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Latex foam is a foam that is produced from liquid latex through the vulcanization process. There are a few different variations of this process that are used in the production of latex foam that we will list below later on. All of these processes, however, can be completed using 100% natural latex, 100% synthetic latex or a blend of natural and synthetic latex.
Natural Latex (Rubber)
The latex used in our products comes from the Hevea-Brasilienis tree, otherwise known as the rubber tree. Rubber trees are grown in South America and other equatorial location like Malaysia and Indonesia. They were highly sought after in the 19th century as their value grew.
The process of tapping rubber trees is very similar to tapping maple trees for maple syrup. A tiny piece of bark is carved away, and latex starts flowing from that cut and into containers below.
100% natural latex foam has a supportive and springy feel. High quality natural latex foam such as our Active Gum latex foam is extremely durable and will last longer than any other type of mattress component. While it does have an odour, natural latex foam usually has a much more mild and less abrasive odour than that of synthetic latex. Most true 100% natural latex foam will meet the most stringent textile and furniture emissions standards such as ecoInstitut, Oeko-Tex and Greenguard.
Synthetic Latex (Foam)
Synthetic latex is made up of synthetic compounds that mimic the properties of natural latex. Rather than being obtained from rubber trees, it is made of petrochemicals also known as oil. Several types of synthetic latex exist but SBR (styrene-butadiene rubber) is the most common type of synthetic latex used in the production of synthetic latex foam.
Synthetic latex foam is usually more dull and less springy than natural latex foam. It is generally less durable and prone to tearing than natural latex foam. Synthetic latex foam also tends to have a more offensive odour than natural latex foam.
Which Makes a Better Latex Mattress and Why
One of the most challenging decisions consumers encounter when shopping for a latex mattress is determining the differences between Talalay and Dunlop latex.
People usually want to know what makes them different, why one costs more, and which is more comfortable and durable. To further confuse the issue, synthetic and natural latex can both be used with either method. It is important to research and understand the differences between the types before purchasing a new bed.
To determine whether a Dunlop or Talalay latex mattress would be best, you should understand the processes used to create them, their inherent properties, and the benefits each provides.
The terms Talalay and Dunlop refer solely to the method used to change the latex liquid into the foam material used in beds.
The Making of a Dunlop Latex Mattress
The Dunlop process was the original method for making latex foam, as developed by the Dunlop company in the 1920’s.
The Making of a Talalay Latex Mattress
The Talalay process was developed in the 1940’s by the Talalay brothers. This process allows for greater control over density and firmness.
To summarise and provide an analogy, Latex International, one of the largest manufacturers of latex products describes the difference like this:
Talalay latex is like a chocolate souffle; although the process is long, your end product is a buoyant, airy, complex delight. Dunlop latex is more like a tray of brownies; tasty, but dense and flat in comparison.
The ability for a mattress to remain durable, offer support and provide pressure relief are very important when determining which one to purchase. The two types of latex mattress manufacturing result in significant differences likely to impact the decision of which is best for your needs.
(Statistics below are from Latex International).
Consistency is a significant factor when determining whether a Talalay latex mattress or Dunlop model is best. Dunlop manufacturing allows sediments to settle, which creates a mattress that is softer on the top and firm on the bottom.
The latex particles may also be unevenly distributed, yielding a lumpy sensation. The vacuum and flash-freezing steps in the Talalay methods evenly disperse the particles, creating a finer, consistent cell matrix that yields a consistent feel throughout the material.
The firmness of Talalay latex can be adjusted by controlling the amount of latex in the mold before pressurisation. With Dunlop latex, the only way to soften the material is to add fillers which disrupt the natural integrity of the foam. Thus, Talalay products can achieve a much wider range of firmness levels, and prove superior especially in softer applications.
The vacuum process of Talalay latex allows it to retain elasticity, whereas the flat moulding process of Dunlop creates a firmer product. Think of a rubber balloon compared to an eraser. When it comes to mattress materials, this elasticity means Talalay material can better contour to the body to relieve pressure points.
One study indicates that Talalay latex provides 33% greater pressure relief over Dunlop material.
How breathable a mattress is can have a big impact on sleep as science shows that cooler temperatures are more conducive to quality rest. The large, open, round cells of Talalay latex allow more air flow than smaller, closed, inconsistent cells of Dunlop. Talalay latex thus can be up to four times more breathable.
When buying a new mattress, people usually want a bed that will last. Impressions can be troublesome to many, and research has shown that Talalay latex resists compression three times longer than Dunlop.
This is due primarily to cell structure, as Dunlop’s snowflake-type matrix is less capable of resisting compression and more likely to weaken over time.
Manufacturing Costs & Availability
Dunlop latex is typically cheaper the cheaper of the two, and many wonder why. It really boils down to the effort and resources used in the process, and the availability of the product. The Dunlop process takes approximately an hour and is fairly common.
The Talalay process takes up to 14 hours and involves more specialised equipment. Very few facilities in the world produce Talalay process latex, thus due to “economies of scale”, this process remains somewhat more expensive.
Is One More Natural?
Either process can be made using 100% natural, blended, or synthetic latex. We discuss the differences between synthetic and natural latex in detail in a previous article, “What is in a Latex Mattress?“, which are also important to understand when comparing latex beds.
We recommend opting for all-natural latex whichever type you chose in order to reduce chemicals and maximise benefits.
When the two products are compared side-by-side, a clear winner results. Talalay latex proves superior in consistency, pressure relief, breath ability, and customisability, all factors critical to comfort.
While Talalay can cost more than Dunlop, the improvements in in durability means consumers will be able to utilise their mattresses longer.
Thus, the ideal latex mattress would contain a Talalay core and comfort layers in order to receive the greatest benefits.