Mattress Protector vs. Fitted Sheet: Do I Need Them Both?

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If you’re looking into ways to prolong the life of your mattress, you may be wondering how fitted sheets and mattress protectors come into the equation.

On paper, both seem to do the same thing. However, their specific, individual purposes are actually quite different!

At a basic level, a mattress protector guards the mattress from spills, sweat, and wear and tear. 

It’s designed to prolong the life of your mattress so you can save money and get more out of your investment!

On the other hand, a fitted sheet is a staple in any sheet set with the primary purpose of shielding you from direct contact with the mattress – providing a clean and comfortable sleeping surface.

Investing in good bedding is absolutely vital as you spend around a third of your life in bed! In this article, we’lll discuss:

  • The differences between a mattress protector vs. a fitted sheet
  • How you can use the two together
  • A few of the top care tips for your bedding.

Let’s get into it!

Mattress Protector vs Fitted Sheet

Decoding the Mattress Protector  

What is a mattress protector? 

A mattress protector is a cushioned sheet that goes on top of your mattress. The purpose of a mattress protector is self-explanatory; it protects your mattress!

A mattress protector acts as a barrier to damage from things like spills, sweat, and wear and tear. 

The protector absorbs any liquids to stop them from seeping into the mattress, which can be very helpful if your warranty only covers damage-free mattresses!

What are the benefits of using a mattress protector? 

There are numerous benefits you can get from using a mattress protector. Not only does it help prevent damage, but it can also protect you from allergens. 

Harmful particles such as dust mites, pet dander, and mold can build up in your mattress, and a mattress protector can stop them from coming into contact with you directly.

Using a mattress protector also keeps your mattress clean in general, and can even help with temperature control – giving you a better night’s sleep!

Another benefit is they improve the life of your mattress. 

Having a mattress protector can be a good option when using a second-hand mattress, as it can protect you from any damage caused by the previous owner – making it last longer!

Types and Materials 

A basic mattress protector will typically be a thinly cushioned sheet. This cushion is designed to be practical instead of comfortable. 

Therefore, you’ll still need to get a mattress pad or topper to make your mattress more comfortable!

There are generally three different types of mattress protectors:

  • Encasement, which covers the entirety of the mattress and usually has a zipper
  • Fitted, which sits like a fitted sheet encasing the top and sides of the mattress
  • Elastic strap, which sits on top of the mattress and has straps to keep it to the mattress.

Mattress protectors normally use one or more types of materials. These include cotton, vinyl, polyurethane, polyester, and down. 

You’ll find plenty of options for both waterproof and regular mattress protectors, as well as allergen-specific varieties.

Understanding the Fitted Sheet

Understanding the Fitted Sheet  

What is a fitted sheet? 

A fitted sheet (or sometimes a bottom sheet) is a sheet that sits tightly on top of your mattress. It has elasticated corners that hug the bottom edges of your mattress and helps to keep it secure.

Most sheet sets will come with a fitted sheet to match the flat sheet (what separates you from the duvet). 

Think of it like a sandwich; the fitted sheet is on the bottom, you’re in the middle, and the flat sheet rests on top!

Why do I need a fitted sheet? 

The main importance of fitted sheets is to provide a clean and comfortable sleeping surface. Their purpose is to keep you and the mattress clean by adding a layer of protection. 

However, a fitted sheet is only a thin layer of fabric. This means that it’s not very absorbent, so any liquid spilled on your bed will seep into your mattress. A fitted sheet is designed to keep you clean, rather than your mattress.

Materials and Weaves 

There are lots of different types of bedding material that can have an impact on the way you sleep. 

They can be made from materials such as luxurious silk, microfiber, and satin to linen, cotton, bamboo, and polyester.

You can also find lots of different thread counts and weaves, which will impact how soft or pliable the fabric is. 

There are textured weaves such as dobby and twill weaves, as well as smoother weaves like sateen and percale. The weaves impact the thickness, so choosing a thicker one can impact how well your fitted sheet protects you!

Comparison: Mattress Protector vs. Fitted Sheet  

Mattress ProtectorFitted Sheet
FunctionalityProtects mattressProvides sleep surface
InstallationWraps or sits on topFits with elastic band
Washing FrequencyEvery 2 months+Ideally every week
Combining BothRecommendedOffers the best of both

Key Differences 


Mattress protectors and fitted sheets are both a layer between you and your mattress. However, the key difference is whether they’re protecting you or the mattress!

The mattress protector protects the mattress from damage and also keeps it clean. It acts as a guard against things like moisture, spills, and allergens, which can damage the mattress over time. 

Using a mattress protector is good if you want to make your mattress last longer.

While the fitted sheet also protects your mattress, it’s mostly designed to keep you clean. 

The purpose of the fitted sheet is to provide a smooth and hygienic surface for you to sleep on. As it’s only a thin sheet, using it alone won’t protect your mattress from stains!

Installation and fit

Both mattress protectors and fitted sheets go directly onto the mattress, but they have a couple of different fits. 

A mattress protector typically wraps around the top and sides of the mattress, encases it entirely, or simply sits on top of it. 

You should put the mattress protector on first, followed by the rest of your bedding.

Fitted sheets also sit on the top and sides of the mattress. They use an elastic band that encircles the mattress tightly to ensure it doesn’t lift off when you move around.

Frequency of washing

Hygiene experts recommend that you should aim to wash your sheets every week. 

However, as most people are pretty busy, you might end up washing yours every other week or less! 

You should wash your fitted sheet with the rest of your bedding like your top sheet and pillowcases. It’s important to wash a fitted sheet frequently, as it’s what you sleep on. 

Washing a mattress protector is a different story. You should try to wash it at least every two months, or even with the change in seasons. You must do this more frequently if you spill anything on it to prevent stains from setting in!

Combining Both 

Should I use both a mattress protector and a fitted sheet?

If you want to optimize the lifetime of your mattress, you should use both a mattress protector and a fitted sheet! 

Think of them as protecting different things. The mattress protector takes care of the mattress, while the fitted sheet looks after you. Using both together creates the best of both worlds – a clean mattress and a hygienic surface to sleep on!

Mattress protectors aren’t designed for you to sleep on directly, so you’ll need to have a fitted sheet anyway. This will provide comfort through a smooth surface for you to sleep on.

How do I use both at once?

Using both a fitted sheet and a mattress protector is extremely easy! 

The mattress protector goes directly onto the mattress on the bottom. When you put it on, make sure it’s nice and tight so it doesn’t come loose from rolling around in bed.

Next, assemble your bedding like normal. Place the fitted sheet on top of the mattress protector so that it encases it like it would a normal mattress. 

That’s it! Now you’re ready to enjoy the benefits of a mattress protector and a fitted sheet.

Care and Maintenance  

You must take care of your bedding essentials so that they last! Remember to always read the label for care instructions, and only use them as directed. 

Here are a few tips for caring for your bedding: 

Tips For a Clean Mattress Protector 

Wash regularly

You may not realize it, but mattress protectors need to be cleaned regularly! 

Washing it ensures you keep your mattress clean and prevents any moisture buildup. 

Thankfully, you won’t need to wash it too often; once every two or three months is a good rule of thumb.

Clean only as directed

Always check the label for instructions specific to your mattress protector! 

Some protectors will be able to go straight into the washing machine, while others you’ll have to hand wash. 

If you’re machine washing, put the machine on cold wash on a gentle or delicate cycle. Doing this will ensure you don’t damage the fabric!

If you’ve spilled something on your protector, it’s important to clean it as soon as possible so the stain doesn’t set in. 

You can do this using a simple stain remover or a bit of detergent on the stain.

Let it dry fully

After washing, you’ll need to let your mattress protector dry fully before putting it back on your mattress. Remember to check the label before using a tumble dryer.

The best way to dry your mattress protector is outside on a line, out of direct sunlight. This helps to keep the fabric in good condition. 

If this isn’t possible, put it on a low-heat option in your dryer. High heat can cause irreversible damage to your mattress protector, so always keep it cool!

Washing and Caring for Fitted Sheets 

Wash your fitted sheets with the rest of your bedding

To get the most out of your fitted sheets, wash them regularly. 

Experts recommend changing and washing your bedding weekly, but if you’re a busy person, biweekly is fine too! 

Wash your sheets separately from other laundry loads like towels and clothes.

Always check the label and wash as directed. You’ll generally need to wash your sheets on a gentle cycle using cool or lukewarm water. This keeps the color and elasticity intact.

Drying your fitted sheet

Don’t tumble dry sheets unless directed on the label. 

Try to wash your sheets outside on a line, as this is safest for the fabric. However, if the weather’s not going your way or you don’t have the time, tumble dry on low heat so that it doesn’t shrink!


Do I need both a mattress protector and a fitted sheet?

Yes. If you’re looking to get the most out of your mattress, it’s a good idea to invest in a mattress protector to use alongside a fitted sheet.

How often should I replace my mattress protector or fitted sheet? 

You should generally replace fitted sheets and mattress protectors every couple of years of use, especially if they’re been worn down or stained regularly.

Can a mattress protector affect the feel or comfort of my mattress? 

No, mattress protectors don’t change the feel or comfort of your mattress. They’re designed to protect rather than to provide comfort. However, they can help make your mattress last longer – prolonging its existing comfort.

How do I choose the right size for a fitted sheet? 

Buy a fitted sheet that’s designed for the size of your mattress. Most sheets will come in sizes such as single, double, queen, or king. Check the label on your mattress if you’re not sure, or measure it yourself!

Are there allergen-specific mattress protectors? 

Yes, you can typically purchase allergen-specific mattress covers.

Which lasts longer: a mattress protector or a fitted sheet?

Fitted sheets last longer than mattress protectors. However, this depends on their use. 

If you use a mattress protector every single day while a fitted sheet gets swapped out regularly and used less, then the mattress protector will wear down quickly.


Emily Johnstone

Emily is the creator and owner of Emily's scientific background gives her an analytical, critical, and discerning eye to bring unbiased, thorough, and helpful content to the site. Your good sleep is her top priority. Find out more about Emily and here.