What to Look for When Buying a Latex Mattress
If you’re looking for a latex mattress, no doubt you’ve been reading about them online, or have friends or family that have already purchased this unique and extraordinary sleep surface and have been extolling their virtues. While it’s true that latex (more commonly known as latex rubber)—either in pure form or blended with synthetic latex rubber (SBR, or styrene butadiene rubber, a non-natural, petroleum based product)—has been around for many decades, only recently have latex mattresses undergone a kind of “viral renaissance” in the bedding industry.
Mattress stores and e-commerce sites body slam us with every conceivable variation of mattresses, including latex beds (either sold as all latex or as part of a hybrid mattress), each company using its own proprietary terminology and ethereal descriptors for mysterious ingredients that most of us have never heard of before.
Below, you'll find information to help you decipher the various terms and choose the best mattress for your needs.
What Is Pure Latex?
I can help you cut right to the chase if you’re considering a latex mattress.
First of all, understand that pure latex is rubber that is 100% botanically derived. Natural or pure latex is derived from Hevea brasiliensis trees which yield a milky white sap which is hand collected using a very labor intensive process.
The liquid latex is then combined into large vessels, homogenized or frothed to form a creamy bubbly “whip,” then molded in a Belgian waffle iron kind of steam oven to form the “cores” or blocks of the wonderfully elastic and buoyant material.
Pure latex rubber layers or cores, whether in a topper pad or a mattress, are easily recognizable by the continuous series of holes which are often thought of as a means for the latex to ventilate. Actually, the pin holes are intentional and necessary (just as the irregular surfaces of a waffle iron are) to rapidly heat the liquid rubber (or waffle mix) without scorching or burning it. Long pins form a matrix on the mold surface around which the liquid latex settles and distribute heat in a rapid fire fashion to convert the liquid to solid form within minutes.
Dunlop vs. Talalay Method with Latex
You’ll often hear that there are two kinds of pure latex, Dunlop and Talalay: both refer only to the method in which the raw latex is converted to the solid form.
The Dunlop method is the older, more time-tested technique, and generally is considered best for the base layer, or thicker portion of a pure latex mattress. It involves a fast steam cook and relies on the liquid latex poured into the big giant waffle iron machine to be a certain level of “frothiness” to determine the density.
The Talalay method is a bit more sophisticated and involves a quick flash freeze during the vulcanization process which allows more precise control of the resulting density, and is best used for the top or finish layers of a pure latex mattress.
Either way, the end result can be a blend of synthetic and natural latex, or pure botanical latex. I generally recommend a mattress with a Dunlop bottom piece and a softer Tally layer on top to provide some yielding and softness.
A pure, 100% natural latex mattress will provide you (in most instances) with the best results you can get from this all-natural wonder. You’ll get astonishingly buoyant support and extreme elasticity that distributes weight horizontally (instead of vertically, which creates the notorious pressure points that we all hate with our existing mattresses), along with an amazing flotation-like quality that is unlike anything else you’ve ever slept on.
Pure Latex: Chemical Free, Non-Toxic, and Dust Mite Resistant
Pure latex is also free of chemicals and toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs), formaldehyde, and other noxious chemicals. It is naturally antimicrobial and even resists dust mites. Truly a hypoallergenic sleep surface that is clean, green, and eco-friendly. Best of all, pure latex gives you that flotation-like feel that makes turning effortless and actually improves REM sleep, that deep sleep that provides all of the restorative benefits our bodies need.
But be careful, because many vendors don’t use unadulterated latex.
Bottom line: try to buy a pure, all natural latex bed that is not a blend of synthetic latex which has far less elasticity and lifespan, and avoid so-called “hybrid beds” that incorporate very little pure latex but are mostly made of cheap, low quality synthetic foam layers. Ignore names and nouns like “Dreamfoam,” “Ultrafoam,” or “BioFoam,” which are just code for “cheap synthetic crap that we stuff your mattress with to make it look big and poofy, for no reason.”
In the Market for a Latex Mattress?
If you’re in the market now, check out this Natural Latex Mattress with Organic Cotton and Natural Wool Cover that has great reviews, no toxic ingredients, no synthetic foams, and offers Organic Cotton and all Natural Joma wool (pure crimped New Zealand wool) quilted cover (wicks away moisture). I bought this for my son recently (twin size), because he transitioned to a college apartment from a dorm back in the spring. He loves it, sleeps great, and has recommended it to his friends. A great bed at a great price, and hand-crafted in the USA!
How to Pick the Right Foundation for Your New Latex Mattress
Just as important as the mattress is finding the right foundation, or bed base, to put your mattress on. A latex mattress requires a firm, resilient surface with little or no give. If you place it on a surface that is prone to conforming to your body and ultimately dipping or forming gulleys and troughs, your mattress will follow the topography of the bed base and you will lose the level, flat support and resiliency you need to maximize the benefits.
Latex, especially, does not have a solid or rigid “undercarriage” unlike many conventional mattresses, so having a firm and supportive base with solid support that is well crafted and durable for the lifespan of your mattress is critical. Latex mattresses last much longer than other kinds of beds, and will often far outlive the lifespan of the foundation underneath.
I prefer something that is built with a solid wooden perimeter and a solid deck-type surface, either continuously smooth or with closely placed slats that are at least a few inches wide. It should have strong support braces underneath that run from head to foot, much like floor joists in a house, and easy-to-use hardware that makes assembly a snap.
A nice finished exterior upholstery cover is fine, but get something simple in design without all the fancy curb appeal and you’ll pay a lot less. After all, once you cover your cozy new nest with sheets, a comforter, and a pile of pillows, you’re not going to have to look at it anyway.
You want a simply designed foundation built with durability in mind, and reasonably priced. Look for a foundation that comes in modular form (not pre-assembled), since you can take it in pieces through even the narrowest hallways.
This Box Spring Replacement gets great reviews, (last I checked, 910!) and is reasonably priced, considering the quality of its material and its unique assembly system. Bought this for my son, along with his latex mattress (above). He was able to set it up very quickly.
Current Mattress Still in Good Condition, But Uncomfortable?
If your existing mattress is still in good condition, with an even sleep surface (no dips and no hammocky feel), then a natural latex topper pad might be a great way to get more mileage while amping up the comfort level.
Typically, a 2" topper pad will work with most folks under 200 lbs. (Folks over 200 lbs should go with a 3" topper pad to provide more support depth.) Again, I recommend a natural latex topper material, particularly over memory foam topper pads, as they tend to sleep hot. This 100% Natural Latex Mattress Topper has a price and great ratings/reviews. Now, I haven't bought this particular Amazon product, but have used the exact same manufacturer and the same product materials/ingredients in my online business, so I know it's a great product.
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