Natural Latex Foam vs. Synthetic/Polyurethane Foam -- What's the difference?
Simply put, natural latex is vastly superior to synthetic/poly foams. It's more durable, it's cleaner and more comfortable as it is available in number of firmness and support levels.
We consistently have customers asking the same question: What's the difference between the two?
Our most widely-read blog entry, in fact, is the first treatise on this very subject. Since it's been several years since that entry was published, it's time to freshen it up, and hopefully make it even more concise and easy to understand.
The first thing to understand is this: there are very important differences between natural latex and synthetic/polyurethane foam.
- Natural latex is sap tapped from rubber trees, which is then vulcanized into a stretchy, flexible material.
- There are two manufacturing methods: Dunlop and Talalay. Talalay involves a flash freezing stage. One method is not necessarily better than the other.
- It's an incredibly durable, resilient material that maintains its shape 3-5 times longer than poly foams. This quality equates to far better warranties on products made of natural latex.
- It's also anti-microbial, anti fungal, hypo-allergenic, and resistant to dust mites. How? It doesn't hold on to heat and moisture like poly foam does, which makes the sleeping environment drier. This prohibits proliferation of all the undesirables listed above.
Synthetic Latex (aka 'polyurethane foam' / 'poly foam' / 'memory foam' / 'visco-elastic foam'):
- Manufactured from petroleum by-products with chemicals. Visco foams / memory foams have additional additives in order to make them heat-sensitive.
- Poly foams are unable to absorb and release moisture and heat effectively, which means they lose shape and break down much more quickly than the natural latex.
- This moisture and heat retention also means a more likely instance of molds, mildews, dust mites, as well as a build-up of heat/moisture on the sleeper.
- The chemicals within synthetic latex tend to off-gas, creating an odor. These emitted chemicals are absorbed by the skin and lungs, which can cause a wide variety of problems, from breathing issues, allergy-like symptoms, skin eruptions, etc.
- Poly foams oxidize over time, which creates dust particulates containing the chemicals used in the manufacturing process, such as formaldehyde, styrene, toluene di-isocyanate and antimony, to name a few.
When shopping for a natural latex mattress, be aware of the following:
- The purity of the natural latex is of utmost importance. Some manufacturers mix in additives such as clays, calcium oxides, titanium oxides, and silicates to dilute the rubber sap before vulcanization. Technically, this means the latex is still "natural" since the additives are indeed naturally occurring. It means the consumer will pay less for the product since less sap is utilized, but also that the life span of the item will be greatly reduced.
- Another tricky advertising technique is to call a product "natural latex" when in fact it's a blend of natural with polyurethane. Again, this makes the final product less expensive, but also reduces the life span of the item greatly.
- Interestingly, the Dunlop and Talalay methods of production can be used to make both natural and synthetic latex. It's important to realize that when you see, for example, "Talalay latex" on a product description, that doesn't necessarily mean it's natural.
How can you be assured that you're getting a natural latex mattress, besides asking the seller and carefully reading product descriptions?
- The warranty card will give excellent information. A truly natural latex mattress (no fillers, no poly blends) will have a full, non-pro rated warranty, with no body impression caveats. Why? Because natural latex mattresses retain their shape so much longer.
- Synthetics, blends, and additive-laden latex warranties will have mentions of a certain depth of impression (usually anywhere from 3/4" to 1.5") in order for the warranty to be valid.
- The price will also give excellent information. Natural latex is expensive to manufacture, from the harvesting of the sap to the quality-control of the final product, so the consumer will always pay a bit more for a truly natural latex mattress. This investment assures you get more than your money's worth in terms of longevity, cleanliness, and comfort.
- Look for third party certifications of cleanliness. Oeko Tex is a well-known laboratory that conducts rigorous testing to assure both the manufacturer and consumer that the finished product is free from harmful chemicals and toxins. We have Oeko-Tex certifications on all of our finished components, since that's what the customers are sleeping on.
Once again, do your research if you're concerned about these things. We suggest reading up on the effects of chemicals on www.epa.gov.
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