Organic vs Synthetic Fabrics for A New Mattress

What do you look for when buying a new mattress? Latex, innerspring and foam are the most common mattress types but what’s natural and what’s organic? Mattress shopping can become more complicated than you expect if you haven’t done any research. For example, what is latex made of? And what exactly is the difference between memory foam and polyurethane foam? The only mattresses I won’t cover are air beds which have their own uses (portability) and water beds (lol) because they simply aren’t that common on a day-by-day usage. So without further ado, I’ll explain the 4 most common mattress types and what they really mean for your bed below. 

Innerspring

Remember when jumping on your bed was actually fun? If so, you probably owned an innerspring mattress. Spring mattresses used to dominate the market for their affordability and their ability to disperse heat evenly. Recycled steel is the basis of their springs and they are less toxic than their foam and latex counterparts. However, they are less durable and their longevity is the shortest of the three. If you tried sleeping on your old spring mattress now, you’d notice that the springs really do make it hard to get comfortable. Besides lack of durability, they are also to squeak – not exactly the most romantic way to end a night. With the prominence of alternative mattresses, mid-ranged spring mattresses are usually topped with layers of luxury quilting but their lifespans are still among the shortest. 

 

The Sueno Sultan 3000 Spring mattress has a top layer of extra quilting for added comfort.

Rubber/Latex 

Often you will see mattresses labelled as 100% organic rubber latex. What does that mean? If you read our previous article on rubber, you will no doubt know that it comes from the sap of a tree often in Southeast Asia. So what’s the deal with latex then? Unfortunately, latex has been used interchangeably to classify all natural rubbers which causes a lot of confusion. Latex actually refers to a chemical classification that occurs when particles (usually polymeric) are dispersed in an insoluble liquid (usually water). In simple terms, the sap that comes from the rubber tree is a latex and is further processed by either vulcanizing it (dunlop) or first freezing then vulcanizing (talalay) to produce rubber. Latex tapped or extracted from a plant is organic but it can also be synthetically produced and is called memory foam or polyurethane foam.

Dunlop latex is springy and denser whereas Talalay is bouncy.

 

Memory Foam

Memory foam is the classic demonstrations where the hand print stays on the mattress for a few seconds before dissipating. A “green” memory foam mattress does not exist, simply because they are all made with petroleum-based chemicals that prevent them from being natural. Memory foams are known to give off toxic fumes and the worst last for a long time. Historically, memory foam mattress have been used for medical conditions since they relieve pressure and increase blood circulation better than any other mattress. Many are loyal to the comfort that memory foam can offer them and are sold on the fact that a spouse who tosses and turns all night or comes home late will not disturb them. However, because latex provides so many more benefits (e.g., dust mite resistance and antimicrobial), I recommend avoiding memory foam if you can. 

Memory foam retains impressions that allow for conforming support.

 

Polyurethane Foam

Polyurethane foam is also made with petroleum-based chemicals and although they are not as toxic as memory foam, they have similar properties. They can be made to be dense but it will contain more chemicals in order to increase its density and viscosity. Despite this, high-density polyurethane foam mattresses will always be less dense than memory foams or latex. These tend to be cheaper and lighter but they break down much quicker than a latex mattress and some innerspring mattresses. Some low-density polyurethane foams will degrade in only a year. Best to avoid these if you can as well.

Image result for polyurethane foam

Polyurethane foam comes in various densities.

 

Summary

Here are what each has to offer:

Organic Latex:

  • dust mite resistant
  • hypoallergenic
  • antifungal
  • anti-microbial
  • non-toxic
  • eliminates motion transfer between partners
  • reduces pressure points
  • lasts 8-10 years

Synthetic Latex (foam and latex mix): 

  • resistant to heat aging
  • abrasion resistance 
  • resistance to softening (less-pronounced body impressions)
  • less expensive alternative to organic latex
  • eliminates motion transfer between partners
  • reduces pressure points
  • lasts 7-9 years

Memory Foam:

  • conforming, contouring support
  • eliminates motion transfer between partners
  • reduces pressure points
  • affordable for comfort levels
  • lasts 7-8 years

Innerspring:

  • non-toxic
  • affordable
  • good ventilation and body heat distribution
  • Lasts 5-6 years

The clear winner is organic latex but the main problem with 100% organic latex mattresses is that they are much more expensive to their synthetic counterpart. A common middle ground is to have a blend of synthetic and organic latex and thus having a more durable mattress than if you simply got a synthetic product. Otherwise, if you can afford it, go with organic latex/rubber. If you want to read more on latex, sleeponlatex has a very informative website with some great products. You can also take a look at ecoterrabeds. Remember, as stereotypical as it sounds, a mattress is an investment. Forking over more than $500 (which you should for a mattress) should last you more than 5 years. Some mattress companies will have an extended exchange policy but the average allows for 90 days to exchange or return while some are only 3 days. While it’s nice to try things out at home, don’t count on stores being lenient to see if what you bought was really worth your buck.  

Look for eco-friendly certificates

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About the Author

Kim is an avid traveler and freelance writer with a degree in professional writing and rhetoric. Her desire to see the world "with eyes unclouded" is expressed in her personality and writing. She hopes to spread awareness on international issues and sustainability.

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