Need help with Latex mattress configuration

Hi, Phoenix, Please help!
My 7 year-old Serta spring mattress started to make my lower back pain in last couple of years. I am thinking of getting a new mattress. This wanderful forum made me thinking the Latex is the way to go.
I am 6" and 210lbs, back sleeper. I always thought that I need a firmer mattress. But after tried a few latex mattress in local stores (around San Jose, CA), the firmest mattress seems not be the most comfort one. I tried one Sterns&Foster (forgot wich model), a couple of hybrid latex from Diamond Mattress, a few PLB mattress. The one that give me the best lower back support is Diamond Ethos Natrual Peace. Very close second is PLB “all natual” Nature. PLB Palmer (all natural) is firmer, but I felt it has less lower back support. Dimond Natural Peace uses eco-flex core. What exactly is eco-flex?
I am considering purchase all-latex mattress online. Since my wife is side sleeper, 130lbs. I think I would need split the mattress to different firmness. What would be your recommendation for my case?


Hi jason_555,

This is one of the biggest misconceptions that many people face. A mattress is always a combination of surface softness and deeper firmness because there are two types of support that is necessary in a mattress. The deeper support is to “stop” the heavier parts from sinking in too far and tilting the pelvis which in turn allows the spine (or the joints) to bend beyond a natural range. Surface or secondary support on the other hand is meant to fill in the gaps in the inward curves of the spine and provide more gentle support for the natural curves of the spine to help maintain the natural shape or posture of the spine. The upper “comfort” layers also serve several other functions. One is to provide pressure relief by re-distributing weight over a larger surface area to avoid pressure points which closes off the blood flow in the capillaries. They also “allow” the wider lighter shoulders to sink in enough to keep the curves in the upper back and neck in their natural alignment as well.

The misconception is that “support” is always about firmness when it is really about the combination of surface softness and deeper firmness that is “right” for each individual person. This will vary from person to person based on weight, body type, sleeping position, and the physiology of each person. A mattress that has too much or too little of either (firmness or softness) can both result in a spinal alignment outside of its natural range. Movement over the course of the night is also an essential part of healthy sleeping because no matter how good the pressure relief may be … joints are meant to move into new positions to maintain flexibility and prevent stiffness over the course of the night.

The “art and science” of mattress construction is all about using different materials and different layers to provide this combination of what I call PPP (Pressure relief, Posture and alignment, and Personal preferences) that is most suitable and comfortable for each person. Because there are so many variables involved and because every layer and component of a mattress (including the cover and quilting) will affect every other layer and component … it’s not really possible to predict beyond the “averages” how any person will interact with or “feel” on any particular mattress. Some of these generic or “average” guidelines that can serve as a starting point for height and weight are here and for different sleeping positions are here and some tips and tricks here. Different types of construction or layering will also affect these guidelines in different ways as you can see in the “putting the layers together” overview here and in the more detailed pages in the same section.

What this all boils down to is that there are really only two ways to know how well any particular mattress will work for you.

1. Personal testing for PPP on the mattress you are buying. This is by far the most accurate, especially if it is done as objectively as possible (rather than only subjectively testing for “comfort”). It can be particularly accurate if it is done with the help and guidance of someone with the experience and knowledge to understand the importance of pressure relief, spinal alignment, and the many preferences that people may have that will become more important in their long term experience outside of the showroom. Each person’s needs (pressure relief and alignment which are the two basic functions of a mattress) and their many preferences (many of which are listed in post #46 here) can be very different and some of them (like temperature regulation and durability) can only really be “predicted” by knowledge of the differences between different types of mattress constructions and materials. This is also an essential part of why good guidance can be so important in predicting the longer term performance and satisfaction of a mattress outside of the showroom. The tutorial post includes several links to testing guidelines and suggestions that will be helpful.

2. Buying online or on the phone without testing the specific mattress you are buying. This type of choice is riskier than the first because it is based on “averages” and not on your own personal experience on a mattress. While averages can work for people who are “average” for all their needs and preferences … in most cases one or more of these needs and preferences can be outside of any “average” range and these can become more important over time. For example … sleeping temperature on a particular mattress can be fine for most people but some may still sleep hot. In the same way someone who carries more weight than “average” in certain areas or has a “non average” body shape or sensitivities or physiology compared to an “average” person may react very differently on the same mattress from someone else with the same height and weight or general sleeping position. For those who go in this direction though, there are several things that can lower the risk of an online or telephone purchase.

The first of these is to work with a manufacturer who has a good understanding of how all the layers in the specific mattresses they make or sell (not just some of the components like the foam) have interacted with a larger customer base so they can help you make choices out of the specific mattresses and options they have available that have the highest chance of success. This guidance needs to be based on all the specifics of a particular mattress and not on more generic guidelines. Even the ticking/quilting of a mattress or other seemingly minor differences can play a role that is sometimes quite surprising to those who don’t have more detailed experience or knowledge about mattress construction.

The second way to lower the risk of an online purchase is to use local outlets as a “testing ground” for different types of layering and material combinations. The goal here is not to find a mattress to buy (although this may happen as a side effect if you find good value available locally) but to help identify the materials that you prefer and preferences that are most important to you and where you may be “outside of the averages”.

This kind of feedback can help the manufacturer to use their knowledge and experience with different combinations and with their knowledge of their customer base to help you make better choices in those areas where your needs and preferences may be outside of an “average” range. Of course the benefits of this type of testing for use as guidance for an online purchase depends on knowing the details of the layers and components in the mattresses you test (or your testing won’t provide any meaningful information) and on providing the most objective feedback possible about what you felt on different types of mattress. This can help them to help you choose a mattress out of the options they have available that they believe would have the highest odds of success.

Finally the options you have after a purchase to rearrange or exchange individual layers to fine tune the mattress or exchange the mattress itself and/or the return policy and any costs involved may also be an important part of your personal value equation and the “value” of an online mattress purchase if in spite of “best efforts” your choice doesn’t turn out as well as you hoped.

Because I don’t sell mattresses and know every detail of every mattress that is sold by the hundreds of manufacturers that I have linked to (or that are members here) or have a specific database of customers with different body types, sleeping styles, and sensitivities and preferences that have purchased each specific mattress … my “recommendations” are limited to either generic guidelines or to certain specific “adjustments” that may be helpful with a specific mattress where the exact layering is known and a specific set of" symptoms" are connected to testing or sleeping on a certain mattress.

The goal in other words is to “know your needs and preferences” as much as possible and to connect with the “experts” that can “translate” these into recommendations or suggestions that can help you decide which of the specific mattresses they sell may work best for you.

I wanted to supply a more detailed answer to your request for a recommendation based on your general height and weight and sleeping position because it is such a common belief that there is a formula that works or that a mattress can be recommended based on “theory at a distance” with just height, weight, and sleeping position “stats” without taking into account the near infinite variables of each person or the finer details of each different type of mattress construction which of course isn’t the case. There are just too many variables and personal preferences involved. This way I can use this post as a “reference” for others who may want my recommendation for a specific mattress without a specific reference point and set of “symptoms” on a particular model with known layering.

A second reply with some comments about the rest of your post will follow this one :slight_smile:


Hi again jason_555,

OK … on to some of the other points and questions that you raised in your post.

Latex … assuming it is a good quality latex … can certainly be a great material and it has a combination of properties that can make it an excellent choice that has many advantaqes over other materials. There’s more about this in the pros and cons of latex here. Like other materials though … the devil is in the details of the specifics of the layers and the other components that make up the mattress and in how they interact with your particular body type and sleeping style how well they meet your needs and preferences. Like other materials … latex is a broad category of material and there are many choices available in terms of type of latex, layer thickness, layer softness/firmness, and in the other components of a “latex” mattress or latex hybrid. There is no single mattress in other words that “defines” a latex mattress (just like traditional innerspring or memory foam mattresses are both a very broad category) and there is a huge range of possibilities within each category. Everything depends on the combination of materials and each person’s needs and preferences. If the “strengths” or “feel” of latex are not important or even desirable for a particular individual … then no matter how “good” latex may be it may not be the best choice for a particular person. In these cases it may work better in combination with other materials or some may even want to avoid it completely.

Without knowing the specific layers of a mattress (from a spec sheet, cutaway, or online description) it’s not really possible to use these as a guideline for another mattress. Of course your own personal testing on each of them (especially with the help of an “expert” who can help you translate your experience into meaningful or more objective terms and who can also give you a sense of how each specific mattress may meet your needs and preferences in the long term) should give you a clear sense of which of these would work best for you in terms of pressure relief and alignment and knowing the layers can help predict the other qualities of the mattress in terms of preferences that may not be as obvious in a showroom (such as durability and climate and temperature control). Knowing the quality specs of each mattress will also give you a better way to make meaningful comparisons with other mattresses in terms of their relative value.

Stearns & Foster for example mostly uses much lower quality synthetic Dunlop latex and most of them also have a lotof polyfoam in the upper layers of the mattress which can become the “weak link” of the mattress. This can often lead to people believing that the issues that happen with their mattress are caused by “latex” (because they were told it was a latex mattress) when in reality it is usually about the other lower quality materials that are used.

Diamond makes some high quality mattresses and they use premium materials in the surface layers (such as higher density memory foam or latex) especially in their “direct contact” models. This use of these premium materials in the top layers of the mattress means that the layers that are the most subject to repeated compression and mechanical stress are the most durable and not as likely to be the “weak link” of the mattress … unlike Stearns & Foster. Eve here though … it’s important to know the layers that are in the mattress to make meaningful comparisons with other mattresses in terms of value (such as with the PLB mattresses which have “known” specs).

Eco-flex is a “word” for polyfoam. Some of the newer types of polyfoam and memory foam made by many foam manufacturers have replaced a small percentage of the petrochemicals used to make them (specifically the polyols) with alternative polyols that are made from plant oils. While the percentage is usually small (under 20%) and the polyols are only one of the two main chemicals used to make polyfoam or memory foam … it is at least a step in a “greener’ direction … although these types of polyfoam are still just polyfoam. Knowing the density of any polyfoam used in a mattress is still important to predict durability and any “weak link” in your mattress or to make meaningful comparisons with other mattresses. Polyfoam … plant based or otherwise … is a much lower cost material than latex and while they are both “fast response” materials … latex is a higher quality choice but of course also more expensive. This means that if you are comparing two mattresses that both use say 3” of latex in the comfort layers and then one has polyfoam in the support core (such as the Diamond Peace) and one uses latex in the support core (such as the various PLB models) … it would be reasonable to expect the Diamond to be less than the PLB in order to have the same “value”.

The durability of the comfort layers is the most important part of the durability of the mattress as a while and while a latex core can add significantly to the performance and feel of a mattress … it is also true that for most people (not all) … the most significant part of the “feel” of a mattress will come from the comfort layers. This generally means that if a “compromise” is needed to reduce the cost of an “all latex” mattress and someone likes the feel and performance of sleeping on latex … that replacing the latex support layers with either an innerspring or a high quality polyfoam is often the best way to go to reduce the cost.

This may or may not be true and the best way to know would be to use the expertise and guidance of any online manufacturers you are considering. The members of this site that specialize in online and “telephone” sales are listed in post #21 here. In some cases … a “split layering” can be very valuable but your testing and specific combinations of body types and sleeping positions may also indicate that you could each do well on the same layering in spite of your differences. For example … a heavier person may "go through "the top two layers more in certain construction and they may need a firmer support core for support. The lighter part of the couple on the other hand may only “go through” the top layer and for them the middle layer may be the most significant pare of their “support system”. Each layer of a mattress can play a different role for different people in other words. Split layering though is certainly a great option to have available for those who may need and prefer it. Conversations with the manufacturer of each mattress you are considering along with good information about your stats, needs, and preferences, good questions, and any specific feedback you can provide about your local testing will help them to help you make the best possible choices out of the options they offer.

The best part is that these conversations can all be done from the comfort of your home and don’t involve travelling from store to store :).

Just in case you haven’t seen it … there is a list in post #2 here of some of the better options in the San Jose area that I’m aware of.

I hope this and the previous post helps. You have some great choices in the area and I would also suggest that you make sure you include Bay Bed in your research. They are one of the manufacturing members here and offer some of the best quality and value in the country.


Thanks, Phoenix, for this very detailed and informative reply. So, checking the local stores and test as many mattress as I can find is still the first step to find best mattress for me.

hi jason_555,

Yes … you have some very good choices available to you within reasonable driving distance and the “worst case” is that local testing (and I would “target” this testing towards specific materials and softness/firmness levels of comfort and support layers rather than lying on “as many as possible”). I would also work with some of the more knowledgeable outlets that are available locally and use their knowledge to your advantage. A few phone calls to “interview” them first along the lines of this article may also give you a good sense of what to expect when you go there.

If you do some preliminary work first at home on the phone … your testing can be much more targeted and effective.

Because you have some very good quality and value available locally … you may not even need to consider an online purchase (although you can still use online outlets as a “reference point” for the value of your local options). My normal “suggestion” is that if there is no more than a 20% difference between a local choice and an online choice for a similar mattress … then the extra premium of a local purchase may well be worth the lower risk (although each person of course would have a different risk tolerance and each person’s “value equation” may be different). In many cases, some local options may actually be better value than many online choices.

So yes … because of the choices you have … I would first call and visit some of the better local outlets.