Seat and Back Cushions in Sofas and Chairs

Why Should I Learn About Seat Cushions?

The main reason you purchase a new sofa or a new chair is to introduce comfortable seating in your home. And you don’t want to make a mistake when you invest in a good sofa or living room chair.

Interestingly, one of the primary consumer complaints we hear in our store is related to disappointment in a recently purchased piece of furniture. They describe that what used to be comfortable has become intolerable in a short period of time. What is especially curious is that many of these situations occurred with products of reasonable quality and not known to be ‘bargain basement’ brands.

How can this be?

We all know that as a general rule in the furniture marketplace, ‘you get what you pay for’. An important concept to understand in lieu of this is that manufacturers may choose to focus on specific areas to showcase quality.

For instance, a manufacturer selling a fabric covered sofa in the $1,399 range may choose cutting edge styles or beautiful, plush fabrics to impress even the most demanding interior decorator. Others may work with simpler styles and more practical fabrics and then invest heavily in all the comfort features a sofa can offer.

Of course, there are brands that can and do offer the best of all design elements and comfort features in one package. These will usually cost more.

Understand and look for the following seat cushion types and ask your sales associate to review the specifications with you. Certain minimum standards need to be met to ensure the cushion comfort lasts. Upholstery manufacturers have all the details in their product literature so feel free to discover all you can. Your inquiry may surprise some but asking questions is the best way to assure you make an informed choice.

Be sure to test-sit all seating types yourself to discover your preferences. Firmer seating is generally preferred for conversation and formal settings. Softer seats for TV lounging or relaxing after a long day.

Be aware that firmer seat cushions tend to look neater and last longer. Very soft cushions – especially those containing down – are very relaxed and can have that wrinkled, ‘puddled’ look. They often need ‘fluffing’ to look their best.

How long should they last?

You should expect good quality cushions to maintain their comfort for about 10 years, more if only lightly used. Quality seat cushions will appear slightly ‘domed’ on top when new and will undergo an initial settling (within 6 months) of about 1/2” – 3/4” to achieve their ideal dimension. All cushions should also have zippered access in the rear panel (whether fabric or leather) to facilitate core replacement in the future. No cushions last forever.

Seat Cushions Explained

What’s inside?

Be sure to unzip cushions and look inside. They should look neat and fit tightly in the casing. You may also notice the foam layers have different color hues – all good signs that the maker is exacting and creative with different density layers. Small nuances here will tell you a lot about the manufacturer’s attention to detail.

Zippers are there so you can access the fill to re-distribute as necessary or replace the core in its entirety if it was damaged by pets or serious drink spills. Or you may just want to replace the core with a new one years down the road – all better manufacturers and furniture stores will assist you with this.

Here is all you need to know – its not rocket science:

What’s important in a quality seat cushion?

  • Good quality Dacron Wrapped foam seat cushions, Down Topped foam seat cushions and Marshall Spring Seat cushions versions will have the following features:
    • At least 1.8 Lb. High Density
    • High Resiliency Foam
    • Individual chambers in down-topped cushions!
    • Zipper access for repairs or core replacement

What’s important in a quality back cushion?

  • Polyester and/or Polyester/Dacron blend loose fill
  • Neatly sewn breathable fabric ‘ticking’ to hold the loose fill material
  • Individual chambers to hold the loose fill more securely and to minimize sagging


Cutaway of a quality cushion

Seat Cushions

Dacron Wrapped Foam Seat Cushions

These are more common in the better lines of furniture. The Dacron wrap is usually about 1/2” and it surrounds the top, bottom, left, and right sides of a cushion. It is not critical for the front and rear sections to have the Dacron wrap.

The wrap is there to provide softness when you initially sit on a sofa or chair, and the interior foam provides the firmer resistance – kind of like a pillow-top mattress provides (although not in such extreme contrast as mattress tops can be).

The foam core needs to be rated as High Density, High Resiliency foam. Density needs to be rated at least 1.8 lbs. per cubic foot to maintain comfort in the log term. Less than this generally will lead you into the world of project foams available in a fabric store – they simply will not last as long, and we all have experienced it.

Resiliency ratings are not as standardized so simply look for the term in the product specifications or ask a sales associate.

Foam cores are made of from polyurethane foam but many today contain a percentage of soy-based protein foam. We don’t see a major advantage or disadvantage here but some may take comfort in knowing that part of a seat cushion is made from a natural product.

Remember, these high density seat cushions can be made soft, medium, or firm and each manufacturer may have their own definition as to what is soft and what is firm. There are no universal standards here. Use your own judgment and compare.

Dacron Seat Cushion

Down-Topped Foam Seat Cushions

These cushions are a layered mixture of down and feathers on top of a foam core. The down layer should be a nicely sewn row of 3 or 4 chambers.

The chambers minimize the chance that down will migrate across the cushion and result in a lumpy, uneven, or even tilted seat. The chambered area will be attached to a fabric wrapped core of foam and should appear neat. Some makers will even sew the entire unit together with finished seams and a zipper access to facilitate adjustments. Look for neatness here as you would with a clothing purchase. Detail here reveals a lot about the manufacturer.

These cushions provide the most unique seat experience. Some describe them as ‘squishy’ while others may describe them as ‘shape conforming’. You be the judge.

Do be aware that down seat cushions exhibit a good amount of ‘rippling’ or ‘puddling’ and can result in a less neat appearance. They also require a bit of ‘fluffing’ to look and feel their best.

As with all other quality cushions, these can be made soft, medium, or firm.

Down Topped Seat Cushion

Marshall Spring Cushions

Ask your parents or grandparents about these. While these cushions were originally made in combination with horse hair and/or cotton layers, they have attained a top choice status today with many consumers.

The idea is to use fabric-encased small springs molded into the center layer of a high resiliency foam cushion. The encased springs are small and set in deep where protrusion is unlikely even after many years. This results in a substantial product that has outstanding durability (springs enhance the longevity of foam) and enough weight to increase the cushion’s ability to stay in place in the sofa or chair.

They are unique and draw the most enthusiasm in our store. Lift one up and you will feel the mass – they’re heavy, in a good way. Think of them like a miniature exquisitely crafted mattress.

Available in the medium to firmer offerings only.

Marshall Spring Seat Cushion

Back Cushions

There are fewer comfort features to consider here but back cushion comfort is important and quality cushions are easily identified.

Better quality back cushions will be made from loose fill polyester fiber with some manufacturers adding a little Dacron fiber to enhance a more uniform consistency. The fibers are air blown into a polyester core that contains 3 or 4 chambers layered from top to bottom. The idea is to stack those layers so that each contains a separate row of fiber fill that stays within its layer. This prevents the settling of material that would occur in a cushion that had a single cavity.

As with seat cushions, back cushions can be made firmer or softer depending on how much fill is used.

Do ask for and read the manufacturer’s specifications on back cushions. The better ones will always highlight the sewn chambers and zipper access. Open one up in a store and inspect them yourself. If there isn’t a zipper – take notice and ask more questions to find out exactly what is inside and how the maker would resolve a sagging cushion problem for you.

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