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? Yep. Latex is kind of like that.
Natural latex – the real stuff – is a milky liquid tapped from the rubber tree (hevea brasiliensis) that is grown primarily in Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Malaysia, and India. Organic latex is grown and manufactured without harmful pesticides, herbicides, or other chemicals.
By contrast, synthetic latex foam and latex blends are made from a variety of chemicals that 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.
It’s durable and resists allergens
Real latex from the rubber tree is naturally resistant to mold, mildew, and dust mites, as is the wool that is also commonly used on natural latex mattresses. Therefore, 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 (again, like wool) it is also breathable, so it helps to keep you cool in warm weather and warm in cool weather.
It’s 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 not only improve the health of their surrounding soil, but also sequester a significant amount of carbon dioxide from the environment each year.
Allergies to natural latex
Natural latex consists of a variety 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 tend to be less common for two main reasons.
First, mattress manufacturers are well aware of natural rubber allergies (as are condom-makers, by the way). The allergy-causing proteins are water-soluble, so brands that thoughtfully produce organic latex mattresses wash their products extensively in order to remove as many of the proteins as possible.
Second, most mattresses are topped with a layer of wool and wrapped in cotton ticking, so the latex doesn’t touch our skin. We also sleep with sheets on the bed. These protective barrier between our bodies and the latex effectively eliminate the risk of an allergic reaction.
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, eco-INSTITUT, 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.