Feather Bed Vs. Memory Foam

When you feel like the character from the Danish fairy tale "The Princess and the Pea," and every small thing in your mattress keeps you tossing and turning at night, it's time to consider another option.

Feather Bed Toppers

A boy sleeping on a feather top mattress.A boy sleeping on a feather top mattress.
That's where mattress toppers come in. They can soften the mattress and extend its life until you're ready to plop down your hard-earned cash for a new one. It helps to know the good and bad characteristics when comparing a feather-bed topper to a memory foam one so you can pick the product that's just right for you.

Originally used by the very rich during medieval times, feather beds became a mainstay in all social classes after the 19th century. They're now primarily used as toppers to soften hard and unrelenting mattresses. The feathers inside the sewn bags are harvested from the down of mostly geese, but sometimes ducks, two to three times a year. Organic in nature, feather beds require more upkeep than memory foam mattress toppers to keep them fresh and fluffed.

Memory Foam

Designed to cushion the seats of pilots and astronauts, memory foam moved from space to inside the home when the inventor, Charles Yost, sold the formula for multiple uses. Visco-elastic cellular memory foam was first used in mattresses during the '90s, followed quickly by mattress toppers. The performance of memory foam mattress toppers depends upon its density, thickness and ability to spring back from indentations in its surface. While it cushions the body better than a feather bed, it is not an organic product.

Feathers vs. Foam

Some of the chemicals in memory foam can create toxic fumes. But if you have allergies to poultry or feathers, memory foam might be the better choice. Just air the memory foam topper outdoors for about 24 hours, if possible, after you take it out of the package. The fumes dissipate within a day or so. Memory foam retains its shape better and longer then a feather bed topper because feathers compress and require constant fluffing. But of the two, feather bed toppers are cooler to sleep on than memory foam, which retains body heat.

Sleep Quality

It all boils down to a matter of personal preference in the end. Both types of toppers are comfortable to sleep on, but the feather quills and tips can poke through the bag as the topper ages. Feather bed toppers don't offer back support in the way memory foam does, as the feathers flatten quickly and lose their shape. Feather beds also do not isolate the motion of the other person in bed with you, but sometimes turning over during sleep on memory foam may not be as easy as with a feather bed.

Best of Both Worlds

To get the best of both products, consider a feather bed topper for your memory foam mattress, if you have one. It can provide you a soft, cushioned sleep that's cooler than sleeping directly on the memory foam. Though feather bed toppers may look unattractive atop any mattress because of the lumpiness, sandwiching one between the mattress and a deep pocket fitted sheet can fix that problem.

About the Author

As a native Californian, artist, journalist and published author, Laurie Brenner began writing professionally in 1975. She has written for newspapers, magazines, online publications and sites. Brenner graduated from San Diego's Coleman College.