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Many people - including mattress manufacturers and advertisers - use the words "latex" and "rubber" interchangeably. Both are used to describe a shiny, smooth substance with elastic properties, which can be used to make common items ranging from clothing to gloves to children's toys to, of course, mattresses, pillows, toppers, pads and other bedroom accessories.
However, are these two words truly as interchangeable as both advertisers and customers seem to think that they are?
The answer might surprise you - in fact, they are not.
It is very important to understand the specific language which is used to describe and advertise mattresses and other necessary household goods. At Brand Name, we believe in full honesty - explaining to customers exactly what it is that they are getting with each and every one of our products.
For that reason, we've created this helpful "semantic guide," which will clearly delineate the differences between the word "latex" and the word "rubber". In addition, we will also use this article to provide a rundown on some of the most important properties which contribute to making latex and rubber exactly what they are.
You might not have known before today that "latex" and "rubber" in fact had two distinct meanings. You might also be feeling a little bit overwhelmed upon realizing that you have to learn and understand the difference between two words you always thought to be exactly the same.
However, there is no need to worry. While differences do exist between latex and rubber, they are in fact extremely simply and fairly easy to keep in mind while you are shopping for your mattress:
The term "latex" refers to any substance which can be described as "a viscous polymer consisting of small solid particles floating in a base of water or other similar liquids." It is a wide, umbrella term which includes several different synthetic materials as well as several blends.
On the other hand, the term "rubber" is extremely narrowly defined. It refers specifically and only to the thick, milky-white sap-like substance produced by the rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) and that sap's solid form which is used in the manufacture of many items such as mattresses. (Learn more about how it is produced and harvested here!)
If that's still coming across as a little complicated, just think of it as being like rectangles and squares. All squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares - the category also contains shapes such as rhombuses, trapezoids and parallelograms. In the same way, all rubber is latex, but not all latex is rubber, as it includes synthetic and blended variants which are not naturally occurring or harvested from the rubber tree.
Rubber is primarily considered to be a type of latex because it shares many of the same physical properties - elasticity, viscosity, smooth texture and a "shiny" appearance. In general, these properties will be "stronger" and "better" in natural rubber when compared to synthetic latex - for example, a natural product will be stronger, last longer, and be able to stretch further without tearing. However, it also features a number of properties which the synthetic latex variants cannot replicate, such as natural fire resistance and antimicrobial properties which prevent infestation by insects, mold, bacteria, mildew or rot.
However, most people's confusion regarding the two terms comes from the fact that "natural latex" is also a perfectly acceptable way of referring to the sap of the Hevea brasiliensis tree. In fact, that is the term that we here at Brand Name most commonly use when referring to our high quality mattress products! So "natural latex" IS a term which can be used interchangeably with "rubber".
"Synthetic latex" refers to polymers which are chemically considered to be latex but are not derived from the sap of the rubber tree. Referring to these substances and the products made from them as "rubber" would be incorrect - although, unfortunately, this is still a relatively common mistake made by many people, including the companies responsible for making and selling these products. Some synthetic latex compounds have become so widely used that they have been assigned unique names of their own. The best and most common example of this is nitrile, which is commonly used in the manufacture of latex gloves. "Blended latex" is another unique term; it is used specifically to refer to items made from a material which contains both rubber and synthetic latex. These blends can have any percentage of the two substances, but usually contain a higher (70 percent or more) amount of synthetic latex when compared to a much smaller amount (30 percent or less) of natural rubber.
You might then find yourself asking why we here at Brand Name choose to use the term "natural latex" to describe our mattresses and rarely - in fact almost never - use "rubber," even when it is an equally acceptable word with the exact same meaning. Well, it's what other mattress manufacturers do, so I guess you could say that we're just "going with the flow" and following along with major trends. However, that's far from our only reason for making this decision - and it isn't even our main one, either!
The primary reason for this is due to the confusion which caused this article to be written in the first place, in which "rubber" is used to mean ANY kind of latex, not merely the natural form. We want to emphasize the environmentally friendly, sustainably harvested element of our mattress creation process - basically, we want to focus on what's NATURAL about them, so we choose to primarily refer to them as being made from NATURAL latex!
Another important reason to focus on the distinction between the terms "latex" and "rubber" is that rubber, AKA natural latex, possesses a number of unique beneficial properties which its synthetic alternatives cannot hope to match. We've already briefly mentioned its natural resistances to fire, bacteria, and insects, but that is far from the only reason why natural latex is superior to anything else available on the market.
First, rubber is extremely resilient. "Resilience" refers to the ability of rubber to return to its original shape after being stretched, compressed, or otherwise altered in any way. This is extremely important when it comes to mattresses, as it means that a natural latex mattress can be used for years and years without forming a permanent "impression" of your body in your usual sleeping position.
Not only is natural latex resilient, but it also possesses excellent tear and abrasion resistance unable to be equaled by any synthetic variant. This means that your natural latex mattress is unlikely to become damaged over time, even if you use it regularly every night. These properties also mean that natural latex mattresses and other bedroom accessories can be safely used even by the most restless of sleepers or individuals - such as toddlers, infants and other young children - who are more likely to treat their bedroom items roughly due to their age and growing strength.
Elasticity or elongation refers to how "stretchy" the natural latex is - in general, how far it can be stretched without ripping or tearing. Natural latex typically exhibits far greater elasticity and elongation values when compared to synthetic alternatives. While the "stretchiness" of natural latex is not particularly relevant when it comes to mattresses, it is part of what helps give them their trademark bouncy, springy feel. This property is also extremely valuable for many other natural latex goods - in particular clothing, sheets or blankets, and of course medical gloves.
Lastly, natural latex or rubber is also beneficial because a number of its properties can be made to vary depending on the purpose for which it will be used. In particular, rubber can come in a wide variety of hardness or softness as well as density. (Although these two properties initially sound similar, they are in fact not the same thing at all - density is a measurement of how much "stuff" is contained within the surface area of the latex, while hardness or softness measures how much it is capable of compressing when pressure is applied). This allows the natural latex to be shaped into many different mattresses ranging from "soft as a cloud" to "firm and supportive" as they focus on both being comfortable for sleepers and bolstering key areas of the body such as the shoulders, back and hips.
When it comes to mattresses in particular, hardness or softness is measured via a value referred to as indentation load deflection - often shortened to ILD. To learn more about how ILD is measured and calculated, check out our article found here.
While this topic may seem a bit confusing at first, in the end, one thing is clear. Whether you call it "rubber" or "natural latex" the material which Brand Name uses to make our mattresses is the softest, sturdiest, most durable, longest lasting and highest quality option available on the market. You can find out more by reading our in-depth introduction to latex here - or you can head to our catalog right over here and start shopping!