When people start thinking about what is causing their poor sleep, the mattress is usually the first and most obvious culprit. Many old beds have indentations and sagging that doesn’t allow your spine to align naturally, and you end up sleeping in a way that could harm you instead. If your body is not in the right position during the night, some parts will likely experience more pressure and feel sore in the morning. That is the most frequent cause of neck, shoulder, and back pain, so picking a mattress that offers the right level of support, and conforms to your body closely, can do wonders for your nightly slumber.
Latex beds have become very popular in recent years for several reasons. When people think of mattresses, the first thing that comes to mind are innerspring models, with their classic bouncy feel, and top layers that provide a certain degree of comfort. They are the most popular choice ahead of memory foam mattresses. However, both of these options have their downsides, and latex seems to come with fewer drawbacks and combines all the features that sleepers love.
One of the things that describe the quality of latex is its density. It can be useful for shoppers to understand what it represents, how it is measured, and how it affects other aspects of a bed. Keep reading if you want to learn about those things, and why you should consider getting a new mattress.
What Is Latex Density?
Density is the characteristic property of substance, and it refers to how much mass there is in a certain amount of volume. It is expressed in pounds per cubic foot (PCF), and it is relatively easy to calculate. For instance, a layer that weighs 80 pounds and measures 20 cubic feet has a density of 4 PCF, provided that it has a uniform consistency. That means that every cubic foot will weigh four pounds each.
Latex mattresses come in three main density categories. The low-density products are those below 4.3 PCF, from 4.3 to 5.3 PCF is medium-density range, and anything above 5.3 PCF is considered high-density. Keep in mind that most manufacturers don’t share with customers the density of each individual layer in their products. It is more common to use firmness or ILD (indentation load deflection) as a representation of how sleeping on a mattress feels. Although these terms are somewhat connected, there is a difference between them, so let’s see how they compare.
Density, Firmness, and ILD
Although some bedding brands use the terms firmness and density interchangeably, we must state that it is not correct to do so. The first one represents a link between weight and volume, while the second refers to how soft or firm the whole mattress feels. It is usually rated on a 1 to 10 firmness scale, while most models fall between 3 and 8.
Indentation load deflection (ILD) is another measurement used to describe the firmness of the bed, and it shows the amount of weight needed to compress the material. It is calculated by putting a metal disc with 1 foot in diameter on a 4 inches thick area. The ILD is expressed in numerals, and it is the amount of weight needed to compress the material by 25%. If it’s 20 pounds, then that product has an ILD of 20.
Here is how ILD for latex affects the overall feel of the mattress:
- ILD 12 or lover: ‘Extra soft’ feel with an average 1-2 rating on a firmness scale. A sleeper sinks significantly, and a mattress closely conforms to the body’s contours.
- ILD 13 to 17: ‘Soft’ with a firmness rating of 3. The material conforms closely and sinks noticeably.
- ILD 18 to 22: ‘Medium Soft” rated 4 for firmness. It conforms closely but sinks a bit less than mattresses with lower IDL.
- ILD 23 to 26: ‘Medium’ firmness with a rating of 5. It offers moderate conforming, and a sleeper can expect a degree of sinking.
- ILD 27 to 33: ‘Medium Firm’ and a rating of 6. The sinking is minimal, while it still offers a moderate level of conforming.
- ILD 34 to 38: ‘Firm” feel and a rating of 7 or 8 on a 1-10 scale. The latex with this ILD range offers minimal conforming and almost no sinking.
- ILD 39 or higher: ‘Extreme Firm’ with a 9 to 10 rate. It typically provides minimal to no conforming, and no sinking whatsoever.
There is a clear correlation between latex density and ILD and firmness measurements. While less dense mattresses often offer a softer feel and more conforming, denser ones are usually recommended for those who like a firm surface and no sinking. Keep in mind that the manufacturers typically disclose ILD or firmness measurements, but you can figure out material density using our instructions.
Dunlop vs. Talalay Latex
Latex is a natural liquid derived from the sap of rubber trees (Hevea brasiliensis). Because of its physical properties such as excellent durability and flexibility, it has found many purposes in today’s industries. In recent years, it has also become one of the favorite mattress materials. There are two types of latex: Dunlop and Talalay, and the differences mostly refer to a processing method, which later affects consistency, breathability, weight, and other characteristics.
The production of Dunlop latex resembles baking a cake as the sap is first mixed into a froth so that a lot of air bubbles can enter the liquid, and then it is injected in a mold, and baked in an oven. After that, the latex is thoroughly washed to remove all the proteins that are responsible for triggering allergies in people. Then the mattress is thermally processed once again to remove any excess moisture from the material. The end product is heterogeneous as the heavier sediment falls to the bottom while the fluffy foam material sits at the top. Because of this, the bottom half usually carries more weight, but it provides excellent support. Although people often think of Dunlop latex to be firmer than Talalay, this is a common misconception. It can be engineered to any firmness level, but it is usually used in support cores and therefore made to be sturdier.
First steps of the Talalay process is similar to Dunlop. The sap is mixed into a froth and injected into the mold, but it has small tubes that should allow more air to stay in and make an even sleeping surface. After molding, the product is vacuum sealed to induce full expansion of the material. It is then frozen to push out all the carbon dioxide and form air pockets, that make these mattresses highly breathable and suitable for most people who need a cooler surface because they struggle with sleeping too hot. After thermal processing, latex is removed from the mold and washed to remove all the proteins, and then dried. Because of the evenly distributed air pockets, the material is homogenous, and it has fluffy consistency throughout the whole mattress. That makes it a bit more on the softer side, which is why it is usually used for comfort layers rather than support cores. Talalay latex also tends to be lighter due to numerous air pockets in the material.
Natural vs. Synthetic Latex
Natural latex is harvested from rubber trees, and then treated and processed to give that signature foamy feel. It is important to state that harvesting is not harmful to the trees and that the sap is a reasonably renewable source. The manufacturing is also relatively clean, and if you want an eco-friendly mattress, this is the best pick. Keep in mind that some brands advertise their products as 100% organic, which can be very misleading since the term requires that no chemicals are used in the manufacturing process. However, the label mandates that a product contains at least 95% of natural latex, which still leaves room for chemical usage. Don’t fall into this marketing scam, there is nothing wrong with synthetic materials, and just because something is natural, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is better.
Synthetic latex is made from chemicals derived from petroleum such as styrene and butadiene, which are later treated to get the desired characteristics. The end product is very similar to natural latex in terms of feel, density, and that signature bounciness, but it appears that it is slightly less durable and to trap heat more. While people usually get scared when they hear the word ‘chemicals,’ synthetic latex is much cheaper to produce, and the manufacturing process is not that bad.
However, most mattresses are made from a blend of synthetic and natural latex, and this ratio varies between models, but it must contain at least 30% of rubber tree sap component; otherwise, it is labeled as ‘synthetic.’ These products cost less, and they bring excellent features and long durability.
How Does Latex Density Affect Different Mattress Features?
What material is used and a whole manufacturing process are essential for the quality of the mattress and its features. Here is how latex density affects different characteristics of every product:
- Durability is excellent for all latex beds. Generally, low-density models are the least durable, but they still have an average life span longer than most foam mattresses. Denser models have exceptional durability, and high-density latex is one of the most durable materials available. You should expect your mattress to last at least eight years before starting to deteriorate.
- Conforming is a signature feature of foam beds. Although latex provides less overall contouring than memory foam, these models are still good. Low-density ones usually sink without too much conforming, while increasing density also increases the mattress’ ability to hug you tightly.
- Pressure and pain relief are closely connected to a material’s conforming properties. Depending on how we sleep, there is a pressure buildup in certain body regions, which can lead to discomfort and pain, usually in the neck, shoulders, hips, or lower back. Latex is excellent at alleviating pressure and allowing you to spread your body weight evenly over the surface so that you don’t wake up sore in the morning. Low-density models generally offer enough pressure relief for average sleepers, but those who have chronic pain and discomfort should go for a denser option. Medium and high-density models provide an equal amount of pressure relief, and they are excellent for anyone who regularly experiences pains and aches.
- Temperature neutrality refers to the ability of a material to get rid of excess heat. Most foams trap heat and are not suitable for hot sleepers. While innerspring and hybrid models are best in this department as they have enough space for air to circulate freely, latex is pretty good as well. It allows natural ventilation, and some manufacturers even have holes in the material for higher breathability. Because of this, latex mattresses are suitable for anyone who likes a colder surface, and people will experience fewer night sweats with these models. Low and medium-density products usually perform better, while high-density ones can retain a certain amount of heat.
- Off-gassing refers to the initial smell of a new mattress. Latex emits the recognizable rubbery smell that often dissipates in a matter of hours or days. The general rule is that higher density models produce more odor, so if the initial unpleasant scent is a dealbreaker for you, go for the low-density product.
- Motion isolation is a term that refers to an ability of the material to absorb any surface movement, and not spread it around. Latex is a responsive material that has a certain amount of bounciness, but it still offers excellent motion isolation. Lower-density models perform worse, while medium and high-density ones are so good that they come close to memory foam mattresses. Models with excellent motion isolation are usually preferred by couples who are often awakened by the nocturnal movement of their partner. While switching positions or getting up to go to the bathroom doesn’t seem like much, it is enough to wake up a light sleeper and disrupt their rest.
- Noise is usually a result of an innerspring core, and it can be as much of a distraction as a nocturnal movement. The good thing is that all latex mattresses are virtually silent no matter the density, so they are always a suitable pick for couples.
- Sex is a part of any healthy relationship. While some materials like memory foam are not the greatest for sex, latex is naturally responsive, and most couples will find it perfect for intimate activities.
- Mattress weight affects how easy it is to move and maneuver it. Heavier models require additional help, and latex falls into this category. Low-density is the lightest, and it still weighs 90 to 105 pounds in Queen size. Medium-density ones are 100 to 115 pounds, while high-density Queen models fall between 110 and 125 pounds. This makes them exceptionally heavy, and you will need to ask your partner or a friend to assist you when setting up a new latex mattress.
- The price point of latex products is high, but considering all the features and excellent durability, they are some of the best choices on the market. Although it depends on many factors like the composition, low-density models usually cost between $900 and $1,300. Medium-density ones go for $1,200 to $1,600, while high-density ones will cost you from $1,500 to $2,000. Keep in mind that certain things like an organic label can drive up the price significantly, so think if it’s worth it to pay that much for an organic product.
How to Choose the Right Latex Density?
There are several things to consider when choosing the density of the mattress. The most important things that a bed should provide are strong support, and an amount of conforming that keeps your whole body aligned during the night, to prevent pressure buildup that leads to discomfort and pain. The choice comes down to your body weight, resting position, and sleeping preferences.
Lighter individuals (those who weigh under 130 pounds) usually prefer beds that are less dense and have a softer feel. Their petite build might not be enough to feel all the benefits of high-density material, as the mattress doesn’t conform and they end up sleeping on top. It can even lead to pressure, especially for side sleepers who need a soft surface to remove the tension from their shoulders and hips.
On the other hand, heavier individuals can feel all the benefits of high-density material, and they often go for firmer options. Softer models don’t seem to provide enough support for them, especially in the areas that carry a lot of weight. While side sleepers require extra cushioning under the hips and shoulders, back and stomach sleepers need a flat surface that allows their spine to stay aligned throughout the night. Average weight individuals usually prefer beds that offer proper support with a nice amount of body contouring.
If you need more help to choose the right bedding product, be sure to check our guides and reviews and get the best information available.
Dusan is a biologist, a science enthusiast and a huge nature lover. He loves to keep up to date with all the new research and write accurate science-based articles. When he’s not writing or reading, you can find him in the kitchen, trying out new delicious recipes; out in the wild, enjoying the nature or sleeping in his bed.