About Me

I’m a California-based voice & visual artist. I immerse myself in creative adventure by exploring multiple genres, styles, and forms in my writing and art. I also make short films. ❤️robots.

To Latex or Not to Latex—Why Is Mattress Shopping So Hard?

Once upon a time, I experienced dreamy sleep. But then, after many years, my wonderful mattress wore out. That was 2004.

The sleep world had changed. Mattress manufacturing had changed. Craftmanship and quality had been replaced with memory foam created by NASA and hype. I had no idea what lay ahead for the next decade and a half.

Infographic: Mattress as a support layer plus a comfort layer. Add a topper for extra comfort. Find the appropriate pillow. Not pictured but necessary: the right foundation or box spring.

Early in my journey, a salesman accused me of being a spy when I asked what was inside of a mattress. Sleep is too important for secrets. This began my fifteen-year journey investigating how mattresses were constructed and with what materials. Why had quality and craftsmanship been abandoned for foam, foam, foam? Corporate greed. Foam mattresses are less expensive to manufacture, allowing for more profit. And as a bonus (for these businesses): synthetic foam mattresses have short life spans.

Don’t be surprised if, after a year or so, a new synthetic mattress develops a sagging spot from the comfort layer of foam compressing. Or maybe by three years, backaches and sleepless nights send a person right back into the confusing world of mattress shopping. Mattresses used to be handed down, now they are handed over to landfills. Sleep medications and ibuprofen are not a sustainable answer. A supportive and comfortable bed is.

Without restorative sleep, everything suffers.

In this interesting 23-minute “Healing Sleep” video Elson Haas, MD, says there are five keys to staying healthy: nutrition, exercise, (reducing) stress, sleep, and attitude. youtu.be/Z6wmf24ueck?t=828

Pillow and Topper stuffing materials:
Natural/organic examples are wool, feathers, down, kapok, buckwheat hulls, natural rubber, cotton, hemp, coconut coir, horse hair, cashmere, springs.
Synthetic examples are polyester, memory foam, synthetic latex, polystyrene, and polyurethane.

I think happiness is wrapped up in the maintaining of one’s core—inside and out, meaning your body’s core and your mattress core. The payoff will make your day better, stronger, more confident.

Sleep is more than "comfort." It's about living. In the morning, rested, we can open our eyes and luxuriate. Rest provides vitality.

The nightmare of eyes wide open, all night, positions sleep as a battle. My mattress hunt became a nightmarish journey. Here’s an overview.

Why is mattress shopping so confusing in the United States? Rory Karpathian, the founder of Harbor Springs Mattress Company, explains it in a nutshell.
“I watched investment groups buy out mattress companies, consolidate and begin competing to churn out chemical laden, poorly made foam-based mattresses.”—Rory Karpathian
Let's talk about foam. Synthetic versus natural versus organic. I have a latex allergy, so I assumed latex mattresses were not an option despite my allergy/asthma doc's recommendation twenty-five years ago. I had no idea there were different options for latex, including organic, natural, and synthetic. Synthetic materials such as polyester batting, polyurethane foam, and memory foam sleep hot. But, natural rubber Talalay-processed latex sleeps much cooler.

These certifications are helpful to cut through the confusion.
GOLS (Global Organic Latex Standard, currently only available with the Dunlop process.)
GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard, for textiles like mattress fabric.)
OEKO-TEX Standard (For textiles, this does not mean organic; this means reduced toxics.)
And some general information.
Dunlop process vs. Talalay process (Both use rubber tree sap constituting almost 100%.)
Understanding springs (Informative post with a short video from Mattress Underground.)
Lisa Powers' post clearly explains: "Dunlop or Talalay Latex: What’s the Difference?"

After going to many shops, testing mattresses, and discovering how toxic the options were, I turned to the organic world. This was back in 2004. Organic cotton smelled strongly of cottonseed oil and wool, like a barn. Thank goodness the natural and organic options have evolved. (This could be a topic in itself.) Next up, synthetic constructions. And finally, the mattress that worked, the one I thought wasn’t an option, natural rubber latex.

My Journey (based upon my body's height and weight, and personal preference for softness, no odor, no toxins):

  • Kingsdown (No longer offered my mattress model or equivalent.)
  • Organic cotton with Marshall spring unit, plus cotton topper (So hard it hurt. Strong cotton odor.)
  • Various synthetic mattresses in rental homes
  • Hide-a-bed firm spring mattress
  • Single bladder waterbed (Comfy but not practical for me.)
  • Ikea (Sultan Hjelmas, okay comfort, innerspring unit with latex and polyurethane foam layers.)
  • Traditional futon with polyurethane egg crate foam topper
  • Customizable all-synthetic foam mattress (Mattress "in-a-box." Kevlar as the fire-retardant in the fabric cover.)
  • Vacation rental mattresses (Generally, worn out with sinkholes.)
  • Another Ikea (Hesstun, okay comfort, with pocket springs, mini pocket springs, memory foam layer; plus topper of mini-pocket springs with ¾” memory foam layer.)
  • Happsy (Quality firm hybrid. Spring support layer with two inches of organic Dunlop latex plus Dunlop latex topper; free shipping and returns.)
  • Parachute (Comfy yet too firm. Coil-on-coil with organic fabric and wool top layer. Return guarantee. The tufting buttons were a bit pokey.)
  • Berkeley Ergonomics 100% natural rubber Vita Talalay latex!

So, my winning mattress is Berkeley Ergo’s 100% natural Talalay latex. I'm scent-sensitive and can tolerate the very light rubber odor. (Organic Dunlop rubber latex has a more pronounced odor which wasn't a good fit for me.) Berkeley Ergo's foam rubber mattress plus a topper with two more cushy inches of latex. I asked for the soft latex with average Indentation Load Deflection (ILD) of 18, range 15-20, for the comfort layer and in the topper. And, a medium support layer. The organic cotton cover has no odor. The wool layer in the covers is a tad earthy but fine for me. They do offer coil models.

A note about luxury mattresses like Hästens, Vispring, DUX, Royal-Pedic, and McRoskey. They offer high-quality construction and materials. I've tested these in-store only. If any had been a "perfect" fit, I would've paid the big ticket price for sleep. I was desperate. DUX's lux model really tempted me. McRoskey's natural model almost won but the allergy reaction I had in the store required me to leave. This reaction could've been from ambient dog allergens and not the mattress components. I really wish dogs weren't allowed in stores. (Animal allergens stick around for six months or longer after the pet has left.)

I'm very grateful to the many mattress industry professionals who spoke candidly with me during my quest to understand this competitive and opaque business.

My opinion, based on a fifteen-year journey through the mattress matrix of confusion, is that quality mattresses using coils and mainly natural materials were bumped out of the public view for the comfort of memory foam. This opened the field to all-foam mattresses. Now, coil hybrid mattresses constructed of springs with a cushy comfort layer are the new thing, as well as, coil on coil. Some are sold as bed-in-a-box, which can be ordered online and home delivered.

I still think old-world craftsmanship is the gold standard. Check for how long a company has been in business. Many of the fly-by-night companies won't be around for lengthy mattress guarantees. Read the fine print to understand what the guarantee is about; they don't cover what consumers often assume. The dollars add up whether shelled out on one quality constructed mattress or multiple disposable mattresses.

Allow a few weeks to adjust to your new mattress. There can be a productive discomfort as your body lets go of accumulated muscle and spine constrictions. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns. Pillows are a vital part of the sleep equation and require an adjustment period if your neck has been out of alignment for years, as mine was. If you sleep hot, switch to lighter-weight natural fabrics for bedding, pajamas, and pillows. Make sure your bed has a compatible foundation such as slats or an actual box spring.

My favorite moment of the day is the exquisite feeling of bliss while waking up on my new mattress—every part of me relaxed into the natural materials. My body and more specifically, my back settled into a floaty feeling rather like a waterbed. I hope to drift away on my new mattress for the next eight years.

Related links:

Mattresses and pillows


Alternative materials


Real box springs


Latex and foam info


Allergy covers


Disclaimer: This blog post is for entertainment and inspirational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. I am not a medical professional. I have not received any compensation from any companies mentioned. I am not endorsing anyone or any products. The opinions expressed are mine alone.

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