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Our mattresses have more in common with maple syrup than we realize. And no, this has nothing to do with breakfast in bed… it has everything to do with how they’re made. Both the sweet stuff on our pancakes and the soft stuff in our mattresses are a whole lot better when they come from a tree.
Here’s what I mean.
You know how REAL maple syrup is tapped from the maple tree and contains all sorts of healthy micronutrients from nature? And then we have the commercial crap that’s made in a factory, primarily from genetically modified corn syrup? Latex is kind of like that.
What is natural latex?
Natural latex – the real stuff – is a milky liquid tapped from the rubber tree (hevea brasiliensis). It is grown primarily in Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Malaysia, and India. And when latex products are certified organic, it means the tree has been grown (and its latex manufactured) without harmful pesticides, herbicides, or other chemicals.
By contrast, synthetic latex foam and latex blends are made from a variety of chemicals we wouldn’t want to lay our bodies against for 8 hours each day. These nasties include formaldehyde, bromides, styrene, butadiene, polyurethane, phthalates, and more.
I didn’t like the idea of sleeping against all those chemicals, so I traded in my foam mattress for natural latex (from My Green Mattress, in case you’re curious). More specifically, I ended up buying their spring mattress that is covered in natural latex, because I prefer the firmer feel. But both types of mattress (pure latex or spring + latex) are padded with wool, which is naturally flame-resistant and, therefore, eliminates the need for the chemicals that usually serve that purpose. You’ll find that most brands that sell natural latex (instead of foam) do this.
Like other healthier mattresses, mine is also covered in organic cotton and NOT treated with stain-resistant or water-proofing chemicals. Instead, I just bought a protective mattress cover (also organic cotton) that is easily washable.
There are a few other qualities that led me to buy a latex mattress over foam…
1. Latex mattresses are durable and allergen-resistant
Real latex from the rubber tree is naturally resistant to mold, mildew, and dust mites. And the same goes for the wool that is commonly used as mattress padding on top of the latex. So unlike synthetic foam mattresses, natural latex mattresses don’t require chemicals in order to offer these properties to consumers.
Natural rubber is also highly durable, lasting up to 15 years. And (like wool) it is also breathable, so it helps to keep you cool in warm weather and warm in cool weather.
2. Natural latex is a renewable resource
Natural latex – also referred to as natural rubber – is considered a sustainable and renewable resource. Rubber trees can produce latex for as long as 30 years. And at the end of their useful life, the tree may be replaced and the wood used to build furniture. The cut bark, where the latex is extracted, heals fairly quickly without damaging the tree.
Studies have also shown that rubber trees may improve the health of their surrounding soil and sequester a significant amount of carbon dioxide from the environment each year. I love that.
My Green Mattress
Allergies to natural latex
Natural latex rubber consists of a variety of proteins, a few of which can trigger an allergic reaction for a growing number of people. The severity of the reaction differs by person and can be extreme when the person is in direct contact with the rubber. For example, blowing up a balloon, wearing latex gloves, or using condoms made from natural latex rubber may cause a severe reaction.
That said, allergic reactions to organic latex mattresses are rare for two main reasons.
- Mattress manufacturers are well aware of natural rubber allergies. The allergy-causing proteins are water-soluble, so thoughtful makers of organic latex mattresses will wash their products extensively in order to remove as many of the proteins as possible.
- Even if that were not the case, the mattresses are also topped with a layer of wool and wrapped in cotton ticking. Therefore, the latex doesn’t touch our skin. We also sleep with sheets on the bed. These protective barriers between our bodies and the latex effectively eliminate the risk of an allergic reaction.
Latex Mattress Certifications
The safest latex mattresses are certified organic, at the very least. For additional peace of mind, look for certifications from authorities such as Greenguard, Oeko-TEK, and the exceptionally well-regarded GOLS (Global Organic Latex Standard).
GOLS certifies that at least 95% of the total weight of the mattress is organic latex. This standard also places strict limitations on the remaining 5% of the mattress, such as restricting the use of chemical flame retardants and other harsh chemicals.
Dunlop vs. Talalay latex
Natural latex mattresses are often manufactured as “Dunlop latex” or “Talalay latex”. Both are naturally tapped from the rubber tree, whipped into a froth, and poured into a mold to form the mattress.
- For the Dunlop process, natural sediments from the latex mixture settle to the bottom of the mold, resulting in a heavier mattress that is firmer at the bottom.
- For the Talalay process, the mold is flash frozen and then baked, resulting in a softer mattress or cushiony top layer.
Choosing which latex to buy is mostly a matter of sleeping preference – firm (Dunlop) or cushy (Talalay). That said, chemicals are sometimes used in the Talalay flash freezing process… and sometimes they are not. Be sure to check the company’s website or call them to find out how they manufacture their Talalay.
Whether it’s Dunlop, Talalay, or some other process yet to be invented, natural latex is a no-brainer for me. It’s far and away a healthier choice than a synthetic foam mattress. Plus, I love that I can choose to sleep on something that’s not only better for my body and the planet, but because it’s toxin-free, it’s also better for the workers who make my bed. (And I don’t mean “make my bed”… I make my bed. Ok, sometimes I make my bed. I mean “make” my bed. Oye. You know what I mean!)