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One common myth about latex mattresses is that they're uncomfortable because they derive from rubber. However, the truth is that latex mattresses come in different firmness levels, just like other types of mattresses. In fact, the toughness of latex makes these mattresses more durable, and less stiff and uncomfortable.

Therefore, if you're considering buying a latex mattress, it’s important to know how to identify the different firmness levels of the many brands available on the market. By the end of this article, you'll have debunked all the misconceptions about the firmness levels of latex mattresses, making the latex mattress selection process easier and worthwhile.

What is Mattress Firmness?

Mattress firmness refers to how comfortable the mattress feels depending on its hardness or softness. Most sleepers describe a good mattress as one that adequately contours the sleeper's body, offers pressure points relief, and has sufficient support to the spine.

Are Mattress Firmness and Support the Same?

A mattress firmness level isn't the same as the support the mattress offers. The firmness of a mattress describes how the surface feels, while the support explains how comfortably the mattress aligns the spine, which is why a mattress can feel soft, but have better support than a firm mattress.

Despite that difference, the support of a mattress may be compromised by a sleeper's weight. For example, a softer mattress may not effectively support the weight of a heavier sleeper weighing over 230 pounds.

Mattress support and firmness can be difficult to tell apart when shopping for a new mattress. However, for best results, it's advisable to find the answers to these questions when shopping for a new mattress:

To determine the mattress firmness, ask yourself:

  • Do I feel better pressure relief while sleeping?
  • Does the mattress have too much motion transfer?
  • Does the mattress feel too soft or too firm?
  • Does the mattress have enough cushioning?

To determine the right mattress support, ask yourself:

  • Does my back feel comfortable even when I change my sleeping position?
  • Do I have pain on my hips and shoulders when sleeping on my sides?
  • Do I wake up feeling tired or relaxed?

Once you answer these questions when testing out a new mattress, you'll be able to tell whether you'll need a mattress with better support or a different firmness level.

Mattress Firmness Scale

The firmness of a mattress is measured on a scale of 1 to 10. The softer the mattress, the lower the scale, while the firmer the mattress, the higher the scale.

However, different manufacturers may use alternating words to describe the firmness levels of a mattress. For example, you may notice terms like extra-firm, medium, or plush on the tag of a mattress. However, these descriptions are not enough to help you decide the kind of mattress you need, and may also differ among companies.

Here is how the scale mattress firmness scale works:

Extra Soft to Soft Mattresses

These mattresses are rated between 1 and 3 on the firmness scale, and feel extremely plush. Light-weight side sleepers mostly prefer these mattresses because they are easy on the hips and shoulders, and offer adequate support relative to their body weight. Additionally, these types of mattresses tend to contour the shape of a sleeper's body better than most mattresses.

Medium Soft, Medium, and Medium Firm Mattresses

These mattresses fall between levels 4 and 6 on the scale, and are the most common in the market. They offer a great balance between comfort and support, which suits sleepers of average weight.

However, the main difference between this category of mattresses and those in the lower scale category is their body-conforming ability. While softer mattresses are excellent at contouring the shape of a sleeper's body, mattresses in the medium category don't conform as much, but are still comfortable.

Firm to Extra-Firm Mattresses

Mattresses in this category are rated within the last three digits of the scale. The main characteristic of these mattresses is that they don't sink as much as those in the medium and soft categories. As a result, these mattresses are mostly preferred by heavy sleepers because of their pushback and support.

Sleepers with a lower Body Mass Index (BMI) don't exert enough pressure on firmer mattresses to make them conform to the shape of their bodies. Therefore, such sleepers may not experience enough pressure relief on firmer mattresses, resulting in sleep discomfort.

Factors that Affect Mattress Firmness

Many sleepers choose their preferred mattress firmness level based on their sleeping position and body weight. In general, side sleepers tend to prefer softer mattresses, while back and stomach sleepers prefer firmer mattresses.

Another common buying trend suggests that people with a high BMI would be more comfortable on a firmer mattress, regardless of their preferred sleeping position. Conversely, those with lower BMIs would sleep better on a softer mattress.

The whole composition of latex mattresses and their manufacturing process contribute to their firmness level. Some latex mattresses blend organic latex and synthetic latex, but several models are composed of only one type of latex.

Here's how a mattresses' firmness levels depend on the type of latex.

Natural Latex Vs. Synthetic Latex

Natural latex and synthetic latex are the two main types of latex foams.

Natural Latex

Natural latex is also known as organic latex. It derives from the milky sap extracted from the rubber tree plant. Amazingly, the rubber tree is not cut down to harvest the milky sap.

Instead, the sap is tapped from a living tree, producing an average of 19 pounds of latex in a year for around 25 years. Besides being eco-friendly, natural latex is processed without harsh chemicals that cause allergic reactions to many sleepers. Natural latex is also resistant to molds and mildews.

There are two types of natural latex foam, distinguished by their processing method. These are:

Dunlop Latex Foam

In this processing method, natural latex is prepared by whipping the milky extract to make it foamy by introducing air. The whipped latex is then filled into a mold, and put in a vulcanizing oven, where heat and Zinc Oxide are applied to convert the liquid latex into solid natural latex foam.

After the vulcanization process, the latex is removed from the mold, washed to remove any unwanted materials that slow down its aging process. It is then dried to remove all the moisture to create a perfect finished product. As the foam dries, it tends to be denser at the bottom, and lighter at the top.

Talalay Latex Foam

This process also begins with filling a whipped latex into a mold. However, the mold is partially filled with the whipped liquid latex, before being sealed.

Next, a vacuum is blown into the mold to expand the whipped latex to fill the space left inside the mold. Later, the expanded latex is frozen by blowing carbon dioxide through it.

The frozen foam undergoes the same vulcanization process as in the Dunlop latex. It is also removed from the mold, washed, and dried.

Dunlop Latex vs. Talalay Latex

Other than the slight difference in the manufacturing process, these two latex foams also differ in density and firmness.

Generally, Dunlop latex is denser than the Talalay latex, and is also assumed to be firmer. However, despite its density, Dunlop latex mattresses also have the normal firmness range available among other types of mattresses.

On the other hand, the Talalay latex foam is lighter and softer. Much of these qualities have to do with the fact that the foam feels gel-like, instead of solid firm. Similarly, Talalay latex foam can make a wide range of natural latex mattress models with varying firmness levels.

Synthetic Latex

Synthetic latex foam is made from various materials and chemicals to produce rubber that feels like natural latex. Its processing is also similar to the Dunlop and Talalay methods, and the final product can be used to make mattresses with different firmness levels.

However, the chemicals used in making the synthetic latex may cause off-gas odors. They may also irritate the eyes and skin, resulting in breathing problems for users who are allergic to strong odors.

Blended Latex

Blended latex is made by mixing 30% of natural latex and 70% of liquid latex to combine the best of both worlds. Blended latex also feels like natural latex, although it's not as responsive and durable as natural latex.

The Firmness Level of a Latex Mattress

Even though the type of latex and their processing methods impact the firmness of latex mattresses, it may take several night trials to figure out whether you're comfortable with your new latex mattress. Manufacturers also have different ways of creating their models to suit different sleepers, comfort, and firmness levels. Therefore, you may not accurately pick the right mattress firmness for you based only on the materials it's made of.

On the flip side, the firmness of a latex mattress can be measured, as explained below.

Impression Load Deflection (ILD Rating)

The ILD measures the softness or firmness of a mattress by exerting pressure on the mattress using a 12 inch round disk. The amount of pressure or weight required to compress the surface of the mattress to about 25% depth is the ILD rating of the mattress.

In simpler terms, the higher the ILD rating, the firmer the mattress.

For latex mattresses, the density of the mattress is directly proportional to its ILD rating. That means that denser latex mattresses have a higher ILD rating than lighter latex mattresses.

How to Choose the Right Latex Mattress Firmness

Now that you know what a latex mattress is made of and how the different types of latex are manufactured, you should have a much easier time choosing the right firmness level. These are additional factors to consider while shopping for a latex mattress.

Your Body Weight

Your weight can help you decide on the firmness level of your ideal mattress. You want to ensure that you select a mattress that'll give you the best pressure relief, and at the same time conform to your weight. Firmer latex mattresses are preferred mainly by heavier sleepers, while lighter sleepers may sleep better on softer mattresses.

Your Preferred Sleeping Position

Your favorite sleeping position is also another important factor to consider because it determines the part of the body that directly comes in contact with the mattress.

Side sleepers and stomach sleepers mostly prefer softer mattresses that don't put too much pressure on the hips and shoulders. On the other hand, back sleepers generally sleep better on firmer mattresses, while combination sleepers are often comfortable on any mattress firmness level, depending on their weight.

The Responsiveness of the Mattress

The responsiveness of a mattress is responsible for how bouncy the mattress feels, and its motion isolation properties. If a mattress feels too bouncy, then you may find it difficult to change positions in bed. This bounciness may also cause sleep disruption, especially to couples sharing a bed.

Edge Support

Edge support is also an important consideration when selecting the ideal firmness of a latex mattress. This is because, without good edge support, it's not always comfortable to sleep at the sides of the mattress, or use it to sit on.

Usually, when that happens, most of the pressure redirects to the center of the mattress, causing it to wear out faster. In most cases, this happens to a mattress that's too soft to accommodate the weight of a heavier sleeper.

Sleeping Hot

Generally, latex mattresses are cool because of their breathability. However, if a mattress sinks too much when sleeping, it limits how well air flows around the body.

As a result, your mattress will feel too warm, and may cause too much sweating and sleep disruptions, especially in warmer temperatures. This scenario is often common with softer mattresses, and those made with memory foam.

Certifications and Labels for Latex Mattresses

When shopping for a latex mattress, you will find labels on different brands that indicate what the mattress is made of. Some of the common labels include:

All-Natural Latex Mattress

This label indicates that the mattress is made of natural latex extracted from rubber trees. It can either be a Talalay or Dunlop latex mattress, although some Talalay mattresses may have synthetic fillers that aren't considered natural. On the other hand, blended and synthetic latex mattresses aren't considered to be all-natural latex mattresses.

Eco-Friendly Latex Mattress

All-natural latex mattresses are also eco-friendly because they consist of biodegradable natural liquid latex. Besides, there's no need to cut down these trees to extract the latex for manufacturing. Some synthetic latex mattresses are also manufactured through environmentally-sustainable methods, which may not be fully indicated on the labels.

Organic Latex Mattress

A mattress is considered organic if the latex is extracted from trees that haven't been sprayed with harmful chemicals to enhance their natural growth. However, this claim can only be verified through mattress quality certifications that prove the authenticity of such information.

Non-Toxic Latex Mattress

Toxins can be introduced to the natural latex during the processing method. In general, the Dunlop latex mattresses are considered free from toxins, compared to synthetic and blended latex mattresses.

However, some toxins are released through off-gassing, and may cause irritations to sleepers prone to allergies. In addition to these labels, manufacturers of latex mattresses also add the following certifications to support their authenticity and non-toxic mattress claims even further.

Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS)

The GOLS certification requires the mattress to contain at least 95% of organic materials in its composition. It also verifies that the rubber trees weren't grown using pesticides and other harmful chemicals, and that the mattresses have chemical additives and synthetic fillers.

Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)

Manufacturers that use organic textiles such as wool and cotton will only verify their authenticity with a GOTS certification. This certification guarantees that the textiles used in making the mattresses are 70% organic.

Eco Institut and OEKO-TEX Standard 100

Eco Institut examines household items for harmful substances that could be toxic to users and the environment. As a result, mattresses with this certification are generally considered eco-friendly.

OEKO-TEX certification verifies that the materials used in the composition of the mattress have no risks to the user's health.

Latex For Less Mattress Firmness Levels

Making an immediate decision about the ideal firmness level of your new mattress is not an easy task. It may take you a few night's sleep trial before you finally feel comfortable in your new mattress, or decide that you need a softer or a firmer mattress. With Latex For Less mattresses, you don't have to worry about making this decision at all.

Every Latex For Less mattress comes with a two-in-one firmness level, allowing you to try out a firmer and a medium-firm mattress with a simple flip-over. In addition, these unique mattress designs have labels that indicate the firmness of each side, helping you lay your bed on the side of your preference.

You'll receive more responsiveness from the Talalay latex mattress on the mattress's medium natural latex layer side. On the firm natural latex layer side, the mattress feels more supportive for better comfort with just the right body contouring.

Latex For Less mattresses are also eco-friendly because they comprise all-natural latex, organic cotton, and natural wool. Organic cotton is used to make the ultra-soft covers for these mattresses, while organic wool is excellent for breathability and cushioning. The 120-night Latex For Less sleep trial, makes purchasing this mattress an easy decision.

Elizabeth Magill

Elizabeth Magill is a professional freelance writer and editor who holds an MBA. Liz specializes in writing about health news, medical conditions, healthy living, small business, career and work, personal finance, and green-living, including news and trending topics in these specialties. Her clients include Healthline, The Motley Fool, GoBanking Rates, LIVESTRONG.com, Big Interview, HealthNews, Intuit Small Business Blog, Intuit Health, American News Report, Travels.com, IFX Medical, and many others. She’s also a published eBook author and ghost writer for various clients in the health, medical, career, small business, and personal finance niches.