Not all latex is created equal. In a previous article, we discussed the differences between natural, synthetic, and blended latex as well as the myriad reasons for choosing natural over the other two alternatives. Now, we’ll focus on the two molding techniques used to create latex mattresses: the Dunlop process and the Talalay process. While both processes have a long and successful history, they produce significantly different results.
Here at Zonkd, we use exclusively 100% all-natural Talalay molded latex in our mattresses. We strongly believe that the Talalay process produces the superior latex – more comfortable, more customizable, and more capable of providing high-quality, restful sleep to all of our customers. This guide compares and contrasts the two molding processes as well as the different properties of their resulting products. We hope you’ll fall just as much in love with incomparable natural Talalay latex as we have!
The Dunlop Latex Manufacturing Process
The one distinction which the Dunlop molding process holds is a slightly longer history, as it was the first latex manufacturing process to see wide international use. It was first developed in 1929 as part of a market diversification effort by the British company Dunlop Rubber, which until that point had primarily focused on the manufacture of car tires.
Dunlop used their molded latex to produce pillows, advertised under the brand name “Dunlopillo”. The primary characteristic of the Dunlopillo was its durability and longer lifespan when combined with standard fabric or feather pillows. The success of the pillow quickly led to other manufacturing companies worldwide adopting the Dunlop molding process – including those who produced mattresses. (Although the non-tire branches of the Dunlop company eventually folded, pillows are still produced today using the Dunlopillo model.)
The Dunlop process begins when liquid latex, freshly harvested from rubber tree plantations, is stirred and foamed via the addition of one of various chemical foaming agents. From there, the liquid is poured into an open mold and is allowed to fill the mold almost completely. The mold is closed and placed on a conveyer belt, where it is transported into a structure known as a vulcanization oven.
Vulcanization refers to the process by which the liquid latex is cured into a solid form; it is accomplished via the addition of the mineral sulfur. In the vulcanization oven, the liquid latex is exposed to sulfur and exposed to extreme heat (approximately 230 degrees Fahrenheit or 115 degrees Celsius), which bakes it and sets it into the proper shape. The final step in the process is washing the mattress once in order to remove any lingering chemicals or debris. Once the latex has dried, it can be either sold on its own as a mattress or layered with other substances to create a hybrid design.
Properties of Dunlop Latex
Initially, Dunlop latex was advertised for its durability, and that to this day remains its standout positive quality. Mattresses made from natural Dunlop latex typically have a long lifespan, and can be used for many years without beginning to sag. However, this durability comes with a number of downsides due to the nature of the process.
As the liquid latex is vulcanized into solid form inside the oven, the heavier, denser parts of the substance, referred to as sediment, are allowed to sink to the bottom of the mold. This creates a rather unequal design, with the bottom of the mattress or layer being thicker and denser than the top. As a result, Dunlop mattresses are fairly heavy, and are known to be rather difficult to move, adjust and rotate. Mattresses made purely from Dunlop latex also typically cannot be flipped, as due to the inequality in thickness only one side is suitable for sleeping.
While Dunlop latex can be produced in somewhat of a variety of firmnesses, it is typically extremely firm and possesses very little ability to produce a “soft” or “bouncy” mattress. Many customers throughout the years have found Dunlop mattresses too hard, too stiff or simply too uncomfortable in general. A number of complaints have been lodged regarding the quality of sleep which these mattresses can provide.
Some manufacturers consider the Dunlop process to be more efficient, as it contains fewer steps and can be completed quicker than the Talalay. However, at Zonkd, we believe this is less a sign of efficiency and more a lack of thoroughness. For example, Dunlop mattresses are typically washed only once, which is not sufficient to remove all of the proteins produced by the rubber tree which provoke reactions in sufferers of a latex allergy. Therefore, most Dunlop mattresses are not able to be fully guaranteed as hypoallergenic.
In recent years, Dunlop has seen some successful use as the very bottom and most supportive layer of hybrid mattresses, but even that often fails to satisfy those who require a springy, pillow-like feel in order to sleep well. In addition, its higher weight as described above continues to present a significant problem.
The Talalay Latex Manufacturing Process
The Talalay process for the molding of latex was developed in the Netherlands in 1940 by engineer Joseph Talalay with assistance from his sons Leo and Anselm. The Talalay family chose to develop the process in response to complaints of excessive stiffness, hardness and discomfort made against the at-the-time extremely widely used Dunlop latex. The ultimate goal was the creation of a softer, “springier” latex than the Dunlop process could ever hope to produce.
The Talalay process and its resulting latex soon attracted international attention and began to see use by a number of groups and companies. Among them were Goodrich, a USA-based manufacturer of hoses, tires and spacesuits, and Vita Talalaly, a Netherlands-centric mattress and pillow producer which took its name from the process and its inventors. Within a few decades, even some manufacturers using the “Dunlopillo” model began making the pillows, once the flagship Dunlop product, from molded Talalay latex.
The Talalay process begins similarly to its counterpart, as liquid latex is foamed via the addition of a foaming agent and then poured into an open mold. However, the liquid is not allowed to fill the mold entirely; some amount of empty space remains when the mold is sealed. A vacuum is then applied to the mold, removing the remaining air from the space not filled with the liquid latex. In response to the lack of air, the latex expands to fill the now completely unoccupied space. This natural expansion creates a lighter, “fluffier” latex with an “aerated” texture filled with many small holes and bubbles.
Once the expansion of the latex foam has been completed, the mold is flash-frozen by lowering the temperature to approximately -20 degrees Fahrenheit (-28 degrees Celsius). While the latex is being frozen, carbon dioxide (CO2) gas is introduced into the mold. This causes the formerly liquid latex to form a gel, not quite solidified but no longer fully liquid either. The carbon dioxide also lowers the overall pH of the substance, from 10 to the extremely safe, neutral value of 7.
The next step in the process is the vulcanization of the latex via the introduction of sulfur and an increase in temperature. Vulcanization fully solidifies the latex into the proper mattress shape as well as ensuring that the distribution of the air bubbles is uniform throughout the final product. As the latex is already in the form of a gel rather than fully liquid as in the Dunlop process, the vulcanization process often takes slightly less time or requires slightly lower temperatures when being used to produce Talalay latex.
As with its counterpart, the final steps in the Talalay process are the washing and drying of the product. However, the Talalay process employs a more extensive five-step washing cycle. The goal of this is to thoroughly remove any traces of foaming agent or other chemicals as well as washing away the proteins known to cause allergic reactions to sufferers of the latex allergy. The length of this washing cycle is often cited as the reason why the Talalay process takes longer than the Dunlop – but this length is an indicator of the focus on thoroughness and quality, as is clearly evidenced by the many benefits of the resulting product.
Properties and Benefits of Talalay Latex
Talalay latex is an extremely versatile, customizable material, capable of being produced in a wide range of soft and firm varieties. Even the pickiest of sleepers can easily craft their ideal mattress from Talalay latex. In addition, the overall feel of Talalay latex is significantly more comfortable than that of Dunlop. It has been described as “bouncy” and “springy” as well as producing a feeling of being softly and carefully “cradled” by the mattress as you sleep. The reports of over-firmness and discomfort associated with Dunlop latex are practically nonexistent when it comes to Talalay.
As mentioned above, the thorough washing process utilized ensures that all potentially allergenic proteins are removed from Talalay mattresses. Due to the open cell structure of the latex, compared to the more closed nature of Dunlop, it is also far more difficult for these potentially harmful proteins to get “trapped” within the latex during the molding process. Instead, they can be easily and completely washed off, making Talalay mattresses thoroughly hypoallergenic and safe for use even by individuals with a latex allergy.
The aerated, bubble-filled texture of Talalay latex also provides another benefit which it does not share with its Dunlop counterpart. One major drawback often experienced by sleepers is the “sleep hot” phenomenon, in which their body heat is absorbed and trapped by their mattress, leaving them overheated and sweating throughout the night. The “sleep hot” phenomenon has been closely linked with lower quality sleep and even insomnia. However, because of the aerated nature of Talalay latex, air can flow naturally through the mattress, releasing any heat that might otherwise become trapped. Sleepers on a Talalay latex mattress can stay cool and comfortable throughout the night!
Talalay latex can safely and successfully be used in absolutely any layer of a mattress. It is strong, durable and supportive enough to see use as a bottom layer while also soft and comfortable enough to serve on top. Or, as Zonkd does with its one of a kind mattress design, Talalay latex can sometimes be found right in the middle, partnering with support foam and memory foam to provide stability comfort, and cooling all at once!
The materials with which your mattress is made are extremely important. Polyurethane foam is more durable than springs. Memory foam infused with cooling gel is more comfortable than that which is not. Natural latex is safer and healthier than synthetic or even blended. And all-natural Talalay latex, providing strength and comfort to sleepers of all softness or firmness preferences, rises above Dunlop to clearly emerge as the superior variety of molded latex.
Contact us today to learn more about purchasing one of our mattresses made with nontoxic, hypoallergenic, all-natural Talalay latex. The sleep of your dreams is just a phone call or an email away!