Latex has been used in bedding for almost a century. Over recent years it has been somewhat eclipsed in the marketplace by memory foam, however some people think that latex is due for a resurgence. This might, ironically, be due to the interest in memory foam persuading people to be more “adventurous” in their bedding choices. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.
What is Latex?
Latex foam is based on rubber and was initially a purely natural product. It was created from the milky sap of the rubber tree, usually the Para tree Hevea brasiliensis.
Today you can buy both natural and synthetic latex (styrene butadiene rubber, SBR). Natural latex originally came from Brazilian rubber but today usually comes from Asia.
Natural latex usually costs more – is it better value for money than synthetic? Which is best? That depends on whether you are talking to a supplier of natural or synthetic product! Some items you can buy in the stores combine the two.
Unlike some other materials, latex is naturally resistant to mildew, dust mites and other problems. It is sometimes recommended for allergy sufferers – always talk to your doctor concerning an allergy or any other medical condition. As with any other product, some people are actually allergic to latex itself.
Latex is used in various forms of bedding including the best latex mattresses, toppers, pads and pillows. The first latex mattress was manufactured in 1931 using what is known as the Dunlop process. (An alternative manufacturing process today is known as the Talalay process.) The initial selling point was convenience – latex mattresses don’t need to be turned as do conventional ones.
As a solid lump, latex is very dense – probably too dense for comfort for most people. Therefore the “core” of a latex mattress usually contains many holes (“pincores”). These holes soften the latex – the more and the larger the holes, the softer the result. The honeycomb of holes is somewhat reminiscent of a sponge.
A latex mattress will mold itself to your body shape to some degree, however not to the same extent as memory foam. For this reason some of the products you can buy have different “zones” where these consist of latex of different effective densities.
Latex is also very long-lasting and some manufacturers claim that a latex mattress can last as long as 20 years. The biodegradable, eco-friendly nature of natural latex is also a big selling point for the environmentally aware customer.
Memory Foam vs Latex
Memory foam and latex both perform a similar function – they provide a premium alternative to traditional spring based mattresses. Both offer high levels of comfort and support, so the question is often asked: which should I buy?
There’s no single answer, everyone has different needs. In particular, if you have any medical condition then consult your doctor.
Here are a few points to consider when choosing between memory foam or latex:
Both latex and memory foam can provide excellent levels of comfort. At the end of the day it’s a matter of taste which you refer. Latex tends to feel more springy.
Memory foam can adjust in more detail to the contours of a body and give more precise support. To counter this some latex mattresses have different sections of different firmness.
Memory foam can sometimes be slower to adjust to your contours especially at lower temperatures. This is reportedly more pronounced with the denser premium foams.
Personally I prefer the feel of memory foam, but not everyone agrees.
Manufacturers will tell you that both materials have long life. Figures quoted for latex are often extremely long, whereas cheaper brands of memory foam might start to tire more quickly.
Memory foam is a man-made chemical substance whereas latex can be purchased as “all natural”.
Memory foam has an unpleasant smell when new. This normally fades to a level where it is not a problem, however some people are more sensitive to it than others.
Initially memory foam was extremely expensive, however the price has reduced considerably in the last few years and it is now much more affordable. Memory foam is now often cheaper than natural latex.
If you already have a decent mattress then rather than go to the expense of buying a a new one you can consider adding a mattress topper. Mattress toppers are available in both foam types.
Choosing a Mattress
Mattresses on sale today have little in common with those of a generation ago. There’s a huge variety of materials available in varying degrees of firmness. If you’re still sleeping on a twenty year old mattress then decide today to change it.
Everyone has different needs, I certainly can’t make the decision for you. However I can give you some information and ideas to consider when you shop. As always, review your options carefully.
Popular modern wisdom says that you should buy as firm a mattress as possible. In fact it isn’t that simple. Yes, it’s true that a very soft mattress might feel comfortable but does little to give your back the support it needs. However an extremely hard mattress can be just as bad for some people. The amount of back support required will be different for each individual.
You probably already have some idea of the level of firmness that is best for you. To be extra sure, you could invest in a high-tech bed with variable firmness mattress such as the Select Comfort Sleep Number bed.
Remember also that you and your partner might have different needs. You might want to consider buying a mattress where each side has a different degree of firmness. That way you get the best of both worlds
As always, if you have any medical condition then consult your doctor for advice.
Coiled Spring Mattresses
Most mattresses on the market today use coiled springs to support your body. These springs can either be ‘continuous’ or ‘independent’.
In a continuously sprung mattress, all the individual coils are in effect part of one system. This makes the mattress less prone to sagging in one place, however it has the drawback that it usually cannot be as responsive to the shape of your body.
With an independent coil mattress, each coil is a separate entity which gives far more flexible support across the body. Independent coil mattresses tend to be more expensive – be careful of a cheap one, as the coils can sometimes give way quickly.
You also need to consider the number of coils in the mattress. There’s no simple “best” number of coils. A larger mattress will obviously need more coils as will a firmer one. Too many coils could result in a mattress that is too firm for you. However it’s fair to say that cheaper mattresses often have less coils than their higher quality counterparts, so make sure that you look at these numbers when comparing products.
Memory Foam Mattresses
Memory foam is a relatively recent innovation. Mattresses made with this dense, heat sensitive material mold themselves to your personal body shape to give an even distribution of weight. This gives a good compromise between comfort and support.
Memory foam mattresses are not cheap, but if you can afford it then they can be the best option for some people. More information: the best memory foam mattresses
If you can’t justify the cost of a memory foam mattress, perhaps you could consider adding the best memory foam mattress topper to an ordinary mattress – this is the approach I’ve taken and it works for me.
Invest in Quality
This is the best advice I can give on how to buy a mattress. I can’t say this too often: you spend a third of your life in bed. Choosing mattresses isn’t something to be done on a “buy the cheapest” basis. Don’t skimp on something so important, buy the best you can sensibly afford.
Have a great night!