How to Choose the Best Latex Mattress
Choosing the best latex mattress can seem a little difficult, as latex is one of the most difficult bed types to research. This is because latex is less common the innerspring or memory foam mattresses, and because the material has numerous quality aspects to consider. Before you buy a latex bed, it can be a good idea to learn the basics of this mattress type so you know what to compare and how to choose the best latex mattress for your preferences.
The Basics of Latex Mattress Shopping
As with any product, latex mattresses have specific features and facets that describe their qualities and properties. This guide will go over the basic terminology used for latex beds, including the basic types, methods of manufacturing, descriptions of firmness, mattress construction, and other important features.
Types of Latex Mattresses
The type of latex refers to what the material is made out of. There are three variations available:
- Synthetic latex mattresses – man-made material, aka styrene-butadiene rubber. This product is made of petroleum-based ingredients, and may also be blended with polyurethane. Synthetic latex is cheaper to produce and more consistent in quality, but tends to be less resilient and less durable than natural latex.
- Natural latex mattresses – natural material derived from the hevea brasiliensis, or latex tree. It is tapped from living trees, creating a sustainable, eco-friendly product. Natural latex is highly durable, and produces resilient and uniquely supportive foam, but can be expensive to produce. Natural latex can also be certified organic to the Global Organic Latex Standard.
- Blended latex mattresses – A blend of both natural and synthetic latex, often with 30% natural and 70% synthetic. Blended latex is the most common material, and can be referred to as “natural”, but not all-natural or 100% natural. It yields some properties of both types, and tends to be priced in the middle range.
Latex mattress manufacturing methods are also used to describe and categorize mattresses. The two primary methods used to create latex foam are Dunlop and Talalay. Both methods can utilize either natural, synthetic or blended latex.
The Dunlop method is the original process for creating latex foam. It involves mixing and frothing the latex, pouring the mixture into open molds, and heat-curing the foam. The material is then washed and dried.
The Talalay method was developed later, and involves a few more steps. After the mixture is frothed, it is poured into vacuum-sealed mold where the air is sucked out to cause the foam to fill out the mold. The foam is then flash frozen to preserve the structure, then heat-cured. The finished foam is washed and then dried.
Dunlop foam takes less energy/resources to produce, and thus costs less. It is also the most common type on the market. Latex that is certified organic is also only made in Dunlop. Talalay latex is touted as superior by some brands and manufacturers, who say that the foam is more consistent and and available in a wider range of firmnesses.
According to Sleep Like The Dead, however, the two types rate virtually the same on owner satisfaction. Dunlop may be more likely to feel firmer, but also more supportive. Talalay can contour somewhat better, but the glued seams can be an issue for some sleepers.
After considering the type of latex used in the bed, the next thing to examine is the construction of the mattress. This involves both the layers in the mattress and how the bed is put together.
A true latex mattress should consist of only latex foam, with no springs or other foams. Support comes from the latex core, which is a firmer base layer usually between 6 and 8 inches thick. Some mattresses are composed of the core only, th0ugh many also contain additional thinner layers of latex above the core that could range from 1 to 6 or more inches in thickness.
The top layer of the mattress or the cover may have additional padding material such as wool or cotton, however this should be no more than 1 inch thick to preserve the benefits of the latex and prevent the impressions from developing.
These layers of latex can be assembled with or without adhesives. Bonded mattresses have the layers glued together (like most other mattress types). However, some brands do not glue the layers together, rather they layers a set atop each other within the mattress cover. This allows the owner to adjust or swap out layers, and also reduce household chemicals, as adhesives can include a number of potentially harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Shoppers buying latex mattresses online may be especially interested in unglued mattresses, as the firmness or feel can be changed by swapping individual layers rather than shipping back an entire mattress. The ability to swap out compressed layers can also reduce long-term costs.
Latex mattresses tend to have more specific descriptions of firmness than other types. This measure is described as the “ILD” or indentation load deflection. The number refers to the pounds required to compress a sample of the foam 25%. Thus, lower numbers refer to softer foams and higher numbers indicate firmer foams.
Most mattress cores fall in the firm to super firm range, while upper layers can range from very soft to firm for different overall feels. It is important to take the ILDs of all layers into consideration when determining firmness. The ILD scale offered by Latex International, one of the major US manufacturers, suggests the following ILD ranges for classification:
- Super Plush – 14
- Plush – 19
- Soft – 24
- Medium – 28
- Firm – 32
- Extra Firm – 36
- Super Firm – 40-44
All mattresses must now meet federal guidelines for flammability, a measure designed to prevent house fires and improve safety. Natural latex foam is less flammable than polyurethane and other materials, but manufacturers still must use either resistant materials or chemicals to meet the open flame tests. If a retailer says they use nothing, they may be uninformed.
One of the more popular methods of flame resistance for natural latex mattresses is wool barriers that either surround the foam or are built into the cover. Natural wool can provide flame resistance in when used in specific tight weaves or with treatments of boron or other additives.
Silica-treated rayon can also be used, as can other types of additives like arsenic or chemical retardants with potential side effects, so it is important to research how a mattress meets the guidelines if you are concerned about chemical exposure.
The final component to compare when shopping for a latex mattress is the cover material. The primary things to consider are the material’s breathability, durability and flexibility.
Natural fibers like cotton and wool are better at wicking moisture and do not inhibit airflow like synthetic materials. The fabric should also be able to stretch so the latex foam can fully contour to your body. Because latex beds can last upwards of 10 to 15 years, it is important that the cover material be durable as well.
Cotton and wool are two ideal candidates for latex mattress covers which are widely available. If you are concerned with chemicals or prefer you mattress to be as natural as possible, opt for certified organic cotton which is free of chemical pesticides and dyes.
Here is a quick summary of what to look for and compare when shopping for a latex mattress:
- Determine what the latex material is made of.
- If the latex is described as natural, is 100% natural or a natural blend?
- Determine if the latex is made in the Dunlop or Talalay process for each layer.
- Determine whether the mattress is all-latex or whether it contains other materials.
- Identify the ILD of each layer and contrast this with your firmness preferences.
- See whether the mattress layers be customized or if they are bonded together.
- Ask how the mattress meet flammability requirements.
- Determine what the mattress cover is made of.
- See if the mattress has any third-party certifications, like certified organic materials or safety/quality certifications like Oeko-Tex or Eco-Institute.
In the following chart, we gathered these details for several latex mattress brands to help simplify the research process:
|Typical Mattress||Online Retailer||Brick & Mortar Retailer|
|Sales Tax||$0||$101 (7%)|
While it can take time to gather this information, knowing what to look for and being thorough can be extremely helpful when trying to identify the best latex mattress for your needs as well as the best overall value.