The Banana Test

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How to Determine Latex Firmness

Picking out latex firmnesses is very vague if you have no frame of reference. So, I present to you, the banana comparison, an imperfect example but a good start.

Imagine the amount of pressure it would take you to flatten the following bananas with the palm of your hand and you just might be capture the feel of flattening the latex too.

Soft: a brown banana
Medium: a yellow banana with a few spots
Firm: a yellow banana
Extra-Firm: a chartreuse banana
Hard: a green banana

The Job of your Layers

COMFORT

The top layer of a mattress is the comfort layer. This is true if you make a wool mattress and use a wool topper or if you make a latex mattress and choose a soft piece of latex. The top layer will degrade faster than the rest of your layers as not only does it get the most use, but it is the softest and has the least amount of material to resist your body weight.

Choose your comfort layer first. You will feel this piece as soon as you crawl into your mattress. It is the layer that will cradle your pressure points and give you ease as soon as you lie down.

SUPPORT

A supporting layer keeps you from sinking through to your slats or frame beneath you. it is what holds up the comfort layer and ultimately you. While its feel may be subtle, its function is necessary. A supporting layer is what you sink into after you use up the depth of the top layer.

When making a mattress, you can choose to concentrate the feel toward either comfort or support. In other words, you could choose a Soft/ Medium/ Extra Firm to concentrate on the comfort layer. Or you could choose Soft/ Firm/ Extra Firm for a concentration on the supporting layers. Rule of Thumb #3′ & 4 (below) are for people who don’t want to choose a concentration but rather a balance.

Rules of Thumb

  1. Children often prefer a medium 3” as opposed to firm 3”.
  2. If you like firm bedding, you will find a Firm to feel soft, and Extra Firm to feel medium and a Hard, firm.
  3. A common combination for 9” layers is Soft/ Medium/ Firm.
  4. A common combination for 6″ layers is Soft/ Firm.
  5. 3” is generally sufficient around to 100 lbs.
  6. 6” keeps you from feeling the slats until about 200 lbs.
  7. 9” will last you until shortly before 300 lbs. However, a lot of customers who could take a minimalist approach on 6″ choose the 9″ option, as it gives you one extra layer to put in the comfort category or the support category. 9″ is also a good choice if you are a sensitive sleeper, as you will probably end up fine tuning your mattress after you purchase it.

Sleeping Position & Body Shape

SIDE SLEEPERS

You create the largest pressure points of all sleepers with your hips and shoulders. You will tend to want a soft or a medium layer on top of your bed, unless you fit into Rule of Thumb #2’s category.

BACK/STOMACH SLEEPERS

Your pressure points are not as large as a side sleeper’s are. You will tend toward a medium or a firm as a comfort layer.

LONG & LEAN

Your body weight is stretched out so the pressure points you create will not be compounded at one point of the bed. This means that you may be comfortable on a minimalist depth of 6″ of latex or 4″ wool mattress with topper.

BOXY & ROUND

Your body weight is compact which means that your pressure points will be concentrated. You will lean toward a deep mattress of 9″ or more.

Personally

While you could get the best comparison if you tried out a latex bed, wrote down the ILD’s of the layers you liked and then came to us, perhaps having a comparison of what I am comfortable on might give you some more perspective.

I weigh 120 lbs and am 5’4” tall. I sleep 80% of the night on my side, 20% percent on my back, 0% on my stomach.

My own choice for mattress and bedding is (with my husband who is 200 lbs and 5’10”)
top: 3″ Medium
bottom: 3″ Firm

I do not use a mattress protector or topper. I sleep on a shredded latex with a quilted pillow case.

Be Forwarned

These are not rules or even suggestions. Consider them generalities.

Remember we offer a buy and try period. You may swap out layers of latex until you are satisfied with the firmness for 60 days.

Frames

Simply said, slats are the most common support system used with latex and wool mattresses. For more thorough information, see my article here on Bed Frames.

14 thoughts on “The Banana Test

  1. RE: The Banana Test

    I also weigh 115 lbs. and I’m looking for some latex for sitting in a chair.
    How thick in inches would be best?

    Thanks

    1. Since you emailed me the next day, I never responded to this comment here, but for everyone else’s sake:

      3″ minimum. The denser the foam the thinner it can be while allowing support. 3″ Hard would be comparable to 6″ Firm

      For more information on custom cuts, read this post: http://www.diynaturalbedding.com/futons-couch-cushions-latex/ and contact me for a quote: dbrenton@diynaturalbedding.com

  2. What do you think of synthetic latex, such as by Latexco? It retains its shape better and does not discolor. Have you tried it?

    1. I have heard of good qualities of blended latex, part synthetic, part natural. I have never tried or sampled the synthetic latex by LatexCo. We do pull from their stock occasionally for our Natural Latex, their Naturalux. What is your interest in synthetic latex? Feel free to email me at dbrenton@diynaturalbedding.com for more discussion.

      1. I tend to be allergic to latex, so a quality synthetic substitute would be attractive to me.

        1. The Arpico natural latex that we supply has removed the particular latex proteins that commonly cause Type I latex allergies. This does not completely alleviate latex allergies in response to the latex, but it does temper them.

  3. What is your recommendation for a frame? If you have a metal standard type bed frame is that going to require a box spring or something?

    1. You do not need a box spring with a latex or a wool mattress.

      Some people want the height that they are used to from a box spring, so they choose a “foundation”, which is a strip on slats on top of usually an 8” frame.

      If you are concerned about EMF’s you will want to avoid the metal frame. If not, it is an inexpensive option.

      The most common supporting systems are slats as they let the latex be a little more flexible than a flat surface like a board or the floor. Some make their own slats of 1” x 4”s, staple them to a ribbon and tie them down to the top and bottom of their metal frame or nail them to their wood frame.

      I have a Pinterest board of DIY frame options if you want some ideas of frames you can make yourself.

      Edit 2017: I now have an entire post up on the blog about bed frames with a bit more detail than this post.

  4. Nice website! What about a mattress for cosleeping with baby? I know babies need firm, but would it be firm, extra-firm, hard?!
    Thank you

    1. We sell crib sized latex in medium and firm. If you want extra-firm or hard, we can cut it out of a Twin for you for the price of a Twin. When considering firmness, consider the body weight of the sleeper. An extra firm or hard is extra-firm or hard to most adults. Babies weigh much less and thus sink into the latex much less. They will not have any pressure point relief and a little comfort from a firm layer of latex.

      Parents tend to choose which firmness is correct for their infants as uniquely as they choose what firmness is correct for themselves. I get both parents who want their babies on something soft or the child won’t sleep as well as the parents who pay for the extra for the extra firm latex layer. Your call.

  5. What about shredded latex? I like to sleep on something rather firm, since I tend to lay on my back, but occasionally on other positions. Hence, floor sleeping. Would 3 inches of that suffice or am I better off sleeping on a solid slab on the ground?

    1. Shredded latex would be suitable for a mattress and would share the shape of a wool mattress (needing tufts) and the bounce of a latex mattress. It would beat the price of both of them. To construct it, purchase our bulk shredded latex and follow the instructions for making a wool mattress here.

  6. Hey,
    So I recently purchased a 4inch foldable foam mattress which gets pretty hot in the night and is medium firm. So I decided to buy a 1.5″inch organic cotton topper which is soft and cool. But now my base layer which is the 4inch medium firm doesn’t provide enough support to my body. Any suggestions on what I can do to get more support. Thanks.

    1. The cotton will firm up in the next few months, which will increase your support. Once compressed, cotton becomes as hard as a hard piece of latex but without the bounce. While you are waiting for it to firm up, you could add a piece of firm, extra firm or hard latex either underneath the foldable mattress or between it and the cotton topper.

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