Memory Foam vs Latex Foam

memory foam, latex and cococonut

Different foams have different properties. So which is the best to have in your mattress? 

Well, there’s no clear cut answer. Everyone is different, so there is an argument to be made for either being the right type of foam for you. Let’s bounce deep to see what might work for you. 

Latex Foam

What is latex – rubber tree

Pure latex is the sap from what most people know to be the rubber tree. It is strange to think that tree sap can be so versatile. We rub out mistakes with tree sap, drive on it in our car tyres, and sleep on it.Take dishwashing gloves, for instance—they keep your hands dry and provide excellent grip, even when handling slippery dishes submerged in soapy water. As someone who tends to be clumsy, I truly value their effectiveness! 

Tree sap comes in liquid form, so it needs to be processed in such a way that we can use it for our purposes. There are two methods which produce two different types of latex foam from the same sap – Dunlop latex, and Talalay latex. For both methods, we start with the same tree sap.

For Dunlop latex, curing agents are added to the tree sap to make it into a foam. It will then be poured into a mold and baked. In this process, sedimentation will occur, so the latex will naturally be denser on one side than the other.  

For Talalay latex, there are two more steps before it is baked. The latex with curing agent is vacuum sealed inside the mold to redistribute air evenly throughout the mixture, which is then flash frozen to keep the air pockets where they are. Then the frozen mixture is baked to produce Talalay latex. Sedimentation does not occur in Talalay latex.

Certification – does this apply in Australia?

The Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS) is the international standard for organic latex. For the latex product to achieve the GOLS certification, at least 95% of the product must be certified organic raw material. This means the rubber tree plantations themselves must be organic (no pesticides, etc) and other materials, such as curing agents, also need to reach this standard. GOLS also sets allowed limits for harmful substances and emissions, and allowed percentage limits for polymer and filler (namely, plastics). Unfortunately, it doesn’t look as though many Australian mattress companies use GOLS. 

Textile products that meet the international OEKO-TEX Standard 100 certification requirements are free of substances that harm people’s health. The textiles that are tested include yarn, threads, zippers – they’re thorough. And they definitely test the latex foam, regardless of whether it’s organic or synthetic latex, to ensure that there are no harmful substances in them. 

CertiPUR-US is another health standard certification for foam. It checks that the foam is low in volatile organic compounds, or VOCs (VOCs will be explained in a few paragraphs’ time), has no dangerous heavy metals including mercury and lead, and has not had formaldehyde and certain other chemicals used in its creation. 

How latex mattresses are usually constructed – different layers

Mattresses that use latex foam for the support layer as well as the comfort layers usually consist of three or four layers of latex foam. Often these layers can be rearranged to change the firmness and feeling of the mattress. Soft, medium, and firm can be produced in both Dunlop latex and Talalay latex, though because of the distribution of air pockets in the Talalay latex foam, it is generally softer than Dunlop. 

Other mattresses may use latex foam as one of or the entirety of the comfort layers, while the support system itself may be a spring system. Foam beds with innerspring support systems are known as hybrid mattresses. 

Pros

Latex mattresses are firm, resilient, and conform to the sleeper’s form to relieve pressure from the spine and neck. It bounces back fast and enables sleepers to move freely throughout the night. 

Many manufacturers will claim latex is hypoallergenic. This isn’t quite true, especially if you have a latex allergy. However, natural latex is anti-microbial, and resistant to dust mites and mold, which can help with many people who suffer from these allergies. 

Latex mattresses also do not have dangerous levels of “Volatile Organic Compounds” (henceforth known as VOCs). VOCs are let off by many materials, both organic and synthetic. They may have short and long term effects on people’s health, and include a variety of chemicals. Many household products including paints, air fresheners, printers and dry cleaned clothing will emit VOCs. Natural latex with a very low percentage of synthetic latex (or none at all) will have little odour and emit close to no VOCs.

Cons

Latex foam retains heat. Air does not flow readily through the mattress, so hot sleepers will probably feel quite uncomfortable. They’re also very heavy compared to other mattresses made of other materials, so moving or turning them will be difficult. 

If the latex is synthetic, off gassing will be an issue. Most new mattresses, especially bed in a box mattresses, will smell. Off gassing refers to the strong chemical smell that comes from synthetic foams that are often made with petroleum based chemicals or have fire retardant in them. Some people who have chemical sensitivities will find these smells potentially trigger allergic reactions. In the above section we stated that natural latex emits close to no VOCs, but synthetic latex which is petroleum based will. 

There are some things that you can do to eliminate these smells, such as airing the mattress. If this is a big concern to you though, you should strongly consider purchasing a natural latex mattress instead. 

Environmental Impact

Sustainable latex farms will ensure new trees are planted to maintain a sustainable supply of latex. Latex mattresses are also very durable and long lasting, so less mattresses and materials are consumed. When they do finally reach the end of its lifespan, latex foam mattresses are both biodegradable and recyclable. If it is thrown into landfill it will degrade, but better yet it can be recycled into items such as carpet underlay or gym equipment. 

Memory Foam

What is memory foam?

Memory foam is a petroleum based foam, similar to polyurethane foam, but has increased density and a markedly slow recovery time. 

Many salesmen will tell you that memory foam is space technology, that memory foam is used in seats to keep astronauts safe and comfortable. Unfortunately, this cool sounding story doesn’t hold up – memory foam as it’s used in mattresses is a different formulation from the one that NASA came up with… and then discarded. So sleep on it. Don’t fly on it. 

Certifications?

The two main certifications to look for with memory foam mattresses to ensure that they are safe (or rather, don’t have dangerous levels of VOCs) are CertiPUR-US and OEKO-TEX. 

REACH certification is another one that you might find on mattresses. It stands for Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and Restriction of Chemicals. (The H was a bit too much of a reach.) 

What available firmness are there for memory foam?

Memory foam comes in varying levels of firmness, from very soft to very firm. 

How memory foam mattresses are usually constructed – different layers

Memory foam is usually only used in the comfort layers. Most memory foam mattresses will use springs or a different type of foam as the support layer. There are some manufacturers, such as Temple and Webster, who offer mattresses that are memory foam throughout. 

Pros

Memory foam is temperature sensitive and reacts to body heat to soften and conform very closely to the sleeper’s body shape. It feels extremely comfortable as a result. When you lie on this foam, you will sink in and it will cradle your body. Movement does not transfer along memory foam, so there will be little to no disturbances from any movements your partner makes. These mattresses can provide great relief for pressure points as well as excellent support to keep your spine aligned. 

Cons

Unfortunately, the slowness of memory foam to recover from pressure does mean that one can get somewhat trapped in the foam in the impression they’ve made. Sleepers who move a lot will struggle with this material, but for those who tend to stay in the one place, memory foam will be very comfortable. Its high density also means it’ll take a while to get used to, and for hot sleepers, this mattress will retain too much heat. Some mattresses come with cooling gel, however the effectiveness of this gel in keeping you cool is debatable. 

Memory foam is made with petroleum based chemicals, so will definitely off gas VOCs. The higher the quality, the less VOCs, but even the highest quality memory foams will offgas a bit. 

Environmental Impact of Memory Foam

As mentioned above, memory foam is mostly petroleum based which is an unsustainable resource. They can somewhat be recycled, but are not the easiest material to do so. 

Memory Foam vs Latex Foam Comparison Chart

Latex Foam – ProLatex Foam – Con
Conforms to body shape to relieve pressure from spine and neckA bit more movement transfer
Sleepers can move freely through the nightRetains heat
Little-no off gassingHeavy and difficult to move
Resilient and durable, longlasting If synthetic latex, will off gas
Anti-microbial and resistant to dust mites and mold 
No VOCs if natural latex 
Firm 
Sustainable resource 
Biodegradable and recyclable 
Memory Foam – ProMemory Foam – Con
Virtually no movement transferRetains heat
Conforms extremely closely to sleeper’s shapeSleeper can feel trapped
Extremely comfortableVery dense so can take a while to get used to
Relieves pressure pointsOff gassing
Supports spine and keeps it alignedNot easy to recycle

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