Is 'Soy Latex' Natural?

As a reminder, there are 2 general types of latex foam: natural and polyurethane.

NATURAL LATEX:

  • Made of sap derived from the Hevea Brasiliensis (rubber) tree
  • 100% natural latex is incredibly durable and mold/mildew/dust mite resistant
  • Can be manufactured in 2 different ways to create different firmness levels/support: Talalay and Dunlop. Talalay involves a freezing process that isn't used in Dunlop method. 

POLYURETHANE FOAM:

  • Synthetic latex made of petroleum-derived polyols and isocyanates. Also known as SBR (Styrene-Butadiene Rubber)
  • As a chemically-based product, off-gassing occurs
  • Prone to rapid breakdown, due to the inability to effectively dissipate heat and moisture
  • As explained in our most widely-read blog, "Natural Latex vs. Synthetic: What's the Difference?", memory foam falls under this category, as it's polyurethane foam with additional chemicals and waxes that create that 'heat sensitive' effect

We've gotten some questions lately about what's being marketed as "soy latex." The main question is:

"Soy latex is natural latex, right?"

The answer is no, it is not natural latex. 

It is, however, an example of how terminology can influence assumptions.

Soy latex is actually polyurethane foam with a small amount (from 5-20%) of soy polyols substituted. It's not natural latex. It's a bit more natural, however, than regular polyurethane foam.

An example, in layman's terms:

If you have a glass of tea, and you add a squeeze of lemon, do you then call it lemon? Does it become lemon?

No, it's still tea. It has an additive now, but it's still tea.

What questions can a consumer ask to determine what kind of foam it really is? 

1) Is this 100% natural latex foam, or is there any amount of polyurethane in it?

(Why ask this? Because 'natural latex' is a term that can be used for any product that contains at least 30% natural latex. This is a question designed to uncover 'green washing,' which is when a company advertises their products as non-toxic and chemical free, when in fact, they are not.)

2) Does this 100% natural latex contain any clays or silicates, or any other fillers?

(Why ask this? Because some manufacturers use additives to reduce costs, both to themselves and the consumer. The problem with this practice is that additives affect the properties of the mattress: it's not able to respond to weight, heat, and moisture like 100% natural, non additive-laden latex. You'll get a cheaper mattress that breaks down more rapidly than 100% natural latex mattresses.)

3) Does this 'soy latex' / 'green memory foam' / 'bio-foam' mattress contain any polyurethane?

(If answering honestly, the answer will be yes. If the answer is no, you're likely dealing with greenwashing and/or dishonesty. Some companies utilize a small amount of 100% natural latex foam within the same mattress that contains a polyurethane component as well, which can hardly be honestly called a 'natural latex bed' - it's a polyurethane mattress with a small amount of 100% natural latex within.)

Always look for third party certifications, then uncover exactly which component that certification applies to. Sadly, a common practice is to get a component's materials certified prior to it being a finished product. For example: a company has a valid third-party certification logo on their website, which leads the consumer to believe all the items they offer are safe/chemical-free. 

After researching further, you may find that the certification applies only to the cotton used in the mattress covers on one particular model. However, since chemical flame retardants were sprayed onto this mattress cover, it's no longer a natural component and it's not a valid certification for the final product. 

It can be tricky to wade through the greenwashing and semantics, but hopefully this gives you some ideas on how to uncover the facts.