Why We Aren’t Fans of Synthetic Latex “SBR” Pillows

Written by Leigh Matthews, BA Hons, H.Dip. NT


Leigh Matthews, BA Hons, H.Dip. NT

Sustainability Expert

Leigh Matthews is a sustainability expert and long time vegan. Her work on solar policy has been published in Canada's National Observer.


If you’re in the market for a latex pillow, steer clear of “SBR” synthetic latex, here’s why.

Natural pillow

Latex is a great material for pillows, but only if it’s genuine latex from a rubber tree. Unfortunately, some ‘latex’ pillows are made using synthetic latex, which is a petroleum product.

Synthetic latex is not as durable as natural latex, meaning you’ll need to replace your pillow in around six years or sooner. In contrast, a natural latex pillow could easily last you 20 years or more. Synthetic latex also tears more easily, so you’ll need to be more careful with your pillow.

As for comfort, synthetic latex isn’t as springy as natural latex, and it typically continues to off-gas and smell like chemicals for months or even years. Some natural latex pillows smell a little rubbery at first but the smell tends to lessen and disappear altogether within just a few hours or days. In my experience, none of my latex pillows have had a strong smell, even if they’ve been wrapped in plastic for shipping.

Synthetic latex is a mixture of styrene and butadiene, both of which are volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can harm health. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), styrene is associated with:

  • Effects on the central nervous system (CNS)
  • Headache, fatigue, weakness, and depression
  • Hearing loss
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • An increased risk of leukemia and lymphoma.

As for butadiene, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA), notes that this chemical may:

  • Harm the central nervous system
  • Irritate the eyes, nose, throat, lungs, and skin
  • Increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer
  • Harm reproductive health and development.

How to spot synthetic latex pillows

Synthetic latex is sometimes referred to as SBR (styrene-butadiene rubber), so watch out for that on product description.

You may see pillows made with ‘blended latex’, which can be code for synthetic latex mixed with some natural latex or other materials. As an example, Natura’s Ultimate Latex Pillow comprises: 30% natural rubber tree latex; 70% synthetic (styrene-butadiene) latex.

Free eBook: Simple Steps to a Greener Home

Concerned about climate change? Learn actionable tips for making each room in your home greener.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Leave a Reply

If you have a question about the subject matter of this post, ask it in the comments below. To better serve our readers, we have started answering some reader questions in dedicated blog posts.

Back to top