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Latex mattresses are known for their superior comfort and durability and their high price point. If you are considering buying a latex mattress, it’s good to familiarize yourself with the two main types, Dunlop and Talalay. First, a quick clarification. Dunlop and Talalay are different methods for producing latex. The slightly different processes produce mattress components that have some distinguishing characteristics. This piece will explain how each is made, how they feel, and the pros and cons of each.
Let’s start with Dunlop latex mattresses.
The Dunlop process for manufacturing latex from the sap of rubber trees was developed in 1929. In the process, liquid latex serum is whipped into a froth, injected in layers into a mold, and baked in a vulcanization oven. After the latex is baked, it is removed from the mold, washed, and then heated a second time to remove moisture. The result is a dense, durable latex foam that retains its elasticity. Because it takes time for the latex to set into a solid form, natural sediment suspended in the liquid “settles” at the bottom of each layer, which means one side will usually be denser and firmer than the other.
Because of its density, Dunlop latex tends to produce a firmer mattress. Dunlop mattresses are extremely durable and more springy than Talalay — meaning when you press on it, it recovers quickly. If you have kids who jump on the bed, Dunlop is a good choice, because it can take a lot of abuse. Dunlop is also a good choice if you prefer a firmer mattress. Because Dunlop is so dense and durable, many latex mattresses use it for a support core even if they have softer Talalay layers on top.
Because the Dunlop process is simpler and more energy-efficient than the Talalay process, it leaves a smaller carbon footprint. For this reason Dunlop mattresses also tend to be less expensive than Talalay — although in general, latex mattresses are among the priciest on the market. The durability of Dunlop latex also means you won’t have to replace it as often, which translates to fewer mattresses in landfills.
You may be wondering if Dunlop latex mattresses are biodegradable. This is a tricky question, and the answer has to do with the materials used to make the latex, not the process. Mattresses made from natural latex are biodegradable. Mattresses made from synthetic latex are not. But it gets more complicated, because both the Dunlop and Talalay processes can be used to manufacture natural and synthetic mattresses. And the truth is, most latex mattresses are a blend — a mix of natural and synthetic materials.
To summarize, here are some of the pros and cons of Dunlop latex mattresses.
Now let’s take a look at Talalay latex.
The Talalay process for manufacturing latex is similar to the Dunlop process, but it adds a few extra steps that result in a lighter, more “airy” latex. As with the Dunlop process, liquid latex is whipped to a foamy consistency and poured into a mold. However, in the Talalay process, the mold is only partially filled. It is then sealed to create a vacuum, which expands the liquid latex to fill the mold. It is then flash-frozen, which pushes carbon dioxide gas through the latex, forming breathable airways as the latex begins to solidify. Finally it is baked, removed from the mold, washed, and dried. The additional steps prevent the settling you get in Dunlop latex, so Talalay has a more uniform, supple consistency.
Talalay latex mattresses are generally lighter, less dense, and more breathable than Dunlop. If you sleep warm, Talalay can do a good job of dissipating heat and keeping you comfortable. Talalay mattresses are somewhat less springy than Dunlop — they’re still very elastic, but they’re softer and tend not to spring back as quickly.
The Talalay process is more complex and labor-intensive, which means both a larger carbon footprint and a higher price tag. Also, because Talalay latex is less dense, it tends to wear out faster than Dunlop.
Now, let’s have a look at the pros and cons of Talalay latex mattresses.
Many latex mattresses combine both Dunlop and Talalay layers, taking advantage of the superior properties of each. A mattress with a Dunlop core and Talalay comfort layers has a firm, supportive interior and an airy, soft top — the best of both worlds.
This is another big distinction in latex mattresses, and it’s not as straightforward as you might think. If you want a mattress that’s truly 100% natural latex, look for a “USDA certified organic” label. If a mattress is labeled “natural,” this usually means it’s mostly natural latex but can have up to 5% synthetic materials.
Synthetic latex is very similar to natural latex in its physical properties, but it is manmade, derived from various petrochemicals. The latex in most mattresses today is, in fact, a blend of natural and synthetic. This gives the mattress the superior support, comfort, and breathability of natural latex at a much more affordable price point. Natural/synthetic blend mattresses can have anywhere from 30% to 70% natural latex, and they can be made using either the Dunlop or the Talalay method.
One mattress type isn’t objectively better than the other — the best one for you depends on what you’re looking for in a latex mattress. In summary, Dunlop latex is slightly less expensive and environmentally friendlier, and it tends to be better if you prefer a firm mattress. Talalay latex has a higher price point, but it has a more uniform consistency and tends to be softer and more plush.
For more in-depth information about latex mattresses, please see our Latex Mattress Reviews page.
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