Who Needs a Talalay Latex Mattress?
What is Talalay Latex?
Talalay latex is the culmination of a century of effort to build luxury foam out of latex's natural botanical properties of buoyance and resilience. Talalay latex can be relatively soft or firm, depending on your sleep preference, and tends have a downy loft that side sleepers covet.
Talalay Latex Mattress Manufacture
The creation of Talalay latex foam is more labor-intensive than the older Dunlop method of latex foam manufacture. Talalay is formed in a laboratory, where liquid latex is first whipped, then poured into a frame.
In Talalay latex production, the latex is subjected to vacuum molding and flash freezing. The flash-freezing process, combined with the added air, avoids the latex particulate separation that sometimes occurs in the production of Dunlop latex, where the foam is allowed to dry slowly in layers.
Talalay latex is thus more uniformly distributed even at a molecular level. It tends to be lighter, more breathable, and better balanced that pure Dunlop mattresses.
Talalay Latex Mattress Problems
If you believe a lot of the online hype, without reading carefully through some of the more realistic latex mattress reviews, Talalay is in all ways superior to Dunlop. Since that's the case, many half-informed mattress shoppers assume, "if it's all 100 % natural Talalay latex, it must be the best on the market!"
Before you pull out your credit card, there are a few things you should know about Talalay latex.
Firmness (or ILD)
ILD is a measure of latex firmness that can be applied uniformly to Dunlop or Talalay mattresses. Talalay latex is usually touted as softer than Dunlop, but in truth either method can be used to produce both soft and firm latex foams.
At its softest, Talalay can be softer than Dunlop. At its firmest, Dunlop can be firmer than Talalay. But there is a vast spectrum of overlap, and most sleepers prefer mattresses that fall in this range.
Latex is produced by pouring a uniform thickness of latex into a mold, closing the cover, and using suction to raise the height of the latex layer to 6 inches. A shallower layer of latex before suction will wind up containing more air and less latex. Such a foam is very soft, but will be less supportive. A thicker layer of latex before suction will contain more latex and less air, creating a firmer mattress with a buoyant resilience.
The extra aeration and molding in Talalay production can yield a product that is less durable than Dunlop, making for a shorter lifespan. The open cell structure inherent to latex foam, combined with the volume of air inherent to Talalay latex, tends to create a less stable product. Over time, mattresses with such an open structure can bend or sag, creating further pressure on the internal structure and hastening further breakdown.
A mattress that's made entirely of Talalay-produced latex may thus not last as long as a Dunlop mattress. Even hybrid mattresses made with a Talalay sleeping surface and a Dunlop core tend to have more longevity than pure Talalay latex.
Quite often, Talalay latex is placed on top of Dunlop layers or wrapped around a Dunlop core. This kind of hybridization marries the firm, long-lasting support of a hardier material with the cushy yet buoyant, body-contouring give of Talalay latex.
Hybrid mattresses can also be constructed of non-latex materials, such as polyurethane or even traditional inner springs, under latex foam upper layers. These types of hybrid mattresses don't offer the unique, through-and-through support that only 100% natural latex mattresses can give you. They do, however, tend to be more cost-effective than all-latex mattresses.
If you choose a hybrid that includes non-latex layers, make sure that you have several inches of latex as a topper – and we usually try to recommend Talalay over Dunlop over non-latex, rather than just Talalay over a non-latex interior.
An inch or two of soft Talalay on top of such an unforgiving under-layer won't last long. Soon, that light-as-a-cloud Talalay top layer you were so proud of will bottom out, so that you're effectively sleeping on the inner springs or polyurethane.
Sustainability and Environmental Concerns
Talalay is in some ways superior to Dunlop processing, and certainly superior to non-latex foams like memory foam or polyurethane. But because of the detailed manufacturing processes, Talalay production must be undertaken in a lab, rather than on-site at the rubber tree estate where the latex is produced (as is often done with Dunlop processing). Talalay production entails the fuel and time needed to ship the latex, often hundreds or thousands of miles, to a processing facility.
In order to ensure that the latex arrives at the facility in liquid form, rather than partially congealed, ammonia is usually added to the liquid latex before shipping. Though manufacturers assure us that the ammonia "cooks out" during the vulcanization process, once it has been added to the latex it can no longer be certified organic.
In addition, Talalay production methods usually involve the addition of sulfur and other chemical compounds. Again, though these chemicals help to create a miraculously airy yet supportive sleep surface, in all honesty the finished product cannot be considered all-natural, organic, or even fully botanical.
For those truly concerned about all-natural mattress options, Dunlop latex manufacture done on-site is the best way to go. Since Dunlop can be produced with a soft ILD, consider all-Dunlop options first. Test them out at a local store or find an online retailer that allows returns to make sure that you're completely happy with your final choice.
Pros – 100% Talalay Latex Mattresses are:
- All-natural, sustainable, and sometimes even organically grown (though the Talalay production method is inherently not organic);
- A cooler, more breathable alternative for those who tend to "sleep hot";
- Potentially more giving than Dunlop latex, so that side sleepers find comfort at pressure points in hips and shoulders, but back or stomach sleepers may "sink";
- Uniformly constructed down to the molecular level, creating even support on both sides of the mattress.
Cons -- Talalay Latex Mattresses Can Be:
- Softer than Dunlop latex, so that back or stomach sleepers may feel as if they're sinking into the bed (as with any soft mattress);
- More expensive than Dunlop-produced mattresses due to technologically advanced processing techniques, shipping, and intensive labor;
- More likely than Dunlop latex to be impersonated by synthetic "latex beds" with unknown and unnatural chemical components.
The Bottom Line
Overall, botanical Talalay latex is an excellent step forward in latex foam mattress production. Still, an all-Talalay mattress is almost always overkill and a potentially poor investment. Talalay does best as an element in a latex foam mattress with a Dunlop core, or even in hybrid beds with non-latex components. Alone, Talalay can fall in on itself, stressing the inner structure and losing its loft and buoyancy over time.