Latex mattresses are becoming increasingly popular for some compelling reasons. Here's everything you need to know (and more) before you decide if a latex mattress is right for you.

Latex mattress basics

So what are latex mattresses? Well, it varies. Some manufacturers mold the latex into one piece of foam; others utilize a foam core surrounded by softer latex. Still others make mattresses with hundreds of little foam springs. Dunlop and Talalay latex, both natural materials, are used in various types of mattress construction. Dunlop is typically more dense and used for the mattress core. Talalay has a more even consistency and creates a plusher bed.

How can latex be comfortable? It's rubber!

Most of us associate rubber with tires and pesky dodge balls. But latex has a much softer side, happily. Latex mattresses are manufactured to be a gently springy, responsive foam. Instead of sinking in, as you would on memory foam mattress, you rest comfortably on top of a latex mattress. The soft support adjusts to your body and cushions your pressure points. This is especially good if you have any kind of pain. Latex does not "push back" on you like metal coils in a conventional mattress. Some premium latex mattresses are made with individual latex foam springs to allow customized firmness.

How is latex different than memory foam?

Most people considering a latex mattress also have a memory foam mattress on their list. So let's compare and contrast between 100% memory foam or 100% latex mattresses, and a new option emerging in the market, the latex/memory foam hybrid mattress. The primary differences involve the feeling of the mattress and heat retention. An all-natural latex mattress feels light and slightly buoyant. You float on top of it, held up by the soft airy foam underneath. Latex also does not retain heat. Mattresses made from 100% memory foam have a plush feel. You sink into them and they're quite soft. These mattresses work off heat retention, though, so they often tend to sleep hot.

A newer entry to the market is the hybrid mattress, which combines the feel of memory foam but uses latex underneath to help dissipate heat. The better hybrids are not uniform slabs of foam; underneath those comfort layers, they provide custom support.

What about allergies?

Latex mattresses are excellent for people who suffer from many types of allergies like dust and mold. Latex is naturally hypoallergenic, anti-microbial and dust-mite resistant. It is also manufactured with pinholes. This allows heat and moisture to escape, further reducing the ability of irritants to thrive.

Still, sensitivity to the latex itself is an issue for some. Generally, people who have latex sensitivity are not bothered by latex mattresses, because the latex is covered with other natural materials and does not touch the skin. If you have latex sensitivity, however, approach with caution. Seek a 100% natural latex mattress with a trial period and full refund policy. You can read more about mattresses and latex allergies here.

Seems like they'd be hot.

The answer to this is an emphatic "no." Nope. Not only does latex not retain heat, it's also made with pinholes which allow air circulation. Some of the best natural latex mattresses are also made with individual latex springs or cells, allowing even better air circulation which creates a perfect cooling mattress. Which isn't to say that latex is cold. It's actually temperature neutral. If the occasional person complains about latex being hot, the culprit is usually an inappropriate mattress topping cover.

Are latex foam mattresses toxic?

The better mattresses are not. Mattresses made with all natural latex, like Talalay and Dunlop, could easily be the safest in terms of materials. They are made without toxic chemicals, from the organic sap of the rubber tree. Synthetic latex, on the other hand, can be manufactured with petroleum. Some companies use harsh chemicals and known carcinogens, which can emit a smell that does not subside and may be the sign of a harmful chemical.

Are they eco-friendly?

Again, we're not talking tires in landfills here. Natural latex mattresses are made from sustainable materials and manufactured without harsh chemicals so they can be easily recycled. They are durable for much longer than other mattresses, but ultimately latex mattresses are biodegradable and will not be sitting in landfills for all eternity.

How are they for durability?

Excellent. Latex foam mattresses do not sag, develop body indentations or disintegrate over time. Most are warrantied for 10 years, but quality latex mattresses usually last much longer, often twice that long. Some mattresses with individual foam springs can even be easily reconfigured years later if your needs change, adding to their usefulness and longevity.

No one can tell you which mattress is exactly right for you. Trying is ultimately believing, but latex mattresses offer some major advantages for comfort and health reasons. You'd do well to include them on your shopping list next time you're in the market for a mattress.