Submitted by Furniture Professor
Latex in mattresses, is it your go to green solution?
Are you suffering from back pain? Have you tried everything to alleviate the pain so that you can get a good night’s sleep? Maybe you have overlooked the obvious. Your pain may come from sleeping on a mattress that should be in a museum. Before you make a dash for your local retailer, and buy a new queen mattress set for $398 or, perhaps, ante up for one of those $6,000 sets, let’s do some homework.
We have covered bedding in previous articles but I have ignored latex in mattresses and upholstered furniture for the most part. One reason for this is that latex is much more complicated than one would think. “Hey, rubber is rubber” I hear you say. Well no, not exactly. Not even close, actually. Another reason for my neglect of true latex in mattresses would be that I have considered all foam rubber products to have the same properties. This is a mistake. First, let’s take a look at what true latex is and what it isn’t. True latex is natural foam rubber. This does not allow for the addition of synthetic latex or fillers.
There are two types of foam latex in mattresses. Dunlop pure latex foam is certified organic by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The other foam latex is called Talalay latex. Talalay latex is certified to Greenguard Gold Standards to be organic and pure true latex. This is something that a consumer should look for when contemplating the purchase of a foam mattress. Let’s consider the advantages of a natural latex in mattresses over an inner spring mattress. First, compared to standard inner spring mattresses, latex transfers very little motion. Another advantage is that true pure latex “breathes”. This reduces heat and moisture from building up allowing a cooler night’s sleep and less risk of mold in your mattress. Latex mattresses may be manufactured to almost any level of firmness without losing their ability to adjust to body shapes and sizes, relieve pressure points, and support the back properly.
Latex is the liquid that flows from rubberwood trees. Rubberwood is grown on well managed plantations. The trees usually produce quality latex for about twenty-five years. When the trees no longer produce quality latex serum, they used to be burned in the fields adding a great deal of smoky pollution to the air. Now rubberwood is harvested when the trees are past their prime and used to build furniture. Rubberwood is a hardwood with a fine grain, and few knots, making it very desirable to use in manufacturing. Many products are made from latex, including surgical gloves, paint, and clothing. Latex rubber is a sustainable and organic product that is also biodegradable. Now, much of the furniture made in Asia is made from or has in it rubberwood which relieves much of the pressure on rare or endangered species of trees. Also pure latex rubber does not give off volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Now, let us examine the drawbacks to true pure latex. Some people have allergies to latex, which can range from mild to severe. For these people, wool or cotton instead of latex in mattresses may be a good solution. Some manufacturers encase the foam in non-allergenic material but that material may not be organic or VOC free. In this case a traditional innerspring or memory foam mattress may be the way to go. True pure latex in mattresses should not be confused with memory foam. Memory foam is polyurethane (man-made) foam with other chemicals added to increase its viscosity and reaction to body heat. Body heat softens the memory foam causing it to form around the person that is on it. Compared to true pure latex in mattresses, memory foam holds the shape of whatever is pressed into it for a longer time. Some people, especially small children and the elderly, have a difficult time moving on or getting off of a memory foam mattress. This can present a danger of suffocation. For most people, the risks are manageable and minimal but you should never leave a small child unattended on a memory foam bed. Memory foam gives off gases from the various chemicals used in its manufacture. These gas fumes last for a few days to a few weeks. The fumes are not considered to be a health risk in polyurethane foams made to current European Union or United States standards. This is because the dangerous chemicals once used in the foams have either been banned or have been voluntarily replaced. If the off gassing is a problem for you, look for the Certipure label on mattresses. This is an organization that tests polyurethane products to ensure that there are no harmful fumes from chemicals used in the manufacturing of these products. True pure latex in mattresses does not give off noxious fumes.
Finally, on a lighter note, a significant number of complaints have been noted regarding problems of an amorous nature for couples owning memory foam mattresses. There were fewer complaints by those owning latex mattresses. Just sayin’.