Not All Gel Seat Cushions Are Alike

by Brian Higginbottom December 23, 2013

When it comes to finding a gel seat cushion, the consumer has a great number of choices. The question is how do you decide what gel cushions will work best for YOUR needs? Here are some important cushion performance/attributes worth considering before you purchase.

TYPE OF GEL

The primary purpose of gel in seat cushions is to enhance the ability of the user to reduce skin pressure on their sitting contact surface.

The best gel seat cushions use ultrasoft “visco-elastic” gel, such as ULTRAGEL®, as the primary pressure reducing material. ULTRAGEL® is a solid, non-liquid gel with excellent body-conforming, pressure-reducing properties, which don’t change significantly over normal use temperatures.

Since these gels are not liquid, they will not leak if the cover is punctured.

Bladders containing water-based gels liquid, or semi-liquid gels are also used in some cushions, but suffer from the significant disadvantage of becoming less comfortable and harder, as the temperature drops to the point of freezing solid, such as in sub-zero temperatures, making them impractical for severe winter use as car seat cushions. In addition, they often leak if the bladder is punctured or the bladder seal fails.

CUSHION SIZE

Size or the sitting contact surface area is really important since this will have a major influence (along with cushion material selection) on the skin pressure experienced by the user. The larger the sitting contact area is, the lower the skin pressure, for any given cushion material, the lower the skin pressure for any given user, resulting in less discomfort as a result of restricted blood circulation.

So, always choose the largest cushion size consistent with seat size and your body size.

CUSHION PORTABILITY

Do you want to frequently move the cushion (i.e., from home to car, car to office, etc.). If so, you should look for a cushion with handles to facilitate cushion portability. CONFORMAX™ Anywhere, Anytime gel seat cushion with handles fits the bill for this type of portability. Better yet, if the need is for a lighter weight, smaller cushion, suitable for airline, train, bus or stadiums seat cushions, you may prefer CONFORMAX™ “On The Go” Gel Travel Cushions.

EASE OF CLEANING

As we all know, especially with a bunch of rambunctious kids in the car, or after spilling the morning commute coffee on sudden braking, spills do happen. So make sure your gel car seat cushion cover is spill proof, can be wiped clean with a damp cloth, or in the worst case scenario, can be machine washed.

STRETCHABLE, BODY CONFORMING COVERS

As we mentioned earlier, maximizing the surface contact area between the user and the cushion is really important for reducing skin pressure in order to enhance comfort. The “best-in-class” gel cushions, such as CONFORMAX™ gel seat cushions, have a stretchable, body conforming top cover, which will “move” to fit the body contour of the user, so as not to detract from nor otherwise hinder the body conforming, ultra-soft gel top layer in the cushion. No point in having a perfect top layer of ultrasoft, body conforming gel with a non-flexible, non-stretchable, non-conforming cover made from leather, cheap vinyl, plastic, or non-stretchable fabrics. You will simply won’t get the benefit of the underlying gel.

VENTILATED, THREE DIMENSIONAL FABRIC COVERS

For extended sitting, such as long distance driving (truckers, cab drivers, all day computer-gamers, or desk-bound office workers), three dimensional, ventilated knit fabrics can provide an all-day cool, sitting experience. Check out CONFORMAX™ Airmax™ Gel Seat Cushions.

CUSHION PROFILE, OR THICKNESS 

Be careful to review cushion thickness when considering your purchase. For instance, wheel chair cushions are offered in thicknesses which can be as much as three to four inches, in order to provide the necessary extended sitting comfort, posture enhancement and skin pressure relief often required for users who are handicapped, paralyzed, or otherwise severely physically compromised.

However, for many other seating applications, three or four inch cushions, while comfortable to sit on, would be very impractical for everyday use. For example, in automobiles you need cushions with a profile about 1 to ½ inch thick in order to have both feet grounded for stability , to reach predefined required positions, such as brake pedals and accelerators while driving, not to mention having leg room under the steering wheel, or preventing your head from hitting the headliner of your vehicle. Similarly for office chairs, or chairs in general, users need their feet in contact with the ground to be comfortable and feel stable.

SITTING STABILITY

Some cushion manufacturers achieve comfort enhancement by novel patented techniques. One method utilizes a series of multiple discreet air inflatable bladders to support the user, and another uses a honeycomb-like soft rubber mat composed of hollow collapsing, buckling columns of soft rubber. Both these approaches can also offer good breathability of the cushion, since it is not a solid surface cushion. Both methods also offer weight savings, important for the thicker cushions. The downside in both cases, for many users, is the undesirable sensation of lateral instability when sitting, or moving about on the cushion. Look for gel cushions that offer excellent body conformation and “immersion” of the user into gel, while at the same time offering excellent lateral stability. This is generally best achieved with a soft gel top layer cast onto high performance foam material, to achieve excellent low profile comfort with a lightweight.

PRICE

If you spend anytime online searching for gel seat cushions you know there are many styles and manufacturers to choose from within a huge price range. Prices range from $19.95 for a cheap foam cushion, claiming unbelievable and probably unsustainable properties, “as advertised on TV”, to high performance gel foam, “bio-engineered” gel cushions in the $250.00 range and up.

This bloggers experience is that if prices seem to be too good to be true, or too far out on the higher price range, they probably are.

So look before you leap, and do your homework by thinking about some of the issues raised above. Cushion design and performance is not rocket science, but there are some well thought out principles and features incorporated into the better cushions on the market from some well-respected manufacturers.

Choosing well can mean the difference between years of frustration or the body nurturing comfort we all seek. It is worth noting that NO ONE CUSHION WILL BE PERFECT FOR EVERY USER. The goal is to simply select the best one for your specific needs.

Good luck and good sitting!

 




Brian Higginbottom
Brian Higginbottom

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