Everything You Need to Know About Latex Mattresses
Latex mattresses have been around for a while—since the 1930s, to be exact—but it's only in the last few years that they've really started to enjoy their moment in the spotlight.
We can think of a few reasons why latex has been gaining in popularity. For one thing, it's an all-natural material, made from the sap of the rubber tree. At a time when consumers are increasingly conscious of the chemicals that go into the products they use and how those chemicals affect their health, it stands to reason that a hypoallergenic, toxin-free material would win new fans.
Latex is also eco-friendly and sustainable. “As we continue to see reports showing our environment in a declining state, a natural latex mattress purchase could be one small way of looking after your planet," says Bill Fish, certified sleep science coach and founder of the sleep website tuck.com.
Then there's the way a latex mattress feels. Latex is naturally soft, resilient, and breathable, which makes for a cool and comfortable night's sleep. If you're in the market for a new latex mattress, here's a handy guide to everything from what's between the covers to how to assess quality to which type of sleepers latex suits best.
What is a latex mattress?
A true latex mattress is made of 100% natural latex derived from the milky sap of the rubber tree, Hevea brasiliensis. Most latex mattresses are not made from a single block of foam. Instead, they are formed from several layers of latex of varying thickness and density.
What's inside a latex mattress?
Latex mattresses have pretty simple construction. The bottom layer is the support core, while the top layer is engineered for comfort. (The flippable Zenhaven mattress actually has the support core in the middle, surrounded by comfort layers on either side.) A latex mattress will also include other materials, such as organic cotton or natural wool, commonly used as a flame retardant, in the padding and cover.
When comparing latex mattresses, these are the key things to look for:
Types of latex
There are two methods of producing latex, and each one results in a mattress with a very different feel.
- Dunlop: This is the original latex production process that began in the 1930s. It involves stirring, molding, and baking the tree sap—but because the sap is minimally processed, sediment can accumulate at the bottom of the mold, resulting in a denser and heavier mattress, Fish says.
- Talalay: This is the second iteration of latex foam. “Talalay requires the foam to be poured in a vacuum-sealed chamber, resulting in a far more uniform latex foam," Fish says. After being vacuum sealed, the latex is flash-frozen to stabilize the particles before being baked into solid form. The flash-freezing step makes Talalay softer and lighter than Dunlop latex foam. “The majority of natural latex today is crafted from the Talalay process," Fish says.
Synthetic vs. natural latex
Not all beds marketed as latex start out as tree sap. You can also find synthetic latex mattresses or ones that feature a blend of natural and synthetic material.
While synthetic latex may feel similar to natural latex, it's not eco-friendly. Synthetic latex is made from petroleum-based ingredients and may release toxic chemicals into the air, a process known as off-gassing, or have an unpleasant “new mattress" smell. Synthetic latex costs less than natural latex, but it's not as durable. And while natural latex is free of potential chemical irritants that could aggravate allergies or sensitivities, the same is not true of synthetic latex. (Learn more about common mattress chemicals and how to avoid them.)
Other less important factors to consider: latex foam density and firmness. It's not an exact science, but in general, the higher the foam density, the better the mattress quality. Density is a measure of the foam's weight per cubic foot. Higher density foam translates into a more durable, firmer, and heavier mattress.
Latex foam's firmness is measured in “indentation load deflection," or ILD. In layman's terms, that's how much pressure it takes to make a 25% indent in the foam. While it's not a measure to base a mattress decision on, it's useful as a point of comparison for how soft or firm a mattress will be. Most people choose a latex mattress with an ILD between 25 and 35. Check the brand's website or speak to the customer support team to find out a latex mattress's density and firmness if they're not readily available.
Learn More About Saatva's Latex Mattress
The benefits of sleeping on a latex mattress
Here are some of the biggest benefits of sleeping on a latex mattress:
- Latex mattresses are conforming yet buoyant. A latex mattress offers the best of both worlds: It will conform to your body like memory foam, but it's responsive and bouncy like innerspring. (People often describe the feeling of lying on a latex mattress as "floating" on top of the mattress.) “A latex mattress tends to adjust to the curves of a sleeper rather than just sink beneath the weight of the sleeper like some memory foam mattresses have a tendency to do," says Fish. That makes it ideal for those with back pain. Additionally, “latex mattresses have excellent motion isolation, preventing any disruptions by your sleep partner," says Fish.
- Latex mattresses are good for allergy sufferers. Natural latex is hypoallergenic and resistant to mold and dust mites. That means a latex mattress is a good choice for anyone with allergies. (Note: Latex mattresses are generally considered safe even for those with latex allergies because the proteins that cause allergic reactions are washed away during the manufacturing process—but anyone with severe sensitivities should consult their doctor before considering a latex mattress.)
- Latex mattresses are eco-friendly. Some mattress foams contain volatile organic compounds, which include hazardous chemicals like formaldehyde and perfluorocarbons. Natural latex, which comes from the sap of the rubber tree, is a greener alternative to conventional foams. It's sustainable, non-toxic, and biodegradable.
- Latex mattresses sleep cool. Because latex foam has a more open cell structure than other types of foam, it allows for much better airflow through the bed and a cooler night's sleep.
- Latex mattresses last a very long time. Natural latex is extremely durable, and for that reason, latex mattresses have a longer average life span than other types of beds. Latex mattresses can last for 15 years or more.
The drawbacks of sleeping on a latex mattress
There are pros and cons to every type of mattress. A latex mattress may not be right for you if:
- You're on a budget. Latex mattresses are among the most expensive due to the cost of harvesting and processing the material. (Synthetic latex mattresses are cheaper than natural latex beds, but remember: They're not as durable or eco-friendly.)
- You don't want to deal with a heavy mattress. On average, latex mattresses are heavier than other types of mattresses. So if you think you'll be moving in the future, know that moving a latex mattress will likely require more effort than moving another type of bed would. (Here are expert tips for moving a mattress.)
Who a latex mattress is ideal for
Latex mattresses suit a wide range of sleep styles, but they're especially a good pick for side sleepers. “This is because the latex tends to conform to the sleeper's body and cushion the pressure points associated with sleeping on your side as opposed to the back or stomach," Fish explains.
You can still find your latex mattress match if you sleep on your back or stomach. Within the latex mattress category, look for these features depending on your preferred sleep position:
- If you're a side sleeper: Steer clear of overly firm mattresses, which can cut off blood flow and cause numbness and tingling. Choose a softer (or “plusher") comfort level in a latex mattress.
- If you're a back sleeper: Opt for a latex mattress that is medium-firm. Anything too soft won't give you enough support, while anything too firm may cause back pain.
- If you're a stomach sleeper: A medium to slightly firmer latex mattress will support your body in neutral alignment and keep you from waking up with aches and pains.
The right base for a latex mattress
Speaking of support, your mattress needs it too. A latex mattress is usually paired with a mattress foundation (a.k.a. box spring) or base. It can also be paired with an adjustable base. Mattresses that are compatible with an adjustable base will bend and flex on the base without slipping or damaging the materials or structure of the mattress. An adjustable base can help you get into an ideal sleep position. By allowing you to elevate your head, an adjustable base can also help with snoring and acid reflux.
Learn More About Saatva's Adjustable Base
The fine print
If you've made it this far, we know you're serious about your latex mattress purchase. In addition to materials and construction, there's one more important set of criteria to review: policies around delivery, home trials, returns, and warranties. Before you hand over your credit card number, check out our Guide to Mattress Fine Print.
Here's how our latex mattress compares to others on the market: