Healthy Home + Healthy Planet

Natural Latex Explained

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

Below we've pulled together key features of this plant-based foam so you can learn why this material makes for perfect eco-friendly furniture.

That’s right, it’s sustainable! 

Harvesting latex is simple and typically 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.

If organic natural latex *does* end up in a landfill, it will break down without harming the environment to the degree that synthetic poly foam would. 

Helloooo, it’s also springy and resilient

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

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 latex mattresses are so worth checking out. Did we mention that 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 more natural option, it’s important to understand what to weed out. 

Natural latex is made from rubber tree sap and does not typically involve added fillers like blended or synthetic latex does. Medley’s 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. To label latex as GOLS certified, it must contain a minimum of 95% certified organic raw material of the total weight.

(These products may contain not only certified natural rubber latex but also other approved additional materials and chemicals required in the production process. In order to label the final product as GOLS it is paramount that all the raw materials in the product (other than approved additional materials/accessories) comply with the requirements on organic origin.)

Synthetic latex is manufactured by mixing natural latex from rubber trees 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 latex, look for the GOLS label mentioned above. Without it, it’s hard to prove whether the latex is certified 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—this is the latex we use at Medley.

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. To give latex its final shape, the vulcanization process engages sulphur, an agent that helps initiate the vulcanization, and zinc oxide, which helps prevent the foam from oxidizing. 
  • The latex is then washed, which helps 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.


The takeaway

When you opt for latex foam, you need to worry much less about harsh chemicals or high levels of off gassing from your sofa or mattress than you would with synthetic materials. Plant-based latex foam is more eco-friendly, durable, and sustainable when it's GOLS-certified. And yes, it is c-o-m-f-y: once you've experienced sleeping or lounging on organic latex foam, there's no going back.  

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