Looking For a Latex Mattress? Here's What You Need to Know
If you're not familiar with latex mattresses, you're probably not alone.
“Latex mattresses have been in the background for a while, but they're gaining attention," says Terry Cralle, RN, certified clinical sleep educator, Saatva sleep consultant, and co-author of Sleeping Your Way to the Top. That's because the best latex mattresses have a lot going for them. For starters, it's an all-natural material, made from the sap of rubber trees. And latex mattresses offer some best-of-both-world benefits when compared with an innerspring and memory foam mattress.
Like memory foam, latex mattresses excel at relieving pressure on muscles and joints, owing to its ability to mold to the body's every curve. That helps keep the spine properly aligned throughout the night, which can minimize back pain and other discomforts. (One study found that a good latex mattress outperformed even memory foam in this regard.)
But latex mattresses also have a feeling of buoyancy and responsiveness usually associated with innerspring mattresses. If you press against the bed, for example, latex mattresses tend to spring back more quickly than other types of foam.
Because natural latex is plant-based, purchasing a latex mattress is a good choice for people who may be sensitive to chemical irritants that can be used in other beds, Cralle notes. And finally, while the durability of any mattress ultimately depends on the quality of the materials and construction, latex mattress typically last longer than their memory foam or innerspring counterparts.
If you're in the market for the best latex mattress, or think you might be, here are some things to keep in mind.
What's inside a latex mattress
You may associate latex with more common products like gloves, bandages, and condoms. Natural latex foam starts with the same ingredient: the milky sap of the rubber tree, Hevea brasiliensis.
To make latex foam, that harvested fluid gets processed in one of two ways:
Dunlop latex: Dunlop latex was the original type of latex foam. During manufacture, the tree sap is minimally processed, which means more natural sediment settles in the bottom layer of the mold. As a result, Dunlop latex beds tend to be denser and heavier.
Talalay latex: Talalay was the second iteration of latex foam. To make it, the rubber tree sap undergoes a vacuum process that distributes the material evenly throughout the mold. Then it gets flash-frozen to stabilize the latex particles before being baked into solid form. The extra freezing step makes Talalay softer and lighter than Dunlop foam.
Not all latex foam starts with tree sap, however. You can also find synthetic latex mattresses, made from petroleum-based ingredients engineered to feel like natural latex. The synthetic version of latex, while less expensive, is not as durable, nor is it eco-friendly.
The best latex mattresses are typically made from layers of natural latex, with the addition of other organic materials like natural wool flame retardants and organic cotton covers.
Learn More About Saatva's Latex Mattress
How to pick the best latex mattress
Now that you know what's inside a latex mattress, consider these other features that may be a key to getting a good night's sleep.
- Firmness: Though Dunlop latex tends to be firmer than Talalay, new ways of manufacturing both types and combining the two can lead to beds of all different levels of firmness. Like memory foam, the firmness of latex mattresses is measured in terms of "impression load deflection," or ILD. Generally the lower the ILD, the softer the foam, or the lower the amount of pressure needed to make an indentation in the surface.
- Temperature: Latex mattresses tend to be temperature neutral—that is, they don't sleep "hot" like other types of foam. That's because the foam has a more open cell structure, allowing for much better air flow through the bed and a cooler night's sleep.
- Allergies: Latex is naturally mold and dust-mite resistant, so it's less irritating to people with those allergies. Because it is washed multiple times during the manufacturing process, most of the proteins that cause latex allergies are rinsed away, and the finished product does not usually cause allergic reactions. That said, people with severe latex allergies should use caution: Research published in the International Archives of Allergy and Immunology found that some proteins still remain in natural latex mattresses.
- Eco-friendliness: Since all-natural latex is plant-based, it's biodegradable and renewable, making it more environmentally friendly than man-made synthetic materials that don't break down. Some natural latex mattresses also use organic covers and plant-based flame retardants instead of chemical treatments.
- Off-gassing: All-natural latex mattresses can have a "rubber" smell when new, but that usually dissipates within a few days and is not the same as the "off-gassing" commonly associated with synthetic foam. The latter is what happens when volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, created during the manufacturing process are released into the air, bringing with them noxious smells and potential health risks. "Greener" mattress foams use renewable plant-based ingredients, such as soybean oil, in place of some of the petroleum derivatives.
The bottom line on latex mattresses
All-natural latex comes with lots of benefits, but because the harvesting and manufacture is a labor-intensive process, latex mattresses tend to be pricey. One feature that mitigates the cost is durability: Latex typically lasts two to four years longer than other mattress types. The best latex mattresses come with warranties of 20 years or more; just make sure you know what to expect when it comes to returning a mattress.