Natural, Synthetic, and Blended Latex: A Comparison

In recent years, latex has gained increasing popularity as a material used in the manufacture of mattresses. Latex successfully mixes softness, sturdiness, support and breathability to contribute to a comfortable, undisturbed sleep experience night after night. However, with the rise of latex mattresses, you may have noticed a number of different names appearing: natural latex, synthetic latex, and blended latex.


These categories refer to the source from which the latex was derived. Natural latex, as the name suggests, occurs in the natural world and is harvested for use in manufacturing. Synthetic latex is manmade, synthesized in factories from a combination of chemicals. Blended latex included both natural and synthetic latex components, being neither completely one nor entirely the other.


The question then arises – do these three types of latex possess the same properties and benefits? Are they created equal?


The answer is simple: no.


While all three varieties of latex possess some advantages, natural latex is significantly superior to its synthetic or partially synthetic counterparts. In a comparison of the three, natural latex comes out leagues ahead due to its numerous positive qualities and almost zero drawbacks.


What is Natural Latex?

Natural latex is latex that is harvested from the natural world – specifically the rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis), a type of tree native to the Amazon rainforest in South America. The rubber tree exudes latex in the form of a thick, viscous white sap just beneath the bark.


Today, natural latex is harvested via a large number of rubber tree plantations, some in the tree’s native South America and other spread across Southeastern Asian locations such as Malaysia and Sri Lanka. The latex is harvested sustainably via a process known as tapping, in which small incisions are made in the bark, allowing the liquid latex to pool in buckets attached to the side of the tree. New incisions are regularly made to prevent permanent damage to the trees. A rubber tree produced latex for approximately 30 years; once it can no longer be tapped, it is chopped down and its sturdy wood is used in the manufacture of furniture or other goods.


Once the liquid latex has been harvested, excess water is removed via high-speed mixing or evaporation at high temperatures. The latex is then cured into a solid form via a process called vulcanization, in which sulfur is added to the liquid to serve as a reacting agent.


 The latex is then subjected to one of two molding processes: either the Dunlop or the Talalay. The Dunlop process steam-bakes the substance, producing a denser, more solid final product. Conversely, the Talalay process generates a softer, more breathable latex by allowing the liquid substance to naturally expand and fill the mold and removing any excess air via a vacuum. Once either process has been completed, the latex can be cut, shaped or layered with other materials to form a completed mattress.


Properties of Natural Latex

Natural latex possesses a number of beneficial properties, many of which are expanded upon in greater detail here. It mixes resilience and strength with softness and breathability. The airflow through the latex keeps sleepers cool throughout the night and eliminates the risk of excessive sweat or losing sleep due to overheating, a phenomenon known as sleep hot.


In addition, natural latex, particularly that manufactured via the Talalay process, can be produced in a wide range of softness or firmness (measured via a number called indentation load deflection or ILD) in order to create the perfect, customized sleep experience for each satisfied customer. The resilient latex returns to its original form as soon as the sleeper leaves the mattress – there is no risk of creating an uncomfortable body-shaped indentation following repeated use. The lack of both sweat risks and indentation risks additionally means that latex mattresses do not need to be flipped to remain consistently comfortable, eliminating a difficult, time-consuming task and letting users fall right to sleep without worry.


Natural latex is also biodegradable, nontoxic and extremely safe to use, and presents no health or safety hazards to users of all ages. It successfully meets textile safety standards such as the Oeko-Tex and CertiPUR-US, certifying that it contains no heavy metals, carcinogens, ozone depleters, or formaldehyde. It also does not emit any potentially harmful gases or volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which can cause throat and lung damage when inhaled. Natural latex also possesses inherent fire resistance, so no artificial, chemical-based fire retardants or finishers need be applied.


As discussed above, the process for harvesting natural latex is extremely sustainable, and does not harm the tree in any way. Latex-producing rubber trees experience an average lifetime of 30 years. Everything from the organic fertilizers used on rubber plantations to the recycling of the trees’ wood as furniture or household items is geared towards creating an environmentally friendly, renewable process which benefits both the users of latex goods and the trees which produce it.


Drawbacks or negative qualities of natural latex are almost nonexistent. While it can in some cases be somewhat more expensive than its manmade counterparts, the numerous disadvantages that come with synthetic or even blended latex are not remotely worth the decreased price. In addition, the cost can be mitigated by producing mattresses using the Zonkd formula, which combines natural latex with memory foam for a mattress that’s both comfortable and affordable!


What is Synthetic Latex?

Synthetic latex is a chemical, factory-made, human-produced latex variant. It was first developed by German innovators during World War I, when opposing British ships controlled the waters around Asia and cut off Germany’s access to the Southeast Asia-based rubber trade. Since that time, the manufacture of synthetic latex has been adopted worldwide due to the relative simplicity of the process. Today, it is estimated that 2/3 of all latex products contain at least some amount of synthetic latex.


Synthetic latex is primarily produced using petrochemicals, manmade chemicals derived from petroleum. While there are a number of different chemical combinations which can successfully yield synthetic latex, the most common components are styrene and butadiene. The two substances are mixed together in a factory setting; often, computer software is used to monitor the temperature and speed of the mixing process to ensure that no errors occur. Air is also introduced to the chemical mix to create the trademark aerated, “springy” texture associated with latex foam.


The liquid synthetic latex is then cured via vulcanization, molded and cut or shaped in much the same way as its natural counterpart. Because manmade latex is typically thicker and denser than latex extracted from rubber trees, as it does not contain any excess water, it is more frequently molded in the Dunlop style to produce a solid, supportive final product.


Properties of Synthetic Latex

Synthetic latex initially gained popularity due to being cheaper and faster to produce than natural. While a rubber tree must age for several years before it can be harvested for liquid latex, styrene and butadiene can be produced and mixed at any time. In addition, the specific processes required to make rubber harvesting sustainable, such as moving the incisions, can be time-consuming and necessitate the use of human labor. The process of manufacturing synthetic latex, on the other hand, can be almost completely automated and computer-controlled.


However, decreased cost and ease of manufacture are virtually the only benefits which synthetic latex offers. In addition, these supposed advantages are accompanied by a host of negative qualities which contribute to a negative, low-quality sleep experience not remotely worth the small amount of money potentially saved.


While synthetic latex may be an excellent material choice for certain parts used in high-stress and high-pressure situations, such as vehicle tires or the treads of heavy machinery, it is a subpar alternative for the manufacture of mattresses. It is less springy, denser, harder, and overall less comfortable than natural latex, no matter which manufacturing process is utilized. It is also less resilient and resistant to sag, and as a consequence experiences a much shorter life expectancy. Mattresses produced from 100% natural latex have been reported to remain comfortable and functional for more than 30 years, while synthetic latex mattresses sag, tear, or form uncomfortable body-shaped impressions after only a few short years.


In addition, the chemicals used in the manufacture of synthetic latex mean that mattresses composed of the substance do not meet textile safety standards, such as the Oeko-Tex or CertiPUR-US. Synthetic latex is also not organic, biodegradable or nontoxic, and cannot be certified as such either by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) or the international organization Global Organic Latex (GOL).


Synthetic latex mattresses are not only not capable of meeting global safety standards, but in fact can often present active health and safety risks to users. Mattresses composed of the most common (styrene-butadiene) variant of synthetic latex have frequently been noted to have a strong, unpleasant odor, and to emit foul-smelling gases as they age. These gases can cause significant respiratory damage when inhaled, especially by infants or young children.


Additionally, synthetic latex does not possess the inherent fire resistance exhibited by its natural counterpart. While chemical additives or artificial finishers or coatings can be added to give synthetic latex fire retardant properties, they are overall less effective, can decrease in strength over time, and can potentially contain carcinogens, ozone depleters, or other harmful chemicals and chemical compounds.


What few advantages synthetic latex can provide are either outweighed by the drawbacks (low cost) or utterly irrelevant to the uses and functions of mattresses (resistance to certain chemicals). There is little or no reason to choose a synthetic latex mattress when a natural alternative is available.


What is Blended Latex?

In an attempt to mitigate the disadvantages associated with synthetic latex, a number of mattress manufacturers have begun to use blended latex instead. As the name suggests, blended latex consists of a mix of natural and synthetic elements. Typically, the natural latex used in a blend will be the lighter, more breathable Talalay, to counteract the denser, stiffer nature of the synthetic styrene-butadiene compound.


Some companies have advertised blended latex as “the best of both worlds” – possessing the beneficial qualities of natural latex while being sold at the lower cost associated with synthetic. However, in many ways, blended latex is in fact the worst of both worlds. The foul odors, health risks and inability to meet safety standards which are key drawbacks of synthetic latex are not eliminated, and its stiff, uncomfortable nature often overpowers the softer springiness of the natural latex.


In addition, there is currently no federal or international standard exists to regulate the composition of blended latex. While the most commonly used blends are 60% synthetic latex to 40% natural and 70% synthetic latex to 30% natural, this fact is often covered up by manufacturers. Mattresses are advertised as "mostly" or “almost entirely” natural latex, and sold at the associated higher prices despite in fact being primarily synthetic.


Therefore, at Zonkd, we believe that, when it comes to mattresses, 100% natural Talalay latex is the only way to go. Synthetic and even blended latex are uncomfortable, unsafe and lack durability. Our mattresses are made only with 100% natural latex, are biodegradable and nontoxic, and confidently meet both Oeko-Tex and CertiPUR-US safety standards. Plus, despite our latex being 100% natural, our prices are affordable – we believe that the purchase of a single mattress shouldn’t break the bank!


So why take the risk? Choose your perfect snooze – choose natural latex and Zonkd today. Our mattress is safe, healthy, durable, and will provide years and years of high quality sleep. We see absolutely zero reason to ever choose synthetic or blended latex over natural – you shouldn’t either!


Contact Zonkd today to learn more about our 100% natural latex mattress and get started with our easier than ever purchase and delivery process.