Greenwashing Mattresses: Is Latex Eco-Friendly?


We specialize in latex mattresses because of the conforming, no pressure-point sleep and the longevity of the product.

Starting in the 1980’s I worked with Englander to develop a line of two-sided, flippable latex mattresses that they make exclusively for our store. We now have 13 different Englander styles, 6 from Natura and 6 from Organic Mattress, Inc., on display. For the past 24 years we have been specializing in latex mattresses – the “as close to perfect” mattress material I have found. For most of those years other retailers either didn’t carry latex or had one or two models while we carried 25. In the last few years that has changed and the inevitable cheapening of the product has begun. Rather than maintaining the highest level of presentation, retailers, feeling they have to have cheaper and cheaper products, are cutting corners, most of which should not be cut. Here is what is happening.

The Shell Game

Greenwashing: Retailers want to jump on the “green” bandwagon, presenting everything as eco, green or natural even if it is made mostly with petroleum and synthetics. There are no enforceable standards for what is “natural” or “green”.

Synthetics: Many “latex” mattresses are being made using synthetic rubber known as polystyrene butadiene or styrene butadiene (SBR). Often stores will present this as natural rubber (yes, petroleum is presented as a natural product).

Soy Foam: Is a plastic foam.  It is roughly 15-20% soy oil, and the remainder is from petroleum.  This is presented as a natural material by some; again, petroleum being sold as a natural product.

Layers: The latest ruse is to present mattresses with an inch or two of SBR latex laminated to polyurethane foam (or “soy foam”) as being a natural latex mattress. Almost all benefit of latex is lost.

Smoke and Mirrors: Comparisons made between synthetic latex and 100% botanical latex are manipulated to present styrene butadiene rubber as comparable or even better than real rubber. Tests are conducted at a ridiculous and unrealistic 158 degrees (Fahrenheit) in order to have it perform better than botanical latex. When compared at room temperature, botanical latex excels.

Inevitably, when shopping for latex mattresses you will run into discussions about Talalay and Dunlop rubber. This argument is often engaged in as a diversion from what the rubber is made from. If the latex is pure botanical rubber, then either process is good. Over the years we have found the Dunlop process botanical latex works best for the support cores of mattresses while the Talalay process rubber is good for use as the cushioning top layer. The differences are truly minor, however, and both hold up well and offer good comfort. In our store we have not experienced a difference in consistency.

So, as it is in many products, it is buyer beware. A knowledgeable consumer is a good consumer. When shopping for latex be aware of the fog of misinformation.

Jeff Garfield

5 thoughts on “Greenwashing Mattresses: Is Latex Eco-Friendly?

  1. Liz says:

    Do latex mattresses need to be on slats or a platform? We’d like to use our current box spring so we can save money and keep another mattress/box spring out of the landfill. We believe our box to consist of a wood frame with cross-wires on top, not of coiled springs. It is 6 years old with no signs of sagging. Would this work for a latex mattress? My partner is not convinced that the wire top wouldn’t work.

  2. Jeff Garfield says:

    Hi Liz,
    Latex mattresses can be used on slats, a solid platform, a platform box, or even a box spring.
    Mattress manufacturers almost always require the use of their own platform box, or box springs in order to maintain the warranty. Your best bet is to ask your salesperson what the manufacturers requirements are.
    Since your box spring shows no sags, it is likely to be sufficient as a support system. You won’t damage a latex mattress by putting it on an existing box spring as long as there are no springs poking out. However, even when a box spring shows no signs of wear, there can sometimes be softer spots that will translate through the mattress and give a hammock-like feel. We don’t want the brand new mattress to perform differently than it did on the showroom floor.
    One major drawback to putting any mattress on a true box spring is that the springs transfer more motion than wooden platforms or slats. If you ever needed to firm up the feel of your box spring, you could always put a piece of plywood between the mattress and box. If you do choose to put plywood below a latex mattress, it is important to either cut holes in it, or use some sort of fibrous pad to promote breathability. If moisture is trapped underneath any mattress, there is the potential for mold.
    Thank you very much for your inquiry, and let us know if you have any more questions.

  3. Cynthia says:

    Hi
    I’m finding all your blog topics very informative.
    I am curious about the latex mattresses and how they hold up with a larger size person. Also I have been told that they are warmer than conventional mattresses so may not be comfortable for someone who likes cooler conditions for sleeping.
    Thank you.

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