We get a wide range of guests to Horton Common, some with the latest caravan and motorhome models. However, other guests have gone down the classic and restoration route. I like a challenge and a bit of DIY, so I do enjoy talking to guests who have gone down the restoration route. When I talk to guests who have restored a caravan or motorhome, part of the dilemma they go through is choosing suitable replacements for the foam in the upholstery. Obviously, as you can imagine, in an old used caravan or motorhome the foam is potentially degraded and broken down, no longer providing suitable support or comfort. So with today’s post, I thought I’d run through what you need to consider if you are ‘bottoming out’ when you use the seats in your caravan or motorhome.
There are many different types of upholstery foam to choose from. You do have to be careful though to choose a foam which will meet your needs for both support and comfort: Image – Amazon.co.uk
The tricky part with caravans and motorhome is the furniture serves different purposes at different times of the day. A seat cushion during the day turns into a mattress at night. However, these two uses have very different requirements when it comes to support and comfort. Hence the dilemma, how do you choose a suitable type of foam to use? Hopefully, the information below can help you to come to a decision in that regard. If you have time to read this whole post, great. If not, you can use the Table of Contents below to jump to a particular section. Enjoy 🙂
Introduction to Replacement Upholstery Foam
As I mentioned at the start of this post, I’ve had a couple of discussions in the past with guests who have refurbished and restored caravans and motorhomes. When it comes to the upholstery, of course, you can find suitable companies online who will completely replace the upholstery for you. However, typically from those who I have spoken to who have gone down the restoration route, they typically want to do most of the work themselves. Its as much about the journey and the experience of carrying out the restoration as the completed result.
However, one guest did express to me a mistake they made with their upholstery foam. In order to save cash, they purchased a job lot of the same type of foam to make all the seat bases and backs. After using their restored motorhome a couple of times they regretted this decision and had to change the foam again. To understand why that’s the case I would encourage you to what the video below from Practical Caravan on the different types of upholstery foam:
Soft, High or Mixed Density Foam Grades?
As John states in the video the above, its important to choose the right foam for the right application. While typically seatbacks will contain soft/low-density foam within the upholstery, that’s not always the case. For instance, if the seatbacks are used at nighttime as part of a bed layout. In this scenario, if the seatbacks are purely made from soft/low-density foam the bed would be made up of both soft and high-density foam cushions. This would obviously create areas of high support and low support and generally a bad nights sleep. Therefore, many people as part of their caravan bedding setup use a mattress topper.
Seat Bases Need High-Density Foam
Typically, seat bases will be made from high-density foam to provide support. When you sit down you are obviously putting a lot of weight on a concentrated area. Furthermore, depending on if sometimes lowers or drops themselves into the seat, the cushion has to cope with that. As John references in the video, if you can feel the wooden support slats under the seat that is referred to as ‘bottoming out’ for obvious reasons.
You need to use high-density foam in seat-bases, you may also come across other terms used such as ‘Extra Firm’: Image – Amazon.co.uk
Its important to remember those wooden slats under the seat are not that thick and are not designed to take the weight of a person individually. The wooden slats depend on the cushion displacing the weight over several wooden slats at a time. Well, if the cushion is not providing support when someone sits down it can lead to broken wooden slats under the seat. That’s happened in our caravan before, but its pretty easy to get replacements:
If you are replacing the foam in your upholstery due to ‘bottoming out’, its good time to check if you have any broken wood slats that need replacing: Image – Amazon.co.uk
Mixed Density Foam Upholstery
As stated earlier in the post, where caravan and motorhome cushions are different to seat cushions within your home is they have a dual purpose. During the day they have to provide support and comfort while seating, and then at night, they have to provide a comfortable but supportive bed. Therefore, its rare that purely the use of soft/low-density foam or hard/high-density upholstery foam is going to meet both those needs. Therefore, its typically best practice to go with a mixture. For instance, a high-density foam core layer to provide support surrounded by layers of lower density foam to provide comfort.
When going down the mixed route of low and high-density upholstery foam you have to keep in mind the total thickness. If you wish to use the existing upholstery covers, you need to carefully measure the internal diameter. Otherwise, you may end up trying to force in the multiple layers of foam only to find the gap between the zip is too wide. Obviously, with it being foam you could jump on top to squash it to close the zip. But depending on the quality of the zip it may hold together or bust apart the next time someone drops down on that seat.
In the video above, John shows a seatback which has a foam core and what John referred to as a ‘wrap’ to soften the cushion edges. Indeed, its not a type of foam, its actually compressed polyester. It can be purchased on a roll or in bats depending on the quantity required. Its sometimes referred to as a ‘foam alternative’. However, compressed polyester provides nowhere near the supportive strength of upholstery foam. Its really just used as a finishing cushion layer.
Compressed polyester is sometimes referred to as a ‘quilting’ or ‘wadding’ and be used as a finishing layer around the foam, but it will not provide support on its own: Image – Amazon.co.uk
What is Upholstery Foam Made From?
I’ve discussed the different densities of foam and where they should be used in caravan and motorhome upholstery. But what material are those high or low-density foam cushions are made from? ‘Foam’ is a general term, there are many different materials that can be used to make foam. However, with caravan and motorhome cushions its almost exclusively Polyurethane.
High-density and low-density foam panels used in caravan and motorhome upholstery are made from Polyurethane. Sometimes referred to as PUR or PU foam. Its the same stuff that your sponge is made from that you clean your caravan with. If you look at PU foam closely there are little open cells. Well, those cells are formed during the manufacturing process, and their size is dependant on the chemical composition used. Larger open cells are found in low-density foam, with much smaller cells found on high-density foam. You will also find that high-density foam sheets are much heavier than low-density panels. I don’t want to get too nerdy about how polyurethane foam is made. But if you are a bit of nerd like me you may find the video below interesting:
Polyurethane Foam Safety Standards
John touched upon the topic of upholstery foam safety briefly in his video. Its also referenced in the video above on how polyurethane foam is made. One of our guests who had restored his own caravan made me aware of these safety issues, and its mainly to do with fires. Old caravans and motorhomes had a type of polyurethane foam used in the cushions which were highly flammable. Hence, new regulations were introduced in 1990 to ban the use of those foam cushions. Caravans and motorhomes from that point forward had to use Combustion Modified Foam (CFM).
Now, buying materials online at times can be a bit dubious on where the upholstery foam was produced and whether it meets the latest safety standards. Therefore, I would encourage you to source polyurethane foam which has been certified by CertiPure which is a European standard.
Conclusions on Replacement Foam for Caravan and Motorhome Upholstery
When it comes to replacing the foam within caravan and motorhome upholstery seats and cushions, as you can see from the above information, there is a lot to consider. First, you have to make sure you are choosing a foam which will provide sufficient support. However, the use of purely high-density foam isn’t always that comfortable. Therefore it may be possible to add a thin layer of softer low-density foam to improve comfort. Alternatively, you could consider adding a couple of layers of the compressed polyester quilt. Whichever density of foam you choose I would encourage you to source products with CertiPure certification to make sure its fire safe. On that topic, you may want to check out my post on the best fire safety equipment for caravans and motorhomes.
If you are undertaking a caravan or motorhome refurbishment best of luck. Once you are finished I hope you consider coming to pay us a visit here at Horton Common to try out our fully serviced pitches. 🙂