Not All Latex Is Created Equal
There are three classes of latex foam used in todays mattresses; 100% natural and organic latex, synthetic latex, and blended latex.
So whats the difference between the four types of latex – and which is the best?
What Is Latex Foam Made From?
- One single rubber tree can be harvested for over 30 years – making latex rubber a renewable and eco friendly material.
- Once harvested the raw rubber sap is cleaned thickened and baked to become latex foam.
Photo: Natural Latex Harvesting in India – Credit; M.arunprasad, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1332261
The Three Types of Latex – Synthetic, Blended & 100% Natural
1. Synthetic Latex
Synthetic latex was developed by necessity during the second world war as a shortage of natural latex prevented things like tyres and vital components from being made at the scales needed. So what is synthetic latex made from?
What Is Synthetic latex made from?
Synthetic latex is petroleum based – containing 70-85% Styrene Butadiene Rubber (SBR). The remaining 15-30% are chemical additives, fillers and stabilisers. Synthetic latex has no natural rubber content.
Synthetic Latex Vs Natural Latex
Because synthetic latex is manufactured with chemicals it allows for a higher degree of flexibility and control in regards to consistency, and ability to offer many different firmness levels compared to natural latex.
The cost is to produce synthetic latex is also a lot less than than its natural counterpart, making synthetic latex mattresses much cheaper than natural ones.
When it comes to durability and quality, synthetic latex tends to be more brittle – crumbling and tearing much more easily than a 100% natural latex mattress would. It also has a lower tensile strength than pure natural latex, making it less resilient against pressure over time.
Unlike 100% natural latex, synthetic latex is not naturally antimicrobial, dust mite resistant, fire resistant, or biodegradable.
Synthetic latex has a low tensile strength compared to 100% natural latex, which means its far less durable and resilient.
Unlike 100% natural latex, synthetic latex mattresses are not naturally antimicrobial or fire resistant or biodegradable.
In summary, synthetic latex offers the lowest quality compared to other types of latex foam, but is cheap to produce – which is why its found in the most affordable latex mattresses available. Many mattresses use a blend of natural and synthetic latex (blended latex) to improve performance.
2. Blended Latex
If you see a mattress labeled ‘made with natural latex’ the chances are its not as natural as you think – its likely made from blended latex.
What is blended latex made from?
Blended latex is the most common type of latex found in mattresses – most often a mix of natural latex rubber with synthetic latex fillers like styrene.
100% Natural Latex Vs Blended Latex
The use of synthetic fillers in blended latex reduce the cost, but also quality – the result is an end product thats much less durable and far less pure than a 100% natural alternative.
Large proportions of synthetic fillers and additives degrade the high tensile strength and durablility of raw rubber – reducing resilience and the ability to recover over time, so its just not going to last as long.
Blended latex will also not biodegrade like natural rubber, and is not naturally fire resistant or antimicrobial – meaning additional chemicals and fire retardants may be required.
Blended latex should not be described as a natural product
I find mattresses labeled as ‘made with natural latex’ misleading when intact they are using blended latex. Sure, blended latex contains natural latex, but also has a high percentage of synthetic additives! Its pretty far removed from being a natural product in my book.
3. 100% Natural Latex
Mattresses claiming to be made with “100% natural latex” MUST contain a minimum of 95% pure latex – the best manufactures have up to 97%.
Because pure latex rubber is harvested in a liquid state it must be mixed with a small amount of other ingredients to become a foam. The best 100% natural latex mattresses use non-toxic and naturally derived thickeners like sulphur and antioxidants instead of petrochemical additives.
100% Natural latex Is Superior
100% natural latex is far superior to blended and synthetic latex. It’s a highly durable and long lasting material as well as being naturally antimicrobial, dustmite and fire and water resistant.
100% natural latex foam is the ideal material to make a natural and eco friendly mattresses thats going to last – the best 100% natural latex mattresses offer 25yr warranties whereas synthetic and blended latex mattresses typically come with 10 yr warranties.
Look for certifications like Oeko-Tex Standard 100, GreenGuard Gold. 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.
100% Natural Organic Latex
Organic latex is the same as 100% natural latex – except it’s 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 actually made from organic latex. Many companies call their mattresses organic but may only be using a thin top 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 100% natural latex base is still an excellent quality, all 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.