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Latex Mattress Buyers' Guide

How To Sort Through All The Different Latex Options To Find The Right Mattress For You.

The latest hot product you see at mattress industry trade shows is the latex mattress. You see latex being used as topper layers in traditional innerspring mattresses, and more and more you see it being used to replace innersprings as the mattress "core" in manufacturer's upscale mattress lines. Why has there been such a surge in interest for latex mattresses recently?

From what we hear from customers, there are a few different reasons behind the rising interest in latex mattresses. One theme we hear is from people interested in a "green" mattress option. This can include those that want a mattress made of all natural ingredients, those wanting to buy a mattress made from sustainable materials, or those that want to assure that their bed isn't off gassing any unnatural materials into their bedroom.

And while there are other materials that offer some of these "green" qualities, such as organic cotton or wool, none of them have the same buoyant and elastic characteristics that a latex mattress offers. Cotton mattresses, much like futon mattresses, pack down over time and get much firmer, and while wool makes a very nice comfort layer, you still need a good mattress "core" or base, to layer the wool on top of.

Another group of folks find Natural Latex interesting because of its hypo-allergenic, anti-bacterial, and anti-dust mite qualities. These organisms do not thrive in natural latex.

And finally, there are a fair amount of people that just haven't been able to find a comfortable mattress. Often they have specific pain issues they are trying to address, but others have tried all sorts of other mattress options and just can't get a good night's sleep.

And the truth is, that despite all the hype in the industry about latex, it really is a great option for these different kind of customers. There is no "greener" mattress than an all natural latex mattress, and it can be a very effective choice for those that have chemical sensitivities or other allergy concerns.

The most important reason latex has become the current "hot" product, though, is that it is a uniquely comfortable sleep surface. Latex is both a very dense surface, but also because of its elastic properties, still has a yielding, giving, and conforming quality. So for those that just haven't been able to get a good night's sleep or have unrelieved pain issues, a latex mattress is a top of the line alternative that has a very different feel, offers unparalleled comfort and support, that may well do the trick..

All Latex Mattresses Aren't Created Equal

Be warned, though, that not all mattresses called "latex mattresses" are the same. How can this be? Well, it is a long story that boils down to this -- synthetic latex was created during World War II (to help deal with shortages of the natural latex needed for the war effort), and these days a mattress is considered latex regardless of whether it is made of natural latex (made from the sap of the rubber tree) or of synthetic latex (made from petrochemicals), or more commonly a mix of synthetic and natural latex (referred to, in the industry, as a "blend" of latex).

Why should you care about this? Well, if you are interested in a latex mattress because of its "green" or natural properties, you would want to make sure that the "latex" mattress you are looking at is made of natural, plant derived latex (rubber tree sap) and not chemicals. Further, while natural and synthetic latex may look the same under the microscope, in real life they have somewhat different feels and, some claim, differing levels of durability (although, to be honest, I've heard the natural and synthetic latex purveyors both argue that their product is more durable, and not having a degree in chemistry I just don't which side has the more compelling argument).

So What Do I Recommend? For Both Comfort and A Chemical Free Sleep, Go With Natural Latex

After looking at a variety of natural and synthetic latex mattress offerings, based on pure comfort I strongly prefer natural latex. I'll be honest with you though, when you start to look critically at latex you step into very deep water. While I've mentioned the basic difference in latex, natural vs synthetic, you also get into how the latex was actually manufactured.

There are two methods, the original Dunlop method, which is the longstanding, traditional method and primarily used for making natural latex, and the newer Talalay method, which is primarily used for making synthetic latex (although, to add to the complexity, you can find some natural Talalay latex, but a real premium price to natural Dunlop latex).

Without trying to put you to sleep, here is a very short description of how latex is made -- understanding this a bit will make you much more informed consumer and give you a much better understanding of just what to look for when buying a latex mattress:

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, emulsified with water and air bubbles, then it is slowly heated and vulcanized, a process where the liquid latex rubber converts to a flexible, solid state.

As I mentioned above, 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 method, except that 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, less supportive feel.

Here's my bottom line: natural latex made using the Dunlop method has a somewhat firmer and more buoyant feeling that Talalay latex. And since Dunlop latex is less expensive than Talalay, you get a cost savings as well. So for these reasons, I prefer my latex natural and Dunlop. One caveat: you can get a bit of the best of both worlds if you make a combo mattress with a core of Dunlop and a top layer of Talalay (the Dunlop "core" gives you the good support and basic comfort, and the softer Talalay top gives a softer, more luxurious feel, right up next to you).

Other Advantages Of Natural Latex

Another plus of natural latex is that it doesn't sleep hot, and dust mites and other microbial organisms do not thrive in the material due to its unique organic properties. Natural latex is also durable, resists packing down, and forming body impressions as well. Because of its buoyant and highly elastic qualities, it allows you to easily roll from side to belly or side to back, which prevents disruption of natural sleep patterns.

Why, then, with all these benefits of natural latex, do most mattress manufacturers use cheaper synthetic latex in their mattresses, or blend natural latex with the less expensive synthetic latex? There aren't any real benefits to synthetic latex over natural that I found to the user (although some manufacturers claim synthetic latex is a bit more resilient). And there are a lot of detriments (synthetic latex isn't made of natural ingredients, I like the consistency and feel of natural rubber over synthetic, natural has anti-bacterial and other hypo-allergenic qualities, etc). The bottom line is cost. 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 (just better margins for the manufacturers by using synthetic latex). 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 To Shop For A Latex Mattress

Ok, so in a nutshell, here are my 8 Essential Points to consider when shopping for a great latex mattress. These are the important considerations you should be looking for to get a decent deal on a well crafted latex mattress.

  1. I prefer 100% natural latex over synthetic or blended beds -- natural latex just has a livelier, more responsive, and has more elastic qualities than the synthetic or blended mattresses. Natural latex just has a more comfortable feel. In addition, natural latex, is durable, resists packing down and forming body impressions. It offers other advantages that the synthetic Latex doesn't have, such as the naturally anti-dust mite, anti-mold and anti-mildew qualities, the hypo-allergenic qualities, and it is a chemical free bed that will does not off gas.
  2. Look for simplistically designed, uncomplicated natural latex mattresses. This will minimize problems with shifting layers and migration of contents. Avoid mattresses with excessive zones or "cut up" designs.
  3. Dunlop natural latex on the bottom, Talalay natural latex on the top, if you are going to go for a mattress with multiple layers. The Dunlop layer provides a good foundation or substrate layer, offering support, while a Talalay latex top layer offers a luxurious feel to the mattress.
  4. Look for a breathable outer covering, preferably a wool blend that contains no chemical fire retardants. Also, the covering should not be excessively thick or quilted, so that you remain in close contact with what you are paying for...latex.
  5. Buy from a reputable company, with easily accessible, independent third party reviews, so you can read what other people are saying who have already purchased latex mattresses from this company. That way, you can avoid the litany of trials and tribulations I often hear about from people who have spent a lot of money on a mattress, only to find that if it isn't working out for them they have no recourse.

    I hope this sort of thing never happens to you, but I hear all the time from people that have had a bad experience with mattress retailer and/or company -- and feel they have been really taken advantage of. Sometimes it is that they can't get their money back from the retailer for their brand new mattress that, unfortunately, just isn't working out for them. To late they learned that most retailers offer no comfort guarantee, and those that do offer something offer only an in-store "merchandise credit" -- less a return cost, etc. And since there is often not another mattress at that store that really is of interest, all too often this is just lost money.

    And being savvy isn't necessarily a guarantee of avoiding these kind of troubles (which is why I emphasize trying to get independant third party reviews). It pains me to admit it, but I recently had this sort of experience myself with a supplier I was working with on my latest test of memory foam mattresses. The supplier, Natura -- which really specializes in just the sort of latex mattresses we are describing here, but also has come out with a line of memory foam mattresses -- and I had worked out what I thought was an arrangement to test their memory foam mattresses with 50 of my customers, and if there were any returns, Natura would "credit" me back.

    And ... like many of the people I talk with, after all was said and done I found myself being told that there is a special interpretation of this particular word, "credit", in the mattress industry. As someone on the periphery of the industry (actually, as an aside, we internet dealers are often treated as pariahs because people in the industry see us as causing scavaging of prices, offering unseemly offers like comfort guarantees, etc. Often, when I've gone to industry trade shows, when I tell someone I'm an internet dealer, the conversations either comes quickly to an end or sours quickly), I had never heard that this word, "credit", had any special meaning. I believed it just meant its usual meaning -- since I had been told I could pay for the mattresses by charge, I would then be "credited" back for any returns.

    But as so many folks I've talked to have been tripped up by these sorts of special words in their dealings with mattress retailers or in the course of dealing with a mattress warranty issue (see the next item), I was told by Natura that the word "credit" in the mattress industry doesn't actually mean any sort of refund of actual money. While I paid with real money, Natura said that as a "credit" I was due that usually given in the mattress industry -- merchandise credit. And this, like the in-store credit I've heard so many customers forced to take, did me no good -- Natura's mattress had serious issues of developing a cavity in the test (8 of the 39 reviewers reported this) so I was not going to use them as a future supplier, and so had no interest or use for any sort of "merchandise credit"

    So, after all my years selling mattresses online (this site began in 1998), I have too foundered on the shoals of the mattress industry "customary policies" that have bedeviled so many folks I've talked to over the years. In fact, right after this occurred, I happened to talk with another customer from the test (who was returning one of these Natura mattresses, her husband found it overly soft), and she told me her tale of woe in dealing with one of the largest department stores about an expensive, name brand mattress for a warranty issues, and neither the department store nor the name brand mattress manufacturer would take care of replacing or the mattress or giving her a refund.

    So please, don't fall into the same traps that I and these other customers have fallen into. Look for third party verification of a mattress retailer, so you know upfront if this is someone who will take care of you, and not fall back on the "standard of conduct within the mattress industry" that may leave you high and dry.

    In my business, I have attempted to provide people with this sort of transparent information about our company by both giving all our customers the option of reviewing our company in Shopping.com (and I have no control whatsoever about these reviews) and also by being a member of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) where customers can hold us accountable and our customers can verify the types of complaints we get and whether we have resolved them. Given that these are third party reviews I have no control over, I am very proud we have earned the highest ratings for both Shopping.com (5 star and trusted store status) as well as an A+ rating from the BBB.

    After my most recent debacle with Natura, I can only urge you to try to look for this sort of third party verification of a retailer before you spend what can easily be thousands of dollars on a new latex mattress. If it doesn't work out for you, or you have warranty issues, it is really important that you picked a dealer that will make things right so you don't end up getting stuck.

  6. Look for a solid warranty, at least 10 years, with full replacement guarantees for at least several years. A reputable dealer will back up their product. You should be able to easily obtain a copy of the warranty.
  7. A trial period that allows for returning the mattress should you decide it just doesn't work for you. At least 60 days, preferably 90 or more, is a respectable time frame to give you time to evaluate a mattress thoroughly.
  8. Freebies and extras that encourage you to buy, are nice to have. Latex pillows and other products that further enhance your mattress will only add to your experience.
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