The unbelievably complicated world of boat cushions and mattresses
26 Saturday Jan 2013
In two days on January 28th Tate and I will celebrate our one year anniversary. I can’t believe it’s already been a year, and truthfully it has been the happiest year of my life so far.
So what does the best husband in the world get his wife for this wonderful year? Only one of the things she wants THE MOST on Sundowner. Comfortable boat cushions to sit and lay on, using a blank check of course! Seriously these cushions need help. You may remember I touched on this topic some time ago where I debated what type of foam to use.
The Sunbrella covers are just fine for encasing the foam, but the foam is, well flattening out. It’s about 10 years old and is my enemy when I’m at the boat. I’m plagued by numbness and pressure point pain when sitting and sleeping. I know I am young, but by god there has to be a fix for this.
Now a blank check is tempting. Sure I’ll just mail these puppies off to some Cu$tom Cu$hion shop, kick back and drink Mai Tais while waiting for their plush and cushy arrival. Ah yes this is the life. Then I came back down to earth and remembered how much I like holding on to those dollars and thought of long we could cruise for the price of a custom job. I’m far to pratical and frugal to go spending money when I’m a super handy person. Not to mention my mom has a canvas shop.
Seriously this stuff is expensive! Easily $2,000 if you send it to the best such as Marine Craft custom mattresses.
I had to start looking into the DIY options. Ok so let’s see, where to begin collecting information? Well, I want to replace all the cushions, but use the existing covers. The current foam is Polyurethane 3 inches wrapped in polyester batting and is so soft it squishes all the way to the plywood causing my butt to fall asleep when sitting and my arms to fall asleep when sleeping.
NO MEMORY FOAM. This is the #1 criteria for us as Tate is truly an energy plant and he sleeps HOT in this material. No, memory foam is right out. So that leaves two types of foam to consider, Latex and Polyurethane.
**What follows is a long and detailed discussion about foam. If you’d rather see my AWESOME and amazing solution right away jump to the bottom. This will free up more time to look at internet cats or ponies in sweaters.
It is difficult to compare these foams one to one since they have different Density (lb/ft3) and Firmness (Indentation Load Deflection – ILD) ratings but is possible once you understand how Density and ILD ratings relate. Here is a great chart I found from Foam Online:
This is also a great article (1991) from the Polyurethane Foam Association that explains the difference between Density and ILD and how it relates to comfort. An excerpt:
It is important to remember, though, that foam surface firmness is independent for foam density. High density foams can be produced to be very soft. Low density foams can be made to be very firm. Therefore, there is no such thing as “hard” or “firm” density. High density foam products generally offer great deal of support, but they may actually be fairly soft foams.
What’s the difference between firmness and support? Firmness (25% IFD) is a measurement of the surface feel of the foam. Support is the foam’s ability to “push back” against weight and prevent the foam from “bottoming out.” Higher density foam helps prevent the feeling of having the foam collapse beneath body weight in an end use application. Both firmness and support affect foam comfort.
Ok great, so then what the heck to get? I thought this would be an easy choice. Surely there’s some kind of standard, like a “best pick” in this application or that. But oh no, foam is one complicated Mo Fo! Just do an online search for “best foam for mattresses” and see the myriad of websites and forums filled with questions and recommendations on what type of foam to use, layering strategies, and how to fix my incredibly firm bed/hot box.
Polyurethane Foam is most common in boat cushions with Density (1.8 to 3.0) and ILD (18 to 140), while Latex is relatively new with Density (5.6) and ILD (17-44). Since Latex has a much higher Density then any Poly foam you can’t compare the ILD ratings one to one. So then how do you know what to do? Here are some things to consider when making your foam choice.
Dani’s Top Five things to consider when choosing Foam (Polyurethane and Latex):
- Thickness- How much thickness do you have to work with? Poly foam with an ILD of 33 feels different in 3 inches and 5 inches. In general I believe the thinner you cut a piece of foam the easier it will squish completely to the underlying layer and the firmer it will feel when sitting or laying. Just yesterday I sat on a 4 inch Poly ILD 50 and thought it was firm but had lots of give and felt great but the 3 inch slab felt like a rock. Conversely 4 inches of Poly with an ILD of 24 may feel way too soft, where the 2 inch version is much firmer. I also discovered that foam INSIDE a tight cover, such as Sunbrella will feel firmer instead of just laying on a mattress.
- How much you or your spouse weigh?- Your weight has a lot to do with how comfortable you’ll find different thicknesses and ILD’s of foam. It is easier for a heavier person to “bottom out” into the underlying substrate, in many cases plywood on a boat, making the seat or mattress very uncomfortable. The best solution for a heavier person is tricky when you are limited to only 3-5 inches on a boat. You have to find the right balance of firmness so you don’t sink to the bottom and softness to cradle your body. Probably a higher Density with a higher ILD on the bottom and something softer on the top.
- Is the foam for sitting, sleeping or on many boats BOTH?- The cushions in our salon will be used for both sitting, lounging and sleeping. These multi-purpose cushions prove to be the most difficult to design. When you sit all the weight is in one area and compresses the foam more, while when laying down your weight is more evenly distributed. You need a cushion that is firm enough for sitting but soft enough for laying.
- Polyurethane foam, Latex Talalay or both?- Polyurethane foam is the most common on boats and is much less expensive than the newer Latex foam. Characteristics of Poly foam: Lighter and easy to manage, less expensive, may sleep hotter, and provides more sinking in and cush. Latex (Talalay only because it’s better, no Dunlop): Heavier, more expensive, very springy with lots of push back, and should sleep cooler.
Finding a Latex that is firm enough to sit on but not rock hard when laying has been more of a challenge than with Poly foam. Latex is much denser than Poly foam so when you lay on Latex there is much less give then Poly. I’m more in favor of a high Density (read more durable) Poly foam then a thick slab of Latex. A great idea I came across is to layer a soft Latex ILD (around 20) on top of a firmer Poly foam (say 33-45). This may give a firm enough seat with the springiness and coolness Latex provides.
However Latex is expensive with a 1 inch Latex queen size (60×80) of soft 24 ILD costing $230, while a 4 inch Poly queen size 2.6/lb Density 34 ILD (med/firm, good for seats) costs only a little more at $330. You definitely have to do a cost to benefit ratio. Is the Latex layer worth $230 in terms of comfort added?
- Where to get more answers and buy foam?- Here are a couple of great forums to check out when deciding on what type of foam to get for different applications: What’s the Best Mattress, The Mattress Underground, and Cruiser’s Forum. There is TONS of information in the first two about foam layering strategies and real life experiences with different foam and sources.
This bring me to the next part, where to buy foam. I have heard all along that the “Foam Factory, Foam Distributors, and Foam by Mail” (all the same place out of Clinton Township, MI) was the best and cheapest place to buy foam. They have Poly and Latex foam. Truly their foam prices can’t be beat with a 1 inch layer of 20 ILD Latex queen size going for $95 instead of $230. Great deal huh? Seemed too good to be true to me so I dug into the forums and across the internet.
I have no personal experience with these people but everything I read tells me to stay away. I’ve read the quality can be inconsistent, the Latex is not Talalay but Dunlop, you may get a lower density of Poly than you paid for and after you discover this by weighing the product the returns are difficult. They also have about 15 BBB (Better Business Bureau) complaints against them. While this source may be just fine for some, we opted to pass. It’s too risky.
Instead here are a few places that I would feel comfortable buying foam from: Sleep like a Bear for Latex (they have the cooling “Celsion” latex), Rochford Supply and Foam Order for Polyurethane and closed cell foams.
Whew, ok still here? So I called Sleep like a Bear (SLAB) and spoke for about an hour with E*** who was extremely helpful. She is sending me samples of Latex and I even sprung for a scrap piece of 1 inch 38×79 latex 21 ILD with the cooling “Celsion” technology at 50% off for $100. I also called Foam Order and am getting samples of the cheaper Poly foam. But what to do in the restless meantime?
Now to the Fun Part:
Yesterday I went to boat and decided to bring all the cushions home. I sat on each one still on the boat and became increasingly irritated but how uncomfortable they were. UGH I have to fix this! So I went crazy, really crazy. In a fit of desperation I called my local North Sails and went right over to discuss my Cushion Conundrum. Luckily they actually had samples of foam and I got to work comparing the different Densities and ILD ratings to the foam we currently have.
Just when I was sold on something about ILD 45 they pulled out the magical Green Foam (Matrix 25140) with an ILD rating 140. This is not the Joann’s Fabric foam. It’s similar in consistency to a gym mat, but not easy to find online. ILD 140 is really high, approaching closed cell foam. The North Sails here can luckily get this stuff. They suggested I put about 1 inch of the ILD 140 high density foam under my current cushions, which I suspect are an ILD 33 around a 2.0 density but old and flattish, to keep the sitter from bottoming out onto the hard substrate.
And would you believe after ALL this research and heartache this magical Green Foam is super cheap and made a 75% difference in our cushions! I am still in shock. Oh yes, this is the good stuff, the finding of a lifetime. Take your tired old soft cushions and shove in 1 inch or 1 1/2 inch of the Green High Density Foam just barely zipping up the cover to create a soft yet firm and super comfy cushion. Great for sitting and laying. Not only is this stuff AMAZING and easy to add it’s super cheap. A sheet 1 inch thick 24 x 108 inches is only $38. I can redo the entire salon for about $80.
Incredible. I couldn’t wait for a whole sheet so I bought the scraps they had yesterday and Charlie Browned my way into measuring and cutting. I cut the foam with scissors, shoved it inside and compared the old vs modified cushion. The modified cushions are super comfortable for laying and sitting. The green foam gives support at the bottom and actually makes the cushion softer and thicker in the same cover.
Ok enough talking, time for photos:
Just like that. We are definitely going to add this to our Vberth cushions as well, and I’ll probably add the 1 inch latex that’s coming to the top. I’m so excited to find such a great and inexpensive solution. We really don’t need to replace our current Poly foam now. I hope this post will help others out there as confused and overwhelmed as I was. Now onto the slip covers…