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Bean Bags vs Sacs: Styrofoam Beads vs Shredded Foam

Posted on December 7, 2012

We have been getting a lot of calls lately about what bean bag chairs are filled with nowadays.  You will find bean bag chairs filled with polystyrene beads or pellets like ours here at Ahh! Products.  You can also find lovesacs or poofs or pufs or fufs or whatever ridiculous name there is out there for shredded foam filled chairs.  People have been asking about the chemicals that possibly come from the shredded foam (sacs, fufs, etc).

Polystyrene (or also known as Expanded Polystyrene/ EPS) is commonly known as styrofoam, which I believe is a DOW owned product and name.  Bean bag chairs have been filled with polystyrene since they were first invented in the 1970s because it's lightweight.  No one wants a 200 pound bean bag.  Polystyrene is also in pellet or bead form, so it gives you that normal feeling you expect from a bean bag.  Polystyrene also has a good density to it, so you can sit up easily with this kind of bean bag filler.  We like that normal bean bag feeling.  Polystyrene are small pellets which is what makes them great for bean bags, but they can also be inhaled.  You should always have a child-resistant, self-locking zipper on liners to keep kids out.


The other kinds of chairs filled with shredded foam (like couch cushion foam) are a different animal.  Shredded foam is polyurethane, which as of late, has been debated over due to the possible toxic gas it gives off from chemicals that are added to the polyurethane foam to pass flammability code.  I don't know if all polyurethane falls under this, but if the bean bag is sold in California, which pretty much means any company selling them in the USA, it probably does. Polystyrene is also treated to be flame retardant, but the debate has been largely about the shredded cushion foam.  We're thinking it is treated very heavily with flame retardants.

Chairs filled with shredded cushion foam are also more pillow-y to us, not enough support.

We're also told that kids with sensory issues like autism like our reground polystyrene filling the best, as it gives them that "push back" that they are looking for.

I did find some information online that was pretty interesting: (c/o hotwirefoamfactory.com/customer/gallery/faqfoam.htm)

Q: Are the fumes that are given off when cutting Styrofoam (EPS) with hot wire tools dangerous?

A: Ventilation is always strongly suggested, but the smoke that you may encounter while cutting EPS foam is primarily CO2 and water vapor, which are far less harmful than other common art products like aerosols and paint thinners. The toxic values are far less than wood-smoke, which contains tars, resins, creosote, and acetic acid.  To get the polystyrene foams to actually combust and burn you have to have an extremely hot fire, much hotter than our tools get, burning directly on the foam to begin with.

DOW which manufactures Styrofoam, says that the fumes from cutting their foam with a hot wire are not toxic, but cutting should still be done in a well-ventilated area.

Q: I was told Styrofoam might present a fire hazard, is this true?

 A: EPS foam is now commonly used all over the world in huge theaters and auditoriums with thousands of people. Once the fire department looks at the fire spread and toxicity of foam compared to wood and cloth, they are ecstatic. You can hold a torch to EPS foam and it will stop melting/burning the second the flame is gone. The 'smoke' is mostly hydrocarbons and water vapor.

Q: Is using foam "Earth Friendly"?

A: Expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam is recyclable and is a pre-existing waste byproduct of petroleum refinement. It takes less energy to make than paper and causes less pollution in the process.

Q: Can your tools be used to cut polyurethane foam (this is that "fuf" or "sac" foam)? (sold as upholstery foam and "poly foam")

A: Polyurethane foam should not be cut with hot wire tools. It needs a ton of heat, gives off toxic fumes, and leaves a lot of melted plastic wherever it is cut. Polyurethane foams only be cut with a blade or saw.

At the end of the day, I don't know if shredded Sac cushion foam chairs give off toxic fumes or not.  I do know that bean bags filled with styrofoam have been around for over 40 years, whereas shredded cushion foam chairs are relatively recent.  So... I think I'll stick to good ol' styrofoam bean bag chairs.

Yours truly, Jade


Jade is the founder and CEO of Ahh! Products. Find her on

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