Latex can be created either through a synthetic process or a natural process. Mattresses are made of either all synthetic latex, all natural latex, or a blend of the two. Generally whatever the process, the mattresses produce the general latex properties that people seek, with the differences only relevant for very sophisticated mattress buyers.
Natural latex comes from the Hevea-brasiliensis tree, also referred to as a rubber tree. These trees are tapped (similar to tapping for maple syrup) to extract the rubber from the trunk. The rubber is then processed into latex foam using either the talalay or dunlop processing method. Natural Latex (compared to synthetic latex) generally is:
- more expensive
- denser (and thus feels heavier)
- springier/more elastic (bounces back more quickly)
Synthetic latex was created in the 1940s as rubber supply could not keep up with demand. Synthetic latex is produced through a chemical process, and is sometimes referred to as Styrene Butadiene Rubber due to the chemical composition.. Synthetic or blended latex mattresses have very similar properties to natural latex, with a few slight differences depending on the brand, quality, and processing method. Synthetic latex does have some small advantages, including:
- better aging and long term durability
- less likely to soften
Which is better, natural or synthetic?
This issue is frequently discussed, without any absolute resolution. Different manufacturers will argue that their mattress and method is superior, but generally both natural and synthetic provide a pretty similar experience, all else equal. Both will have a rubbery or vanilla odor initially, which should dissipate quickly. The safety for both mattresses is similar, so really your decision between the two should come down to preference.