Latex is a flexible, durable material often used for industrial purposes. It is created from rubber tree sap, and sleepers often see its name plastered on bed advertisements. However, these advertisements never fully explain why latex is a good and popular choice for mattresses, so we don’t blame anyone who is confused as to whether latex outperforms memory foam, another common material. Selecting a mattress often ends up being a time-consuming and challenging task because there are so many factors to consider, and the choice of material often comes packaged with certain upsides and downsides. While it’s always helpful to look at specific product reviews and base your purchase off those, we think it’s a good idea to gain a basic understanding of what certain materials bring to a mattress.
Latex comes in two main types – Dunlop and Talalay. In this article, we will go over their properties and see if one outperforms the other in most relevant fields (such as lifespan, sleep temperature, and flexibility). Its increasing popularity has spawned a lot of competing models on the market, and it may be hard to choose without the proper knowledge to back your choices up. Hopefully, by the end of this article, you will know enough to make an informed purchasing decision and find a mattress that offers excellent levels of comfort and support in the long run. Let’s get into it.
The Creation Process
The creation process behind different types of latex is the key to what makes them tempting choices when it comes to mattress material. Talalay and Dunlop latex are created in a similar but not identical process, and they have different properties as a result. For clarity, we will go over both individually, and then emphasize the benefits of both methods and how the latex types are used in most situations (in the context of construction).
The processing method for Dunlop latex comes from 1929, and is relatively easy to understand, especially if you don’t go into technical details and nitty-gritty chemistry. First, the liquid latex extract, derived from rubber tree sap, is whipped into a froth and injected into a special mold. This mold lets us control the shape of the resulting latex blend. It is placed in a vulcanization oven for baking – this process creates a rough version of the final product. Once the latex leaves the oven, it is washed and then baked again, to remove any unwanted moisture and improve firmness. The result of this process creates latex with often uneven firmness, making the pieces bottom-heavy. This firmness is ideal for the mattress’ support core, the layer that maintains correct spine alignment and takes the brunt of your body weight. Dunlop latex is not exclusive to support cores, however – it is somewhat frequently used for comfort layers as well.
Talalay latex processing started somewhere in the same period as WW2, and it has been conducted ever since. The process is slightly more complicated than the one used for Dunlop latex, and the results are wildly different in terms of firmness and density. The initial steps are very similar. The latex extract is whipped into a froth and injected into a mold, much like with Dunlop latex. However, the mold is not filled all the way, which opens up the next step of the process. The whole mold is vacuum-sealed, which automatically causes the latex to expand within the mold, filling out the remaining space. After this, the latex is flash-frozen, before being baked for the first and only time. The flash-freezing step serves to make the latex more breathable and lighter by forcing a certain amount of carbon dioxide through it. After baking, the latex is washed and dried. All of these steps end up creating a much softer and more breathable type of latex than Dunlop, which makes Talalay latex much more suitable for comfort layers in most mattresses. Keep in mind that both of these latex types can be fine-tuned in terms of firmness, so not every batch of Dunlop latex will automatically be firmer than Talalay latex, and vice-versa.
The Similarities and Differences Between Dunlop and Talalay Latex
Most of the time, latex mattresses are compared to memory foam in terms of various aspects of performance. As you might imagine from the information presented above, latex mattresses can differ widely when it comes to back support, motion isolation and breathability, among other factors. We will go through these factors one by one, in order to paint a clearer picture:
– When it comes to pure feel, there’s a rule of thumb you can rely on – Dunlop latex is, on average, much firmer than Talalay latex. Talalay latex is rarely used for the support core of any mattress, including ones that are otherwise all Talalay. Of course, there are exceptions, as the firmness and density of these latex types largely depend on the specific blend used for a given model. Both latex types are excellent for relieving pain and pressure points, although Talalay comfort layers conform to the body slightly more than Dunlop ones.
– Responsiveness is an important selling point for a bed, but it’s often overlooked in product descriptions. Dunlop latex is amazing when it comes to keeping its shape intact after bearing weight, which prevents the mattresses from sagging and generally feeling uncomfortable. Meanwhile, Talalay is more on the bouncy side. They’re both considerably more responsive than memory foam, which can be a deciding factor if you’re looking for a mattress model that’s great for sex.
– There’s a negative impression when it comes to latex and its ability to help the owner sleep cool. Of the two latex types, Talalay is what we’d recommend for increased breathability, as the carbon dioxide that is pushed through the material during processing helps improve air passage and cool you off. In general, organic latex is much better at keeping the heat away than synthetic latex.
– When you buy a new latex mattress, you may discover a rubbery smell. It goes away over time, and not every latex model will smell the same. Synthetic and blended latex mattresses emit a more unpleasant and more intense smell than organic or natural latex mattresses. Both Dunlop and Talalay have some odor potential, but it’s nothing that can affect your sleep, especially after a period of use.
– Durability is the most important quality for a lot of people, perhaps second only to comfort. It’s not unexpected, of course – the longer the product lasts, the more cost-effective it is. No one wants to replace their mattress often, as it can be costly and frustrating to deal with. Dunlop and Talalay have at least adequate durability, with Dunlop latex being the more resilient of the two types. This is possible because of its increased density, the same density that makes it a powerful supportive material. Synthetic latex lasts significantly less, but you should be able to squeeze at least seven or eight years out of most beds.
– The main obstacle most people run into when it comes to purchasing mattresses (and most home upgrades, in general) is their budget. You often have to make a compromise and buy a mattress that is not perfect for your preferences, but good enough and more importantly, affordable. Of the two latex types, Dunlop is typically less expensive, mostly because its processing method is less complex and intense. If you run into synthetic latex models, you can expect to see them sell for less than organic ones almost every time, but this comes at the cost of overall quality.
– Eco-conscious sleepers tend to value materials whose processing doesn’t leave a significant footprint on the planet, and Dunlop wins in this category. However, Talalay is not far behind, as its process is only slightly more intense and harmful. Both options are considered eco-friendly when compared to other materials.
Organic Latex Versus Synthetic Latex
If you’re reading this article, you’re probably interested in purchasing a latex mattress. It is important to balance your budget with the quality of products you see on the market. In some situations, salespeople may recommend investing in a synthetic latex mattress, but it’s not an easy decision to make. To put it bluntly, synthetic beds are worse in almost every relevant way than organic latex mattresses. Natural or organic latex models are made with 95% organic latex or more. This percentage is enforced through the Global Organic Latex Standard or GOLS for short. Synthetic latex models have less than 30% organic latex in them. Mattresses with an organic latex presence of around 30-94% are often called blended latex mattresses and serve as the middle ground between organic and synthetic mattresses in terms of prices and levels of quality.
As a rule, the less organic latex your bed is composed of, the more it suffers in certain performance categories. Blended latex is often the choice of people who cannot comfortably afford organic latex models. Here is a brief list of properties that justify the increased cost of natural latex models:
– Durability: Natural latex often lasts around 7-8 years, and comes with a warranty of 15 years or more. Some models come with a very convenient lifetime warranty. On the other hand, synthetic latex beds tend to last around 6-6.5 years on average, which is noticeably less.
– Conforming ability: Blended and synthetic latex mattresses often have sagging issues. While their ability to conform to your body is adequate, it’s not impressive, and as a result, they don’t relieve as much pain or pressure as organic latex models. Organic latex also resists sagging significantly more, making it a clear winner.
– Sleeping temperature: The closer you get to fully organic latex, the more breathable it becomes and the cooler you sleep. Synthetic latex models often have excessive heat as one of their main downsides, so keep that in mind when making a purchase.
– Cost: The more organic you go, the higher the price. For the most part, the extra expense is worth it, if you’re looking for the finest mattresses available on the market. If you can’t afford those, blended latex is your best bet, as it sacrifices a very reasonable amount of quality for a much more affordable price.
– Allergy potential: This is the one area where synthetic latex prevails. Organic latex is much more likely to cause an allergic reaction in susceptible people. Blended latex is less of a compromise here, although it may not be as likely to cause allergic reactions, the presence of natural components means the risk is not fully avoided.
Co-founder of Counting Sheep and Sleepaholic