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Given the rise in eco-friendly consumerism, more and more companies now offer greener alternatives to traditional products. In the mattress industry, this shift toward cleaner materials and sustainable manufacturing practices has boosted the popularity of latex mattresses.
Latex foam mattresses have been around for decades, but because they typically cost more than innerspring and other foam models, they never rose to the top of the mattress market. But now, 64 percent of American consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable products. Many companies have answered the call for greener mattresses and have expanded or added latex to their product lines.
Fortunately for eco-conscious consumers, the more mattress brands that offer high-quality latex beds, the more competitive their products prices become. As a result, latex mattresses are more affordable than ever, and shoppers now have a wider range of latex models and features to choose from.
If the idea of a greener mattress has sparked your interest but you don’t know a lot about latex beds, you’ve come to the right place. This guide will go over the benefits of latex mattresses, the different types of latex, latex density, and how to find the latex mattress that best suits your unique sleep needs.
How do latex beds stack up against innerspring, memory foam, and other polyfoam mattresses? Understanding latex’s core characteristics can help you make the comparison. We discuss the benefits of latex at length in another article, but you can read the highlights below:
As explained above, the eco-friendly characteristics of latex mattresses give them an edge over innerspring and memory foam mattresses. But what makes latex a green choice?
Mattress manufacturers make latex foam from the milky-white sap of rubber trees, an all-natural and sustainable resource. When farmers tap the trees to collect the sap, they only slice a small section of the tree’s bark, about a quarter-inch deep. When the sap flows from the tap, it doesn’t hurt the tree. Rubber trees can live up to 100 years old, and farmers can harvest latex from a single tree for 28 years.
Moreover, many latex mattresses on the market are certified organic. They don’t require chemical treatment or harmful additives like the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) used in memory foam. And, unlike innerspring and memory foam mattresses, natural latex mattresses are biodegradable.
Latex mattresses offer the right amount of resistance to support your body and provide pressure relief while still cushioning your bones and joints for optimal comfort. The material has a soft feel and allows enough contouring to cradle your body, but not enough to let you “sink” into the mattress, which can misalign your spine.
People who sleep hot also like the temperature neutrality of latex. Unlike memory foam, latex foam doesn’t need heat-trapping chemical additives to make it flexible.
Perhaps more than any other benefit, latex mattresses are known for their durability. With rubbery resilience and fast-reacting flexibility, latex foam doesn’t lose its shape. Unlike memory foam, it won’t sag, develop indentations, or become less responsive over time. Premium latex mattresses often last for well over 10 years.
Well-designed natural latex beds possess all the characteristics described above, but not all latex beds are created equal. First and foremost, premium latex mattresses use only the best latex foam. But beware—there are a lot of synthetic and sub-par dupes out there. If you’re in the market for a latex bed, you should understand the differences between synthetic, blended, Talalay, and Dunlop
Synthetic latex mimics the qualities of natural latex but has none of the eco-friendly benefits that make all-natural latex mattresses so popular. This man-made material is petroleum-based, and like memory foam, contains harmful VOCs that cause off-gassing.
While natural latex mattresses are temperature neutral, synthetic latex mattresses often trap heat thanks to thier chemical ingredients. They’re also less flexible and durable, and synthetic latex mattress owners often complain about the foam trapping moisture.
When browsing latex mattresses, you’ll also see blended mattresses made with both synthetic and natural latex. While better than fully synthetic latex, blended latex still contains the harmful chemicals you want to avoid.
If you opt for an all-natural latex mattress, you have three choices: one made with Talalay latex foam, Dunlop latex foam, or a combination of the two. Manufacturers make both materials with sap from rubber trees. However, they use different processes for the two types of natural latex.
Both Talalay and Dunlop latex foam start as the milky-white liquid harvested from rubber trees, which is then whipped into a foam and poured into a mold. To make Dunlop latex, manufacturers completely fill the mold with the frothy foam then bake it. On the other hand, mattress makers only partially fill the mold to produce Talalay latex. Next, they vacuum seal and rapidly freeze the mold, which stabilizes the foam prior to baking.
These processes result in two distinct forms of natural latex. Because Dunlop latex doesn’t undergo vacuum sealing and rapid freezing, sediments naturally fall to the bottom before baking. This makes Dunlop latex bottom-heavy, whereas Talalay latex has a consistent composition.
In general, Dunlop is denser than Talalay, so Talalay latex has a softer feel. For that reason, some brands offer mattresses with a Talalay latex top layer and Dunlop latex support layers. Talalay latex is also bouncier than Dunlop latex, meaning it offers better contouring and responsiveness.
With fewer steps, producing Dunlop latex requires less time and resources than making Talalay latex, so 100 percent Dunlop mattresses typically cost less than their 100 percent Talalay counterparts. While people generally consider Talalay latex a higher-quality material than Dunlop latex, both foams make great mattresses that outperform memory foam alternatives.
Mattress makers can produce each type of latex foam—synthetic, blended, Dunlop, and Talalay—at different firmness levels. To compare the firmness of latex mattresses, shoppers can look at each latex layer’s indentation load deflection or ILD.
ILD represents how much weight is required to indent or compress a material. When it comes to latex foam, the lower the ILD, the softer it feels.
There isn’t a perfect, uniform scale for comparing mattress firmness across materials, models, and brands, but the chart below provides a rough guide. You can also head over to our mattress firmness explainer for more information.
Mattress Firmness Scale
As previously mentioned, some latex mattresses use Talalay latex for one layer and Dunlop for another, depending on the layer’s primary function. Similarly, latex mattresses may use the same type of latex throughout but with varying ILDs for each layer. While denser latex foam with a higher ILD makes an ideal support layer, softer latex with a slightly lower ILD makes the perfect contouring comfort layer.
As with every other type of mattress, latex mattresses can range from average to excellent quality based on the materials, design, and craftsmanship. You already know about the different types of latex and firmness level options, but you have a few more features to consider. To find a latex mattress that’s worth the price and perfectly suits your needs, be sure to factor in all of the following elements.
It goes without saying that natural latex is better for the environment than synthetic latex, but some natural latex mattresses are even more eco-friendly than others. When shopping for a latex mattress, you can look for third-party certifications that guarantee a product’s safety and minimal environmental impact. A few trustworthy certifications include:
Whether they contain latex foam, memory foam, or another polyfoam, a modern mattress should have multilayer construction for optimal comfort and support.
As discussed earlier, layers within the same mattress may vary in density or be made from entirely different materials. Each layer should serve a different purpose or provide unique benefits, such as contouring, pressure relief, or reinforced support.
When comparing latex mattresses, look for options with a top comfort layer, at least one support or transition layer, and a foundational base layer. If you want something more luxurious, opt for a natural latex mattress with additional layers or features, such as targeted support zones and extra edge support. You may also want to consider a hybrid latex mattress with a layer of pocketed coils for maximum support and durability.
Unfortunately, you may not love the first mattress you buy. To account for this possibility, only consider mattresses brands that offer an in-home sleep trial and free returns.
With a basic understanding of latex types, latex ILD, and latex mattress construction, you should have no problem finding a latex mattress that suits your every sleep need. As long as you choose natural latex, the right firmness level, and a model with an advanced multilayer design, you’ll likely fall in love with latex. Plus, you’ll feel good about your eco-friendly purchase.