What is Synthetic Latex?

Natural Latex

Natural latex is secreted from several plant species but is produced in the highest quantities in Hevea brasiliensis, the commercially used rubber tree plant. It's a milky liquid produced in specialized plant cells called lacticifers, which are naturally adapted phloem cells. Latex is thought to be a single evolutionary adaptation that can protect plants from a wide variety of predatory insects.

Synthetic Latex

Latex that closely mimics the natural latex form can by synthesized using manmade chemical components in a laboratory. Synthetic latex was first created during the years of World War II to alleviate shortfalls in natural latex production. It's a fully man-made product created using industrial-grade petrochemicals.

Synthetic varieties can be passable imitations of botanical latex and can be vulcanized like botanical latex to produce a variety of finished substances, from the stretchy rubber found in surgical gloves to the latex foam in your favorite mattress.

Synthetic Latex Mattresses

gymAny mattress that is labeled "synthetic" will be a latex mattress made up of 100% synthetic latex. 100% synthetic latex mattresses tend to have problems over time with undesirable color changes, crumbling around the edges of the product, and a loss of buoyance and original shape. This is a reason why some manufacturers combine up to 30% natural latex in the production process to add more resiliency and stability.

Blended Latex Mattresses

"Blended latex" mattresses contain a mix of synthetic and natural types of latex. In most cases, this involves a synthetic core to keep down costs, with a botanical latex sleep surface. Natural latex tends to be used for the sleep surface since it has superior loft and support compared to synthetic versions.

Purely synthetic latex mattresses must be labeled as such. If you find a mattress labeled "100% latex" instead of "100% natural latex," it's probably made up of blended latex. Ask questions about which components are synthetic to make sure that you get the best possible sleep experience.

Synthetic Latex vs. Natural Latex

Synthetic latex is generally more cost-effective than natural latex, since it doesn't contain the inherent costs of agriculture, worker salaries, and transport of the liquid latex. However, the hidden costs of synthetic latex may actually be higher in the long run, combining the ecological concerns of petrochemical manufacture with the shorter total lifespan of the product.

Natural latex mattresses, depending on the manufacturing method, may be longer-lasting than synthetic latex. Natural latex also does not have the problems with crumbling and changes in color that synthetic problems can have. However, natural latex is an expensive product, and some softer varieties (especially the softest products manufactured using the Talalay method) do not have a long lifespan for their cost.

Synthetic Latex Pros

  • Tends to be more affordable than natural latex or even some blended models.
  • Lab construction means scientists have control of every aspect of manufacture.

Synthetic Latex Cons

  • Often less long-lived than natural latex.
  • Has problems that natural latex doesn't, like potential color changes and crumbling around the edges of the mattress over time (can be compensated for by blending with 30% natural latex).
  • Not a natural or inherently nontoxic product.
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The Final Word

Overall, whether you choose synthetic, natural, or blended latex for your mattress, you can get the longest lifespan out of your bedding by following two rules of thumb. First, whether you buy the warranty or not, go with the product that offers the longest-term warranty you can find (preferably a lifetime guarantee). The longer the company will protect the product, the better the odds of having a mattress that will give you years of stellar sleep.

The second rule of thumb? Go with a very simple mattress. Mattresses constructed with layer upon layer of various materials have a higher likelihood of losing integrity where the layers meet, resulting in problems from shifting or a loss of loft in your mattress. Go for a simple mattress that offers no more than three layers. A firm Dunlop core under a softer Talalay sleep surface and perhaps a flame retardant barrier is all you really need for a truly premium night's sleep.