When looking into buying a sofa, one topic that must be addressed is the comparison of down vs. foam sofa cushions (the same could be said for upholstered chairs). Knowing the options and the differences will help you make your best choice.
You’ll see that this decision-making process isn’t necessarily centered around deciding between the higher quality and higher cost material vs lower quality and lower priced material. This decision centers more on preference, as the features of each material are quite different and the quality can be comparable.
We checked in with Catherine Willey, manager of Circle Furniture’s Framingham location, to clarify what the different cushion choices are and the various characteristics that differentiate them.
As the title alludes to, sofa cushions are available in either all down (these are usually a feather and down combination) or all foam. And there is a third option of a down and foam combination.
It used to be that down cushions were considered the best cushions available. They were and remain the most expensive. Now there are quality non- and part-down options available, so the idea of what’s “best” is in large part a matter of opinion.
Down-and-feather cushions are soft and cushy. As Catherine pointed out, “Down allows you to sit into the cushion.”
The question becomes then, Do you like to sit in or on your sofa? If you enjoy the experience of sinking into your couch, down may be your choice.
As you might imagine, this also means that a down cushion will change shape as you use it. And it doesn’t “recover”—that is, down cushions don’t readily return to their original form once you’ve sat in them.
This gives down-cushion sofas a more casual, less formal or structured look. This can feel very welcoming. But if you prefer a more crisp, clean look, you may want to choose another cushion option.
To provide some consistent shape to a down cushion, some will feature pockets or channels that the down is stuffed into, as a way of holding the material in place. This limits how much the down and feathers can bunch up in any one area. In the world of outerwear clothing, this is what gives “puffy jackets” their ribbed appearance.
Regardless of the construction of your cushion, if you choose all down, you’ll need to fluff your cushions regularly. This helps redistribute the feathers evenly throughout the cushion and add back the volume or space between the down and feathers that gets smashed out when you sit.
Catherine suggests fluffing your sofa daily, especially if it’s in a high use area. This not only makes your sofa look more inviting—flattened cushions don’t exactly scream comfort—it prolongs the life of the cushions: poorly maintained down will increasingly lose its capacity to fluff up nicely.
For some people, daily maintenance isn’t a practice they want to take on. Another consideration when thinking through your desire to have down is allergies. Be sure that you or anyone else who will use the sofa regularly doesn’t have a sensitivity or allergy to down.
A sweeping comparison of foam vs. down is that they are opposites. Where down is cushy, foam is firm. Where down doesn’t hold its shape or bounce back, foam retains its form and quickly recovers after being compressed. While down is natural, foam is largely synthetic.
Foam can be manufactured in many ways and quality varies widely. But in general foam provides a cleaner, “buttoned up” appearance. It’s crisp and uniform.
The feel of a foam cushion tends toward being more firm. These are the cushions you sit on. For those who prefer more support, foam is an option to explore.
Some people favor natural materials over those that are human-made. While most foam is made of chemicals, there are some more natural options. Look for soy-based foams, which feature as much as 30% soy—the highest concentration available.
It’s important to remember that not all foam is created equally. Lower quality foam will degrade or compress more quickly than higher quality foam.
The firmness or softness of foam also varies. This isn’t particularly linked to quality; it’s more of a personal preference. The key here is to make sure you sit on the cushions you’re considering taking home to make sure they’re comfortable for you.
Most people like a little of what down offers and a little of what foam offers. Manufacturers responded by creating cushions that feature the best of both: foam wrapped in down. These types of cushions are the most popular options.
The down is held in pockets on the top and bottom of the cushion, so the down and feathers don’t migrate much. As Catherine points out, you get the comfort of down, without the maintenance.
The qualities of this construction are easy to imagine given what’s already been covered here: these cushions feature some of the soft give of down with the support and resilience of foam. Additionally, expect a slightly rounded, less crisp look, but not slouchy.
There are two primary ways these combination cushions are constructed: with or without springs. The primary difference here is that cushions with springs are more firm; they have a more solid structure.
This is another one of those options where one isn’t necessarily better than the other. Choose the one that is most comfortable for you and your household, and best suited to the how you’ll use the sofa.
Whatever type of cushion you choose, to help prolong the life, comfort, and appearance of your sofa, be sure to flip and rotate cushions regularly. This not only benefits the insides of your cushions, but also evens the wear on the upholstery.
Catherine notes that people tend to be habitual: the same people tend to sit in the same spot day after day. Moving and flipping cushions helps to avoid establishing body-contoured slumps in your cushions.
New cushion-filling materials are being created all the time, and many options already exist. So if you’re looking for a material that fills a particular need, search for what you want or ask a professional if they can find it.
Are you sensitive to certain chemicals? Do you like the feel of down but can’t or don’t want to use actual feathers and down? Are you looking for a more “green” option? There’s a fair chance that what you’re seeking is out there.
Factor this in, too, when making the comparison of down vs. foam sofa cushions to decide which is best for you.
Author: Cherie Turner