Polystyrene is the name of the plastic used to create the "beans" in beanbag chairs. This plastic has been used since the furniture's invention in the 1970s. In recent years, bean bag furniture manufacturers have used shredded foam made out of plastic called polyurethane as a filling. The two plastics have different properties, and, therefore, the feel of beanbag chairs made with each material differs.
Polystyrene is the technical term for Styrofoam, and this material actually starts out in pellet form. To make the packaging that many people recognize as Styrofoam, small polystyrene pellets are exposed to steam and expand inside a mold, creating a stiff plastic foam in whatever shape a manufacturer desires. Styrofoam has a reputation for being not very friendly to the environment, but it is 98 percent air. Polystyrene plastics are also not made with harmful chlorofluorocarbons and are recyclable. Many smaller beanbag products such as pet toys and juggling balls are also filled with polystyrene pellets.
Polystyrene was a newly discovered plastic when beanbag furniture was first invented, and it is still used in furniture today. Beanbag chairs use unexpanded or slightly expanded polystyrene (Styrofoam) pellets. These pellets are poured into a bag and allowed to roll and move freely within the bag. This allows the bean bag to mold to the shape of the person who sits on it. However, these kinds of pellets have been known to spill from ripped bean bag chairs, and the pellets can make a squeaking noise when the person sits down or moves. Over time, polystyrene pellets can settle, and they will clump together if exposed to heat.
Polyurethane foam is made by mixing certain chemicals to form a flexible plastic and carbon dioxide gas. The gas expands within the liquid plastic, creating bubbles trapped within super fine plastic strands. This becomes polyurethane foam. The type of foam used in furniture is called flexible polyurethane foam, and rigid foam is used in building insulation and filling cracks around the home. Many types of polyurethane foam are also recyclable.
Polyurethane Foam Furniture
In sheet form, polyurethane foam is used to make cushions for traditional furniture such as couches and chairs, as well as automobile seats. Beanbag chair manufacturers shred polyurethane foam and use it to fill their furniture. Bean bag chairs filled with shredded foam mold to the person's body just like pellet-filled chairs. Foam is more resistant to settling and can provide a firmer texture. Because polyurethane foam is denser than polystyrene, the bean bag furniture can be slightly heavier.
- Photo Credit Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images