its usage. A pillow top mattress will wear out faster if it supports more weight. For example, a heavier person will put more stress and strain on the components. Similarly, a pillow top mattress is likely to wear out quicker when two people share a bed than a single person sleeping independently.

A pillow top mattress containing natural materials, such as wool, silk and natural latex will typically last longer than one containing synthetic materials, such as ordinary foam and fibre fill.

Extra Comfort

Sumptuously soft and luxurious, the top cushioning layer allows the mattress to contour more closely to the body. Pillow tops are ideal for sleepers that prefer a mattress that hugs the body that will enable them to sink into the mattress more.  

Are pillow top mattresses good for side sleepers?

Pillows tops are ideal for side sleepers as the mattress conforms to the body, keeping the spine aligned and correctly supported. The extra padding cushions the shoulders and the hips, which helps relieve aches and pains.

Lack of edge to edge support

Because of their construction, pillow top mattresses tend to sag fairly easily around the edges.

This may give some sleepers the feeling that they are rolling out of bed. This can be problematic when two people are sharing a bed. To avoid falling out of bed, sleeping partners may naturally gravitate towards the middle of the bed, thus reducing the sleeping area and leaving them feeling squashed against one another.

A pillow top mattress may not be suitable for a heavier person

A pillow top mattress may not provide adequate support for a heavier person, such as someone that weighs more than 16 stone. The softer sleeping surface may cause the body to slouch, putting the body out of natural alignment. This may cause discomfort and make it harder to turn over in bed. A heavier person will likely find a firmer mattress more supportive.

Bed height

Pillow top mattresses are typically deeper than other mattress types, mainly due to the extra padding sewn into the top of the mattress. When paired with a bed base, this can significantly increase the overall bed height. Because of this, some people may find it challenging to get in and out of bed comfortably.

Finding suitably fitted sheets can also be problematic, so it is important to measure the depth of the mattress correctly.

How to clean a pillow top mattress

How you clean a pillow top depends on the materials within the mattress. Before cleaning, you should always refer to the manufacturer’s care instructions which are usually provided with the mattress.

Each pillow top mattress will come with specific cleaning instructions. If the pillow top contains loose fillings, you should avoid vacuuming the mattress as this can dislodge the fillings and cause the mattress to sag or go lumpy. Instead, you should remove dust and dirt from the surface with a soft brush.

Otherwise, gently vacuum the topside of the mattress using a clean brush attachment, ensuring that the vacuum does not snag the material.

Do pillow top mattresses need turning?

As pillow tops only have one sleeping surface, they cannot be flipped over as the underside is not suitable for sleeping on. While this may affect their durability, some people may prefer to sleep on a mattress that is easier to maintain that does not need to be flipped over.

However, you should still rotate a pillow top mattress from time to time. Body impressions and indentations may start to appear on the mattress’s surface, particularly during the first few weeks of use. Rotating the mattress from head to toe will help ensure an even sleeping surface.

How do you fix a sagging pillow top mattress?

With new pillow top mattresses, body impressions and indentation can start to form on the surface of the mattress where most of the sleeper’s weight is concentrated. This is expected and does not necessarily mean that the mattress is sagging prematurely. Rotating the mattress should help to even out the wear.

If this does not resolve the issue, inspect the bed base on which the pillow top mattress is resting on. An old worn-out bed base could be causing the mattress to sag. If the mattress sits on a slatted bed frame, ensure that the mattress is not sagging between the slats. Similarly, if the mattress is sitting on an old worn-out divan base, the mattress may conform to its shape.

An unsuitable bed base can affect how the mattress performs and will invalidate the mattress guarantee. So it’s best to replace an old bed base as soon as possible.

If you’ve bought the mattress and the bed base together, and find that the fillings are not recovering after turning the mattress, it could be faulty. In this instance, speak to the store where you purchased the bed.

However, as with all mattresses, the components will naturally deteriorate and break down over time. When this happens, it is best to replace the mattress as soon as possible, as persevering with a worn-out mattress will affect your sleep quality.

Final thoughts

If you prefer comfort over longevity, a pillow top mattress may be an option to consider. Otherwise, you may want to consider a good quality double-sided mattress instead.

About the author

About the author

Tony Brown is the founder and creator of The Bed Consultant. His career in the bed industry began in 2002. After graduating from university with a degree in Business Administration, Tony joined one of the largest independent furniture retailers in the UK as a bed consultant. Tony has helped thousands of customers find the perfect mattress.

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