Are mattress toppers actually antibacterial? A sleep editor investigates

Sleep and health experts identify which mattress toppers can bust bacteria and promote safe sleep

One of the picks for the best matters topper, the Tempur-Adapt, in a modern bedroom
(Image credit: Tempur-Pedic)

A good mattress topper can breathe new life into an old mattress. The right topper should provide plush comfort and keep you just the right side of cool and dry.

Plush or firm, memory foam or latex – mattress toppers come in every shape and size to suit all styles of sleeper. Lots of them claim all sorts of features. You'll see cooling toppers, toppers that claim to cure back pain, and antibacterial mattress toppers. However, only certain sorts of topper are antibacterial, able to bust the bacteria that breed in hot, damp environments, such as bedrooms. 

As H&G's resident sleep writer, I find it's easy to evaluate the look and feel of a topper, but much harder to assess its antibacterial properties. That's why I've consulted medical experts and bedding moguls to work out exactly what makes the best mattress toppers antimicrobial and whether antibacterial bedding is worth the price.  

What makes a mattress topper antibacterial?

Earthfoam mattress topper on a bed against a peach colored wall.

(Image credit: Earthfoam)

Antibacterial bedding is designed to inhibit the growth of mold, microbes and dust mites in order to promote clean sleep. Since a topper is placed over the mattress and beneath the sheets, it also works to protect the mattress from dirt, spills and stains.

According to bedding expert Parima Ijaz, an antibacterial mattress topper 'has to be made with materials that kill or inhibit the growth of any bacteria that comes into contact with the topper.' Naturally antimicrobial materials include bamboo and eucalyptus fibers, which are woven into the fabric or foam of the topper. Some synthetics, such as certain blends of polyester, are also proven antibacterial agents. 

'Sometimes, there is an added treatment that acts as a barrier between the mattress topper and bacteria,' says Parima. Such treatments often incorporate natural antibacterial agents, such as silver or copper ions, which might be applied as a film, or washed over the fabric and foam.  

Parima is the founder and CEO of Pure Parima, a bedding brand that works exclusively with certified materials and non-harmful substances. That's why she thinks it's so 'important to pay attention to the materials used in your topper, so that you can ensure safe sleep. Look for the OEKO-TEX certification tag to find a mattress topper that's free from harmful chemicals'. 

Headshot of Parima Ijaz.
Parima IJaz

Parima is the founder of Pure Parima, a premium bedding brand that makes luxury and authenticity accessible to all. Her insights and products have been featured in publications such as CNN Underscored and Cosmopolitan. 

What are the benefits of antibacterial mattress toppers?

Avocado Organic Mattress Topper on a bed.

(Image credit: Avocado)

You might not be able to watch antibacterial bedding at work, but you'll feel the effects. A top-quality topper will slow and stop the growth of bad bacteria and prevent foul odors from fermenting in your mattress.

Antimicrobial mattress toppers are inherently resistant to the stains and odors emitted by bad bacteria. That's one unexpected upside of sleeping with antibacterial bedding: no unsightly yellow stains, just a clean, white mattress. 

Dr. Mollie Newton is a registered veterinarian, who spends her days helping pets and humans live in harmony in the home. She particularly recommends antibacterial mattress toppers to 'folks dealing with allergies or breathing problems, since they help to reduce allergens in the bedroom. For those with pets, antibacterial toppers are especially effective, guarding against the germs our furry pals might carry onto our beds'. 

Headshot of Dr. Mollie Newton.
Dr. Mollie Newton

Mollie is a devoted animal lover and holds a doctorate in veterinary medicine from Cornell University, where she acquired extensive knowledge and hands-on experience with diagnoses and treatment of diverse pet health issues. Through her blog, PetMeTwice, Mollie shares advice and insights to help pets and owners live in harmony. 

Not all bedding is antibacterial. I recommend scouring the specifications or checking the tag to work out what's in your topper. 

For ease, I've compiled a few of my favorite antimicrobial mattress toppers below. You can rest easy in the knowledge that one of our expert testers has slept on each of these toppers for weeks, if not months, to monitor their performance over time. 

What are the downsides of antibacterial mattress toppers?

Coop Retreat Mattress Topper on a bed.

(Image credit: Coop Home Goods)

Antibacterial bedding appeals to hot sleepers and the health-conscious, but an antibacterial topper shouldn't be your only line of defence against dirt and dust. Health expert Catherine Rall cautions that 'bacteria are resilient little creatures that can live just about anywhere, including on some allegedly antimicrobial surfaces.'

'While an antibacterial mattress topper will definitely hold less bacteria, fungi, dust mites, and other microbes, it's not going to do anything for the rest of your sheets and blankets,' Catherine warns, 'let alone your body, which hosts plenty of bacteria'. Catherine attributes this to the placement of a topper: above the mattress, but beneath the fitted sheet. An antibacterial topper should prevent the growth of mold and mildew in the mattress, but it can't do much between the sheets. 

Catherine acknowledges that 'antibacterial mattress toppers are a good choice for people with dust mite allergies, especially if you use them in conjunction with antimicrobial sheets and frequent washing'. Then again, one of the major plus points of antibacterial bedding is that it's supposed to help you cut down on cleaning. 

Many mattress manufacturers sell you a dream that you can slot an antibacterial topper beneath your sheets, let it work and forget it's there. Catherine calls this out as wishful thinking: even the best antibacterial topper is 'not going to magically keep your mattress and bed clean forever'. 

Headshot of Catherine Rall.
Catherine Rall

Catherine is a registered dietitian with a wide range of experience in nutrition education and lab research. Her knowledge of good and bad bacteria extends beyond the kitchen and into the bedroom.

Are there any alternatives to antibacterial mattress toppers?

Organic Washable Wool Comforter on a bed.

(Image credit: Woolroom)

Maybe you already own a mattress topper, or you aren't convinced that such a lightweight layer can really make a difference to your sleep hygiene. If you're still keen to sleep clean, then you might want to consider other kinds of antibacterial bedding. 

While Dr. Paul Daidone acknowledges that 'antibacterial toppers can provide an extra line of defence', he believes that 'they should be part of a comprehensive approach towards maintaining a clean, healthy sleeping environment. Regular cleaning of your bedding should help to uphold hygiene standards'. If you've ever wondered how often you should wash your sheets, you could learn a lot from our expert guide. 

'In addition to mattress toppers, there are other bedding products with antimicrobial properties,' says Paul, 'such as antibacterial duvets or bed sheets'. I recently wrote a feature on whether antibacterial duvets are worth it. Spoiler alert: I think so. Antibacterial duvets and bed sheets lie much so closer to your skin and might help you sleep fresher than even the best antibacterial topper. 

Headshot of Paul Daidone, MD.
Paul Daidone

Paul has been practicing medicine for more than 20 years, treating the patients of Arkansas in their hospitals and homes. Paul knows a thing or two about bacteria, and agreed to share his insights into the world of sleep. 

You'll find antibacterial bedding in all the specialist sleep stores, as well as select home retailers. Keep an eye out for sheets, shams and comforters that incorporate naturally antimicrobial materials. I like the look and feel of eucalyptus and bamboo, though certain polyester weaves might be more suitable for buyers on a budget. 

With so much antibacterial bedding to choose from, it can be hard to tell what is and isn't quality. That's where I come in. I've rounded up a few of my favorite pieces to suit every style of bedroom and size of budget. 

Mattress topper FAQs

Why should I buy a mattress topper?

Unlike a solid bed frame or the best mattress, a topper isn't a sleep necessity. With that said, the right topper will enhance the feel of your mattress, offering a careful balance of comfort and support. You could use a mattress topper to breathe new life into an old bed at home, in college, or on vacation. It's a quick and easy sleep upgrade for a fraction of the price of a brand new mattress.

Which mattress topper is best?

We're big fans of the Saatva Graphite Mattress Topper. It comes in every size, from Twin to California King, and offers medium-firm support to suit all sleep styles. Eco-conscious shoppers with cash to spare could consider the Avocado Organic Mattress Topper. Made from organic latex, wool, and cotton, this topper comes in plush and firm comfort levels for customised support. If you're looking to firm up an old bed, rather than soften it, you should opt for the Nolah Mattress Topper. I'd recommend this supportive topper to front and back sleepers to maintain the natural alignment of their spine. 

Our verdict

While there are such things as antibacterial mattress toppers, and they might be ideal for sensitive sleepers and pet parents, they shouldn't be treated as a one-size-fits-all sleep solution. Antibacterial toppers work to clean your mattress, rather than your body or your bed sheets. If you're keen to improve your sleep hygiene, you might be better off with a set of antibacterial bed sheets or an antimicrobial duvet cover. Better yet, a hypoallergenic mattress should keep the dust mites, mold, and mildew at bay and stop you from sneezing.

Emilia Hitching
Sleep Editor

Emilia is our resident sleep writer. She spends her days tracking down the lowest prices on the best bedding and spends her nights testing it out from the comfort of her own home – it's a dream job. Her quest to learn how to sleep better has taken her all around the world, from mattress factories in Arizona to sleep retreats in Scandinavia. Before she joined Homes & Gardens, Emilia studied English at the University of Oxford. She also worked on the other side of the aisle, writing press releases for regional newspapers and crafting copy for Sky.