Do you have an upholstery project that requires new foam for a cushion or seat? Here’s a guide to help you choose the right foam for your project…

urethane foam is pricey, whatever the quality, so you're better off paying a bit more for better quality in the long run.

Fitting new foam cushions on a sofa re-upholstery project

First, I want to share a bit about how I deal with foam in my upholstery studio, along with a few entertaining alternative uses for urethane foam:

I’m a saver, a recycler, a stickler for minimizing the waste and useless by-product that emerges from my life & work. I use the blank sides of junk mail as scrap paper, throw match books (and spent matches) in the cardboard recycling, and use burlap scraps from upholstery projects as garden mulch.

So I have this problem that’s been bothering me…

Ever since I first dipped my big toe into upholstery, there has been one over-riding waste item (aside from the stinky old stripped-off fabric and padding that is beyond re-use) that I haven’t been consistently able to re-purpose:

FOAM SCRAPS.

Foam is expensive…

Giant green 'loaves' of foam

Huge foam loaves are cut with a band saw into the slabs we buy for furniture.

I buy it in sheets (54”x 82”) and half sheets (27”x 82”) and custom cut it into whatever size and shape needed for each project – a sofa cushion, a dining chair seat, back padding – and, inevitably, there is an odd scrap left over that’s too small to use on anything. Piecing them together is risky because the glued seam could open up during use, and ruin the whole upholstery job.

I hate throwing stuff away…

This landfill photo illustrates the need to keep furniture, bedding and anything we can out of landfills by using materials efficiently

A vast landfill somewhere in the Rocky Mountains

I think about what went into making that piece of foam (chemicals, resources, human labor, shipping) and I’m motivated to do what I can, so I’ve come up with a few uses over the years:

•    Dog & Cat Beds: I go ahead and glue pieces together for this if I need to, since the puppies & kitties don’t mind and the zippered beds allow replacement (also a good use for old foam).
•    Shred it for Pillows: I’ve heard there’s a shredding machine that cuts foam in to tiny pieces, and heard of a local guy who had one in his basement, but have not seen it or met him, yet…
•    Toadstools: we make these small, medium & large mushroom-shaped stools that use layered foam, so I glue pieces for the bottom layer, and use an intact piece for the top layer (I sometimes do this with small chair seats too).
•    Art: sculpt it, paint it, embellish it!
•    Talking Balloons: You know, the cartoon balloons… always good for a laugh in the studio!

Here are some fun creations using urethane foam:

'ancient rock wall' & angel statue made out of foam

A prop wall for a wedding by WeCutFoam and a faux marble statue made for the L.A. Opera, both made from urethane foam

 

Pink Baby Dinosaur??

Neon foam creature by Carsten Höller

Okay, so that’s my 2-cents for re-purposing, but there’s really more to this story than finding CREATIVE ways to keep SCRAPS out of the landfill… which brings us to:

FOAM QUALITY.

If you’re doing your own project with ANY kind of foam – replacing a sofa cushion, re-covering (with new foam) your dining chairs, or building a new window seat cushion – you’re going to need to know that there are different foams for different purposes.

Side view of a bench seat upholstery project

This restaurant bench seat required two custom cut layers of High Density foam to give it the right shape

Sure, you can go down to the local Joann store and buy their low density foam (and this might be the easiest solution for many of us who just want a quick fix and don’t mind the comfort factor so much), but there are NICE foams out there that your tush will thank you for in the long run. High density means less air, higher quality, and longer life.

Here’s a handy chart that will help you choose the right foam for your own reupholstery or cushion project:

ILD = Indentation Load Deflection - a measurement of firmness (higher number means firmer feel). Some manufacturers use IFD, or Indentation Force Deflection. Note that a thinner (e.g. 1-inch) thickness requires a firmer foam to prevent ‘bottoming out', and increases the comfort factor significantly. This is a rough guide - the final decision comes down to your personal preference AND the quality of the foam. Look for HR or High Resiliency foam. It’s always better to invest a little more up front for a higher quality foam that will last longer and offer greater comfort. This chart refers to open cell urethane foam.Here are two online foam sources for urethane foam that seem to be the most user-friendly:

The eFoam Store in Pennsylvania has a good explanation of how foams are specified using a 4-digit number: the first two digits representing density, and the second two digits representing ILD. For example, if a foam is identified with the number 1835, the 18 means a cubic foot of this foam weighs 1.8 pounds (The heavier a piece of foam, the longer it will maintain its shape), and the 35 means it takes 35 pounds of pressure to compress a piece of this foam to 25% of its original height (The higher the number, the firmer the piece of foam).

The Foam Factory in Michigan.

Note: this post was written in 2014, and is still applicable (in 2017) to those looking to replace old sofa cushions with POLYURETHANE foam.

Natural Upholstery Materials.

Here at NaturalUpholstery.com we’ve shifted our focus to NATURAL LATEX foam, which has very different properties than urethane foam. Check out the post ‘How to Use Latex Foam in Upholstery’ and see our comprehensive FAQs to learn more about latex foam. If your’e seeking materials without flame retardants to use in your upholstery project, we have some natural & organic foundation materials available in our shop.

Whether you’re working with ‘conventional’ or ‘natural’ upholstery materials, there are universal upholstery techniques and resources that can help you complete your own project. Join our mailing receive upholstery tips, resources and links to video tutorials in your inbox each month.