Latex is a great material for pillows, with plenty of flexibility to suit different kinds of sleepers. Here are the pros and cons of organic latex pillows, along with a look at the sustainability of latex pillows.
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What are Latex Pillows?
Latex (natural rubber) is a renewable and biodegradable material that has grown in popularity as an alternative to memory foam and polyfoam pillows.
Natural latex pillows come in two main styles:
- Shredded latex pillows
- Molded latex pillows.
Latex pillows have varying degrees of firmness and some combine shredded latex with other materials such as wool or kapok (such as the Avocado Green Pillow – see our review).
Latex pillows usually contain one of two main types of rubber: Dunlop or Talalay.
Talalay latex is a smoother, more consistent rubber than Dunlop, with the round, open cells keeping their shape during processing.
Dunlop latex tends to be heavier and firmer than Talalay latex and is also denser at the bottom than the top. If you get a Dunlop latex pillow and find it too firm, then, try flipping it over as the other side may be a little softer. If you like a softer pillow overall, consider choosing Talalay latex over Dunlop, or go for a shredded latex pillow you can adjust, rather than a molded latex pillow.
As a stomach-sleeper, I’m fond of Talalay latex pillows with a low profile. These are also a good choice for a toddler’s first pillow (my toddler loves the Turmerry low-profile pillow made with super soft latex).
Latex Pillows – Benefits
Latex is particularly good if you’re a warm sleeper, as it is porous and disperses heat. It is also naturally antimicrobial, resists mildew, and doesn’t harbor dust mites, so it’s good for people with asthma or non-latex allergies. Latex pillows are also easy to care for.
Many chiropractors and other physicians recommend latex pillows for back pain and related symptoms. In one trial, latex pillows performed better than memory foam, contour memory foam, polyester, and feather pillows (feather pillows performed the worst) in relation to headache and shoulder or arm pain.
When chosen carefully (and adjusted at home), latex pillows can be a great choice for side-sleepers, back-sleepers, and some stomach sleepers.
Shredded latex offers excellent flexibility as you can often remove or adjust the amount of latex in the pillow to change the loft or firmness.
Molded latex is more like chemical-free foam, but firmer, and can help keep the neck and spine in alignment. Molded latex is springy and supportive, but it doesn’t allow for any flexibility in firmness or loft.
The Downsides of Latex Pillows
Because you can’t alter the height of a molded latex pillow, you’ll need to make sure the loft works for your sleep needs. This means measuring the distance between your mattress and the side of your head when you lay down comfortably on your bed with an existing pillow.
Latex pillows may have a rubbery smell at first, although I’ve never found this to be the case with any latex pillow I’ve owned, and I have a sensitive nose.
If you’re a super-super-smeller though, you may want to air out your new latex pillow for a few days before sleeping on it. If a latex pillow continues to smell or smells really strongly, check that it is actually made with natural latex and isn’t a blend of synthetic latex (SBR) and natural latex.
In general, a latex pillow doesn’t pose a safety risk, even to anyone with a latex allergy. The exception is where the latex isn’t fully encased and risks contact with skin. If you have a latex allergy but like the idea of a latex pillow, consider purchasing one with a zippered cover or adding a cover yourself – then get a friend or family member to seal up the pillow, so you don’t have to touch the latex itself.
Is Latex Sustainable?
Rubber trees can provide rubber serum for up to 30 years and tapping the sap doesn’t harm the tree. During that time, the rubber trees sequester a lot of carbon. Once a rubber tree no longer produces enough sap to be economically useful, the wood can be turned into durable products such as toys, tableware, and furniture.
Depending on which chemicals manufacturers used to create latex, it can be non-toxic and fully biodegradable. Check for MadeSafe™ and GOLS (Global Organic Latex Standard) certification, which offer assurances that the pillow is made with genuinely organic latex and limited amounts or no hazardous chemicals.
How Much Does a Latex Pillow Cost?
Prices for latex pillows range from around $60-$100, making them a bit more expensive than some other natural pillows. The cost usually depends on certifications, however, such as the GOLS, and FairRubber, which indicate that the product is made using certified organic rubber sourced in a sustainable way by workers who are well treated and properly paid.
Two of our favorite latex pillows come from Turmerry and Avocado:
In Summary – Pros and Cons of Latex Pillows
Here’s a quick overview of what we’ve covered, with the pros and cons for pillows made of latex:
|Renewable, biodegradable material||Thermoregulating|
|Porous, breathable, and disperses heat well||Moisture-wicking and moisture resistant|
|Doesn’t harbor dust mites||Naturally flame-resistant|
|Resists mildew and is naturally antimicrobial||Resistant to mold, mildew, and dust mites|
|Relatively easy to care for||Antimicrobial|
|Adjustable fill (shredded latex)||Durable|
|Springy and supportive|
|Great for back pain and neck pain!|