Not All Latex Is Created Equal

 

There are four classes of latex foam used in todays mattresses; 100% natural latex, organic latex, synthetic latex, and blended latex.

Adding to the confusion many companies are marketing their latex mattresses as natural, yet only contain a large percentage of petrochemical additives and fillers.

So whats the difference between the four types of latex – and which is the best?

 

What Is Latex Foam Made From?

 

In its purest form latex rubber is a liquid substance tapped from the Hevea Brasiliensis Tree. Once native to Brazil, today the Heavea Tree is grown in tropical regions across the world amid strong demand for the versatile product across virtually every industry.
Because the raw rubber liquid is tapped, it can be extracted without killing the tree – similar to how maple syrup is tapped from the maple tree.

image shows a natural latex plantation, with several trees being tapped for 100% natural latex, shows how latex is harvested in a sustainable and eco friendly way

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

 

  • One single rubber tree can be harvested for over 30 years – making latex rubber a truly renewable and environmentally friendly material.
  • Once harvested, the raw rubber sap has to undergo further processing to be cleaned, thickened and baked before it can be made into the latex foam used in latex mattresses.

 

The intensity of processing and the types and amounts of additives mixed in, varies enormously between manufacturers, and is ultimately the difference between 100% natural latex and inferior latex blends. Lets break down the different types of latex in more detail;

Three Types of Latex – Synthetic, Blended & 100% Natural

Which type of latex mattress is best? Lets break down the three different types of latex to find out.

 

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

 

What is a 100% natural latex mattress made from?

 

  • Mattresses claiming to be made with “100% natural latex” MUST contain a minimum of 95% pure latex – and 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 – it wouldn’t be too comfy otherwise!
  • The best 100% natural latex mattresses use non-toxic and naturally derived thickeners like sulphur and antioxidants instead of petrochemical additives.

100% Natural latex – As Natural As It Gets

 

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 really is the ideal material to make a natural and eco friendly mattresses thats going to last – its no wonder how the best 100% natural latex mattresses offer a 25yr warranty.

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.

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