When shopping for a new mattress, you will likely come across several latex varieties. Latex has become an increasingly popular mattress material for its ability to contour to the body, relieve pressure points, and reduce pain, among other unique qualities. But what is a latex mattress, and how do you know if one is right for you? In this article, we answer these questions and more. Read on to discover why many people are finding better sleep on a latex foam bed.
What is Natural Latex?
Natural latex is the white, milky substance, or sap, found in the Hevea Brasiliensis rubber tree. Trees are not cut down to harvest this liquid; instead, they are tapped. One rubber tree produces around 19 pounds of latex a year, and each tree can continue to make latex for up to 25 years. The process of harvesting natural latex is incredibly sustainable and eco-friendly.
Since rubber trees are so hardy, they’re easily grown without the use of toxic pesticides and herbicides. With fewer chemicals used in harvesting, latex production creates minimal pollution that could disrupt the ecosystem surrounding the trees. Latex doesn’t need to be treated with harsh chemicals when being made into foam—making it a healthier, non-toxic sleep surface. Plus, natural latex is hypoallergenic, antimicrobial, and resistant to mold and mildew.
Two Types of Natural Latex Foam
There are two different types of natural latex foam used in mattresses—Dunlop and Talalay. Although both of these foams are made with raw, natural latex, the manufacturing process varies slightly with each style.
When producing Dunlop foam, liquid latex is whipped and poured into a mold. The mold is completely filled with liquid and then placed in a vulcanization oven. Vulcanization turns the liquid latex into a solid piece of foam by applying heat and Zinc Oxide.
Once the vulcanization process is complete, the foam is removed from the mold and washed. Washing helps remove any excess materials from the foam and slows aging without damaging the foam’s elasticity. Once it is washed, the foam is dried to ensure all moisture is removed from the finished product. As this foam settles, it tends to be denser toward the bottom and lighter at the top.
As with Dunlop, Talalay foam is produced by whipping raw liquid latex and pouring it into a mold. However, with Talalay, the mold is only partially filled. Next, the mold is sealed, and a vacuum is used to expand the foam within the mold. After the foam has completely expanded, it is frozen by pushing carbon dioxide through the latex. This process causes the foam to gel slightly.
Once frozen, the foam is vulcanized, and the temperature is raised to 220 degrees Fahrenheit. As with Dunlop, the Talalay foam is removed from the mold, then washed and dried after vulcanization.
What is the Different Between Dunlop and Talalay?
The process of producing Dunlop and Talalay latex foams are very similar. So what’s the difference? Although most people have trouble telling these two foams apart, there are slight variations.
- Energy Efficiency: The process of producing Dunlop is simpler, requires fewer steps, and uses less energy than Talalay. For a more eco-friendly option, Dunlop is a good choice.
- Density: Dunlop is also denser and heavier than Talalay foam. However, density should not be confused with firmness. Depending on the brands manufacturing methods, both Dunlop and Talalay foams can be made in several different firmness levels.
- Fillers: Talalay foam is often made with synthetic latex or polyurethane foam fillers to increase the material’s softness. Therefore, Talalay foam cannot be certified organic. However, not all Dunlop latex foam is organic.
Synthetic latex is made with various materials and chemicals to create a product that feels similar to natural latex. Although the raw latex is artificial, the process of producing this foam is very similar to both Dunlop and Talalay.
Styrene-Butadiene Rubber (SBR) is a synthetic rubber used in a variety of products. This material is commonly found in artificial outdoor turfs for playgrounds, gyms, and sports fields. SBR is widely considered to be safe for human contact. However, the chemicals used in construction may off-gas or leach from the foam when brought indoors. In some cases, off-gassing can irritate the eyes, skin, and lungs.
In addition to off-gassing from toxic chemicals, synthetic latex doesn’t have the same buoyancy as natural latex, and it will not last as long. For a higher quality latex mattress, it is better to opt for natural latex.
Blended latex foam is made with a mixture of natural and synthetic raw liquid latex. Blended latex contains only 30 percent natural latex. The other 70 percent is made with synthetic latex or poly-foam fillers. The production of the foam may be similar to either Dunlop or Talalay latex.
Like synthetic latex, blended varieties are not as durable or as responsive as natural latex foam.
Certifications and Labels
As you shop for a latex mattress, you will come across several certifications and labels. To help you make sense of these descriptions, we offer a thorough explanation of each one below.
Some latex manufacturers may use the following descriptions when advertising their products.
Both Dunlop and Talalay latex foams are natural because they are made with raw liquid latex derived from rubber tree sap. Dunlop is often advertised as being more natural than Talalay because some Talalay foams may have synthetic fillers.
Synthetic and blended latex foams are not natural because they are manufactured, not harvested.
Dunlop and Talalay latex foams both contain natural liquid latex, which is harvested in a sustainable and environmentally conscious manner. However, the process of producing synthetic latex varies considerably from brand to brand. Some synthetic latex brands may use an eco-friendly method, others may not. To ensure you’re getting an eco-friendly mattress, read the fine print regarding the materials.
Dunlop latex is widely considered non-toxic because no synthetic fillers are added to the foam during manufacturing. The toxicity of Talalay foam can vary depending on the number of fillers added during production.
Blended and synthetic latex foams tend to release unpleasant off-gassing odors when brought indoors.
Dunlop latex foam is considered organic if it is derived from rubber trees that have not been sprayed with harmful pesticides or herbicides. Although Talalay latex foam is natural, it is rarely considered organic because it is often made with synthetic fillers. To verify if a mattress uses organic latex foam, look for one of the organic certifications below.
Keep in mind that if you are looking for an organic mattress, the other fabrics in the bed should also be certified organic.
The following certifications back up claims made by latex mattress manufacturers.
GOLS (Global Organic Latex Standard)
The mattress must contain at least 95 percent organic raw material to obtain a GOLS certification. GOLS verifies rubber trees were grown without the use of pesticides, and that latex was harvested responsibly. They also confirm that the final product is free of synthetic fillers and chemical additives.
GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard)
Although this certification does not apply to the latex foam itself, you may see this guarantee when shopping for a latex mattress. A GOTS certification guarantees the textiles used in the construction of the bed are at least 70 percent organic. These fabrics typically include cotton and wool.
GreenGuard certifications are monitored by UL Environmental, a unit of Underwriter Laboratories. This certification ensures the product has little to no VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) emissions and is safe for human contact. Certifications labeled as “GreenGuard Gold” guarantee the product is safe for those who are particularly vulnerable to chemical emissions, such as children, the elderly, and those with health issues.
The eco-Institut is an organization that tests household items, such as furniture, bedding, mattresses, paint, and flooring. They ensure the products have no harmful substances such as formaldehyde and acetaldehyde that could result in toxic off-gassing when brought into the home.
An OEKO-TEX Standard 100 certification ensures that every material used in the mattress is free of additives that pose a risk to human health. This certification tests foam, textiles, threads, and buttons.
Latex Mattress Types
Latex foam is used in two different types of mattresses—an all-latex or hybrid latex bed. We offer a clear description of each style below, so you can determine which one is right for you.
Hybrid Latex Mattresses
A latex hybrid mattress has a comfort layer made of 2 to 3 inches of latex foam. Some brands let you add a pillowtop with two more inches of latex foam for a soft, plush surface. Beneath the latex layer is a pocketed coil support core. In a hybrid mattress, coils are typically pocketed—this means they are individually wrapped in fabric, allowing them to move independently of one another.
Pocket coils are very different from the steel coils used in traditional innerspring mattresses. Standard coils are often interconnected, forcing them to move as an entire unit when pressure is applied. These coil systems do not offer adequate contouring because they respond to each area of the body with the same level of pressure.
Near sensitive areas where you need more compression, standard coils may cause pain and tension to build up. Since these coils are connected, they also create more motion transfer, which can be disruptive if you share your bed with a partner.
The independent movement of pocketed coils allows them to respond differently to each area of the body. Near the hips and shoulders, these coils are softer—reducing pressure build-up while still supporting the body. Near the lumbar region, they offer more firmness and keep the lower back stable. Pocketed coils also have better motion isolation, so you and your partner can get in and out of bed without disturbing each other’s sleep.
For allergy sufferers, switching to a latex mattress can be a great way to find relief. Since pocketed coils are individually wrapped, contaminants such as dust, dirt, and other allergens are less likely to collect in the bed.
Depending on the brand, latex hybrid mattresses may also have a layer of latex foam beneath the spring coil base to absorb shock and improve durability.
As its name suggests, all-latex mattresses are made up of various layers of latex foam. These beds typically contain 3 to 4 layers of latex. Each layer is roughly 2 to 4 inches thick and can vary in firmness from soft to extra firm.
Most all-latex mattresses have a base layer of firm to extra firm foam to create a stable support base and allow the bed to keep its shape. The top layer is often made of soft to medium foam to hug the body’s curves and prevent pressure points.
Since latex beds are so dense, they collect very few pollutants that could aggravate allergies and other sensitivities. All-foam beds also have very little motion transfer, which is perfect for couples with different sleep schedules.
Feel of Latex Foam
Latex foam can be made in a variety of firmness levels. While Dunlop latex tends to be denser than Talalay, this does not always mean Dunlop will have a firmer feel. Both types of natural latex can be made to feel firm or soft.
Natural and organic latex foams are often softer than synthetic and blended varieties. For this reason, foams with artificial additives are typically used in the base of the mattress, where it can support the weight of the softer top layers.
The firmness of latex foam varies from brand to brand, so it’s essential to understand how the comfort level is rated. Many brands use a firmness scale from 1 to 10 to describe the feel of their latex—1 being the softest and 10 being the firmest.
However, this is not a standard scale, and one brand’s medium-soft mattress may be another brand’s medium-firm. As you shop, be sure you understand the scale the brand relies on.
The following is the most commonly used firmness scale and can give you an idea of how different latex foams will react to body weight.
- Soft Mattress (1 to 2 on the firmness scale): Mattresses rated between a 1 and 2 sink quickly when pressure is applied. Soft mattresses allow the heaviest parts of the body to sink deeply.
- Medium-Soft Mattress (3 to 4 on the firmness scale): Medium-soft mattresses compression similar to the soft beds, but these beds are slightly firmer. Although these mattresses contour to the body, they do not allow for as much sinking as a soft bed.
- Medium Mattress (5 on the firmness scale): A medium mattress offers a balance of compression and firmness. Pressure points are cradled on a medium bed, while vulnerable areas, such as the lower back and neck are supported.
- Medium-Firm Mattress (6 to 7 on the firmness scale): Beds rated between a 6 and 7 in firmness typically have minimal sinking. Sleepers will stay more lifted on the bed rather than cradled.
- Firm Mattress (8 to 10 on the firmness scale): A firm mattress will have little if any sinking or contouring.
What Firmness is Right for You?
Your sleep position and body type often determine the firmness that will feel the most comfortable for you. Below, we explain how to decide which comfort level is most suited to your needs.
Side sleepers need a mattress that is soft enough to contour to sensitive areas such as the hips and shoulders. These areas bear the brunt of the body weight when side sleeping, therefore, they need to be cushioned to prevent pain points. If the mattress is too firm, friction can build-up near these spots and leave sleepers with sore joints.
The best mattress for side sleepers will also prevent excessive sinking. If heavier areas sink too far into the bed, it can force the spine out of alignment with the hips and shoulders, resulting in aches and pains in the morning. Since latex foam has a natural elasticity, these beds tend to keep sleepers from sinking too far into the bed. We recommend side sleepers choose a comfort level between soft and medium.
When resting on the back, the torso will naturally sink more than the rest of the body. When this happens, it can put pressure on the spine and cause tension to build-up. Therefore, back sleepers need a bed that will evenly distribute their body weight and reduce sinking. The best mattress for back sleepers is between medium and medium-firm.
Stomach sleeping exaggerates the natural curvature of the spine—this puts pressure on the back and neck. Over time, stomach sleepers may even develop chronic back pain. Therefore, we recommend that you avoid resting on your stomach whenever possible.
If you find it difficult to sleep in any other position, it’s best to opt for a latex mattress that is medium-firm to firm. Firmer mattresses for stomach sleeping keep the torso from sinking, lessening the spine’s curve, and alleviating some of the pressure of the back muscles.
Some sleepers don’t favor just one sleep position, or they may toss and turn during sleep. The best mattress for combination sleepers is one with a medium comfort level. A balance of compression and firmness will keep sensitive areas protected, and the back supported no matter which position you end up in.
Your body weight determines the amount of pressure applied to the mattress, and, therefore, the level of sinking you will experience. Before deciding on the firmness level that is right for you, consider your body weight as well.
Heavier sleepers, those over 230 pounds, will naturally sink further into the bed. If the mattress is too soft, it can cause heavier sleepers to bottom out on the hard support core in the base of the bed, resulting in pain points near sensitive areas. A soft mattress can also force the spine out of alignment with the hips and shoulders, leaving sleepers sore and stiff.
The best mattress for heavier sleepers is one with a medium-firm feel. This firmness will keep the curves of the body cushioned, while also preventing excessive sinking. Plus, latex foam has a natural bounce that helps reduce sinking, making these beds perfect for heavier sleepers.
Average Weight Sleepers
Sleepers who weigh between 130 and 230 pounds tend to be most comfortable on a mattress with a medium to medium-firm comfort level. These beds will ensure adequate contouring without the risk of sinking too far into the mattress.
Sleepers who weigh less than 130 pounds may not sink far enough into the bed. If lightweight sleepers rest on a firm mattress with minimal compression, tension can build up along the body, resulting in pain near the joints. We recommend lightweight sleepers choose a latex foam bed with a soft to medium comfort level. This firmness will ensure these sleepers experience adequate contouring and that sensitive joints remain cushioned.
Benefits of a Latex Mattress
Latex mattresses come with several benefits. These beds are comfortable and supportive, but they’re also safe and healthy for both you and the planet.
Responsive and Conforming
Latex is derived from rubber, which gives it a natural elasticity. When turned into foam, this material keeps the heaviest parts of the body lifted while it also contours and cushions. This combination provides pressure relief and reduces the likelihood of excessive sinking. On a latex mattress, whether hybrid or all foam, the body will stay supported, and the spine will rest in a safe, neutral position.
Reduces Motion Transfer
Since latex foam has a unique elastic quality, it can isolate motion transfer across the bed’s surface. If your partner frequently tosses and turns during sleep, you will be less likely to feel their movements on a latex mattress.
Natural latex is incredibly strong and durable. Mattresses made with this material tend to have the longest lifespan of any other bed on the market. A high-quality latex mattress made can last up to 15 years if properly cared for.
Latex foam has more breathability than other mattress foams. Since this material is naturally derived, it does not retain heat or increase body temperature the way synthetic materials do. When resting on Dunlop and Talalay latex foams, sleepers are less likely to experience night sweats and overheating.
However, synthetic and blended latex foams will not have the same breathability. The more petroleum-based chemicals contained in the foam, the more it will retain heat.
As we mentioned above, rubber trees do not need to be cut down to harvest liquid latex. These trees are tapped and can go on to produce latex for up to 25 years. The harvesting process also results in very little contaminates that could pollute the soil, water, and air, or disrupt the local ecosystem.
Natural Dunlop latex is completely non-toxic since it is derived from liquid latex and has no synthetic fillers. Although natural Talalay latex can have artificial additives, they are used in small amounts and are widely considered safe for human contact.
Synthetic and blended latex foams contain more petroleum-based chemicals and may have a noxious off-gassing smell when brought into the home.
Brands that rely on organic latex often go to great lengths to ensure other parts of the mattress are organic as well. They may use organic cotton covers or a natural wool fire-resistant barrier. With more organic materials, the bed will have fewer harmful pesticides.
For a genuinely non-toxic mattress, it is also essential to look at the type of fire-resistant materials the brand relies on. Some companies use harsh chemical flame retardants that cause VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) to off-gas or leach from the bed. For a safer, healthier mattress, opt for one with natural flame retardants, such as silica or wool.
Both Dunlop and Talalay latex foams are naturally antibacterial and antimicrobial—this means that germs and viruses cannot live within the bed. Both of these foams help create a surface that is clean and free of potentially harmful allergens. Keep in mind that synthetic and blended latex foams do not have these same properties.
About 1 to 6 percent of people in the US are allergic to the proteins within liquid latex. Although not particularly common, a reaction to latex can become dangerous. Symptoms of a latex allergy include hives, runny nose, sneezing, and itchiness. In some cases, these reactions can lead to anaphylaxis—a life-threatening state of shock that occurs within 12 hours of exposure to the allergen.
A reaction is typically triggered by direct exposure to the latex material. Therefore, if a fabric cover is placed between the latex foam and your body, it may not lead to a reaction. However, it is best for those with this allergy to avoid latex foam whenever possible. These sleepers can opt for a memory foam mattress since these beds feel the most similar to latex.
The Lifespan of a Latex Mattress
Mattresses made with all-latex foam can last between 12 and 15 years. The natural elasticity of this foam allows it to quickly reform to its original shape once the pressure is removed. This buoyancy prevents sagging and indentations from forming in the foam—allowing it to support you for many years.
The lifespan of a hybrid latex can vary depending on the type of coils used in the base. Hybrids with pocketed spring coils tend to last around 15 years. This is much longer than the average lifespan of a standard innerspring bed, which lasts approximately 6 years.
Blended and synthetic foam mattresses will not last quite as long. These foams have artificial additives that cause the foam to break down quickly. These beds may last between 6 to 8 years.
Cost of a Latex Mattress
The cost of a latex mattress can vary depending on the type of latex used and the comfort system. Beds made only with layers of latex foam tend to have a higher price point than latex hybrid mattresses.
For a queen size mattress made with only organic Dunlop latex, you can expect to pay between $2,500 and $3,000. All-latex mattresses made with synthetic latex are cheaper, but these beds have a shorter lifespan, are less breathable, and often have a strong, chemical smell when brought indoors.
A high-quality mattress with a latex foam comfort layer and a pocketed spring coil base will cost between $1200 and $1500. This price may increase if additional layers of latex are added to the bed.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you have any lingering concerns about latex mattresses, check out our answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about these beds.
What type of frame does a latex mattress need?
Since latex foam is so durable, these mattresses can be placed on most modern bed frames—including slatted, solid, and adjustable bases. Latex mattresses do not need to be paired with a box spring. Instead, you can place a latex mattress directly on the bottom of your bed frame. If the foundation is slatted, slats should be no more than 3 inches apart to prevent sagging.
What sizes do latex mattresses come in?
All-latex and hybrid latex mattresses are available in standard US mattress sizes. These sizes include twin, twin XL, full, queen, king, and California king. Certain brands may also offer an extended queen or Olympic queen size latex mattress.
Below, we have included the dimensions for each standard US mattress size.
- Twin: 38 inches wide by 75 inches long
- Twin XL: 38 inches wide by 80 inches long
- Full: 54 inches wide by 75 inches long
- Queen: 60 inches wide by 80 inches long
- Olympic Queen: 66 inches wide by 80 inches long
- King: 76 inches wide by 80 inches long
- California King: 72 inches wide by 84 inches long
Are natural latex mattresses safe?
Natural latex beds are safe for both you and the environment. Latex is naturally derived, so it will have minimal VOC off-gassing. When shopping for a latex mattress, be sure to look for one made with a safe flame retardant, such as silica, natural wool, or kevlar.
Which is better, Dunlop or Talalay latex?
The manufacturing process for Dunlop and Talalay latex foams are very similar. Dunlop requires fewer steps and is more energy-efficient, making it the more eco-friendly option of the two. Talalay is frequently made with synthetic fillers to increase the softness of the material. Depending on the number of fillers in the Talalay foam, the mattress may have a strong off-gassing smell when brought indoors.
In terms of comfort, both Dunlop and Talalay latex foams are available in different firmness levels. Although Dunlop is denser than Talalay, Dunlop can be made to feel soft, medium, medium-firm, or firm.
Does latex foam smell toxic?
Synthetic and blended latex foams have more petroleum-based chemicals and may have a strong odor when unboxed. When these chemicals break down, VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) leach from the mattress. This process is called off-gassing and can cause skin, eye, nose, and throat irritation. In most cases, this odor disappears in a week or two.
Natural Dunlop latex will have little if any VOC emissions. However, this material may have a rubber smell at first, but it will quickly dissipate.
Many latex mattresses place a wool layer within the bed for fire resistance. In some cases, wool batting can have a musty smell. You can minimize this odor by adding a waterproof mattress protector.
In latex foam better than memory foam?
Latex foam and memory foam have a similar feel. Both foams contour to the body and cushion sensitive areas so your muscles can fully relax. However, latex foam has more buoyancy, which keeps sleepers lifted on the bed rather than cradled.
Latex is naturally derived, while memory foam is made with petroleum-based chemicals. The use of fewer chemicals in latex gives it more breathability, while memory foam beds tend to retain heat. However, plant-based memory foam is airier, allowing sleepers to rest more comfortably.
Latex mattresses offer a comfortable and supportive space that can accommodate many different sleep positions and body types. Plus, natural latex creates a bed that is healthy, non-toxic, and eco-friendly. When purchasing a mattress made with this natural material, you can rest assured that you are not bringing any toxic chemicals into your home. If you opt for an organic Dunlop latex, there will be even fewer potential contaminants in your new mattress.
As you shop, remember to look for natural Dunlop or Talalay latex, and avoid synthetic varieties. Blended and synthetic latex foams are cheaper and may be tempting, but these mattresses deteriorate quickly, have a strong chemical odor, and tend to retain heat. Natural latex will provide a good night’s sleep and reduce your family’s exposure to toxins.
This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.