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Are Latex Mattresses Firm?

If you’re thinking about buying a latex mattress you might be wondering if they are firm or not.

Because latex mattresses tend to sleep cool, are very responsive so that you can change positions easily, and typically last for at least 8 years (2 years longer than the average).

And firm mattresses are often well suited to heavier weighted sleepers over 200 lbs – especially in the front and back sleeping positions because the increased surface tension can help to keep your hips naturally aligned to guard against back pain.

However, side sleepers and lighter weighted sleepers under 130 lbs may not enjoy a firmer mattress because it may increase pressure points on the more prominent regions of your body such as your hips and shoulders.

So are latex mattresses firm or not?

Latex mattresses can be firm – varying from very soft to very firm and everything in between. Latex mattress firmness is set by the manufacturer but the final firmness and feel of the mattress ultimately depends on your exact body weight, body type, and dominant sleeping position. It can take up to 30 days or more for a latex mattress to adjust to your body to yield its final level of firmness.

This can make it difficult to figure out exactly how firm a latex mattress is really likely to be – even if you try the mattress out in the store first because the real firmness level takes time to manifest.

That’s why I’ve created this guide to help you better understand latex mattress firmness and ultimately decide if a firm latex mattress is right for you or not.

Custom infographic that shows the different factors that can influence latex mattress firmness.

How Firm Are Latex Mattresses?

Latex mattresses are generally considered to be ‘firm’ when compared to memory foam mattresses and fabric-topped spring mattresses but this is not always true in every case.

Because latex mattresses come in a range of different firmnesses – as do memory foam, spring, and hybrid mattresses.

This includes extra-firm, firm, medium-firm, medium, medium-soft, soft, and extra-soft.

Mattress firmness is set by the manufacturer and is largely influenced by the ILD (indentation load deflection) of the foam but there are other factors at play – as depicted in the infographic above and elaborated extensively upon in the rest of this article.

But perhaps most crucially of all, the final feel will depend on how the mattress interacts with your body, your dominant sleeping position, and how long you’ve been sleeping on the mattress.

So to help you decide if a firm latex mattress is right for you, let me first explain exactly what mattress firmness is.

Mattress firmness describes how the mattress feels when you lie down on it.

And a ‘firm’ mattress typically has a higher degree of surface tension than a ‘soft’ mattress – which means that you’ll feel more ‘push back’ that stops you from sinking as far into the mattress.

Crucially, firmness is not the same as support.

Mattress support is a gauge of how well the mattress supports your spine – which is primarily influenced by the lower support layers.

However, the lower support layers can influence how the overall firmness feels depending on the extent to which the upper comfort layers allow the impact of the support core to cascade through.

For example, the stiff support of a spring core of a hybrid mattress may bleed through to affect the firmness and the overall feel of the mattress if the upper comfort layers are relatively thin.

The best way to think about mattress firmness is on a spectrum.

Where at one end you have very soft mattresses that are better for lighter-weight sleepers and side sleeping, whilst the other end of the scale pertains to extra-firm mattresses for heavier weighted sleepers and front sleepers who require better hip support.

However, most mattresses have a medium level of firmness – or a universal firmness rating.

This is so that they can appeal to front, back, side, and combination sleepers in the 130 – 230 lbs weight range – which covers the largest number of sleepers in the population.

Although many manufacturers may make individual models that are extra-soft, soft, medium-soft, firm, medium-firm, and extra-firm to cater to individual preferences.

When researching latex mattresses on retail and review sites, you will typically see firmness expressed on a scale of 1-10 like in the image below.

But as I’ll explain in more detail shortly, you should only use these ratings as a guide because the final firmness and feel of the mattress is subjective – depending on several individual factors such as your body weight and favoured sleeping position.

Mattress Firmness Scale 1 to 10.

Synthetic Latex is Firmer Than Natural Latex

The composition of the latex used in the mattress can impact the firmness.

More specifically, latex mattresses are usually made from a blend of natural latex derived from the rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) and synthetic latex formulated using petrochemicals [1].

Although in some rare cases, latex mattresses can be made from up to 95-97% natural latex.

Most latex mattresses have a 70:30 or 60:40 ratio of natural latex to synthetic latex.

And the more synthetic latex that it contains – the firmer it will typically feel [2].

However, the overall firmness rating of the mattress can be set by the manufacturer to supersede the relative influence that the ratio of synthetic to natural latex has on the firmness.

Dunlop Latex is Firmer Than Talalay Latex

Latex foam is manufactured using either the Dunlop or Talalay process.

And you can choose latex mattress configurations that comprise of all Dunlop latex, all Talalay latex, or a mixture of the two.

Dunlop latex tends to be firmer than Talalay latex [3].

So the greater the ratio of Dunlop to Talalay latex in your mattress the firmer that it is likely to feel.

However, mattresses that contain both Dunlop and Talalay latex layers may have different layering structures that influences how the mattress feels.

For example, if the uppermost comfort layer is made from Dunlop latex and the lower layers from Talalay latex then the mattress will likely feel firmer than if the top layer was Talalay and the lower layers Dunlop.

However, the firmness for each mattress model can be set by the manufacturer to override both the ratio of Dunlop to Talalay latex and the layering configurations.

Check out the video below for an excellent description and visualisation of the differences between Dunlop and Talalay latex when used in a mattress and how different configurations can influence the firmness.

Dunlop Latex vs Talalay Latex: What’s the Difference? Savvy Rest

Latex Mattress Firmness is Subjective

This is probably the most important thing to take away from this article:

Although mattress firmness is set by the manufacturer, how firm the latex mattress will feel for you will depend on your exact body weight, your body type, and your dominant sleeping position.

For example, the lighter you are, the firmer the mattress will feel because your reduced body weight means that you won’t sink as far into the materials – thus increasing the pressure on the more prominent regions of your body.

Conversely, the heavier you are then the softer the mattress is likely to feel because your increased body weight will naturally push you further into the mattress where the materials will absorb a greater percentage of the compression forces being placed on your joints and dissipate the pressure.

Similarly, if you have a slighter build with more prominent bones and joints then the mattress is likely going to feel firmer on these areas whereas a ‘softer’ body type will naturally contour to the materials more closely which can result in the mattress feeling less firm.

If you tend to sleep on your side then your hips and shoulders will take the brunt of the pressure which can make the mattress feel ‘firmer’ in those areas.

Conversely, sleeping on your front or back may cause you to interpret the mattress firmness as being ‘lower’ because the pressure is distributed more evenly over your body.

Latex Mattress Firmness Changes With Time

You might think that the best way to gauge the firmness of a latex mattress is to test it out in the store.

And whilst this will give you an initial impression as to how firm the mattress will feel initially, it doesn’t give you an accurate representation as to how comfortable the mattress will be for you.

Why?

Because it can take up to 30 days or more for a new mattress to adjust to your body weight and sleeping style.

That’s why it’s typically better to buy a mattress online that comes with a sleep trial of at least 30 days so that you can return it if it doesn’t feel comfortable after the adjustment period.

Who Should Buy a Firm Latex Mattress?

Firm latex mattresses are typically well suited to front and back sleepers.

This is because the increased firmness results in a greater surface tension that can lend itself to better hip and spinal alignment to guard against back ache.

Combination sleepers may also prefer latex mattresses because the responsiveness of the foam allows for smoother transitioning between sleeping positions.

A firmer latex mattress might also be better for you if you’re over 200 lbs.

Because the surface tension can provide greater push back to keep your spine properly aligned and facilitate easier movement – although a strong support core is likely more important.

If you’re over 200 lbs then a firm, latex-topped hybrid mattress with a strong support core consisting of a high count of 13-15 gauge coils will probably be much better for you than a softer, all-foam, latex mattress.

Who Should Avoid a Firm Latex Mattress?

If you’re a prominent side sleeper, weigh less than 130 lbs, and/or have a slighter frame then you may find a firm latex mattress to be uncomfortable.

This is because the firmer feel will likely cause too much pressure on your hips, shoulders, and other prominent regions – resulting in discomfort.

Lighter weighted side sleepers with a slighter frame are generally better suited to softer, all-foam mattresses – although hybrid beds are still viable too.

And although it’s not a latex mattress, the soft side of the Nolah Signature all-foam mattress is great for lighter weighted side sleepers.

Because it provides excellent pressure relief and the mattress is double-sided for flippable comfort to suit a wide range of sleeping positions.

Check out my Nolah mattress review to find out more about the Nolah Signature and the Nolah Original for an excellent latex mattress alternative.

Related Questions

Here are the answers to some of the questions related to latex mattresses and firmness.

Is Denser Latex More Firm?

Denser latex can be more firm – since Dunlop is denser than Talalay and Dunlop tends to be firmer.

But a higher foam density doesn’t always mean a firmer mattress – even though the terms are often incorrectly used interchangeably.

This is because density is a measurement of mass per unit of volume – pounds per cubic foot (PCF) – whilst ‘firmness’ is a rating of how hard the mattress feels.

And whilst a denser foam may exhibit a positive correlation where as the density increases so does the firmness – the density of the foam is more likely to influence the durability, conforming ability, pressure relief, noise potential, odour potential, weight, and price of the mattress.

Are ILD Values a Good Way to Measure Mattress Firmness?

ILD values are numbers that express the amount of force needed to compress a certain amount of material like latex, foam, or memory foam and can be used to measure mattress firmness to some extent.

Because mattress manufacturers use ILD values to set the firmness levels of the foam.

The general rule of thumb is that the higher the ILD value the firmer the mattress is likely to be.

However, whilst ILD values may be a better way to gauge the firmness of a latex mattress than the foam density, the relationship is still a correlative one rather than a causative one in my view.

Because the final mattress firmness as it relates to YOU relies on several factors – including your own body weight and sleeping style.

The video below explains more about the relationship between ILD, foam density, and why you shouldn’t rely on ILD exclusively when choosing a latex mattress.

Does ILD Matter In A Natural Latex Mattress? Credit: Spindle Mattress

Is Latex Mattress Firmness the Same as Hardness?

From the manufacturer’s perspective, the hardness of latex foam is the same as the firmness of the foam and can be measured using ILD values [4].

However, as discussed at length in this article, the final hardness of the mattress (NOT just the foam) depends upon many factors – not just the ILD.

Is Latex Firmer Than Memory Foam?

Latex is widely considered to be firmer than memory foam.

But in reality, latex mattresses can be firmer than memory foam mattresses, and memory foam mattresses can be firmer than latex mattresses too.

This is because just as latex mattresses are available in a range of firmnesses, so are memory foam mattresses.

Conclusion: Latex Mattress Firmness Varies

Latex mattresses can most definitely be firm.

However, they can take on just about every other level of firmness from extra-firm to extra-soft because the firmness can be set by the manufacturer using a combination of factors such as ILD values, the natural to synthetic latex ratio, the Dunlop to Talalay latex ratio, the latex layering configurations, and to some extent – the foam density.

And whilst you will often see firmness levels quantified in both words and on a scale of 1-10, how firm or soft a latex mattress will feel to YOU will ultimately depend on your body weight, body type, and dominant sleeping position and how they all combine and interact with the qualities of the mattress.

So measuring mattress firmness is ultimately subjective and not an exact science.

But knowing what I know about the qualities of firm latex mattresses, I would say that they are better suited to front and back sleepers, combination sleepers, and sleepers on the heavier side (over 200 lbs) due to the increased surface tension that favors better spinal alignment and allows you to move around in the mattress more easily.

Conversely, I think that firmer latex mattresses are not as well suited to lighter-weighted sleepers under 130 lbs, side sleepers, and sleepers with a thinner body type due to the potential increase in pressure points on the more prominent areas of your body like your hips and shoulders.

If you’re still unsure, then I recommend buying a latex mattress online with a sleep trial that lasts at least 30 days so that you can return it if it’s uncomfortable for you even after the materials have adjusted to your body.

I hope that you have found this guide useful and feel free to leave any questions that you have in the comments section below.


Sources and References

[1] Wikipedia – Mattress. Accessed 15/5/20.

[2] John Ryan By Design – Natural Latex Mattresses; How to Tell the Real from the Fake. Accessed 16/5/20.

[3] LatexSense – Which latex is better – Dunlop or Talalay? Accessed 16/5/20.

[4] European Bedding – Density, Hardness, Resilience & Weight Of Latex Mattresses. Accessed 16/5/20.

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