A Foam Shortage is Delaying Deliveries of Furniture, Appliances, and More—Here’s What You Need to Know

Thinking about redecorating or remodeling in time for the holidays? You may want to order that sofa or mattress now—and prepare yourself for lengthy delivery delays.

By Donna Boyle Schwartz | Updated Aug 18, 2021 1:49 PM

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The ongoing global pandemic coupled with severe winter storms that hit the southern U.S. in February 2021 have caused massive delays and shortages in the chemical components of foam. Suppliers of everything from furniture and mattresses to boats and blown-in insulation are coping with shortages of this major component. This lack of foam is causing problems at every step in the supply chain, impacting deliveries from suppliers to manufacturers, from manufacturers to retailers, and ultimately, to you, the consumer.

Causes of the Foam Shortage

The problem began with the severe winter storm that caused widespread power outages across Texas and much of the South. The storm shut down five major chemical plants in Texas and Louisiana, plants that make propylene oxide, which is the key chemical needed to make foam. Although the plants are now up and running, equipment damage and a lack of chemical feedstock mean that some of them are only running at 80 percent capacity, causing shortages throughout the industries that rely on foam.

The foam shortage is impacting deliveries of a host of consumer products. Foam is a major component in upholstered furniture cushions, outdoor furniture cushions, mattresses, and bedding accessories such as mattress toppers and bed pillows. Foam also is used for seals, insulation, and sound- and vibration-dampening in appliances like refrigerators. It’s also in the seat cushions of automobiles, boats, and RVs, adding to delays in these categories that already are plagued by the global semiconductor chip shortage. And in the construction industry, insulating foam panels and blown-in foam insulation also are experiencing delays.

Another factor contributing to delivery woes is a sharp increase in consumer demand, as work-from-home policies and quarantine restrictions prompted consumers to rethink their homes and home furnishings, and then go on a buying spree. At the same time, shortages of shipping containers have caused delays from overseas suppliers, and the boom in online ordering and package delivery has caused a shortage of trucks and truck drivers.

Related: 7 Mistakes Everyone Makes When Shopping for Furniture

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Delivery Delays on Home Furnishings

Depending on the manufacturing category, industry experts say that foam shortages are delaying deliveries of finished products from 60 to 90 days, and even up to a year. The problem is nearly universal, with both traditional brick-and-mortar retailers as well as online and direct-to-consumer sellers equally affected.

“All aspects of the foam production value chain are stressed badly,” points out Mary Helen Rogers, vice president of marketing and communications for the International Sleep Products Association and its consumer education group, the Better Sleep Council. “Demand for foam is very strong, both domestically and globally.”

Ice storms in February 2021, also known as Winter Storm Uri, seriously impacted the power grid in Texas and caused four chemical plants in Texas and one in Louisiana to shut down, thereby reducing the availability of the chemicals used to make foam. Damage to the facilities and equipment meant that some plants are still not operating at full capacity. The Delta variant of the coronavirus is impacting many of the Southern states that have high numbers of unvaccinated individuals, and consequent labor shortages are impacting the supply chain. The pandemic-fueled global shortage of containers and national shortage of trucks and truck drivers also are delaying deliveries.

“The pandemic has been incredibly stressful for all Americans, consumers and manufacturers alike,” says Rogers, who advises consumers to be patient. “One byproduct of this crisis is that many consumers want a new comfortable bed now. They have been spending substantially more time at home and are focused on sleeping better. The current shortages are easing, and the mattress industry is now better prepared to serve the needs of consumers. We are working hard to provide the quality bedding products that consumers are demanding as quickly as we can.”

Hurricane activity is another issue that could negatively impact the foam industry this year. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center forecasts another above-normal Atlantic hurricane season for 2021. NOAA predicts 13 to 20 named storms, of which six to 10 could become hurricanes, including potentially three to five major hurricanes. Another massive storm hitting chemical plants in the south would further disrupt foam supplies, and cause even longer production delays.

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Consumer Demand at Record Levels

Consumer demand is hitting record levels in all segments of the furniture industry, and manufacturers are scrambling to meet that demand. “Consumers should plan way ahead,” urges David Li, CEO of Palmetto Pedic, LLC, a foam and mattress factory based in Gaffney, S.C. “The disruption in the supply chain has been gradually improving, but we have not seen the light at the end of the tunnel yet. We will continue to experience disruptions into 2022.”

Jaclyn C. Hirschhaut, vice president of public relations and marketing for the American Home Furnishings Alliance, says, “Consumer demand has lifted orders for upholstered furniture as well as outdoor furnishings with cushions. Today’s 100 percent may translate to 150 percent+ over the levels in 2020. I’m hearing that some companies are receiving about 65 percent of the foam needed to satisfy current production needs.”

The result is that consumers should place their furniture and home furnishings orders as soon as possible, and “cross fingers for delivery,” Hirschhaut notes. Placing an order today, she adds, still does not guarantee that your items will arrive in time for the holidays.

Alternatives to Ordering New Products

If you are not able to order a perfect new sofa for your living room and receive it within a reasonable amount of time, you might be able to find something else to suit your needs until the supply situation improves by shopping in local secondhand stores or consignment shops.

Many organizations have a selection of gently used furniture at very attractive prices, and purchases typically benefit a charitable organization. Check out a local Habitat for Humanity ReStore, or try online retailers such as Etsy. Local classified ads also can be a great source for used furniture and accessories. Otherwise, buy new, be patient, order early, and play the waiting game until shortages ease.

Related: 15 Tips for Safe Secondhand Shopping This Summer