Do you use a mattress pad or protector? You might think you don’t need one anymore, now that you’ve outgrown your childhood bedwetting phase, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Mattress pads aren’t just for little kids who might wet the bed. They’re for everyone. No matter who you are, how old you are, or what health conditions you may or may not have, you need a mattress pad. Here’s what you need to know to make the right choice.

Mattresses Need Protection

Every mattress needs a mattress pad to keep it clean. There isn’t a person alive on this planet that doesn’t secrete bodily fluids, like saliva and sweat, in their sleep. You also shed dead skin cells at night in a natural process called desquamation (technically, this process occurs during the day, too, but dead cells shed during the day don’t tend to end up in your mattress). Mattress pads protect your mattress from that fluid and debris, which would otherwise seep through your sheets, and get ground into your mattress, forever soiling it.

Of course, there are other bodily fluids that might stain your mattress — and putting down a towel first might not completely solve the problem. Fluids can still soak through the towel and sheets. Plus, if you ever eat or drink in bed, spills could happen. Once your mattress gets stained or dirty, there’s really no getting it completely clean ever again. With a mattress pad, you can sleep in a truly clean bed every night, and your mattress will last longer too.

Between the darkness, the warmth, and the slight moisture of sweat and other bodily fluids seeping into the fabric at night, the environment in your bed is ideal for supporting the growth of bacteria and mold. Dust mites, whose fecal matter contains the human allergens Der P1 and Der P5, also thrive in your mattress, feeding off your dead skin flakes. These microscopic living organisms are born, live, and die inside your bed, leaving behind their corpses to provide more nutrients for more dust mites and bacteria.

A mattress pad can keep your bed from becoming a microscopic civilization in its own right. It keeps dead skin cells, sweat, makeup powder, and other debris and waste from your body from getting into your bed, so that dust mites and bacteria don’t have what they need to grow in the first place. Typically, a mattress might last only eight to 10 years or so, before you absolutely have to replace it for hygiene reasons. With a mattress pad, though, you can keep using your mattress until it starts to break down functionally — that could mean getting years of additional use out of it.

Choosing the Right Mattress Pad

These days, you don’t have to sleep on a mattress pad that sounds and feels like a plastic tarp. There are plenty of waterproof or water-resistant mattress pads on the market today that look and feel as soft as the rest of your bedding.

The best choice is an organic mattress pad made with sustainably produced, all-natural materials. Conventional mattress pads may be made with synthetic materials that release volatile organic compounds (VoCs) into your home. These toxic chemicals can cause health problems ranging from mild respiratory symptoms to cancer and death. And the conventionally grown cotton used in many non-organic mattress pads is produced using huge amounts of pesticides that you probably don’t want to snuggle up with at night.

Organic mattress pads are made with sustainable cotton and wool. Some may contain natural latex. Wool is naturally water-resistant and flame-retardant, so it’s a great choice for an organic mattress pad. Natural latex is hypoallergenic in most cases (assuming the latex is covered with fabric and the allergy isn’t serious — consult your doctor first if you’re concerned), naturally anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and dust-mite repellant.

Choose a mattress pad with an elastic edge that wraps around the mattress like a sheet. Just like with sheets and pillowcases, thread count is important, with a higher thread count fabric indicating a higher quality weave. You can also buy pads with some extra loft for added comfort.

A mattress pad is a must to keep your mattress clean and help you maximize the use you get out of it. New mattresses aren’t cheap, so protect your investment in your bed with a mattress pad.

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