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What is that smell?

December 17, 2020 5 min read

A dog

The Natural Aroma of Latex Rubber

People are familiar with the fact that rubber products have a certain odour. It doesn’t matter if it’s a rubber tire, rubber bands, or the latex rubber that’s used in mattress manufacturing – there's bound to be a certain smell.

The smell of rubber products emanates from compounds produced when certain enzymes and bacteria are present in the latex. These are naturally occurring and are even present when the latex is in it's most natural liquid form. When the latex is exposed to heat during processing, it also emits certain odours. The industry term for this process is "thermal degradation."

While people are not bothered by the different types of rubber smells in certain products in general, the issue concerning it is certainly stronger when it comes to the mattress manufacturing industry. Nobody wants to have a smelly mattress. However, even the purest latex mattresses will have a certain odour and there's only so much that can be done without using synthetic additives.

The Smell of Latex

Just like most brand new products, latex mattresses can give off a certain type of odour. Latex mattresses typically have a fainter smell compared to the chemical smell emanating from ones made from poly-foam and memory foam.

The smell of natural latex is usually likened to sweet-smelling vanilla. Of course, even without the harsh chemical odour people have come to expect from synthetic materials, any smell can still irritate people with a high level of sensitivity to certain scents. And, although extremely rare, there are also people who could be allergic to latex.

Lower-quality latex products which contain high levels of fillers and chemical masking agents might not smell as much either. This makes it impossible to determine the quality or natural content of a latex mattress from smell alone. Although it may be counter-intuitive, organic latex typically has a stronger natural rubber odour in the initial stage due to the purity of the rubber.

Natural and organic latex mattresses comprise mainly of the Hevea brasiliensis (rubber tree) milk, water, and naturally occurring fats. Since different latex mixes can look and smell the same it’s important to confirm 3rd party content certifications like the Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS) that set stringent composition standards for latex rubber.

For latex rubber to be GOLS-certified, it must comprise more than 95% certified organic latex raw material. It should also meet the set permissible limits for harmful substances, polymer and filler content, and emission test standards. We can air layers out upon request to reduce the initial odour intensity, although the natural smell is known to dissipate over time.

If you’re wondering about other latex rubber products like gloves and tires, these products are manufactured using totally different processes and additives. This is why they emit stronger smells.

Synthetic and hybrid latex

Aside from natural and organic latex mattresses, more affordable ones made from synthetic or hybrid latex are also available.

Just like polyurethane foam, synthetic latex is a petroleum-based material made from styrene-butadiene rubber (SBR). Unlike natural latex, synthetic latex tends to be less elastic and less durable. It usually goes through a period of off-gassing (the process of releasing chemicals into the air) and often has different type of odour than natural rubber.

Hybrid or blended latex mattresses are manufactured in a variety of ways using a mixture of natural and synthetic latex components so the odour and the intensity of the odour can vary quite a bit from model to model.

Tips to Avoid or Minimize Mattress Odours

For particularly sensitive individuals, the best way to avoid or minimize the smell in brand new mattresses is by asking the manufacturer to air out the layers prior to making the mattress. Air and light degrade all foams including including latex so this is only done for a short period of time (2-3 weeks). By avoiding poly-foam mattresses, you’re already reducing the chance of being bothered by off-gassing and chemical smells.

However, even with natural latex mattresses, there are further steps you can take to ensure you ultimately end up with the least-smelling mattress there is:

  • Purchase only GOLS-certified 100% latex mattresses. This assures you of the absence of any synthetic or chemical ingredients
  • Choose a thicker, quilted mattress cover. When looking at mattress covers, go for ones that us Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) cotton combined with Wool. Cotton covers must be combined with Wool or another fire barrier to pass Canadian Mattress Flammability Standards. Statements like “no fire retardants”, “all-natural (or organic) vegan mattresses”, or “cotton covers without wool” are all major clues of hidden components and sleight of hand marketing tactics.
  • Avoid mattresses with solvent based adhesives. Solvent-based adhesives are considered toxic and tend to smell a lot. Water-based and hot-melt types of adhesives are non-toxic to humans and eco-friendly. We used a premium Greenguard Gold water-based adhesive in our Classic Series mattress. The full spec sheet can be found here: Simalfa 321
  • If you are concerned about the smell ask the manufacturer if you can get a sample. Carry it around with you and see how much (or how little) it bothers you over a certain number of days.
  • Air the mattress immediately after unboxing. Leave the mattress out to breathe for the longest time possible in a room with open windows. This means not putting any bed sheet or pillows on top of it. Airing the mattress out for two to three weeks should be sufficient for those with acute smell sensitivities. We can also air out the components in our factory for 2-3 to greatly reduce / eliminate the initial order.
  • If you happen to purchase a hybrid or synthetic mattress, exerting pressure on the mattress will facilitate the rapid release of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air. But be careful not to break your bed.
  • Wrap your mattress in a waterproof mattress protector. If the smell of your mattress is unbearable and you need to use it right away, you can use a waterproof mattress protector to trap the compounds causing the smell so they don’t reach you. However, this is only a temporary solution and they can alter the feel of the mattress.

Remember, all latex products have some odour but you probably won’t be bothered unless you’re particularly sensitive to smells. Latex Pillows and Latex Mattress Toppers tend to have a more noticeable smell due to their proximity to your face and lighter coverings. All our latex, in all our products, is GOLS Organic certified and tested by the Eco-Institut for smell, VOCs and harmful substances, so you can be sure what you’re smelling isn’t harmful to you or your family’s health.  

Call us at 1-844-853-5983, or email info@nelatex.com, if you have any questions about latex odour anything else latex related.



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