Not All Natural Latex Mattresses Are Created Equal
There are four types of latex foams used in todays mattresses; 100% natural latex, organic latex, synthetic latex, or blended latex. Adding to the confusion many companies are marketing their latex mattresses as natural, yet contain only small quantities of natural latex rubber! So whats the difference between the four types of latex – and which is the best?
What Is Latex?
Natural Latex Harvesting in India – Photo by M.arunprasad – Self-published work by M.arunprasad, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1332261
Four Types of Latex Mattresses – 100% Natural, Organic, Synthetic & Blended
100% Natural Latex
Pure latex rubber is harvested in a liquid state, and must be mixed with a small amount of other ingredients to become a foam. Mattresses labeled 100% natural latex MUST contain a minimum of 95% pure latex (some manufactures have up to 97%)
The best Genuine 100% natural latex mattresses use non-toxic thickners like sulphur and antioxidants instead of petrochemical additives. Look for certifications like Oeko-Tex Standard 100, GreenGuard Gold and GOLS (Global Organic Latex Standard). These standards ban the use of various dangerous chemicals and will ensure the highest quality. Read more about mattress certifications in Behind The Green Label; Mattress Certifications Explained.
Organic latex is harvested from organic plantations without the use of pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertizliers. When shopping for an organic latex mattress, be aware of what percentage of the mattress is made from certified organic latex. Many companies call their mattresses organic but may only be referring to a top comfort layer, whilst using inferior latex for base layers.
Organic latex is in short supply, so an all organic latex mattress will be expensive. An organic top layer paired with a less expensive 100% natural latex base is still an excellent quality natural and non toxic mattress. If your shopping for an organic latex mattresses look for GOLS certification (Global Organic Latex Standards). This is an international body which sets standards for the organic latex industry worldwide covering both growers and manufacturers.
Synthetic latex mattresses are cheap, but petroleum based, containing 70-85% Styrene Butadiene Rubber (SBR). The remaining 15-30% are chemical additives and fillers. These chemicals are products of the petroleum industry, and may off-gas harmful VOCs. Synthetic latex lacks tensile strength compared to 100% natural latex, resulting in decreased durability. Synthetic latex mattresses are also not naturally antimicrobial or biodegradable.
Many manufacturers blend 100% natural latex with cheap petrochemical fillers to reduce cost. The end product is not as durable as the natural variety, and has poor tensile strength, reducing its resilience and ability to recover to its original state. This results in poor pressure relief support. Like synthetic latex, blended latex is not biodegradable, or antimicrobial. When shopping look for phrases like “using natural latex”. This is misleading because latex blends do use 100% natural latex, but mixed with 15-30% synthetic fills and petrochemical additives!
Dunlop & Talalay – Whats The Difference?
There’s a lot of misinformation regarding Dunlop and Talalay latex mattresses – and which is superior. The fact is, Dunlop latex and Talalay latex have the same ingredients, but use different manufacturing techniques. The result is two distinct types of latex foam with different densities which are suited to varying comfort levels. Any 100% natural latex mattress you buy will use either the Dunlop or Talalay methods, and will probably contain a layer of each.
The Dunlop Method
Invented by Dunlop in 1929, the Dunlop method is the oldest and simplest form of latex production. The Dunlop method has less steps than the Talalay method, making it cheaper to produce. To produce Dunlop latex, the natural raw rubber liquid is whipped then steam baked, resulting in a firm dense foam which is strong and durable. Sediments within the natural latex settle during the baking process giving Dunlop latex a firmer underside and a softer top. It has a high tensile strength keeping its shape over time and providing superior push back support.
Dunlop latex foam is well suited to base layers in latex mattresses. It’s also commonly combined with a top layer of wool or cotton to provide both support and comfort. Firm latex mattresses will likely use Dunlop latex as a top layer – ideal for back sleepers and those requiring firm support.
The Talalay Method
Talalay latex foam has been around since the 1940s. The Talalay method requires two further steps than the Dunlop method. Before baking, the latex is vacuum sealed, then flash frozen. This method stops the latex particles from settling and creates a cell structure which is uniform and consistent. The air pockets are smaller making the overall product lighter and less dense than Dunlop.
The end result is a foam which is lighter and softer, ideally suited to top comfort layers. The image below compares Dunlop latex form to Talalay latex foam. You can clearly see the difference in uniformity.
Any 100% natural mattress will use the Dunlop or Talalay method. Neither are superior, but both have different properties which make them suited to specific applications – Dunlop is dense and firm, ideal for base layers. Talalay is lighter and softer, well suited to top comfort layers. Many latex mattresses will use a combination of both to achieve a balance of support, comfort and affordability.