Please help choose a latex topper, if that sounds like the right move

My DH and I are now almost 2 years into mattress purgatory, and I feel like I no longer have any capacity for good judgment. Please help! Maybe I should have found this site sooner.

We had a pillowtop innerspring I liked. It was several years old and my DH thought it was too soft, though he was generally pleased with it. Kingsdown I think, a huge thing, more than 12 inches high. When his brother needed a mattress, I thought we could give him ours and that we could get something we both agreed on. Slept on our spare innerspring while we were looking. That was terrible.

Considered buying a Shifman from Bloomingdales, since my parents love theirs, but we missed the sale and got to be in a hurry because my DH was getting cranky from poor sleep. Finally decided on a latex, in a bit of a hurry. Bought from Plushbeds – botantical bliss 9". I liked the marketing, but neither of us liked the feel. The latex was creepy to me, like sleeping on gel, and several nights I woke up with a numb arm and no less back pain. DH wasn’t happy either. What put me over the edge was the body impressions. Three months of use and there were visible hollows. I didn’t think latex did that! Finally, disappointed, we returned it.

I feel in love with the wool mattress marketing. It made so much sense! I like wool! Wanted all the benefits promised. So we bought a mattress and topper from Surround Ewe. Slept on an air mattress while waiting for it to arrive a year ago. It was / is gorgeous. A monument to clean, natural goodness. But I miss the bounce of an innerspring. Spend more time and energy than I’d like on bed “maintenance,” airing it out daily, flipping the topper every two weeks. And I HATE the massive trough we’re each sleeping in now. Despite following instructions about breaking the bed in and rolling around, it’s like being in separate hammocks. No return policy. It’s not all bad. The material is fabulous, and when I get the bed to myself and can sleep on the hump, I like it. I’d stick with my sub-optimal choice if it were just me for another few years, until I felt I had good enough value for my too pricey investment.

But now my DH is waking up achey. The wool has compressed to the point where he’s hurting.

We’ve gone back to the manufacturer and doubled down on buying more wool once already. Were considering ditching the whole thing for a new innerspring once we found a good product and price. Which I think I’d like (too much marketing reading has left me spinning and uncertain of everything) but it’s such a waste. Plus, any rigid mattress has to come through our window three stories up. Not a big deal, but it does make DH and I less fast to pull the trigger.

This morning I had the brilliant idea of getting a latex “topper” to go between our wool topper and the wool mattress. The mattress itself is firm and in nearly perfect condition. My DH just needs more cushioning. Would that work? Or would it add to the depressions we sleep in now?

Here are some details - we live in Annapolis, MD, are both about the same height (5’10" +/-), weight (190 lbs +/-), healthy-ish and about the same age (late 30s +/-) and both end up sleeping on our sides, although we dabble in back and stomach sleeping.

As much as I get sucked in by Savvy Rest (clearly susceptible to marketing), I was thinking about SleepEz’s 3" queen uncovered talalay blended medium. My thinking is that no need for a cover or soft because we will still use the wool on top on the latex layer. Just want it as a softer inner pad for my husband.

Thoughts? And if you’ve made through this tome, thanks!

Hi genagoodrow,

Impressions are part of the “normal” response of wool toppers or any thick layers of wool over time (unlike foam where impressions are a sign that it is breaking down and has lost its resilience). In some ways you could say that it is somewhat like memory foam except it takes on the general or “average” shape of your body more permanently. It is less resilient than foam and will compress by about 30% or so and then stay in that range so it doesn’t distribute weight as evenly over the whole surface of the body like foam does and tends to provide more localized cushioning that is more pressure point specific. Even when it is compressed it will be less firm than fibers like cotton which are less resilient and become even firmer over time as they compress. This will also depend on the type of wool (courser wool stays more resilient), the density of the wool fill , and on the tufting of the wool. Some of the most costly natural fiber mattresses in the world develop impressions which is part of their “normal” response over time.

When this happens … in most cases the difference is not big enough to cause pressure issues on a mattress that has some softness underneath but in some cases it is (especially if the layers under the wool are firmer) and your idea of having a softer layer to provide some “give” under the wool is a very good one IMO. This would let you keep the “feel” and breathability of the wool without the pressure point issues.

Latex is the most durable of all the foam materials so there would be less of an impression or “soft spot” issue than with other materials. Your experience with your latex is somewhat unusual and certainly not the norm although I also have to say that impression issues with latex have been a little more common over the last few years because the biggest supplier of latex in North America … Latex International … has had some sporadic quality control issues in that time where their latex has impressed or softened to a greater degree and more quickly than what would be considered “normal” (more than about 10% or so would be crossing the line). This has caused some degree of consternation among some mattress manufacturers and even put some manufacturers off of latex itself even though it is less likely to happen with some of the other latex manufacturers that seem to have more consistent quality control. The impression issues you had with your Plushbeds could have also been partly due to the wool in their quilting or it could have been an issue with the quality of your latex. If you put a bare latex layer on the floor then use a string or a straight edge from side to side you can more easily the depth of any impressions in each layer of the latex mattress to see if there is more than a slight impression. Either way … “good latex” doesn’t develop any significant issues after 3 months and only forms slight impressions in the “normal” course of events.

Overall … I think your idea is a good one. While there are too many variables and unknowns to use any “formula” to choose the best thickness and softness for any specific person . The guidelines in post #2 here and the posts it links to can help you use your own experience on your mattress as a good guideline as to where in the range or thickness and softness would be best for you. An “average” choice would be in the range of 2" or so with a softness that was appropriate “on average” for your weight, sleeping positions, and preferences.

Some of the better options in the Annapolis area are listed in post #2 here but personal testing for toppers may not be as accurate or effective for a topper as it would be for a mattress because how it feels and responds will depend on the materials and design of the mattress it is used on as much as the specifics of the topper itself. Unless you test the the topper on the mattress you are sleeping on or something very close, it may feel very different from what you test it on when you put it on your own mattress because they will interact together to produce what you feel. If you can’t test the combination (or something very similar) in person … then buying a topper online would make sense … especially if there was a good return or exchange policy in case you make a mistake in thickness or firmness level.

Overall I think your idea is a good one and "in theory"and based on “averages” should work well.


OK, we got a 3" “loaner” topper from the Healthy Back Store and are trying it out for a week. As a topper it’s very nice. Our experience with the PlushBeds latex mattress was so negative, it had turned me off latex altogether, but maybe that was just terrible quality.

We’re still experimenting, but here are our problems - latex topper on the wool under-mattress is too firm, but at least it’s almost flat and only requires two layers of surfaces. Latex under our 2 wool toppers isn’t ideal, because it’s so soft as you get into it and the hollows are so pronounced. Like sleeping in a cup my husband called it. He tried latex on top of one of the toppers last night. OK at first, too firm by morning.

We have to make some change from what we have (wool futon, 2 wool toppers) because it’s hurting my husband. So money will have to be expended. But I’ve got such a problem paying more, since that’ll be more investment and commitment to living in the hollow valley of the wool.

Breaks my heart, because it’s such lovely, high quality wool. But I paid a lot for it and I hate it as a bed! I just want a place to sleep! And I’ve already paid so much money. It’s driving me c-r-a-z-y!

Today’s experiment is to get another loaner level from the Healthy Back Store and try 5" of latex on the wool futon. That’s getting more expensive but has the hope of a flat sleeping surface, hope of longevity with minimal maintenance (don’t need to leave the bed “unmade” everyday and flip every 2 weeks and still get deep divets, right?)

In the back of my mind I wonder if we should just scrap the wool and buy a Shifman like my parents and kids sleep on. I like innerspring mattresses but have drunk the kool-aid marketing telling me innersprings are bad and everyone hates them. But I worry we’ll get the Shifman, throw out a nearly new wool masterpiece, and find ourselves with hollows and sore shoulders anyway.

We’re two years into this misery and I’m sleeping on a camping air mattress. Tell me there’s an end to this.

Any advice?

Hi genagoodrow,

The latex mattresses from Plushbeds aren’t poor quality (unless there is a manufacturing defect with the latex in which case it would normally be exchanged) but like any mattress category there is a large range of different designs in the “latex category” (like any mattress category) and a particular mattress may not fit the needs and preferences of any particular person while another one that uses the same materials in a different design may work very well. This has little to do with the quality of the mattress or the latex itself (except for defective latex) and more to do with the suitability of your choice of a specific mattress design and how well it “fits” your specific needs and preferences in terms of PPP (Posture and alignment, Pressure relief, and Personal preferences).

I don’t know which topper you are using but if it’s the 3" Talalay latex topper from Pure latex bliss then it would be very very soft (14 - 15 ILD) and would only really be suitable for use as a top layer. It would generally be much too soft for use in the middle or lower layers of a mattress and would likely make any alignment issues worse. If you use a latex topper that soft on the top layers over a firm layer below it … and depending on the thickness and body type … you could easily “go through it” and the firmness would probably be coming from the firmness of the layers below it. This is one of the counterintuitive parts of mattress design that in some cases softer layers on top of a mattress can end up feeling firmer. In addition to this … latex or any soft foam material on top of a mattress … will follow the contours of the layers below them and if there are “valleys” or soft spots in the layers underneath it (either that you can see or that are only evident when you sleep on the mattress) then the latex will be a partial solution at best and at worst could make an alignment issue worse (you will still have the dips or soft spots when you sleep on it but because of the softness of the latex it could “allow” you to sink in even further with your pelvis relative to your upper body). You need firmness in the support layers of a mattress to “stop” your pelvis from sinking in too far and causing alignment issues.

It’s unavoidable to have some degree of compression in wool over time and thicker layers of wool that are softer and less compressed originally (like the two wool toppers you currently have) will compress more (although how much will also depend on the specific construction of the wool toppers). This is not normally an issue for those who prefer sleeping on wool unless there are actual symptoms (back pain or pressure points) that go along with it. It’s just part of the “feel” and normal response of wool and is one of the tradeoffs that go with sleeping on a mattress that uses it in all the layers. Thinner layers of softer wool on top will have less of the impression issues but will also feel firmer.

I’m not sure which wool toppers you have (they offer three thicknesses) but the base wool futon would likely be the firmest and have the least impressions (because it’s on the bottom and is also the most compressed). This would likely be the firmest and flattest of the wool components you have and would likely be OK as a base layer for your sleeping system. Because this is too firm to sleep on directly … the problem becomes exactly what to put on top of it and in what order. The more soft wool you add to this the more likely it would be to have the deeper permanent impressions you are experiencing in the wool over time.

In this case … it would probably be best to use a foam topper (latex or otherwise) directly over the wool futon as a comfort layer. This would need to be thick enough and soft enough to isolate you from the firmness of the wool futon below it but not so soft or thin that you go through it into the firmer material below. A little firmer will often feel softer because you won’t sink in as deeply and feel the firmness of the futon below it. The transition between the two would be more gradual. Because your futon is so firm you will probably need at least 3" of foam thickness but something more suitable in terms of ILD (probably in the range of 24 or higher depending on your preferences and specific body shapes) would probably be more effective.

You may even need a layer in between the softer latex on top and the firm futon below it.

If you do add a wool topper in the mix over the latex I would consider using slightly firmer latex under it than you would use if you were sleeping directly on the latex and then put the thinnest wool topper you have on top of it (although this will still have some impressions … at least it would only be from the wool topper and not from multiple layers).

In effect you are designing your own mattress and like any mattress designer this will take some trial and error along with some theoretical knowledge but it would be a good idea to consider that middle and deeper layers generally need to be progressively firmer than the top layers and that it’s much more challenging and tricky to use softer layers (or layers that are compressed in some sections) in the middle or deeper layers of the mattress because this can lead to alignment issues unless the construction is exactly the right combination in terms of thickness, softness, and “feel” for the person sleeping on the mattress.

Assuming that your wool 8.5" futon doesn’t have any significant impressions … it would probably be “safer” to add foam materials directly on top of this to isolate yourself from the firmness of the futon and reduce the dips in your mattress and then add the thinnest wool topper over this if you prefer the feeling of sleeping directly on the wool.

This would also be very risky because 5" of very soft latex would also be a risky construction in terms of alignment even though it would probably be thick enough to isolate you from the firmness of the wool futon. You may be exchanging a pressure issue for an alignment issue. I personally would go with thinner layers of firmer latex (still in the soft range) than adding this much very soft latex over a firm futon. While you may not have “divots” … you would likely still have “virtual” divots when you sleep on it because your pelvis will sink in deeper than your upper body when you sleep on it even though when you are off the mattress it will still come back to level. Using this much soft foam of any type on top of your mattress would likely also have durability issues and would increase the chances of having permanent impressions in the latex over time as well.

Before you buy a Shifman (or any mattress) I would make sure you know exactly what is inside the mattress you buy so you are able to identify any weak links in the mattress or how it may perform over time. The support core of a mattress is not usually the weak link of a mattress(whether they are innersprings, wool, polyfoam, or latex) and issues usually develop in the upper layers regardless of what is underneath them. There are many Shifman mattresses and while they are not good value compared to other mattresses that use the same or better quality materials … some of them use better quality materials than others and there are many different Shifman designs. Buying by brand is among the worst ways to choose a mattress and the only way to make a meaningful assessment of any mattress is by knowing exactly what is inside it and how much the specific materials are likely to soften, compress, or break down over time so you don’t repeat the same issues with an even more costly mattress.


Just a thought or two -

Adding a topper to your wool mattress with the large depression won’t remove the depression. I’m in the same place (5 year old cotton/wool futon) but decided to start over with a new bed altogether. My futon is resistant to going back to flat.

All that wool is valuable. Perhaps you could use it another way.