Natural Latex Vs Synthetic Latex - Which Is Better For You?
Latex is oft regarded as one of the most luxurious bedding materials available – it contours to your body like memory foam, while offering the resilience of high end innerspring, and excellent cooling properties on top. Given its popularity with consumers who want to get the most comfortable mattress their money can buy, certain brands have taken to selling products that are labelled as containing latex at remarkably cheap prices.
I’ve been fooled into buying such a ‘latex’ mattress myself, only to find out later that there’s such a thing as synthetic latex, which is nothing like the natural variety. Although this happened years ago, I don’t want my readers to make the same mistake I did – so here’s a natural latex vs synthetic latex comparison to better educate you on the matter.
Table of Contents
Natural Latex Vs Synthetic Latex Comparison
Derived from rubber tree sap
Derived from artificial Styrene Butadiene Rubber
Contours to your body shape content
Contours to a much lesser degree
Resilient to a much lesser degree
Retains more heat
Only health concern is very rare allergy
Multiple health concerns due volatile organic compounds
Pros & Cons Of Natural Latex
- Excellent contouring and resilience.
- Generally sleeps cool.
- Does not expose you to harmful chemicals.
- Very slight chance of protein-related energy.
How Is It Made?
Natural latex is derived from the sap of the rubber tree (Hevea Brasiliensis). The rubber ‘milk’ is collected by making cuts in the tree's bark (see video) and letting it run down into containers. The milk is converted into rubber through either the Dunlop process or the Talalay process.
The former involves direct vulcanization, whereas the latter freezes the substance prior to vulcanization. Dunlop latex is dense and springy, whereas Talalay latex is light and bouncy. However, these differences aren’t very pronounced, especially when you compare them with other bedding materials.
What Are Its Benefits?
- Free Of Harmful Chemicals
Natural latex’s structure gives it superb point-elasticity, meaning that it can readily adjust itself to your body weight, so that regardless of the posture you sleep in, you are provided with optimum pressure relief and support.
The contouring properties are combined with superb spring / bounce i.e. it returns to its original shape the moment the pressure is removed. This is the opposite of memory foam, which takes longer to recover, resulting in an enveloping effect that many find uncomfortable.
Natural latex, in general, does not get hot as you sleep on it – the reasons are two-fold. Firstly, most varieties of latex foam (even synthetic ones) have pin holes to enhance air flow. But in the case of natural latex, its cell structure allows for even better breathability, so that ambient heat is dissipated more effectively.
One of the biggest selling points of latex mattresses is their durability – they can maintain their shape for a great many years, provided they aren’t exposed to excessive abuse. Cheaper manufacturers will often fail to point that this is only really applicable to natural products.
Petroleum based foams are known for emitting volatile organic compounds that can be potentially toxic – leading to a number of health problems. As described above, natural rubber foam does not incorporate any such unstable substances, so you can sleep easy, knowing that you’re not exposing yourself (or your loved ones) to hazardous materials.
What Are Its Drawbacks?
- Allergy Concerns
The most prominent drawback is the price tag – after all, there are limited rubber trees in the world, and with rubber being a key ingredient for a large number of finished products, you have to pay top dollar to get a bed made out of it!
Natural rubber foam contains protein(s) that can trigger allergenic responses if they come in direct contact with your skin.
Considering the fact the foam is nearly always wrapped in another fabric, there is only a slim chance of this happening, but if you are worried, you should get a mattress that uses Talalay-derived rubber, since this process has a special 5-stage freshwater washing procedure that almost completely gets rid of the offending protein.
Make Sure Its Natural
Don’t take the manufacturer’s word for it – always look for a third party certification e.g. OEKO-Tex®, to verify their claims. Reputed third party testers look for the presence of harmful / synthetic chemicals that would immediately disqualify the latex if it contained synthetic rubber.
Is Organic And Natural The Same Thing?
We often use the two terms interchangeably, but in the context of latex, they have different meanings. To put it simply, organic latex is natural latex that does not involve any artificial ingredient in its manufacture, at any step of the way.
This rule has to be observed so strictly that even the earth in which the rubber trees are planted has to be certified organic for 3 years before they are planted. There must be no chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, or other synthetics present as contaminants in the collected milk or the conversion process.
For this reason, Talalay latex may not be considered organic, since it uses ammonia, a synthetic chemical, to stabilize the liquid rubber.
Pros And Cons Of Synthetic Latex
- Considerably inferior contouring and resilience.
- Sleeps warmer.
- Exposes you to potentially harmful chemicals.
- Not durable.
How Is It Made?
Synthetic latex is made out of Styrene-Butadiene Rubber (SBR) – which is itself a derivative of petroleum. This variety became popular during the Second World War, when artificial rubber had to be created for the manufacture of shoes, belts, tires and other goods, as natural rubber supplies ran low.
What Are Its Benefits?
Virtually the only reason for you to consider getting a synthetic latex mattress is the cheap price tag. Sure you’ll only get to enjoy a fraction of the contouring and resilience that the natural variant has to offer, but at a fraction of the cost too.
What Are Its Drawbacks?
- Inferior heat Dissipation
- INferior durability
- Exposure to harmful chemicals
The SBR based structure of artificial latex is intrinsically heat retentive, so you can expect to sleep uncomfortably (particularly in a hot and humid climate).
In spite of being relatively stable, synthetic rubber is not close to being as hardy or resilient as the other variety. Mattresses constructed from artificial latex will sag rapidly, especially if used by a bulky individual, or exposed to frequently 'athletic' use.
Petroleum derived foams have a tendency to ‘off-gas’ i.e. release volatile organic chemicals in the air that can cause health problems. SBR, in particular, may cause issues ranging from skin irritation to cancer, depending on the degree of exposure involved.
Some manufacturers will cut costs by combining natural and synthetic rubber in a ratio (e.g. 70% artificial and 30% natural). If you’re strapped for cash, this is a better option than going the wholly artificial route – although it will cost a bit extra, you’ll be getting considerably improved comfort and durability, with the added bonus of cooling more or less on par with the fully natural variety.
The winner in this particular comparison, hands down, is natural latex. With the exception of its cost, every other angle we look from – comfort, support, durability, cooling, health and so on – it is miles ahead of its artificial competitor.
To put it bluntly, the conformity, resilience and air flow offered by natural latex justifies the expenditure (for those who can afford it). On the other hand, for the amount of money you spend on a blended / synthetic rubber product, you can easily get a far comfier and cooler innerspring / hybrid mattress minus the associated health risks and poor lifespan.
Feel free to share your thoughts and voice any questions you have about this comparison, down in the comments section below.