Budget furniture filler: From the dangerous to the untested

Photo: Sheryl Novak
Photo: Sheryl Novak

Last week we covered two types of filling or padding for sofas and sectionals — down/feather filling and foam. This week, we will cover two other common types.

Polyester, also referred to as polyfoam, is found in low-cost upholstered pieces. Generally the lowest-cost filling available and around since the 1960s, polyfoam is made using the same process that is used in making petroleum from crude oil.

Unfortunately, with the lower price also comes some downsides. The first is its questionable safety. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers facilities that manufacture polyfoam potential sources of harmful pollutants. According to studies, when polyfoam breaks down, it can be released into the air as microscopic particles. These particles, when inhaled, have the potential to cause health issues.

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Polyfoam also tends to flatten out very quickly, resulting in lumpy cushions. It is also very porous. In Yucatán’s humid climate, any material that holds moisture runs a higher risk of mildew and mold. Another downside is that it is extremely flammable. Firefighters refer to polyfoam as solid gasoline. Unless it is treated, it will burn very hot and very fast. When it does so, the resultant fumes are toxic. Just one breath of super hot toxic gas would incapacitate an average-sized human. Fire-retardant polyfoams still carry some potential risk due to the type of coatings used.

Batting, commonly made from wool, cotton and polyester, is used to wrap foam. Batting keeps everything smooth and prevents the cover from slipping. The cheaper the batting, the more problems you will have. All-cotton batting tends to poke through the sofa cover, so it is not recommended for seat cushions. Poly cotton blends work much better. Wool batting is best used to cover sofa springs, but not generally used as a cushion.

Newest to the scene is foam made from soy beans. Manufacturers claim it to be a great alternative option since it is a renewable resource and it further reduces our dependence on fossil fuels. Since it is so new, there are a lot of unknowns. Whether it is healthier for us and the environment is still up for discussion and debate. Today, very few upholstery manufacturers use soy foam, but we can expect this to most likely grow.

When you purchase an inexpensive sofa, its poor-quality materials means it will collapse quicker, and pose potential health and environmental issues. The average lifespan for an inexpensive sofa made from lower grade materials is two to three years. Investing in a well-made item with quality materials should give a lifespan of 20 to 25 years. And a lot more comfort.

Sheryl Novak is an expat from Canada who has owned a home in Mexico for over 10 years. She is the owner of SOLutions Mexico, an online furniture store and an expert on sourcing all styles of furniture, for all budgets, in Mexico. Buying a home in Mexico? Email furniture@solutionsmexico.com to get a free home inventory list.

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