Many of my customers call seeking information about Natural Latex, already having some seasoned experience and knowledge base about this unique, botanically derived material. In fact, I talk to lots of folks who have actually slept on a Natural Latex mattress decades ago, many remembering the wonderfully comfortable, elastic, and supportive bed their Mom and Dad had in their house that was most likely a Sears product, like their Harvest House line of natural latex mattresses.
In the 50′s, natural latex rubber mattresses were hugely popular, and even most automotive seating upholstery was done with latex rubber. By the mid 60′s however, cheaper, synthetic, petroleum based urethane foam was taking the place of natural latex in the bedding industry, and automobile manufacturers wanted something lighter in weight as well, since natural latex rubber is much more dense. Soon, synthetic foams dominated the bedding industry since they were cheap, light weight, and you could control the composition in such a way that different densities and unique aesthetic qualities could be created and controlled.
Memory foam products are a good example of a material that has dominated the bedding industry for the last few years, with manufacturers playing up on it’s body enveloping, “melt up around you” sensation as being the best way to obtain proper spine alignment and receive “restorative sleep” benefits. Also, since NASA pioneered the development of this foam, customers liked the idea of anything romantically linked to space technology.
Unfortunately, petroleum based foams tend to have some downsides, and with the current global mindset about oil derived products in general, the interest in greener, naturally derived products is undergoing a huge renaissance, and consumers are becoming more tuned in to chemical sensitivity and exposure to substances which are built into their sleep surfaces, and complaints are commonplace. I speak to medical professionals who call inquiring about natural latex, and there is genuine concern about these issues. Previously undiagnosed illnesses such as Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and others are now being more thoroughly understood as having at least some connection to environmental factors, and consumers want to eliminate any materials in their immediate living spaces, including bedding, that can expose them to substances which may be contributing to symptoms associated with these disorders.
I’ve personally spoken with dozens of folks who have been diagnosed suffering from vague syndromes like fibromyalgia or severe allergies, who start from scratch first by adjusting their diets, the air quality in their homes (who do you know that does not have some kind of an air filtration system in their home?), their beds, even the paint on the walls and the carpet on their floors. Bottom line, their is a huge, conscious movement underway motivating humans to cleanse their living environments, all in concert with bigger issues like global warming, and the tendency to move away from products made from oil. I’m not saying that we’re trying to capitalize on a “tree hugger” image, and we don’t all wear Birkenstocks here, but the fact of the matter is, there’s not a lot of research about the effects of long term, intimate contact with bedding materials, especially those manufactured using petroleum distillates.
Especially alarming is the use of VOC based adhesives in the bedding industry, and consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the use of these materials. Customers for years have voiced concerns to me about the ingredients in mattresses, about such things as the “cumulative effect” of exposure to noxious materials, what with our seemingly endless need to create ever more sophisticated beds with all kinds of layers, all of which have to be glued together, in attempt to create the most innovative, high tech mattress in the marketplace. I’m surprised that some manufacturers don’t include a stepladder with their mattress, to be honest with you.
Other problems with synthetic, oil based foams, including synthetic latex, is longevity. Natural latex, for example, does not depress, form body impressions, or rut over time, because of its high elasticity quality, its open celled stucture, and its stability. Urethane or oil based foams eventually turn yellow, become brittle, and begin to bucket or rut, even very early on. I have received many calls from customers who have become highly frustrated after purchasing a mattress and within months, body impressions have caused them to literally roll into the center of their mattress, where they become “trapped”!
When searching for true, 100% natural latex, you have to dig pretty deep, as the “latex scam” we talk about on our site, really does hold water. Many retailers pass off “100% Latex” as Natural, when in fact it’s nothing more than 100% synthetic urethane, and it has no botanical component to it at all. Others provide blended product, a mixture of some natural botanical material mixed with synthetic urethane foam, and call it “All Natural”. You have to ask a lot of questions…like, exactly where does your natural latex come from? There are few sources for botanical latex, most of it produced in Asia on large plantations, the cores, or layers of raw mattress components shipped to the U.S., and then final assembly and customized lamination and packaging done here, in various production facilities.
So, what is it about 100% Natural Latex, the botanical version that makes it…so green? It just so happens that natural latex, while being as pristine as a spring day to humans, is a completely undesirable environment for dust mites, bacteria, mold, mildew, fungi, even certain viruses and other microbes. This is largely due to the dry environment within the “open celled” structure of natural latex, and without moisture, these organisms cannot colonize. Also, there is some suggestion that the pH, or acidity, of natural latex, may also be a natural inhibitor. Natural latex has no odor, and since it is a botanical product, does not leach out vapors or fumes over long periods of time. More specifically, when you purchase a latex mattress made using the Dunlop method, the rinsing process used after the vulcanization process is complete (vulcanization is the “slow cooking” process which turns the raw liquid latex into a solid) utilizes pure, drinkable quality water, which removes proteins and other dusty residuals which eliminate allergens. Therefore, people who have latex allergies can safely enjoy the comfort of a natural latex mattress.
We source our latex from a private company which obtains our product from Sri Lanka, and an overview of the production process can be seen here, at the Latex Green web site. If you’re looking for all natural latex, remember that it’s really been around for a long time, and when you think about it, to have access to a time tested method of production (the Dunlop method, not the Talalay process, more on that in other blog entries found here) is pretty amazing. Botanical latex has been used in bedding and other industries in the U.S. for almost 60 years..more than almost any other bedding component in existence. Now that’s some serious field testing!