Tips for Buying Polystyrene Beads for Beanbag Chairs

Whether you want to make your own bean bag chair or it's time to refill the old one, you will need to find the best refill material for the job. Most bean bags are filled with expanded polystyrene beads. These uniform, lightweight beads offer a number of features and some surprising variations.

Portrait of a mid adult woman lying on her side
credit: Digital Vision/Photodisc/Getty Images
Young woman reclining on a bean bag chair.

New Versus Recycled Plastic Beads

Polystyrene beads are available in virgin -- new -- or recycled materials. There is really no difference in the look or feel of polystyrene beads made from either source. However, some recycled polystyrene beads are made from crushed and crumbled up polystyrene blocks instead of recycled bottles. These beads may be non-uniform in appearance and texture. The variation in bead size may have an effect on how the bag feels, allowing it to conform better to the body. This is primarily a preference issue that depends on what makes you feel most comfortable.

Amount of Beads to Purchase

The amount of polystyrene beads you will need for that bean bag depends on its size and how stuffed you want it. A bean bag that is about 35 inches wide and 40 inches deep needs about 6 cubic feet of beads to fill it up. If you already own the bean bag you want to fill, check the tag on it. The manufacturer's tag may have further information on how much bean bag filler you will need to fill that particular bag.

Why Use Polystyrene Beads?

Although there are a lot of alternatives out there -- seeds, polyester pellets or foam -- polystyrene beads are still the popular choice for bean bags. This material is lightweight and easy to produce in expanded form making it very fluffy too. It is an inexpensive plastic and will not rot or draw insects like natural fillers. Additionally, white expanded polystyrene can be recycled at local polystyrene recycling centers.


There are some drawbacks to using polystyrene filler. While it is long-lasting, it does compress over time. You will need to replace and refill the bag repeatedly as it flattens with use. Also, since the beads are small and lightweight, they can get into the air during the refilling process or if the bag tears. They could potentially be inhaled or even picked up and eaten by pets and children.