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Latex Mattresses - A Comfortable and Natural Alternative ... If You Know What To Look For
Natural Latex Mattresses Are Made From The Sap Of The Rubber Tree
Well, for one thing latex has a distinctly different feel from other mattress surfaces. It is highly elastic, giving and yielding, while at the same time being very resilient. And because of this, latex is very comfortable -- supportive yet cushiony at the same time. For another thing, latex is riding a bit on the growing eco-friendly trend. Latex is perceived as "green" because people think all latex is made from natural rubber. In truth, though, only certain types of latex are really made from fluid collected by tapping the rubber tree -- the majority is made from petrochemicals (something I was astounded to find out). Lastly, latex is a hot commodity because it is seen as a healthier alternative to synthetic bedding. Latex works well for many who have allergies, and is naturally anti-microbial and anti-bacterial. It is also naturally resistant to dust mites. The combination of these factors has made latex the fastest growing segment in the mattress industry.
The Dark Secret Of The "Latex" Mattress
Be warned, though, that not all "latex" is the same. One of the secrets of the mattress industry is that "latex" actually refers to two very different substances -- natural latex and synthetic latex. And while natural latex is made from fluid collected by tapping the rubber tree, synthetic latex is made from petrochemicals. The reason these substances are both called latex is that synthetic latex was designed to mimic the properties of latex. But in my experience these materials, while similar, do have different feels and different properties. And in my research, there are a variety of factors which make natural latex a much superior product and sleep surface.
The "dark secret" we mention is that a lot of latex mattress manufacturers, and even big name companies that put a layer of latex into their higher end models, falsely use the term "natural latex" and they are likely using a blended version which is much less expensive, that combines the really good stuff- pure plant based natural latex, with the petroleum based, cheaper synthetic latex that simply does not have the elastic, rubbery, quick response feel of the real thing, that is the pure natural latex. The result is a mattress that is stiffer, more difficult to turn on, hotter, and not as comfortable. We'll get into that some more below.
Natural Latex -- The Real Thing
Natural latex is surprisingly different from blends of natural and synthetic latex or even all synthetic latex, being more responsive, elastic, and much livelier. Also, natural latex does not sleep hot, and dust mites can not live in it due to its unique organic properties. It also has much more of a buoyant quality to it than other materials, which keeps you from having to dig your way out of a rut or gulley when you want to turn over on your bed. Natural latex allows you to effortlessly roll from side to back or side to belly, which prevents disruption of natural sleep patterns.
The anti-dust mite quality makes natural latex appealing to people with hypersensitivity to allergens, too. Mold, mildew, bacteria, and fungal organisms will not inhabit natural latex, but the more synthetic there is in the mix, the less of a repellant effect the latex will have, which is why it is important to ask for 100% natural latex so you can get all of the benefits.
Despite these benefits of natural latex, most mattress manufacturers use cheaper synthetic latex in their mattresses, or blend natural latex with the less expensive synthetic latex. Why? There aren't any real benefits that I found to the user (although some manufacturers claim synthetic latex is a bit more resilient). The bottom line is costs. It is just less expensive for manufacturers to make a latex bed using synthetic latex or a blend of natural and synthetic than an all natural latex mattress.
By the time the mattresses are sold to the consumer, though, there isn't a whole lot of difference in price between the synthetic or synthetic blend latex beds and the all natural latex beds. But since there is a real difference in the comfort, hypo-allergenic and eco-friendly properties of the mattresses, I believe that all natural latex mattresses are by far the superior product and a better value.
How Natural Latex Is Made
Natural latex is collected in liquid form by hand, then poured into large vats where it is filtered carefully to remove particulate matter. It is then poured into large molds where it is slowly heated and vulcanized, a process where the liquid latex rubber converts to a flexible, solid state.
There are two methods of vulcanization used to produce solid latex. The oldest technique, and the most time tested, is the Dunlop method, which yields a more supportive and slightly firmer natural latex. The newest technique, called the Talalay process, is essentially the same general technique, except it includes a flash freeze step which suspends smaller air bubbles in the mold immediately before it is rapidly heated to solidify the latex, resulting in a slightly softer, but not as supportive feel. Also, look for non formaldehyde based glues, since the off-gassing and fume issue often revolves around the adhesives used.
How To Shop For A Latex Mattress
If you start shopping for an all natural latex mattress, you'll want to know a little bit about foam density to feel a bit more confident. The unit of measurement which gauges the softness or firmness of natural latex is ILD (Indentation Load Deflection), which is a term that's tossed around a lot, but don't be intimidated by it, as it is the one tool you can use to compare one manufacturer's mattress to another. It basically is the amount of weight it takes to depress a piece of latex one inch when one square foot of that weight is placed on it.
Most manufacturers use natural latex ranging from 18-19 for a softer feel, and 26-30, for a firmer feel, but often manufacturers use combinations of various layers to create more specific sensations of support. Also, many people get concerned about allergies from latex, especially natural latex, but natural latex mattresses typically undergo a lot of rinsing (with drinkable water) after they have been vulcanized which removes the proteins which cause these reactions.
Look for smaller companies who can clearly demonstrate that they sell strictly botanical latex, (ask if they have in their possession a MSDS, or Material Safety Data Sheets, on the latex - if they do, you will know they are legitimate, but if they don't, move on). Most natural latex mattress suppliers also offer natural latex pillows, which are highly flexible and supportive, and a real pleasing alternative to conventional pillows since they are so elastic and are not as hot to sleep on as say, memory foam, or even down pillows, which tend to bottom out. Don't get sucked into over built poofy pillow top latex mattresses - you want to be close to the material, so the simpler the design of the mattress, the better.
As you can see, buying a natural latex mattress isn't so easy. Ask lots of questions. It can be difficult to assure yourself of what you are buying (natural or synthetic), and also latex mattresses can be very expensive.
When looking around at latex retailers, I was struck by a company called Habitat Furnishings and approached them about becoming a sponsor. I really liked their informational, personal approach. And also that they are very clear about what they sell (all-natural latex mattresses) and they have a strong mission statement as to why. They also offer the longest money back return I found -- a 365 day money back trial. And they have a rock solid reputation -- they are a member of the BBB with an A+ rating and also are a 4 1/2 Star Shopping.com Trusted Store.
So if you are interested in finding out more about latex mattresses, I think you will learn a lot by Checking Out The Habitat Furnishing Latex Mattress page. Their 3 videos are really the best informational source on latex and latex mattresses that I've run across.
Or, if you prefer talking with someone, they do offer live phone customer service 9am to 5pm Central Time, Monday - Friday, at 800-231-1651. All their staff have years of experience and an in-depth knowledge of all natural latex mattresses, and they can help you see if latex may be a solution for your particular sleep needs.