Synthetic memory foam has had its day. For a more comfortable night’s sleep that’s better for people and the planet, natural latex foam is where it’s at. What’s the difference between Dunlop latex and Talalay latex, though, and which one is the right choice for your next mattress?
Many mattress manufacturers have realized that polyurethane memory foam made with petroleum and laced with flame retardants is a big turn-off for customers wanting a non-toxic and, frankly, non-sweaty sleep. If you’re ready to skip the synthetics and choose natural latex instead, you might be wondering what the difference is between Talalay latex and Dunlop latex.
Here’s a quick overview of these two types of latex commonly used in more eco-friendly mattresses.
Talalay versus Dunlop
The differences between Talalay latex and Dunlop latex are a result of how the two are processed. Indeed, the names Dunlop and Talalay refer to the manufacturing processes used to create these two types of natural latex foam.
The short version is that Dunlop latex is baked, while Talalay latex is vacuum sealed, frozen, then baked. Both Dunlop and Talalay are made up of around 95 percent latex liquid (natural rubber tree sap) and 5 percent chemicals (typically non-toxic) to turn it from liquid to solid.
Digging into Dunlop latex
The Dunlop latex method came about in the late 1920s, courtesy of the Dunlop Rubber Company in England. This simple method of creating natural rubber foam sees the liquid sap of the rubber tree harvested, mixed with small amounts of non-toxic chemicals, then whipped into a frothy batter using a machine very similar to a stand mixer you might use while baking a cake.
This batter is then poured into a latex mold and baked in an oven at 100ᵒC (212ᵒF) for a set amount of time (each manufacturer does this differently). The vulcanized, solid block of latex is then removed from the mold and washed, then baked again to remove residual moisture.
Talking about Talalay
The Talalay latex process was invented in the 1940s and involves a few additional steps compared to Dunlop. This time, the latex is harvested, mixed with small amounts of non-toxic chemicals, and poured into a mold. The difference is that the mold is only partly filled before the filled mold is vacuum sealed.
Putting the latex foam under vacuum causes the air bubbles in the latex to expand. This replaces the need to mechanically whip the latex into a foam (as seen in the Dunlop process). The filled mold is then quickly frozen to −20 °F (−28 °C). This freezes the air bubbles in place, creating a consistently airy foam.
The manufacturer then forces carbon dioxide through the foam, which causes a chemical reaction that results in the latex turning to a gel. This frozen latex gel is then baked until it sets. Like Dunlop latex, once it’s baked, the Talalay latex is removed from the mold, washed, and then dried.
Because of the extra steps in the Talalay process, this kind of latex is softer and fluffier, with a more homogenous consistency. It’s a great choice for comfort layers in a mattress, and for side-sleepers, but might not offer as much support as some folks want in a core layer. It’s also typically not a good choice if you sleep on your front, given that you’ll sink a bit more into Talalay than a firmer Dunlop latex.
Dunlop latex is typically firmer than Talalay latex. For most folks, though, the difference is very subtle. A firm Talalay can feel very similar to a soft Dunlop, depending on the manufacturer.
The trick, then, is to ask a mattress maker where their particular latex fits on a firm to soft scale. Some source Dunlop latex that is very firm (around a 1/10), while others use suppliers making quite springy and soft Dunlop that scores a 4/10 or so. A very soft Talalay might score a 10/10, while a very firm Talalay could reach a 7/10.
In general, if you’re looking for a firm natural latex mattress, Dunlop is a good bet. For a softer, squishier, bouncier mattress, Talalay is a good choice. Again, though, a lot depends on the manufacturer and its suppliers. Ask them for their softness rating and advice on what’s likely to work for your needs.
Talalay is a softer, bouncier, and more responsive latex than Dunlop. This can make it a good choice for kids and for folks sleeping alone, where motion transfer isn’t an issue. Some couples also like the bounciness of Talalay latex for sex, although the springiness of the material may also mean you wake up your partner more often than with a firmer, less responsive Dunlop latex.
Because Talalay latex is a little softer than Dunlop, it can offer excellent pressure point relief for side-sleepers. If you’re looking for both a supporting mattress and a soft comfort layer for side-sleeping, a configuration of Dunlop-Dunlop-Talalay for bottom-middle-top can work wonders. This kind of option is available in the Savvy Rest Serenity mattress, which also allows for other configurations if you want more or less support.
Typically, yes. If you sleep on your front, a firmer top layer is a good idea. If the comfort (top) layer is too soft, you may sink in more than you’d like, which can create an uneven distribution of pressure and leave you waking up stiff and poorly rested. If you want a mix of bounce and firm support, try a top layer of Dunlop with Talalay and Dunlop beneath, or ask your preferred mattress manufacturer for their advice on configuring a latex mattress to meet your needs.
The Talalay latex process results in a fluffier, less dense latex. This means it weighs less than a firm Dunlop latex. If you’re looking for a lighter weight natural latex mattress, Talalay layers are a good choice. However, this only works if you’re okay with a bouncier mattress that offers less firm support.
A good compromise is to choose a layered mattress that isn’t glued or sewn together. A Spindle mattress, for instance, is made so you can unzip the outer case and switch layers around or switch them out for replacement layers. This design also makes it easier to move a mattress piece by piece, instead of as one heavy load.
Because of the way Dunlop is made, being more dense than Talalay, it is also a bit more durable. That said, both types of natural latex are significantly more durable than synthetic memory foam ‘latex’. Shockingly, synthetic foam can lose half of its weight in 10 years! As well as meaning your memory foam mattress gets very saggy and unsupportive in just a few years, this degradation results in toxic dust floating around your home.
In short, yes. The process of making Talalay latex is more complicated, requiring more steps, more expensive equipment, and a greater input of energy and skills overall. This means Dunlop is usually less costly to make. That said, the final difference between mattresses made mostly with Dunlop and mostly with Talalay is very small, especially now that there are many more suppliers of Talalay latex than in previous decades.
Dunlop latex and Talalay latex are far better at helping sleepers regulate their temperature than synthetic memory foam. If you’re menopausal, tend to sleep hot, or co-sleep with a hot-water-bottle-toddler, you definitely don’t want to be sleeping on sweaty memory foam.
Because Talalay latex is airier than Dunlop, though, it is a little bit more breathable. This can mean very hot sleepers will find they sleep cooler on a mostly Talalay latex mattress compared to one made only of Dunlop latex.
The exact mix of chemicals used to make latex is proprietary for each manufacturer. However, some non-toxic chemicals used to make Dunlop and Talalay latex include:
Ammonia (to stabilize the latex sap; ammonia is removed prior to baking)
Antioxidants and antiozonants
Potassium hydroxide (lye)
Vegetable oil acid potassium
Castor oil potassium
Sodium silicofluoride dispersion
In some cases, companies may use chemicals such as fluorine calcification sodium, wilkinite, and soap powder. Residual chemicals are washed from the baked latex before the final product is baked or dried.
The difference is negligible. Arguably, because the Dunlop process is a little less energy intensive, Dunlop latex may be more eco-friendly than Talalay latex. A lot depends on the source of the latex liquid and the overall sustainability of the mattress and its manufacturer, however.
Dunlop latex that isn’t certified as organic by GOLS or FSC may contain undesirable additives. In this case, Talalay latex certified to OEKO-TEX standard is arguably more eco-friendly, with Cradle-to-Cradle Talalay latex an even better choice for sustainability.
Both types of latex are astronomically more eco-friendly and sustainable than petroleum-based polyurethane memory foam.
Dunlop latex can be certified as organic through the Global Organic Latex Standard. This requires that the finished product contains at least 95 percent organic material and cannot contain any synthetic or non-organic latex. The remaining 5 percent of the materials must not contain any toxic chemicals, meaning the GOLS is an excellent certification to look for when choosing a non-toxic, eco-friendly latex mattress. GOLS also encompasses some social and worker safety requirements.
Note that not all Dunlop latex is organic. If a company is selling a latex mattress made with Dunlop latex that isn’t certified GOLS or FSC, or where the final mattress isn’t GOTS certified, this could mean the latex contains some unpleasant chemicals.
Talalay latex is not available as a certified organic product but it is available as Cradle to Cradle Gold certified latex. This is a rigorous certification that actually allows a mattress to achieve Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certification (assuming the other parts of the mattress also meet the GOTS requirements).
Savvy Rest is one of very few mattress companies currently offering GOTS certified mattresses containing Talalay latex.
Both GOLS and FSC® (Forest Stewardship Council) latex are sourced from rubber trees grown using verified sustainable methods. A GOTS certified mattress can contain either GOLS or FSC certified latex or even a mixture of the two.
The main difference between GOLS and FSC is that the FSC certification program focuses more on sustainable forestry management, with auditing carried out to Rainforest Alliance and Preferred By Nature standards.
Naturepedic is a mattress company that has largely switched to FSC certified suppliers of latex, given the increasing focus of GOTS on organic, sustainable rubber sourcing for latex.