What is a latex mattress? Why would you buy one?

A latex mattress can provide a comfortable, supportive, and eco-friendly sleeping surface that's often better than innerspring or memory foam

A white bedroom with pink wooden shutters, a pink throw and a glass nightstand light
(Image credit: Shutterly Fabulous)

Spring mattresses might be the most popular choice for Americans, but latex is an attractive alternative, the qualities and durability of which could suit you perfectly.

Latex mattresses are made with the sap of the rubber tree, so they’re ideal if you prefer to bring natural materials into your home. But synthetic versions and blended are also on offer.

Latex suits those who like a firmer surface and one that’s quickly responsive when you move around. It’s a winner if you tend to sleep hot, too. Opt for a latex mattress and the springy surface offers both luxury and comfort.

We’ve put together a guide to latex mattresses here to help you decide if it’s the mattress type for you, drawing on the expertise of professionals.

What is a latex mattress?

Latex comes from the sap of rubber trees. Foam made from latex was first manufactured in the early part of the 20th century and used for seats in trams, trains, and airplanes plus the first mattresses. These days, most designs are made from natural latex, but you’ll also find synthetic latex plus mattresses that mix natural and synthetic latex.

A latex mattress could be made with latex only, but there are also hybrid designs that include pocket coils within the mattress. A wool layer might also feature in a latex mattress. Cotton covers, like the latex itself and the wool may all be made from organic materials, so you can opt for a design as eco-conscious as possible, if that’s your goal.

Sleeping on a latex mattress has a distinctive feel because it’s more responsive than memory foam, regaining its shape quickly. As a surface it doesn’t feel as sink-in as a memory foam mattress, but it does yield to an extent. Because it doesn’t adapt so completely to body shape, some people prefer the air flow this creates to avoid a feeling of overheating during the night.

Mattresses made with natural latex are the luxury choice and are valued for their durability, while synthetic versions are generally cheaper. On the downside, their lifespan isn’t likely to be as long.

What are the benefits of a latex mattress?

A latex mattress offers plenty of advantages that could make it the best mattress option for you. We’ll focus on natural latex here, whether that’s in an all-latex design or a hybrid latex mattress.

The fact that a latex mattress is made from a natural material – that is the sap from rubber trees – is an important reason for many people when it comes to choosing a mattress, while the fact that organic latex mattresses are available can also be crucial to that choice. Look out for GOLS (Global Organic Latex Standard) certification if this is your preference. 

Natural and eco-credentials aren’t worthwhile unless the mattress itself is comfortable, but for many buyers, this is definitely the verdict when sleeping on a latex mattress. Latex provides sufficient pressure relief for comfort but it also regains its shape speedily so changing position at night doesn’t feel effortful.

Plushbeds Botanical Bliss latex mattress in a modern bedroom

(Image credit: PlushBeds)

One huge plus point of latex in comparison to memory foam for some people is that it feels cooler to sleep on. Since it’s not equally contouring to body shape the airflow is better and heat from your body can disperse. 'Memory foam compresses, which traps heat, and because it molds around your body, it can feel like you're sinking into  a heat trap. Latex, on the other hand, yields far less, so tends to sleep much cooler', says Louise Oliphant, H&G's resident sleep editor. 

A further benefit of natural latex mattresses you might value is the fact that they don’t off-gas, in other words give off gas as a result of VOC (volatile organic compound) emissions when they’re new. As well as having an odor that you won’t welcome, off-gassing can cause headaches or dizziness or eye or airway irritation.

Latex mattresses also have anti-microbial benefits. 'Unlike other mattresess, the thick block of latex is a natural barrier to microbes and mites. It's also a natural fire retardant', adds Oliphant. 

Louise Oliphant in a white shirt, sitting in a restaurant
Louise Oliphant

Louise is your eCommerce Editor and sleep specialist to help you wind down well. A connoisseur of the mattress world, Louise previously covered sleep and wellness (as well as the occasional organizational buy) at Real Homes, and has tried, tested, and reviewed some of the buys for your bedroom.

What are the drawbacks of latex mattresses?

Latex mattresses may prove a more expensive mattress choice than other types because of the cost of manufacture. Prices usually start at around $2000, much higher than cheaper memory foam beds which can be as low as $500. 

There's also an ongoing debate around the claim that they're organic or natural. An ongoing class action lawsuit against Avocado Mattress LLC, who make latex mattresses, claims that the company has misled its customers about the use of synthetic materials. 

Latex mattresses are also much heavier than other types, because they're essentially a thick slab of rubber.

If you buy white glove delivery this won't matter, but if you're setting the bed up yourself you'll probably need a partner or friend on hand to help you lug it up the stairs. 

Are latex mattresses good for back pain?

A latex mattress can be one of the best mattresses for back pain. ‘Latex mattresses are a good option for people who suffer with back pain because they offer several benefits,’ says Dr Matthew Cavanaugh of Cavanaugh Chiropractic. ‘One of the benefits of latex is that it is made from the sap of rubber trees which is then made into a latex foam. This material is able to provide quality support to help maintain proper spinal alignment during sleep but its natural elasticity allows it to conform to a body's shape which will relieve painful pressure points.’

A headshot of Matthew Cavanaugh
Dr Matthew Cavanaugh, DC

Dr Matthew Cavanaugh, DC is the founder of Cavanaugh Chiropractic Clinic and specializes in treating conditions associated with the neuromusculoskeletal system.

What sleep positions do latex mattresses suit best?

Latex mattresses are some of the best mattresses for side sleepers and back sleepers, according to Dr Matthew Cavanaugh. ‘These sleep positions need enough support to keep the spine in a neutral position and to keep the body from sinking into the mattress,’ he explains. ‘Some latex mattresses can be customized for firmness which allows you to choose the level of support and cushion that best fits your needs depending upon your favorite sleeping position.’

The best latex mattresses

Latex mattress F&Qs

How much does a latex mattress cost?

A latex mattress is one of the most expensive options out there, ranging from $1,500 to over $3,000. But it does depend on the type of mattress and the type of latex you choose, plus any other materials used in the construction. 

How long does a latex mattress last?

Since they are one of the most expensive mattress types on the market, latex mattresses can be the longest lasting. Their life span goes well above the average 8-10 years and you could have your latex mattress for 20 years if you choose the best quality and maintain it. 

Sarah Warwick
Contributing Editor

Sarah is a freelance journalist and editor. Previously executive editor of Ideal Home, she’s specialized in interiors, property and gardens for over 20 years, and covers interior design, house design, gardens, and cleaning and organizing a home for H&G. She’s written for websites, including Houzz, Channel 4’s flagship website, 4Homes, and Future’s T3; national newspapers, including The Guardian; and magazines including Future’s Country Homes & Interiors, Homebuilding & Renovating, Period Living, and Style at Home, as well as House Beautiful, Good Homes, Grand Designs, Homes & Antiques, LandLove and The English Home among others. It’s no big surprise that she likes to put what she writes about into practice, and is a serial house renovator.