Natural Latex Explained

Looking for a sustainably-made sofa or mattress built using eco-friendly materials? Meet natural latex, an uber-comfy, durable, and non-toxic foam we're proud to offer. But wait—latex can be natural, you ask? That’s right. Latex is a natural substance harvested from rubber trees (Hevea Brasiliensis), but can also be artificially produced via chemical processes. 

Below we've pulled together key features of natural latex so you can learn why this material makes for the perfect eco-friendly piece.

That’s right, it’s sustainable! 

Harvesting natural latex is simple and requires no harsh chemicals, fertilizers or pesticides. It takes about seven to ten years of growth before rubber trees start producing sufficient amounts of latex: this waiting period ensures that new rubber trees are planted continuously.

Latex is harvested from rubber trees by "tapping" them—yes, like maple syrup! Careful stripping of the rubber tree’s bark allows the sap to be harvested without damage, allowing the latex to flow out and into a container attached to the tree. 

After about 25 years, rubber trees stop producing the sap needed to make latex and is sometimes harvested for its wood. Since the wood resembles teak, it’s often used to make furniture, and is also commonly used in timber and beam construction.

Organic natural latex can be recycled and is biodegradable, so if it *does* end up in a landfill, it will break down without harming the environment. 

Helloooo, it’s also springy and resilient

Here’s another major plus of natural latex: its natural resilience. Its responsive material not only offers gentle support, but maintains its shape and resists impressions from use over time. This means that eco-friendly sofas and mattresses made from natural latex can often last much longer than others made from conventional poly foams. 

Natural latex also doesn’t transfer motion the way furniture with coil springs does, making for a smooth and bounce-free lounge: also a reason why natural latex mattresses are soooo worth checking out. Did we mention that natural latex is also mold resistant and antimicrobial? This is *the* material you want to sleep on.

Learn the difference: natural vs. synthetic latex

There are a few different types of latex, and if you’re looking for a completely natural option, it’s important to understand what to weed out. 

Natural latex is made exclusively from rubber tree sap and does not contain any outside harmful chemicals or fillers such as clay or sand. Medley’s natural latex is certified organic by the Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS), the gold standard of the industry that indicates purity of material, fair labor practices, and eco-friendly processing. 

Synthetic latex is manufactured by mixing natural latex with a petroleum-based plasticizer. Typically, butadiene or styrene is used as the mixing agent. As a result of the added chemicals, synthetic latex is not considered organic.

Blended latex is made by combining synthetic and organic latex and may also contain other fillers, such as clay.

To make sure you’re opting for organic, totally natural latex, look for the GOLS certification mentioned above. Without it, it’s hard to prove whether the latex is completely organic rather than mixed with fillers or synthetic materials.

Let’s get nerdy: Dunlop vs. Talalay Latex 

The Process to create natural latex is made in one of two ways: Dunlop or Talalay. The biggest difference between the two is that the Talalay process produces latex that is very springy, while Dunlop latex is denser and more durable. 

We use Dunlop latex at Medley for a couple reasons. For one, its durability, as just mentioned, and the other reason: it can be said that completely natural Talalay latex does not actually exist, since the latex produced by this process contains materials other than latex, including curing agents and ammonia that may be used to stabilize the liquid rubber. 

Now for the detailed differences between Dunlop and Talalay processing, if you’re up for it: 

The Dunlop process:

  • Liquid latex extract is whipped into a frothy foam.
  • The mixture is then poured into a mold and transferred to a vulcanization oven. The vulcanization process is a chemical reaction that gives the latex its final shape. 
  • The latex is then washed, which helps it retain elasticity and counter aging.

The Talalay process:

  • Liquid latex extract is whipped into a frothy foam.
  • Liquid rubber extract is inserted into a closed mold that is vacuum-sealed. 
  • The mold is then frozen to permit stabilization of the latex. 
  • Carbon dioxide gas is then added 
  • The mold is baked to cure the rubber. 
  • Once vulcanization has occurred, the latex is de-molded and sent for washing and drying.

TLDR: in Dunlop and Talalay manufacturing, rubber tree sap is whipped into a liquid foam, poured into molds, and baked. Talalay is vacuum-sealed and treated with carbon dioxide gas, while Dunlop isn’t.

The takeaway

When you opt for natural latex, you don’t need to worry about additional chemicals or high levels of off gassing from your sofa or mattress. Natural latex is eco-friendly, durable, and harvested sustainably when it's GOTS-certified. And yes, it is c-o-m-f-y: once you've experienced sleeping or lounging on organic natural latex, there's no going back.  

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