What is a Latex Mattress?

By Mitchell Tollsen
Last Updated On June 29th, 2020

Latex is a type of rubber. A latex mattress may contain only latex, the bed may have other foams, or the mattress might have latex foam on top of supportive…

What is a Latex Mattress?

Latex is a type of rubber. A latex mattress may contain only latex, the bed may have other foams, or the mattress might have latex foam on top of supportive coils. Several different latexes can make up a mattress, such as synthetic, blended, and natural latex.

A latex bed can be one of the best mattresses on the market if you’re looking for a durable and eco-friendly mattress. There are also other types of mattresses you can consider. We’ll discuss how they differ from latex mattresses and why they might be a better fit for you.

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How Does Sleeping on a Latex Mattress Feel?

Latex has been called “springy,” “buoyant,” and “bouncy” thanks to its responsiveness.  If you were to press down on a latex mattress with your hand, it would take only seconds for it to snap back into place. And whenever you move across the surface, the latex is quick to regain its shape, preventing you from ever feeling stuck in your bed.

Yet latex’s springy nature doesn’t keep it from offering a slight hugging sensation. It doesn’t wrap around you as much as memory foam does. Still, many find it’s just enough for a comfortable and supportive sleeping surface.

Latex also makes for an excellent cooling mattress, especially because the material doesn’t wholly contour to your body. That space between you and your mattress lets air flow through to wick away body heat. Manufacturers often aerate latex foam to enhance its cooling ability.

Types of Latex

There’s more than just one kind of latex mattress. Your choices include:

  • Natural latex mattresses, which are manufactured from the sap of a rubber tree. There are two types of natural latex: Dunlop and Talalay.
  • Synthetic latex mattresses, which are made from chemical compounds to imitate the feel of genuine latex. This type is much less durable than natural latex. Since it’s made with synthetic materials, it shouldn’t trigger a person with a latex allergy.
  • Blended latex is a mix of natural and synthetic latex. It’s more durable than synthetic latex and costs less to produce than all-natural latex. Often, it contains more synthetic material than natural material.

Natural latex is often considered as the best type of latex. Why? A natural latex mattress is often one of the more long-lasting and eco-friendly mattresses. We will discuss Dunlop and Talalay, the two types of natural latex foam.

Dunlop is made by pouring latex sap into a mold, then whipped into a foam and set. When it’s poured, the mixture settles, so it’s usually more dense at the base. To manufacture Talalay latex, manufacturers pour it into the mold in stages. This gives it a more uniform density.

Talalay is not 100 percent natural since manufacturers mix in synthetic fillers. It might not be the right material if you’re searching for an organic latex mattress.  It also tends to take more time and energy to produce, which is why it often costs more than Dunlop latex.

Pros and Cons of Latex Mattresses

Pros

Cooling

Latex is a naturally cool material, and many manufacturers add aerated channels to improve its breathability. Latex usually doesn’t conform close enough to cut off airflow, allowing the air to carry off body heat before it builds up and disturbs your rest.

Durable

Natural latex is well known for its durability. Many owners still sleep comfortably on their mattresses after 12 to 15 years of nightly use. But this only applies to all-natural latex mattresses. Synthetic and blended latex have a much shorter expected lifespan than natural latex and often break down within a few years.

Eco-Friendly

Since natural latex is harvested from rubber trees and can be whipped into foam with little to no additives, it’s an incredibly eco-friendly material. Many mattress companies use other natural materials, such as organic cotton and wool, to create a fully organic mattress.

What is a Latex Mattress?

However, not all latex mattresses are completely eco-friendly. If you want a “green” latex mattress, look for one with material certifications such as:

Are you researching a mattress company that says they sell organic products, but the company doesn’t list any certifications? Then you might want to reconsider buying one of their mattresses.

Flexible

Flexibility is an important factor if you want a mattress for an adjustable base. A good mattress must be able to adapt to the moving panels of an adjustable bed frame. Otherwise, the base may damage the bed’s materials or compromise the mattress’s comfort.

Foam mattresses between 10 to 14 inches are usually the best choice for an adjustable base. The coils in a spring mattress may become bent on an adjustable base, causing premature sagging. The coils of a hybrid mattress are often compact enough to avoid this problem, but it’s still worth checking before you buy.

Cons

Too Much Bounce

While latex’s responsiveness is often one of its main selling points, it can also be a drawback. If you share a latex mattress, you may feel your partner’s movements during the night.

Not Conforming Enough

While latex foam can contour to your body, it’s not a snug enough fit for some. While latex foam can contour to your body, it’s not a snug enough fit for some. This can also be a drawback if you’re looking for a mattress to reduce chronic pain symptoms. If the bed doesn’t mold to your body, it might not provide all the pressure and pain relief you need.

Expensive Materials

According to Sleep Like the Dead, the average price of an all-latex mattress is $2,100. Natural latex is already an expensive material to produce, and many companies increase costs by using other natural materials such as organic cotton and wool. Using all natural materials creates an eco-friendly mattress, but it might not be the best choice if you’re looking for an affordable bed.

Latex and Other Types of Mattresses

Latex isn’t the only type of mattress to consider when you’re shopping for a replacement. There are three other types—memory foam, innerspring, and hybrid mattresses. Each type has some shared traits with latex mattresses, along with a few notable differences.

Latex and Memory Foam Mattresses

Memory foam is the mattress type most often compared to latex. Memory foam is made from polyurethane foam (poly-foam) with added chemicals that make it pressure and heat-sensitive. This sensitivity is why memory foam molds to your body when you lie down.

Both memory foam and latex mattresses have conforming properties, but the main difference is how they feel. Memory foam can let you sink in for a cradling feel, while latex tends to keep you lifted so you feel more on top of the mattress.

Latex and memory foam are two popular mattress types when it comes to the mattress in a box market. Because both tend to contain a foam comfort layer and supportive base foams, they compress well and can be rolled up and slipped inside a box for easy home delivery.

Memory foam might be the better option when it comes to mattresses for couples. Memory foam and latex both absorb motion well. But many owners say memory foam prevents motion transfer just a little bit better. That extra little bit can be the deciding factor when it comes to waking up or sleeping through your partner’s tossing and turning.

Memory foam mattresses can also be more affordable. You can find excellent memory foam mattresses for under $1000, while many high-quality latex mattresses cost around $2000 or more.

Of the two, a latex bed is often the more eco-friendly mattress option. While memory foam can be made with plant-based substances for a more environmentally friendly mattress, it’s impossible to create a memory foam bed without including some petrochemicals.

Latex may keep cooler than a traditional memory foam mattress, which is known to retain body heat. However, many memory foam producers add cooling agents such as gels, copper, graphite, and charcoal to improve the bed’s heat dispersion. Others replace petrochemicals with plant-based alternatives, with the finished product being a more breathable memory foam mattress.

Latex and Innerspring Mattresses

Both latex and innerspring mattresses can be bouncy beds. Of the two, a latex bed tends to conform better to your body when you lie down, providing comfort and support.

The responsiveness of a latex mattress also doesn’t stop it from limiting motion transfer, while the coils inside an innerspring mattress can carry movement across the bed. Pocketed coils often provide more motion isolation than other types of coil setups.

How much you can afford to spend might affect, which is the better mattress type for you. A quality innerspring mattress might be preferable if you’re shopping for a budget mattress. However, if you want a bed that will last for at least a decade, investing in a natural latex mattress might save you money in the long run.

Your choice might also depend on whether or not you want an eco-friendly mattress. Many innerspring mattresses are made with potentially harmful chemicals. Most natural latex mattresses contain other organic materials such as natural wool and cotton, and many manufacturers forgo chemical adhesives in favor of sewing parts of the bed together.

Latex and Hybrid Mattresses

Hybrid mattresses mix the qualities of an innerspring and foam mattress to provide the strengths of each. They usually contain a pocketed coil support core topped with thick foam layers.

Both latex and hybrid mattresses can regulate temperature. The coil support of a hybrid promotes air circulation that removes heat and moisture. Latex is a naturally cool material, preventing sleep disturbances.

The two have comparable prices since both are relatively costly to produce. You can find high-quality hybrids for anywhere between $900 to $5,000. But a latex mattress tends to last longer than a hybrid mattress. A hybrid may provide support for 6 to 9 years until its coils start to sag.

Of course, you don’t have to decide between a latex and hybrid mattress. While memory foam hybrids are more common, latex hybrids do exist and allow you to experience the best of both.

Don’t Forget to Consider Mattress Firmness

The right firmness for you will depend on your sleeping position and your body weight. Latex is made in a wide range of firmnesses. All you need to do is know what the best one for you is.

Sleeping Positions

Most of us prefer one of three positions and drift off to sleep on our sides, our back, or our stomach. Try to take note of how you fall asleep and what position you wake up in.

Side sleepers often require the most pressure relief, since pressure points frequently build up in their shoulders and hips. Otherwise, they might wake up with stiff joints or even back pain if their spine slips out of its neutral alignment. The best mattress for a side sleeper usually has a soft to medium feel for more conforming and pressure relief.

Back sleepers should look for a mattress firm enough to provide consistent back support yet soft enough to mold to the curves of their back. A mattress for a back sleeper should have a medium-firm to firm feel.

Stomach sleepers risk spine misalignment with their position. When you lie stomach down on a softer mattress, gravity usually pushes your belly into the bed. This can overextend your spine. A firm mattress for stomach sleeping can reduce the chances of sinkage.

Combination sleepers move between two or all three of these positions as the sleep. Motion isolation and material responsiveness are important in a mattress for combination sleeping. That way, you can shift positions easily without disturbing your partner’s rest.

Body Types

Your body weight determines how much pressure you place on the mattress. The more you weigh, the more you push down. When it comes to mattress shopping, you’re considered heavy if you weigh more than 230 pounds and light or petite if you weigh less than 130 pounds.

The best mattress for a heavy person typically has a firmer feel, to withstand the added pressure from the sleeper’s body while also providing the pressure relief they need. A too-soft mattress can leave room for their spines to bow into the mattress, causing morning back pain.

However, a more substantial person can use a soft mattress if it has added layers for support. These types of soft mattresses aren’t common and can require some searching to buy. And remember, always try to buy a mattress with a sleep trial, just in case the bed is not as supportive as you expected.

Petite people might want to consider a soft mattress to counteract the relatively low pressure the sleeper places on the bed. Lightweight people sometimes find that an already firm mattress feels even firmer than it does for a heavier person.

What if I Have a Latex Allergy?

A latex allergic reaction occurs when your body reacts to the proteins in rubber tree sap. Symptoms can include hives, itchiness, and a runny nose, while a severe allergy may result in anaphylaxis, a life-threatening reaction that can occur within 12 hours of exposure.

If you have a latex allergy, you may be fine as long as you avoid direct contact with the latex materials. With a fabric mattress cover and other bedding sandwiched between your body and the layers of latex, it’s perfectly possible to avoid exposure.

However, if you’re unsure if a latex bed would be safe for you, it’s smart to consult an allergist or your primary care physician. You could also consider a memory foam mattress if you’re looking for a responsive bed that can support you while providing excellent pressure and pain relief.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the benefits of a latex mattress?

A latex mattress conforms to the body for full support and pressure relief. The material keeps cool, which minimizes the chances of heat building up and disturbing your sleep. A natural latex mattress is usually made with eco-friendly materials, such as organic cotton and wool, for minimal environmental impact. Plus, natural latex mattresses are durable, with many lasting about 15 years.

Is a latex mattress good for back pain?

Latex can be an excellent material if you’re shopping for a mattress for back pain. Its buoyancy provides comfort and support, lifting your lower back while relieving pressure across your body. When the number of pressure points in your body is reduced, you’re less likely to toss and turn. This keeps you from trying to find a comfortable position and aggravating your back pain.

When you’re shopping for a latex mattress for back pain, try looking for one with a medium-firm feel. A 2015 study found that it might be the best firmness for preventing back pain.

Can you flip a latex mattress?

Most latex mattresses have top layers for comfort and bottom layers for support. Flipping the mattress can change the bed’s feel. It can also compromise its support and comfort.

However, some latex mattresses are made to open up, so that you can adjust or replace the inside latex layers. You can flip or rotate the layers of such a mattress, but this usually isn’t necessary to keep the bed in good shape. Frequently touching and moving the latex layers can degrade the material, causing it to tear or yellow.

How long does a natural latex mattress last?

It’s not unheard of for an all-natural latex mattress to last more than a decade. It may provide comfortable support for 12, 15, or even close to 20 years. This long lifespan is because the rubber is good at bouncing back into shape when you get out of bed.

Blended latex mattresses contain natural latex and synthetic materials, and they don’t last as long as natural latex beds. Still, they may offer a good night’s sleep for 6 to 10 years.

Do latex mattresses smell?

Does your latex mattress contain synthetic materials? Then it may have a chemical smell when you first unbox your mattress because of off-gassing. Off-gassing occurs when volatile organic compounds (VOCs) break down at room temperature. The scent should disappear within a week at the most.

All-latex mattresses may smell of rubber your first few nights. Some owners have complained that the bed’s organic wool batting, a common feature in a latex mattress, had an unpleasant animal smell to it.

Does your mattress have a musty or rubbery smell? Try encasing it in a waterproof mattress protector. The protector is not only woven tightly enough to keep out liquids but keep in odors.

Does a latex mattress get softer over time?

Almost all foam mattresses have a break-in period for the mattress to soften up. Latex is no exception.

First, there’s an initial softening. Then, the material tends to slowly soften over the years as it wears down with use. Latex is slow to soften, but the process will likely happen as the bed ages.

The mattress may also feel softer once your body adjusts to sleeping on a new mattress. It can take a few days or weeks for your body to unlearn its previous sleeping posture and adapt to your new bed.

Do latex mattresses sag?

Any type of mattress can sag with enough wear and tear or if kept on an unsupportive foundation. Latex can resist sagging and indentation better than many other types of mattresses. It reverts to its original shape after you get up. Some all-latex mattresses will last more than a decade without any signs of sagging.

Conclusion

A latex mattress can be an excellent way to sleep better at night. If you choose a model made with natural latex, it’s also a great way to support sustainability.

Yet this type of mattress can be expensive. Some owners find the high price fair since natural latex mattresses can last more than a decade. For others, it’s simply not feasible. They have to look elsewhere for an affordable eco-friendly mattress.

This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.


About the author

Mitchell Tollsen is a graduate student and a freelance writer who’s contributed to the Early Bird blog for three years. Mitchell’s always been fascinated by the science of sleep and the restorative processes our bodies undergo when at rest. The self-titled “Sleep Expert” is always looking for ways to improve his shut-eye, and throughout the years has implemented numerous lifestyle changes and tried dozens of sleep-promoting gadgets to determine the best ways to truly get better rest.

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