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Latex Mattress Buying Guide

What is latex?

Latex is a naturally occurring form of rubber. It’s a versatile material used in a variety of applications ranging from medical uses to bedding. In terms of bedding, the latex derivative is highly conforming. It’s made by processing the sap from a rubber tree and it results in a very neutral sleeping surface. Latex mattresses also offer a more responsive, traditional feel with better support compared to others.

Compared to memory foam, Latex does not exhibit any “memory” characteristics like memory foam. This can be an advantage if you prefer a more traditional yet highly conforming feel. It also poses a unique benefit for those with decreased mobility. Unlike some memory foam – which requires body heat to “activate” – latex mattresses offer a more consistent feel and are made of a temperature neutral material. Additionally, latex mattresses have a higher resistance body impressions and caving.

Springs, due to the size and surface area serviced by each one, are inherently inferior to the conforming and contouring characteristics of a latex mattress. Moving from springs to latex, you’ll feel a much higher level of pressure point relief. Furthermore, a latex mattress will have a much longer lifespan than an innerspring mattress.

Fact: Thailand is responsible for 39% of rubber production.

Fact: Latex is rubber, not foam.

Where does it come from?

Rubber trees (Hevea Brasiliensis) are grown in wide fields primarily in Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia. To tap the tree, a thin layer of bark is removed in a small area which allows the raw material to flow into a receiving container. To keep the material from coagulating (forming clumps), a small amount of ammonia is almost always added to the collection containers as a stabilizing agent. Without this, the material wouldn’t be in a suitable form for processing.

This is where latex production differentiates itself from rubber production. To make latex, the raw material is sent to a processing station. There, it’s strained to remove particulates and then concentrated. After that, the latex is placed in a centrifuge to help further concentrate the rubber by removing some of the water. At this point, the latex will be made into what you’ll find in a mattress with the Dunlop or Talalay processing method which includes vulcanization.

History of Latex

The process of vulcanization was first patented by an inventor named Thomas Hancock on November 21, 1843. The process involves using sulfur during vulcanization to help stabilize the resulting product and increase durability. This addressed the main concern of rubber and latex products in that time period.

The addition of sulfur modifies the rubber polymers by forming crosslinks between the individual chains. With the crosslinks, the resulting vulcanized materials have a much more durable structure and are less sticky. Other types of products made from this process include tires, shoe soles, and hoses. Without the vulcanization process, the rubber or latex would be very sticky, deform easily, and become brittle in cold weather.

Since then, there has evolved two different processing methods for latex mattress material. Both include the initial use of sulfur with the addition of catalysts and antidegradants to help accelerate and improve the level of crosslinking during production while preventing degradation of the vulcanized product.

Fact: The first scientific study of rubber was conducted by Charles de la Condamine in 1735.

Talalay Process

The Talalay process is able to serve more consistent densities and end products. Due to the improvements in the process, gelation reagents (used in the Dunlop process to raise viscosity) are not required.

The latex is aerated to produce bubbles in order to give a spongy feel. Once aerated, the solution is frozen to -20°F quickly to help maintain the consistency throughout the foam. The speed of freezing prevents the chance of bubbles migrating toward the top of the layer which would otherwise result in an uneven distribution of firmness. During the freezing process, carbon dioxide is introduced to the mixture to form carbonic acid (lowering the pH from 10 to 7). This change in pH causes the foam to “gel” in place. After the freeze, the latex is exposed to high temperatures (230°F) for a time, usually 60 minutes. The foam is then washed and dried to remove residual moisture.

Dunlop Process

The Dunlop process is different from Talalay in that it does not include the vacuum chamber and the flash freezing process. Without these two steps, the latex made from this method is not as consistent. Often, the bottom of the layers will be firmer compared to the top. This is because the Dunlop process doesn’t incorporate the flash freezing process. Also, since a vacuum chamber isn’t used, uniformity of the air pockets can’t be achieved. Although this process was better than others during its prime, it suffers from inadequacies compared to the newer and improved Talalay process.

Natural vs Synthetic Latex

There are two types of latex – Natural and Synthetic. The difference between synthetic and natural latex begins with the origin of the compound. Natural latex is recovered from the sap of a rubber tree while synthetic latex is created in a chemical lab. The end result is a natural rubber compound that is processed and rinsed to leave behind a hypoallergenic latex mattress. Some mattresses have a blend of synthetic and natural latex. This is adequate for most consumers. However, the best results tend to lean toward a natural latex product.

Natural vs Blended Latex

Natural latex does not contain any latex that is derived synthetically. In contrast, blended latex contains a mixture of both natural and synthetic latex (usually ~80% synthetic and ~20% natural). Blended latex also accounts for the majority of latex produced (around 70%). If in doubt, simply ask the question, “Is the latex 100% natural or is it any part of a blend?”

Natural vs Organic Latex

The term “organic” is used to describe a product or material that is harvested from farms that do not use fertilizers and other additives that help growth and resist insects or fungi that cause damage to the crops. While it may be possible to have organic latex before production, the benefits are minimal when considering that, during production of both “organic” and natural latex, a variety of the same chemicals are introduced and washed away. Essentially, the end result is nearly identical.

Types of Latex

The two types used in bedding, Talalay and Dunlop, refer to the process used to make the latex. Dunlop used to be the traditional process. Born from research and improvements, the Talalay marks a change toward improved consistency and wider range of firmness ratings.

Fact: Latex is mold and mildew proof which can provide an allergen free environment.

Fact: In the last 28 years, Latex International (our latex provider) has not received a single complaint regarding an allergic reaction from their natural rubber found in mattresses and pillows.

Latex Allergies

Those suffering from latex allergies must understand that it’s the proteins in the latex that cause the allergy. When the latex in a latex mattress goes through a process of vulcanization (exposure to high heat), the proteins experience denaturation. The denaturation results in the loss of secondary and tertiary structure thereby altering its characteristics. An example of this process can be seen when cooking egg whites. The reason they solidify and become firm (rather than slimy) is because the proteins that exist in the egg whites are denatured.

How to choose the right firmness

Indentation Load Deflection (ILD) is a quantitative measurement used to describe the firmness of a latex sample. It’s collected by using a machine which impresses a “foot” into a sample of latex. It measures the amount of force needed to impress the foot a certain percentage of the height of the sample. A higher ILD number is firmer whereas a lower number is softer. Firmer samples of latex have an ILD nearing 44 while a softer sample has an ILD nearing 19. This can be translated into the feel of the mattress. For example, a mattress made of latex with an ILD of 19 will be much softer and allow you to sink further into the mattress. You’d be sleeping more “in” instead of “on” the mattress.

Customized layer firmness is an advantage of a well-designed latex mattress, the ability to highly customize each top and supporting layer satisfies very specific comfort needs.

Fact: Although firmness is not affected, additional latex layers increase support and pressure relief.

Fact: Talalay Latex rubber is a two-dimensional material. It is both supportive by being uplifting and is also pressure relieving.

How to choose the right thickness

The right thickness of a mattress is different for each person. Boiled down to its most simple elements, a thicker mattress allows for a more customized feel and additional cushioning. In contrast, a thinner mattress offers less customization options and cushioning. For example, a side sleeper will usually prefer a thicker mattress to provide more cushioning of the body’s contours in the shoulder and hip areas.

As another example, someone who sleeps on both their side and back may choose a somewhat thicker mattress to help customize the feel to include both a firm core with cushioned top layers. This configuration yields the most diverse sleeping surface to cater to a variety of positions.

Construction & Customization

Benefits of an Organic Cotton Cover

The benefits of organic cotton are compelling. From a healthier product to a minimized effect on the environment, you can feel good about purchasing a mattress that uses a cover made of organic cotton. Nearly all fabric used for bedding covers is woven (vs non-woven). Non-Woven fabric is ideal for this application because it maintains the contouring characteristics of the material underneath by stretching. Woven fabrics do not offer the same level of contouring since the fibers are usually kept together with a hot melt adhesive or other substance.

Ultimate Comfort Customization

Astrabeds is your multifaceted destination for a wide range of comfort levels. Manufacturing our own latex mattresses gives us the edge over other internet retailers. Why limit yourself? Other retailers only offer single firmness beds that facilitate one sleeping preference. Every latex mattress we carry through Astrabeds is available in four different firmness levels for the ultimate in comfort customization. Have a request? We'll accommodate it, your bed is custom built. Give us a specific height and firmness (ILD) and we'll take care of the rest.

Fact: The Hevea tree has a 25 year productive life in addition to a strong positive effect on the environment.

Wool as a Flame Retardant

Instead of using a mixture of chemical sprays or less environmentally friendly polypropylene, wool can be used as an effective fire retardant. Most organic wool comes from either New Zealand or Australia. In addition to its superior temperature regulating abilities, wool is static and fire resistant. It’s also renewable, biodegradable, and recyclable. Essentially, wool is healthy for the environment, pets, baby, and yourself.

Bonded vs Floating Layers

Bonding latex layers requires the use of chemical glues. Typical glues used include spray or hot melt glue. The types used for this purpose are pressure sensitive adhesives (PSA) and make use of an elastomer in combination with a tackifier. The most common PSA used in mattress construction is Styrene-butadiene-styrene (SBS).

Instead of bonding the layers, we recommend allowing them to float atop each other inside the mattress cover. Due to the surface area and weight of each layer, the movement is minimal and not noticeable. The mattress cover is made to be capable of keeping them aligned. A benefit of floating layers includes the ability to switch a single layer for another should the mattress require a slight comfort adjustment.

Foundation

Can you use your existing foundation? You CAN use your existing foundation with a new latex mattress so long as the following is true:

  • It has a steady and flat surface.
  • It has a rigid structure and does not incorporate the use of springs.
  • It is still structurally sound (no cracks, splinters, or breaks in the supporting wood/plastic).
When you should replace?

Typically a foundation requires replacement after approximately 8-10 years, sometimes earlier. If in doubt, it’s best to invest in a reliable replacement to support your new mattress.

Fact: Spring supported foundations will cause a latex or memory foam mattresses to sag prematurely.

Benefits of Astrabeds

  • 100% Natural Latex
  • Non-Woven Certified Organic Cotton
  • No Glue Between Layers
  • Free Layer Exchange
  • Verified 3rd Party Reviews
  • Custom Firmness
  • 25 Year Warranty
  • 90-Night Easy Return Policy
  • Made In The USA

See our Mattresses