Latex - pros and cons



Latex rubber is made from a milky liquid (not the sap) that comes from a rubber tree. This form of latex is called NR which stands for Natural Rubber. It can also be made synthetically from a chemical called SBR (Styrene Butadiene). While the actual latex molecule in both is similar, natural latex has a more complex chemistry and more of the desirable qualities that make latex attractive in mattresses (elasticity, durability, compression modulus, resilience, and others). SBR is also less expensive than natural rubber (NR).

Besides the differences in natural or synthetic raw materials, latex foam is usually made using one of two different manufacturing methods. The first is called Dunlop which produces a denser form of latex. This method is more common around the world as it is a simpler less expensive method of manufacture. When used by a reputable manufacturer, it produces a very high quality latex that is very dense and very elastic. Because in this method of manufacturing some of the latex particles "settle" while it is being made, Dunlop is a little less consistent in softness over the entire surface of the layer. It is also more difficult to make Dunlop in a softer version and it is rarely seen in ILD's (a measure of softness) below the mid 20's (medium soft). This same “settling” can result in Dunlop often being  firmer on one side of a layer than the other. This gives it a very high support factor (progressive compression) which is a desirable quality in a support material.


Talalay on the other hand is made using a vacuum method that requires less raw material in its manufacture and results in a foam and cell structure that is more consistent than Dunlop, has a lower density (weight) in comparable levels of softness/firmness, and can be made in softer versions than Dunlop. It is also more “lively” and is often preferred over Dunlop in the comfort layers of a mattress. In its firmer versions it can also be a very desirable material in support layers as well.

The softness or firmness of latex can also be varied by changing the amount of raw material used in the core (in the case of Talalay), changing the size, shape and pattern of the pincore holes in the latex, changing the compounding formula used, or by changing the amount of air in the foam and the size of the cells during foaming. The holes or "pin cores" are used in manufacturing both types of latex to apply heat to the inside of the latex in the mold to cause it to set or cure after it is foamed. While the holes are a necessary part of production, the ability to change the qualities or softness of the latex being made by varying their size and shape is a welcome side effect.  Because of its heavier denser nature and its high support factor, Dunlop latex is a popular and a very good choice as a support core material and slightly less popular as a comfort layer material however it can be used very effectively in both and this is really a preference issue.

While both are very durable and not as prone as other foams to premature breakdown and body impressions, even in softer versions, there are many in the industry including one of the largest manufacturers of Talalay latex who believe that in the very softest ILD's, Talalay latex that is made completely of natural rubber may not be quite as durable or resistant to impressions as the blended version. This is because Talalay is lighter by nature than Dunlop latex and in ILD's that are very low, blended Talalay may be a preferable choice. It is also less expensive than NR Talalay. Because of the heavier density of Dunlop latex, blends are not necessary or even desirable in any ILD’s.

Talalay latex has a high support factor of about 3 and Dunlop is even higher in the range of 4 so between them they offer a range of flexibility and qualities that other foams cannot duplicate (most other foams are less than 3). This means that in certain constructions where a softer middle layer is desirable to "help" a thinner comfort layer form a pressure relieving cradle while at the same time becoming firm with deeper compression, they are both a very desirable material. Because of this support factor and its ability to conform to the shape of the body (point elasticity), it is unique in the world of foam. While in the highest quality (and cost) versions, HR polyfoam may approach the support factor of Talalay (with less of its other qualities), they are not yet at an equal level.

The feel of the two latex production methods is also different with the denser Dunlop feeling less lively or "springy", blended Talalay being more springy, and NR Talalay being the most elastic and lively yet. The difference is a matter of preference in feel rather than a difference of "better or worse". Because of its simpler method of manufacture, Dunlop is also less expensive than Talalay and the 100% natural version is comparable in price to blended Talalay. Natural talalay is more expensive than both.

Both natural latex and blended latex are very high quality materials. 100% SBR (synthetic) latex does not usually have the same elasticity, quality or performance as natural or blended latex but will still outperform most other foams. While I would be cautious in choosing it over latex that has a higher percentage of natural rubber or an all natural latex version, the cost benefits compared to more natural latex can make it an attractive option as well and it's a higher quality material than most polyfoam. There are also some newer mostly synthetic continuous pour Dunlop latex materials that are promising and are being made in softer versions than you would usually find with Dunlop latex. Both Talalay and Dunlop latex are suitable for use in either support or comfort layers and which one is used depends on the overall construction of the mattress and personal preference. While they are different, one is not better or more suitable than the other. They are also both suitable for use as either a comfort layer or support layer in combination with any other good quality material or component although I would be cautious if there is more than around an inch or so of polyfoam above any latex comfort layers because this could be a weak link in a mattress. There is more about latex support cores in this article and more about latex comfort layers in this article.

Its down side of course is that it can also be more costly than other types of foam however with some shopping around and with the help of the forum and the sources on this website ... latex can be purchased for far less than the so called latex mattresses that are sold by many major manufacturers. In queen size ... you will begin to see some latex core mattresses with the most "basic" features in the range of $1000 and up and mattresses with synthetic latex or latex comfort layers and polyfoam or even innerspring cores for even less.

Be aware that many retail outlets will label a mattress as being a latex mattress even if it has as little as 1" of latex in its construction. This is completely misleading and is simply an effort to take advantage of the known benefits of latex as a selling point even though there would not be enough latex in the mattress to make a real difference. Only a mattress with a latex core should really be called a "latex mattress" and even here the type of comfort layer should be identified in the "category name" given to the mattress. In general terms a mattress should always be identified by both the main material in its core and in its comfort layers. This type of misinformation is often not an "accident" and some salespeople will "insist" that a mattress is made of latex when it only has a very thin, and probably meaningless layer. This is a place where it can be very important to verify the claims of some retail outlets ... which we of course are happy to help you do in our forum.

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PSDC replied the topic: #2 06 Feb 2017 10:23
I really appeciate your site, and am learning anew and confirming info gained elsewhere. Thanks for sharing your knowledge. I was looking at Plusbed's all natural latex mattresses online, and was wondering if you had assessed their reliability in the claims they make and the quality of products and services. I don't see them listed on your members list.

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Phoenix replied the topic: #3 06 Feb 2017 11:36

Welcome to the Mattress Forum! :)

I was looking at Plusbed's all natural latex mattresses online, and was wondering if you had assessed their reliability in the claims they make and the quality of products and services. I don't see them listed on your members list.

You can see some of my comments about Plushbeds in post #2 here . A forum search on Plushbeds (you can just click the link) will bring up much more information and comments/feedback about them as well. They generally use good quality and durable materials in their mattresses and they would certainly be a much "better than average" choice compared to most of the mainstream mattresses that most people end up buying. However, they do a lot of internet advertising so they do attract a lot of online attention with large “discounts”, so I would make some careful "value comparisons" with some of the other options that are available to you because they may not be in the "best value" range for many of the members here that are aware of the many other similar options that are available to them.

Another option you may wish to consider is to look online and use the experience and expertise of the members listed in post #21 here who are all very experienced and knowledgeable and specialize in providing the type of help and guidance on the phone that can help you make good choices. There are a wide range of latex option included in the choices there and I believe that all of them compete well with the best in the industry in terms of their quality, value, service, and transparency.

Their detailed knowledge of their mattresses and how they fit with different body types and sleeping positions along with your feedback from local testing, a customer base of many people that they can use as reference points, and any exchange, return, or any options they have available to customize a mattress after a purchase can help lower the risk of an online purchase. These online retailers or manufacturers can also be a good "value reference" for local purchases to make sure that if you are paying a "premium" for a local purchase (in exchange for the kind of "in person" guidance, service, and value that comes with dealing with a local retailer that can help you make more "accurate" choices that you have tested in person) is not too high.

abbygrant replied the topic: #4 07 Feb 2017 15:52
I have tried several mattresses over the last year and a half and have not found the perfect one yet. I have tried some memory foam and some memory foam/latex combinations and so far nothing has been "the one". I have a Nest Alexander Signature medium that I have been sleeping on for 7 months, but I still get sore shoulders since I am a side sleeper. I tried a latex topper, but that made the mattress too soft and caused lower back pain.

It is my understanding that memory foam is better for relieving pressure points but I can't seem to find the perfect balance that relives shoulder pain without casing lower back pain. Would a latex mattress be worth a try?
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Phoenix replied the topic: #5 07 Feb 2017 16:58
Hi abbygrant,

It is my understanding that memory foam is better for relieving pressure points but I can't seem to find the perfect balance that relives shoulder pain without casing lower back pain. Would a latex mattress be worth a try?

Both memory foam and latex can be excellent at pressure point relief. There is also more about primary or "deep" support and secondary or "surface" support and their relationship to firmness and pressure relief and the "roles" of different layers in a mattress in post #2 here and in post #4 here that may also be helpful in clarifying the difference between "support" and "pressure relief" and "feel" that may be useful as well.

As you’ve had a bit of a history with trying different mattresses and have a very specific sensitivity in your shoulder area when sleeping upon your side, it certainly might be worth a try for you, although I wouldn’t be able to predict if an all-latex product would work for you. The closest I think you tried before was the BME in a plush, which uses a polyfoam core. With your previous results, your key would be not having too much plush latex on top, but also not too firm of a transition layer. If you go this route, you may wish to try Talalay latex in your upper layers, as opposed to the Dunlop/Talalay combination you tried before.

Man of the site members listed in post #21 here are very experienced with assisting people with specific pressure point issues, and the help and guidance that they can provide on the phone can help you make good choices. There are a wide range of latex and memory foam and other options included in the choices there and I believe that all of them compete well with the best in the industry in terms of their quality, value, service, and transparency. One thing you may wish to specifically investigate would be a zoned mattress that allows for a bit more contouring for your shoulders, like this here .

I hope you’re able to find something that assists you in sleeping better. I know you’ve been looking for some time.

abbygrant replied the topic: #6 07 Feb 2017 18:06
Thank you. I'll take a further look at those posts. I've thought about making a night shirt with foam sleeves that cover my shoulders :) Just kidding. I actually did try a very inexpensive thin memory foam topper on my current mattress, but just on the top half. It did take some pressure off my shoulders but (of course) caused lower back pain. I'm guessing that slight height difference with the topper cause misalignment.

I didn't check out zoned mattresses in the past due to the cost. But I may have to go that route and spend a bit more money than I planned.