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How Is Latex Density Measured?

Written by Keith Cushner

Quick Overview

In recent years, latex mattresses have become very popular among sleepers. Density, or weight per unit of volume, is an important consideration for latex mattress shoppers. The density of a bed’s individual latex layers can impact mattress durability, temperature, odor, and other important variables for owners, as well as cost.

In this guide, we’ll explain how density is measured for latex mattress layers and shed some light on how to choose a mattress based on density.

What Is Latex Density?

Density refers to the weight of one cubic foot of material, and is expressed in pounds per cubic foot (PCF). To calculate density, simply divide an object’s total weight by its overall volume. For example, a latex layer that weighs 100 pounds and measures 25 cubic feet has a density of 4 PCF. If the latex has a uniform consistency, then each cubic foot will weigh 4 pounds.

Latex is a liquid extract derived from the sap of rubber tree plants. Due to its natural durability and flexibility, latex has many different industrial uses today. In mattresses, two types of latex are generally used: Dunlop and Talalay. Both latex types differ in terms of their specific processing method, as well as consistency, weight, and other characteristics. A full breakdown is found in the table below.

Generally speaking, Dunlop latex tends to have a higher density than Talalay latex; this is one of the reasons why Dunlop latex is primarily used as a support core material.

When measuring density, latex falls into one of three categories: low, medium, or high. Density is also used to evaluate polyfoam and memory foam used in mattresses. However, density ranges for these materials vary considerably.

It’s worth noting that most mattress brands offering latex beds do not disclose the density of individual latex layers. This is because firmness and indentation load deflection (ILD) are more commonly used to evaluate how a mattress feels for sleepers (see next section). This is not the case for polyfoam and memory foam mattress layers; brands frequently disclose density specs for these materials.

The comparison table below lists normal density ranges for latex (both Dunlop and Talalay), polyfoam, and memory foam.

Density vs. Firmness and ILD

Some mattress brands use the terms ‘density’ and ‘firmness’ interchangeably. However, this is technically inaccurate. While density is a weight/volume measurement used for individual mattress layers, ‘firmness’ refers to how soft or firm the bed feels as a whole. Firmness is assigned using a 1-10 scale, with 1 being softest and 10 being firmest. Most mattresses made today range from a 3, or ‘Soft,’ to an 8, or ‘Firm.’

Another firmness measurement is indentation load deflection, or ILD. ILD refers to the amount of weight needed to compress a certain material. To calculate ILD, place a metallic disk measuring 1 foot in diameter on a section of material measuring 4 inches thick. The ILD – expressed in numerals – is the amount of weight needed to compress that material by 25%.

The table below lists common firmness and ILD ranges for the latex used in today’s mattresses.

Natural vs. Synthetic Latex

In addition to density and processing method, latex mattress shoppers should evaluate each bed based on how much natural and/or synthetic latex is used.

Natural latex primarily consists of the extract from rubber trees, though chemical-based cure packages are also used to generate the foamy material during processing; this is true of Dunlop and Talalay processing methods. Some brands advertise their mattresses as 100% organic, but this label is misleading. The standard certification for organic latex – known as the Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS) – mandates  the material must contain at least 95% natural latex. Therefore, a ‘certified-organic latex mattress’ still contains at least trace amounts of petrochemical filler.

Synthetic latex typically contains little to no natural latex. The chief components are petrochemicals, such as styrene and butadiene, which are treated with emulsifying agents to reduce surface tension. The resulting material is very similar to natural/organic latex in terms of density and feel, but it tends to be less durable and trap body heat to a more noticeable degree. Synthetic latex is also much less eco-friendly than natural/organic latex.

Blended latex contains a combination of natural and synthetic latex. The ratio varies by material, but as a rule blended latex must contain at least 30% natural latex; otherwise it should be labeled as ‘synthetic.’ Some brands advertise blended latex as ‘natural latex,’ which is also misleading because the blended latex may primarily consist of synthetic components.

How Does Latex Density Affect a Mattress?

The density of latex layers in a mattress can impact other aspects of the bed, as well. The table below breaks down some of these factors, including temperature neutrality, pain relief, and odor potential.

Choosing the Right Latex Density

Lastly, latex mattress shoppers should consider two personal factors when choosing a model: body weight and sleep position.

Lighter individuals (less than 130 pounds) typically prefer beds that are softer and less dense because they conform to their bodies more closely. This is especially true of side sleepers, who need extra cushioning below the shoulders and hips in order to align their spines and prevent pressure points from building up. A firmer, denser mattress may not conform closely enough for lighter people.

Heavier individuals (more than 230 pounds) are the opposite. Firmer beds are considered the ideal because they do not sink excessively, unlike softer, less dense mattresses. Back and stomach sleepers do not need extra cushioning beneath the shoulders and hips because their position naturally aligns the spine; rather, they require a supportive, even sleep surface that won’t sag beneath their heaviest areas. As a result, most back and stomach sleepers also prefer firmer beds. Those who weigh between 130 and 230 pounds typically prefer mattresses that combine soft body-contouring and firm surface support.

The table below lists the optimal density ranges for sleepers based on weight and position. Please note these ratings are highly subjective; every sleeper is different, and some may find that different density levels are better for them.

Additional Resources

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