Latex mattresses are increasingly popular for their extreme comfort and durability. They are also associated with eco-friendly practices and enhanced sleep health. However, not all latex mattresses carry these benefits. So how do you choose the best latex mattress for you, or know if a latex mattress is right for you at all?
In this article, we will define what a latex mattress is, go over the different types of latex mattresses, and discuss how they provide a good night’s sleep.
What Is a Latex Mattress?
Synthetic latex mattresses are primarily crafted from a rubber-mimicking plastic called styrene-butadiene rubber (SBR). SBR is also used in artificial turfs, tires, and conveyor belts. Latex mattresses with SBR are safe and an affordable alternative to natural latex but not nearly as durable. Additionally, off-gassing chemicals irritating to people with respiratory issues are prevalent in synthetic latex.
Blended latex mattresses contain less toxic chemicals. These types of beds are 30 percent natural latex and 70 percent synthetic latex. Blended mattresses last longer than synthetic latex, but not natural latex.
Natural latex is more supportive, durable, eco-friendly, and better for sleep health than synthetic and blended latex. It is harvested and refined from the milk-like sap of a rubber tree called Hevea Brasiliensis. This process encourages the healthy growth of rubber trees as they can be tapped for up to 30 years. Once the sap is harvested, it is processed into Dunlop or Talalay foam; both are soft, supportive, and extremely durable. We will discuss the differences between Dunlop and Talalay later. First, let’s dive deeper into the benefits of a natural latex bed.
Five Benefits of a Natural Latex Mattress
Natural latex beds are preferable to synthetic and blended latex for their eco-friendliness, durability, and health benefits.
1. Pain Relieving
The gentle cushioning and buoyant support of latex foam mattresses are especially beneficial for sleepers with back and joint pain.
Latex foam softly cradles heavy body parts, such as the hips and shoulders. This light contouring provides pressure relief near the joints and lower back, while latex’s natural elasticity maintains natural spinal alignment by gently supporting lighter areas, like the neck and back.
2. Hypoallergenic and Low Maintenance
If a bed is not continually cleaned, microorganisms, such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses can easily collect on the top of the mattress and cause mold, mildew, and dust mites. This results in bedroom allergies and an unsafe sleeping environment. However, latex is naturally antimicrobial, meaning it repels harmful microorganisms, making latex an excellent choice for people with year-round allergies or anyone too tight on time to sanitize their mattress.
As mentioned above, natural latex is refined from the sap of the rubber tree. The trees are not cut down or damaged during this process and can produce sap for up to 30 years. Therefore, the processing of latex mattresses encourages tree growth and is extremely sustainable. Natural latex is also biodegradable, ensuring it won’t sit in a landfill for years.
Although harvesting latex is a sustainable process, latex mattresses are not always manufactured responsibly. Some manufacturers use chemicals harmful to our health and environment. A GREENGUARD Gold, OEKO-TEX Standard 100, eco-INSTITUT, or GOLS certification will guarantee the mattress is primarily composed of natural materials and safe for use. We will further discuss these certifications later.
Natural latex foam has an open-cell structure to permit constant airflow. The foam layers are also constructed with pinholes, enhancing breathability. Most importantly, chemicals found in synthetic materials retain body heat and natural latex mattresses contain little to no additives.
If you want an especially cool mattress, opt for a breathable cover made from cotton or wool.
Natural latex mattresses are best known for their long-term comfort. High-quality latex mattresses have an average lifespan of 12 to 20 years—significantly longer than other types of mattresses. The resiliency of natural rubber is often credited for this longevity. A natural latex mattress effortlessly bounces back once the pressure is removed, maintaining its original shape over years of use.
Types of Natural Latex
As previously mentioned, natural latex is processed using one of two methods: The Dunlop or Talalay Method. Both methods include tapping or slitting the bark of a rubber tree to collect sap. After collecting an appropriate amount of rubber tree sap, it is whipped into foam and prepared for the Dunlop or Talalay process.
Dunlop latex is made by pouring the foam into a mold then heating it up in an oven to harden. After hardening, the latex is removed from the mold and washed. This frees it from any remaining debris and prolongs its life without compromising elasticity. Once washed, the foam is dried. Dunlop latex is uniform in density, entirely natural, and more affordable than Talalay latex. It is also older and more eco-friendly.
The Talalay method requires more time and energy, resulting in a higher price point than Dunlop latex.
First, the foam is poured into a mold. However, unlike the Dunlop method, the mold is only filled halfway. It is then sealed and vacuum is used to expand the latex until it completely fills the mold. After the mold is filled, it is placed in a freezer and carbon dioxide is injected into the rubber to create a gel-like texture. The gel-like foam is then hardened with heat, removed from the mold, washed, and dried. Finished Talalay Latex is softer and bouncier than Dunlop.
However, manufacturers create a softer feel of Talalay by using synthetic foam. Therefore, Talalay is not 100% natural like Dunlop.
If you are concerned about the eco-friendliness of your mattress, consider purchasing one backed by the following third-party certifications.
Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS)
The Global Organic Latex Standard ensures latex mattresses are made from at least 95 percent organic latex and free from toxic chemicals, like chlorine bleach, GMOs, synthetic sizing substances, carcinogenic azo dye, and more.
Certified brands are required to meet stringent requirements during the harvesting, manufacturing, packaging, labeling, and distribution of their organic latex mattresses to maintain sustainability. GOLS also guarantees fair labor practices. A product with this label must be GOTS or Eco-INSTITUT certified as well.
Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
The Global Organic Textile Standard monitors naturally grown textiles all the way from the plantation to the shelf. This certification guarantees any natural wool or cotton covers on a latex mattress are organic as well. There are two levels to the GOTS label: made with organic and organic.
Textiles labeled as “made with organic” must contain at least 70 percent organic material while textiles labeled as “organic” must contain 95 percent or more organic fibers. Similar to GOLS, this label curbs the use of harmful chemicals.
Eco-INSTITUT certified products are tested for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like formaldehyde, heavy metals, toxic fire retardants, and other pollutants. This label certifies a product has little to no emission levels and is safe for in-home use.
GREENGUARD Gold is primarily concerned with keeping vulnerable populations, such as children and the elderly, safe. Like eco-INSTITUT, this label guarantees low emission levels and little to no volatile organic compounds.
OEKO-TEX Standard 100
OEKO-TEX Standard 100 certified products undergo over 100 test parameters to verify they do not contain harsh chemicals. The standard tests every inch of textile products for non-regulated azo dye, nickel, GMOs, and more. Textile products are also tested for substances not harmful by law but disadvantageous to human health.
What are the cons of latex mattresses?
Heaviness is a commonly reported drawback of latex mattresses. Natural latex is denser than most materials and thus, heavier. A queen latex mattress can weigh up to 130 pounds, making it difficult to flip or rotate alone. Natural latex mattresses are also higher priced because they are made from expensive materials. Although the price varies from brand to brand, a queen size latex bed can cost up to $3000.
Are latex mattresses better than memory foam mattresses?
Both latex and memory foam are popular mattress types but designed to meet the needs of different sleepers. Memory foam mattresses are better at cushioning and relieving high-pressure areas, making them excellent mattresses for back pain relief. Latex contours closely but is naturally bouncy and firmer than memory foam. This combination aligns the spine while gently providing pressure relief and is a good option for heavier sleepers or people with pain points.
Can someone with a latex allergy sleep on a latex mattress?
Natural latex mattresses are considered safe for people with a latex allergy. Latex allergies arise after direct exposure to proteins found in natural latex products, such as balloons and gloves. However, a latex mattress is washed repeatedly during the manufacturing process, significantly reducing allergy-causing proteins. Additionally, bedsheets minimize direct contact with the mattress.
All of that said—and although some may consider it relativity safe—we do not recommend sleepers with latex allergies choose a latex bed. If you have your eye on one of these mattresses, consider consulting with your doctor about your latex allergy before sleeping on a latex bed.
Do natural latex mattresses smell?
Natural latex mattresses do not off-gas but may smell similar to rubber. However, the washing involved in the manufacturing process weakens this odor. Most consumers describe the smell of natural latex as subtle, sweet, and sometimes vanilla-like.
What is the best foundation for a latex bed?
Latex beds require a slatted, solid wood, or solid steel foundation. These uniform bases prevent premature sagging and soft spots by providing a sturdy bottom for the foam to rest on top of. Since latex is flexible, most latex mattresses are also compatible with adjustable bed frames. Avoid box springs as the bouncy coils will wear out the foam layers and potentially deplete support.
Do latex mattresses isolate motion?
Latex mattresses isolate motion better than innerspring mattresses, but not as well as memory foam mattresses do. Innerspring beds have springy coil support cores that move in tandem and easily transfer motion. Memory foam, on the other hand, is extremely responsive and suppresses motion transfer by absorbing movement. Latex mattresses are also responsive, but naturally elastic. Any time pressure is removed, the foam immediately bounces back, potentially jostling your sleep partner.
The unique feel of a latex mattress can provide a restful night’s sleep. Although expensive, natural latex is constructed from durable materials and maintains quality after years of use. Beds with natural latex are typically eco-friendly mattresses, and they’re also sustainable and easier to care for, as well. If you are considering a latex mattress because it’s a more organic choice, remember to pick an all-natural latex bed or search for labels proving its eco-friendliness.
This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.