What’s a Latex Mattress?

When you hear the word “latex,” do you automatically think about things like gloves, shower curtains and rubber bands? Bet mattresses don’t pop to mind, after all, isn’t latex a rubbery substance? Yes it is, but mattress manufacturers have figured out a way to turn it into a comfortable sleep surface.

Read on to learn more about how latex mattresses differ from others and what to look for if you’re interested in buying one for yourself.

The Lowdown on Latex

First things first: There’s natural latex and synthetic latex. The natural is derived from the sap of rubber trees. This became such a valuable resource for the production of military equipment during World War II that its use in consumer products virtually disappeared during this period. To compensate, researchers developed a synthetic version out of petrochemicals. Both versions are used today to manufacture mattresses.

Latex mattressThere are two different manufacturing processes for a natural latex mattress. Both start with sap collection, which is normally still done by hand. It’s then passed through a filter to remove undesirable matter. From there, the sap, is poured into molds where it’s emulsified with water and air bubbles. Next, the mixture is heated and vulcanized, which is when it changes from a liquid to a solid, but retains some of its flexible nature.

The Dunlop manufacturing operation pretty much follows the above method, whereas the Talalay process adds a flash-freeze procedure between molding and heating to trap smaller air bubbles. The difference is that Talalay results in a softer feel. Some sleepers like that added comfort and others miss the stronger core of a Dunlop mattress. For a happy medium between the two, opt for a combination mattress: a Dunlop core for support and a Talalay top layer for a soft touch close to the body.

Latex Highlights

According to online retailers and reviewers, there are some significant differences between synthetic and natural latex. The higher the natural content in a mattress, the more hypo-allergenic, anti-bacterial and anti-dust mite characteristics it has. It’s also resistant to mold and mildew and has very little gas-off like other mattresses. This makes natural a great option for allergy sufferers.

In terms of sleep comfort, it comes down to personal preferences, but both synthetic and latex tend to offer a unique combination of firmness and elasticity compared with traditional spring construction. Because of its manufacturing process, the material is actually quite dense for good support, but its rubbery nature gives it a buoyancy people enjoy. Also the inherent elastic characteristic helps the mattress maintain its shape and form. It’s not memory foam, but it should not get packed down over time. Finally, it doesn’t sleep “hot,” meaning it helps keep occupants cool in summer and warm in winter.

Selection Criteria

So now that you know more about latex mattresses, and you’re convinced it’s the type you want, you’re ready to go shopping—but wait, there are a few more things to consider:

• Decide if you want all natural, all synthetic or a combination. Many think you’ll be better off going all natural. If it’s being sold as “blend” then it’s not all natural.

• The next decision is do you want a completely Dunlop mattress, Talalay mattress or combination? If you want the support of a Dunlop core and the comfort of a Talalay top, just make sure the combination model you choose doesn’t have a lot of “zones” or cut-up designs. The fewer of these the less shifting experienced over time. Instead, look for unglued, interchangeable layers that could possibly be customized to meet your specific needs.

• Whichever model you select, make sure it has a covering, preferably one that “breathes.” Although these have to have flame resistant by law, some retardants are chemical-heavy and don’t leave a lot of breathing space. A wool mattress cover is usually a good choice.

• Always, without a doubt, demand a comfort guarantee. Basically this is a grace period during which you can return the mattress for whatever reason. Ask for a minimum 60 days, but 90 is even better. Also, make sure you can receive a full refund if you change your mind and not just a store credit…and get it in writing.