Have you found yourself asking “What is the best foam to use for sofa cushions?” Whether you’re a consumer looking to purchase a sofa or chair or you’re a just out of school designer, today’s post will share with you the differences between good, better and best upholstery filling materials. You’ll know exactly what to ask for, to get the comfort level that’s just right for you, or your clients. Plus an understanding of the sustainability aspects of your choices.
The Best Foam to Use for Sofa Cushions
Let’s start by looking at foam-based interior cushion construction. Depending on whether you like a firm seat or a soft seat, the graphic below shows you what some of your options could be. You’ll see a continuum, of some of the types of options that are available, from the firmest on the bottom to the softest foam seat construction option, on top.
What is Foam?
Polyurethane foam is a by-product of the same process used to make petroleum from crude oil. It consists mainly of two chemicals: polyols and isocyanates. When these chemicals are mixed together and baked in special chambers, they rise, exactly like a loaf of bread does, and form the substance we know as foam. Foam has two other properties that are important to consider: density and firmness. These can both be tailored to your exact specifications so you get the comfort level you want.
Foam density is a specific measurement of how much weight, in pounds, polyurethane foam can handle per cubic foot. This density rating tells you the strength of the foam. The higher the number, the longer the foam will last. It should not be used exclusively as a sign of durability or comfort, because firmness and lifespan of foam products like mattresses and cushions, depend on many factors, including density.
ILD or IFD is a firmness measurement which tells you how hard or soft a foam is. The higher the number, the firmer the foam. This number also represents how many pounds the foam will hold before it collapses. If you take a block of foam that is a 12″ x 12″ x 12″ cube, after a certain ILD is reached, that foam will collapse.
Low density foam is the lowest quality filling material for cushions. These cushions have a shorter life span and may leave your sofa looking like it is about to collapse after just a few years.
Polyurethane foam is a by-product of the same process used to make petroleum from crude oil. It consists mainly of two chemicals: polyols and isocyanates. When these chemicals are mixed together and baked in special chambers, they rise, exactly like a loaf of bread does, and form the substance we know as foam. Polyurethane cushions are affordable and long lasting.
Some of the alternatives to polyurethane are soy, latex, down, and cotton batting.
Many manufacturers offer soy based polyols, but only a few manufacturers use a foam that has a high proportion of a soy as compared to the oil based polyol. These soy based cushions are usually not in inventory and need to be ordered.
The manufacturer in the furniture industry constructing their STANDARD seat cushions with 30% soy based polyols in their foam seat cushion right now is Lee Industries. Here’s a chart from their website so you can see and understand your options.
Latex Based Sofa Cushions
A 100% natural latex core with springs inside it and wrapped in a 50/50 down/feather wrap is the finest option for seat cushion filling materials and is used by the best upholsterers in Paris.
However, there are many considerations for latex.
- Some people are allergic to latex.
- Latex is extremely heavy so if you like to, or need to, move your furniture around( or if there is an older person who needs to pull a chair around for themselves) or if you move quite a bit, this will be something to consider. In addition, freight costs are much higher for furniture made with latex, due to the weight.
- Latex does not give the manufacturer as many shaping options for fine upholstery, which is why furniture made with 100% natural latex does not usually have the curves and the tufting we see on furniture made with foam. Foam can be easily curved and bent. So, if you’re a designer that needs a certain style, latex seat construction may not be feasible.
- Latex is very firm so a latex cushion core, wrapped with a down or down/feather or kapok wrap is necessary, unless you or your client prefer to sit on a very, very firm seat.
Considerations? Down cushions must be fluffed regularly to maintain their shape, baffles must be sewn in so the cushion holds its general shape, the crown (another word for the height of the seat cushion at its highest) must be considered, and these cushions are VERY soft so if an elderly person is present, they can be difficult to get out of comfortably. Additionally, some people are allergic to down.
However, they’re so pretty if you love the rumpled, not too perfect, English country house look, as shown below in a sofa that used to belong to Rachel Ashwell.
More Cushion Options
- All cotton batting.
Consideration? It is very, very firm. Think of futons which are typically made of all cotton.
- Horsehair or boar bristle.
Considerations? Allergies, cost
Sustainable Foam Cushions Manufacturers
There are other upholstery manufacturers, like Harden Furniture, Century Furniture, Cisco Brothers and more who have also long championed real sustainable cushion and/or frame construction, but since today’s post is on cushion filling materials, I’ve chosen to call out Lee, who has been the leader for a long time in using foam with the highest percentage of this soy based polyol in their foam cushions.
Lee is also a leader in meeting the new law banning the use of flame retardants in foam. For more information on why flame retardants were just recently banned in foam, see this article in the Huffington Post. Please make sure to ask, if you’re buying or specifying foam, to ask for foam made without flame retardants.
Going back to foam, please take a look, carefully, at this picture: It looks pretty, at first glance, right? But what do you see when you look at those cushions a bit more closely?
Save and buy the very finest seat and interior construction once, and you’ll never have to buy again. You can find the finest overall interior construction from companies like E.J. Victor, Tomlinson Lambeth, Century Furniture, Hickory Chair, Thayer Coggin and, headquartered in the UK, George Smith Furniture is the touchstone.
This home in Athens, GA is furnished with George Smith upholstery.
The picture below, is from one of America’s finest manufacturers, Century Furniture. See their educational and beautifully executed video series about how their furniture is made, constructed and finished by clicking here.
Companies like Century are able to secure and use any interior filling that you would like to specify, and can execute any type of custom upholstery, but, keep in mind, that could change the warranty if they’re not as familiar with the performance characteristics as what they have already in their line.
Has today’s post helped you? If it has, please let us know in the comments and please, if you have additional questions about how fine upholstery is made, also leave those in the comments so that we can answer them for you.