What is a Latex Mattress?
Natural latex is a biological byproduct of the rubber tree plant, and can be sustainably harvested over the course of the tree’s natural lifespan – often upwards of 50 years. The organic compound is a thin liquid that can be used to manufacture plush latex foam through processing, heating, and vulcanization.
A latex mattress offers superior quality, outcompeting most traditional mattresses. They offer customization, so you and your partner can each find the sleep surface that suits you best. Latex is adaptable and is manufactured in a wide range of firmnesses and varieties, from sustainably-harvested botanical latex to synthetic latex varieties. The material’s adaptability, long life, and comfort have achieved a high level of customer satisfaction on the open market.
Latex vs Traditional Mattress
If you want to improve your quality of sleep and thus your overall quality of life, a latex mattress can help. Latex mattresses cushion your body, align your spine, regulate body temperature, and have the staying power to last 20 years or more. Traditional mattresses tend to have a range of shortcomings. They can:
- Broadcast motion so that one sleeping partner disturbs the other;
- Be uncomfortable, so that quality of sleep suffers;
- Discourage proper spinal alignment, resulting in general discomfort and exacerbation of medical conditions;
- Wear out quickly, so that customers find themselves replacing a mattress more often;
- Carry allergens – trapping mites, mold, mildew, and dust particles in fibers and fabrics deep within the mattress; and
- “Sleep hot,” causing the sleeper to wake overheated, sweaty, and uncomfortable – increasing the chance of mold accumulation and negatively impacting quality of sleep.
These shortcomings, among others, led manufacturers to continue the search for a quality, luxurious, medically beneficial mattress material. The result? Latex foam mattress materials.
Sleep Better, Feel Better
We all know that when we don’t sleep well, we don’t feel well. Medical research backs up our own experience—high-quality sleep lasting seven hours or more is integral to keeping a healthy body and a healthy quality of life, and your mattress can significantly impact your sleep. A natural latex mattress can make the difference between unrefreshing sleep and the deep, restorative sleep that promotes health. One of the chief reasons this is so is because of its excellent elasticity, and its ability to provide superb pressure relief.
Research Shows the Importance of Sleep to Your Health
A German study published in the journal Quality of Life Research found a significant correlation between poor sleep, poor health, and lowered quality of life. And another study in the German journal Schmerz found a significant correlation between mattress quality and sleep. Research has found that shortened sleep duration correlates with increased hypertension. Studies also show that sleep quality is even more important than sleep quantity in protecting good physical, mental, and emotional health in both young, healthy adults and in the elderly.
No matter what your age or state of health, it’s likely that the right latex mattress can benefit your current sleep situation.
Advantages of Latex
Latex offers a range of improvements over traditional mattresses.
Resilient. All-natural latex foam, at a cellular level, has a characteristic “bounce” that no other material –not even synthetic latex—can match. The natural structure of latex can compress and then immediately spring back into its original shape, creating a mattress surface that is as soft yet supportive in its twentieth year as in its first.
Body-contouring. The same resilience and shape-sustaining properties that give latex its resilience give it an unmatchable ability to contour to your body. The foam will compress under your hips and shoulders while extending to support waist and legs. The bouncy spring-back of latex creates a surface with quicker reaction time than memory foam, so the mattress contours to your shape with every move you make.
Beneficial for a wide range of medical complaints. Though latex is not a medical prescription and hasn’t been evaluated for medical uses, the soft-yet-supportive structure of a botanical latex mattress can help align the spine and cradle painful body parts while minimizing pressure points, so the body has the best possible chance of pain relief for comfortable sleep. Whether you suffer from back problems, chronic pain such as RLS or fibromyalgia, or the life-changing pain of a spinal cord injury, a latex mattress may significantly improve your quality of life.
Eco-friendly. Natural botanical latex can be sustainably harvested without killing the rubber tree plant that produces the serum. An “all-natural” latex mattress may be produced without the use of petrochemicals or synthetic materials. Some latex mattresses are manufactured at the site of the rubber tree estate, minimizing the expense and carbon footprint of shipping. When properly manufactured, latex mattresses can even be organic, though it’s important to be discerning when choosing an organic mattress. The “organic” tag may mean that:
- The latex in the mattress was organically farmed before harvesting;
- The foam itself was produced in line with organic standards; or that
- The entire mattress, including the outer fire-resistant layer, is constructed using sustainable methods and materials.
Hypo-allergenic and anti-microbial. The surface of latex foam is impermeable to dust mites and discouraging to mold and mildew. If you have allergies, even mild latex allergies, a latex mattress can give you peace of mind and the medical relief you need to get a good night’s sleep. The same properties make latex foam anti-microbial and a poor living surface for bacteria, helping latex foam remain hygienic over the entirety of its long lifespan.
Temperature regulating. The same open cell structure that gives latex its hypo-allergenic properties helps it to regulate body temperature while you sleep, allowing air flow. In addition, during foam latex manufacturing (especially in the Talalay processing method) the mold contains metal rods inserted through the latex liquid leaving “pinholes” that allow the mattress to breathe, keeping you cooler when it’s warm and warmer when it’s cool outside. This natural ventilation helps you sleep well; clinical trials have found that well-regulated skin temperature leads to increased comfort and deeper sleep.
Long-lasting. A high-quality, all-natural botanical latex mattress can have warranties lasting 20 years or more. Natural latex is so durable because of its bouncy resiliency – since your mattress doesn’t get indentions from the weight of your body, it can last decades when cared for and placed on a proper latex mattress foundation. The right foundation prevents sagging, so there’s no need to flip a latex mattress. Some of the most venerable latex mattress companies have now seen their mattresses last 40 years or more.
A latex mattress can give you peace of mind on many levels. The “luxury” of an all-natural botanical latex mattress is actually good for your health, good for the environment, and good for your wallet. When you choose top-of-the-line latex, you’ll get a mattress that no imitation can match.
Comparing Mattress Types
In the online hype, both for and against latex mattresses, it’s easy to lose sight of what latex can actually do. Here are a few comparison points between latex and other mattress varieties.
Memory Foam Mattresses: Memory foam is a space-age synthetic material that slowly molds to your body. Memory foam can be temperature sensitive, so that it actually becomes less supportive when exposed to body heat overnight. It can also “sleep hot,” acting as a heat sink to hold in body heat, further exacerbating these effects. However, next generation memory foam mattresses are able to ameliorate these concerns, especially if they are integrated with a transitional latex foam layer.
Innerspring Mattresses: Traditional innerspring mattresses can be quite comfortable, especially when covered with a mattress pad or “comfort layer” (often of latex). However, the coils in innerspring mattresses tend to compress over time, leaving body impressions. The classic solution to sagging or impressions in innerspring configurations is to flip the mattress, but the most comfortable innersprings tend to have a comfort layer on one side, making flipping impossible.
Air Mattresses: High-quality air mattresses can also be quite luxurious. Some air mattress options allow you to adjust the firmness of the mattress by adding or removing air, and add cradling support by using a pillow-top or other comfort layer (again, often latex). One drawback here is that you need to be doubly sure of the quality of the brand you are buying – with compression over time certain air mattresses have been known to develop air leaks in the casing. They also sometimes “sleep hot,” since the inner air-containing compartment is by nature impermeable to air flow.
Gel Mattresses: Gel is also beneficial for pressure-relieving support and temperature-regulating comfort. Designed specifically to work in medical settings where patients may be sensitive to pressure applied to the body, gel gives optimally at pressure points while supporting other parts of the body. Still, most gel mattresses rely on layers to mix support and comfort and may include materials like memory foam or latex. They can also be quite expensive.
Botanical latex foam is a superior and unique mattress material in that it is a natural culmination of all of the wonderful properties and aspects of each of the above mattress types. Without all of the technological gadgetry or gimmickry, natural latex for a mattress surface is the integrous one whose characteristics of comfort and support are what get imitated most often. As proof of that, simply consider the “spinoffs” of all natural latex – synthetic latex, blended latex, latex memory foam, and countless other mattresses – latex hybrids – that implement a layer of latex to give the sleeper the added luxurious feel and comfort that only latex can provide.
Customize Your Sleep Experience
Latex is phenomenally flexible – in more ways than one. The material itself is physically flexible enough to roll up into a cylinder, to give instantly under the weight of your body where you need it to give, and to simultaneously support your body where it needs support.
Latex can also be manufactured using a range of components and techniques. It’s available in a range of ILDs (measurements of support) and layered “comfort” configurations, so you can find the bed that maximizes your own personal comfort and that of your sleeping partner.
The range of options can seem confusing at first, but it’s this versatility that makes latex such a luxurious and sought-after mattress material.
Synthetic and Blended Latex vs. All Natural Latex
In addition to the original all-natural latex foam, manufacturers have created synthetic latex that produces an imitation of natural foam latex. The result is a passable approximation of latex foam, but it tends to be less buoyant, less durable, and less cushioning than the all-natural variety.
Synthetic latex is created entirely in a laboratory setting, often at the foam manufacturing site. This mitigates the need to have natural latex shipped in from rubber tree estates after intensive harvesting practices, so the cost of synthetic latex is often less than that of natural latex foam.
Synthetic latex is usually manufactured using the more high-tech Talalay production process, since Dunlop processing creates a truly inferior product when synthetic imitations are used. Synthetic Talalay latex makes a stronger, more comfortable product but is still no match for the real thing.
The inexpensive pricing of synthetic latex comes at the cost of quality. Many mid-grade latex mattress manufacturers use blended latex, adding a small percentage of natural latex to a synthetic product before vulcanization in attempt to increase resilience and quality. These blended latex beds still don’t match the bouncy, body-contouring support of real latex, but they may be a decent approximation if you’re on a budget.
All Natural Latex
The category of “all-natural” latex mattress encompasses a vast array of bedding options. In order to carry the “100% all-natural latex” tag, the foam used to construct the mattress must be entirely manufactured from botanical latex. Botanical latex mattresses can be manufactured in an array of firmnesses, thicknesses, internal constructions, and surface treatments. No two types of natural latex mattresses are exactly alike, so it’s important to be a discerning consumer when choosing even an all-natural latex mattress.
The Different Types of Latex Foam
Latex can be produced by one of two manufacturing methods: Talalay or Dunlop. Each processing type has its own strengths and weaknesses.
In the venerable Dunlop method, pioneered in the mid-20th century, liquid latex is poured into frames in layers, cooled, and vulcanized. The process is easy enough to be enacted on-site at the rubber tree estate, rather than incurring the cost of shipping liquid latex to a separate processing facility.
The result is a strong, long-lasting latex. In the early days, settling during the cooling process could result in a Dunlop mattress that was denser (and thus firmer) on one side than on the other. Today’s processing usually keeps this phenomenon from occurring in modern Dunlop latex, except in the lowest quality mattresses.
Talalay production is more high-tech, and usually requires that liquid latex be shipped to a dedicated processing facility separate from the rubber tree estate.
In Talalay processing, the liquid latex is first whipped and then poured into a frame. The material is subjected to vacuum molding and flash-freezing, congealing quickly into foam. The result contains a mix of latex and air that’s uniformly distributed from side to side and top to bottom down to a molecular level. Because of the increased amount of air, Talalay latex tends to be lighter and more breathable than Dunlop latex.
The result is a latex material that has the capacity to be much softer and “airier” than Dunlop latex. Both Dunlop and Talalay latex production can achieve a range of latex foam densities ranging from soft to firm. The softest Talalay is softer than the softest Dunlop – and the firmest Dunlop is firmer than the firmest Talalay. But most peoples’ sleeping preferences fall within a range that can be acquired by buying either Dunlop or Talalay latex.
Which is Better, Dunlop or Talalay Latex?
You’ll see hype all over the internet about which type of latex manufacturing process produces the best or most comfortable or most supportive latex. In truth, either Dunlop or Talalay can be comfortable, supportive, long-lasting, and cost effective. Which foam you choose depends on your personal preferences, needs, and budget.
Dunlop latex is:
Almost always all-natural. Since synthetic and blended Dunlop latex tend to be poorer quality, most Dunlop latex mattresses on the market today are all-natural.
Generally more affordable. The Dunlop manufacturing process is simple enough to conduct on-site, so many manufacturers build their mattresses on location to minimize costs. The process itself is also simpler than Talalay processing and uses less expensive equipment. You usually see these savings on a Dunlop price tag.
Longer-lasting. The simple Dunlop construction method imparts less air to the mattress than with Talalay processing. Less air and more latex mean your mattress is likely to stand up better over time, often out-lasting Talalay construction.
Potentially firmest. Both Dunlop and Talalay can be either soft or firm (or in between) but the Dunlop process can produce latex foam that’s firmer than the firmest Talalay.
Eco-friendly. Dunlop’s on-site processing means a smaller carbon footprint, and the more streamlined production method uses fewer chemical agents. All latex can be considered somewhat eco-friendly, but Dunlop foam produced on-site tops the charts.
Talalay latex is:
Available in blended varieties. Talalay processing can produce a better quality synthetic material, so it’s more likely to be found in blended or full synthetic market options. This means that you can find Talalay-based mattresses at a wide range of price points, though Talalay processing is itself more cost intensive than Dunlop processing. Synthetic/blended mattresses will never achieve the luxury feel of all-natural bedding, but they can come in a close second.
More versatile. The ability to blend Talalay and to impart extra air to the foam means that Talalay latex is an exceptionally versatile bedding material.
Often more expensive. The cost of all-natural Talalay bedding must take into account the processing costs of the Talalay method, including raw materials, chemical additives, and expensive machinery. Also factored in are the hidden costs of farming rubber trees, extracting the raw latex, and shipping it to processing locations. Top-of-the-line Talalay bedding is undoubtedly one of the most expensive bedding options on the market – but it’s worth it.
Not as long-lasting. The added air in most Talalay mattresses makes it more likely that the mattress will sag over time, creating uneven pressure on each cell of the mattress. This is the main reason why so few latex mattresses are constructed strictly from Talalay. Eventually, that extra pressure can lead to a quicker breakdown of mattress materials. However, this can be mitigated by using a top layer of Talalay latex on a mattress, with the underlying core of the mattress being a more solid, denser Dunlop. Most high quality, long lasting latex mattresses combine the use of both Talalay and Dunlop latexes.
Potentially softest. For those few who like a truly soft mattress that you can actually sink into, Talalay wins. Even the softest Dunlop can’t match the cushiony softness of the most cloud-soft Talalay mattresses.
In the end, only you can make the choice on which processing type meets your needs and your budget. Depending on the quality of manufacture, either Dunlop or Talalay can be a long-lasting and luxurious sleep surface.
Latex Foam Mattress Customer Satisfaction
Today’s mattress customers are smart, savvy shoppers – and it’s a good thing! The array of latex mattress options can be bewildering, but with a little background it can be easy to choose the bed that’s right for you. Here are a few tools to help you choose your bed wisely, so you can avoid the most common latex mattress complaints.
1. Make sure you’re comparing apples to apples.
It’s important to be sure you’re comparing truly similar mattresses when you compare price. Just because you’re looking at two Dunlop mattresses, for example, doesn’t mean they are remotely similar. One may be synthetic and one all natural. One may be denser and thus firmer – a firmer mattress literally contains more latex and less air, so it may be more expensive. Be sure you understand how each mattress is constructed so you know you’re really comparing similar products.
2. Define “Natural”.
Make sure your idea of a “natural” or “organic” latex mattress is the same as the manufacturer’s. Some mattresses claim to be “organic” because the rubber trees are farmed using organic methods, but then add chemicals during latex processing, glue foam layers together with industrial glues, and cover the mattress with a petrochemical fire barrier.
An “all-natural” label means the bed is made using botanical latex. Make sure you understand the processing and materials that went into the making of your mattress so you know you’re getting exactly what you’ve asked for.
3. Latex Mattress Brands – Choose Smaller, More Specialized
Most large mattress brands are resellers, which buy their inventory from third-party manufacturers. These firms have high overhead costs associated with running brick-and-mortar stores in prime locations – rent, utilities, and payroll. Because of this overhead, most can’t afford to invest in top-of-the-line latex mattresses. Most mattresses you’ll find in these locations are synthetic, blended or (at best) all-natural mid-grade latex, not a true luxury product. In addition, you’ll often pay higher prices at a major chain on a product of lesser quality, since you’re sopping up some of the expense of the company’s overhead and brand premium when you buy your bed.
Online warehousing operations or small businesses with only a few locations can specialize in latex and luxury bedding. These companies tend to have cost-saving measures in place that allow them to focus on investing in quality inventory. It can feel like a leap of faith to trust a smaller brand, but if you check references and read the fine print you can find a reputable organization that offers you better quality at more affordable pricing.
You may also find manufacturers that sell direct to consumers, rather than using a reseller as a “middleman”. These companies tend to minimize overhead costs while keeping up top notch quality control, so you get the best mattress for your money.
4. Take your time and do your research.
You’re not just buying a mattress, you’re choosing a company. When you dive into the world of online or small-business buying, it can be easy to be taken for a ride by slick salespeople or fraudulent operations.
It’s supremely important in these situations to be sure you know exactly what you’re buying and from whom. Don’t get caught up in bottom-dollar pricing, or whip out a credit card before you know the website is legitimate and secure.
When you start your search for a reputable mattress company, here are the questions you should be asking:
What’s the return policy? Look for a bed that comes with a substantial return policy – you don’t want to be stuck with a bed that doesn’t satisfy your needs. Many companies will allow you to return the bed within a specified amount of time or order different options until you’re happy. If you buy a bed with unglued layers (which is highly recommended), you may even be able to return individual layers until you find a mattress with the right mix of softness and support for your own personal preferences.
Are there positive online latex mattress reviews? Don’t stop with website testimonials. Look online for third-party reviews by actual customers so you know exactly how former and current customers have been treated, as well as their level of satisfaction with the product.
What is the company’s rating with the Better Business Bureau (BBB)? The Better Business Bureau offers you a good idea of whether businesses are reputable, properly licensed, and qualified. Read the company’s page on the BBB website as a starting point for understanding how your chosen company has fared so far in the business world.
Have there been complaints registered with the BBB? You’ll need to look at more than the BBB rating to be certain that the company is good to its customers. Check to see if any complaints have been registered with the BBB by third-party vendors or clients. These are trustworthy reviews that should not be taken lightly. While every business is likely to have a few hard-to-please clients, repeated reports of poor service or poor products should be a red flag.
How available is customer service? When you call customer service, will you get a real person on the other end of the line? How long are the wait times? Do they have live online chat enabled on their website?
Does the bed come with a satisfactory warranty? High-quality latex can be extraordinarily long-lasting, so look for a warranty that lasts 20 years or more to be sure you’re getting a high-quality bed. Don’t fall for deals that offer only a replacement instead of a warranty; these businesses have a reputation for finding a reason why the wear and tear to the bed isn’t in line with expectation and refusing to ship a replacement bed. Find a watertight manufacturer’s warranty and, if you’re using a re-seller, be sure that the reseller will honor that warranty.
Latex mattresses are available at a variety of price points. They’re durable, luxuriously comfortable, adaptable to a variety of sleep preferences, and allow air flow that helps regulate temperature and minimize the buildup of allergens. The open cell structure combined with the natural properties of botanical latex make it one of the most hypo-allergenic bedding options, and it’s usually even safe for those with medical latex allergies. It’s also the only option that can be entirely natural and chemical-free.
Sleep Better, Live Better
Medical science is increasingly emphasizing the importance of quality sleep to human health, and a comfortable mattress has been scientifically shown to have significant impacts on quality of sleep. Latex is an excellent mattress choice that can help you sleep better to live better. With all the latex choices on the market and all the benefits of sleeping on a latex foam mattress, there’s a high likelihood of finding a latex mattress that fits your budget, your lifestyle, and your sleep preferences.
*If you’ve been buying traditional mattresses (which are recommended to be replaced every 5-7 years because of accumulation of dust mites, mold, caving in, etc.), you’re spending up to twice that amount. Isn’t that a little backward?
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