ByLisa Beres

May 12, 2015

By now you are aware of the health risks of too much sitting, but what about the health risks from the materials you are sitting on? This may surprise you but most of the furniture in your home probably isn’t that eco-friendly. Traditionally, upholstered fabrics and furniture contain chemicals that can be unhealthy for you and the environment.

Flame retardants in furniture

Sustainable Furniture
Image courtesy of Cisco Home.

Upholstered furniture made before 2005 likely contains brominated flame retardants (PBDE’s) or chemicals such as chlorinated Tris which have been linked to cancer, hormone disruption, reduced IQ, and other health problems. Since the flame retardants are semi-volatile, they can be released into the air and migrate into household dust where they can be inhaled.

New legislation which went into effect January 1, 2015 has made it possible for upholstery manufactures to meet the federal flame retardant requirements without having to use toxic chemicals.

  • Look for new tag labeled TB117-2013.
  • This is a revision to the prior TB117, which required furniture to meet an open flame test.
  • The new law allows for a less stringent smolder test. It doesn’t guarantee flame retardant chemicals weren’t used, but does allow manufacturers to meet the legislation without reverting to toxic substances.

Although a step in the right direction, there is more to the toxic stuffing beneath your derrière including pesticides, petroleum-derived foam and stain resistant topical treatments. It’s important to shop for brands that really walk the talk when it comes to offering green, organic or natural furniture.

Beware of soy-based foam

Eco-friendly furniture
Pel Chair (Eco-Friendly) by Viesso. Image courtesy of Viesso.

According to California interior designer, Rachel Hulan of Hulan Design, some companies call themselves “green” because they use “soy foam” in their cushions. The soy part is only approximately 20% of what is otherwise a standard petroleum based foam material, so it really does nothing to improve the healthiness of the finished piece. This is a classic example of greenwashing since soy isn’t a sustainable crop either.

As you can see, finding eco-friendly upholstery isn’t an easy task, but is achievable. Here are my top picks with input from designer, Michelle Drenckhahn of Special Adaptation.

  1. Cisco Home – Cisco can make anything in their line with completely natural, chemical free materials through their [Inside Green] ™ program. FSC woods, natural latex, jute, hemp, wool, goose feathers and down. Their natural materials are inherently flame retardant and hypo-allergenic. This means that there are ZERO flame retardants or harmful chemicals used in the production of [Inside Green] ™ furniture.
  2. Viesso – Offers great transparency about what makes their eco friendly line all natural, from the inside out by utilizing: 100% natural latex, eco wool, organic cotton, locally sourced woods, recycled fabrics and reclaimed woods, no fire retardants or Teflon treatments, low VOC wood finishes, natural linseed oils and wax, no harsh fire retardant chemicals and hand crafted in the USA.
  3. Elka Home – They strive to make the least toxic, most eco-friendly furniture on the planet (my kinda company!). Nontoxic furniture made with no chemical Flame retardants or PBDE’s. The use FSC certified wood, certified organic natural latex rubber, Eco Wool®, zero VOC stains and adhesives, GOTS and Oeko Tex certified as organic (cottons), naturally organic (hemp), GOTS certified (wool) or rapidly renewable fibers (bamboo and hemp). They are members of are members of the Organic Trade Association, Sustainable Furniture Council and Co-Op America and offer organic, non-toxic pieces. I have to say, the best website for transparency of material used!
  4. Environment Furniture –They use sustainably harvested wood and reuse otherwise discarded materials like naturally patinaed Brazilian Peroba Rosa wood, salvaged maritime shipping beams, recycled pulp honeycomb cardboard, and vintage military army tents. Although their upholstery uses polyurethane and/or down fill, they do offer the natural latex fill for an $800+ up charge depending on the size and style (I wish this info was more transparent on their website).
  5. Broyhill – For a more affordable line, their wood frames are made for Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SF) sources. The seat cushions are made from soy-based foam (uh-oh, see above). The pillows and back cushions are made from recycled plastics and the innersprings are constructed from 60% recycled steel. Not 100% green, but I do applaud them for their efforts.
  6. RC Green – RC Green use frames made with Forest Stewardship Council® wood, recycled steel for all springs and screws, glues and stains are non-toxic and formaldehyde free, cushions and pillows made of soy foam (natural latex is optional) with a range of eco fabrics to choose from: organic cotton, linen, bamboo and hemp. All products are made in the USA, using only local resources.
  7. AptDeco – While not a guarantee of natural materials or zero flame retardants, this online marketplace offers pre-loved home furnishings with a green conscience. You can buy and sell gently used upholstered furniture to avoid using new materials while preventing more waste in the landfill. Currently, this service is only available to NYC and surrounding areas where they will arrange pick up and delivery.

Here is a complete list of manufacturers that offer some lines of upholstered furniture without flame retardant chemicals.

Toxic Free Textiles

As a prior interior designer, I was used to spec’ing the customer’s own material (COM). Many manufacturers allow this for a more personalized approach. Here are 5 recommendations for toxic-free textiles:

  • Q Collection – All patterns are created without toxic finishing or treatments and use only low-impact, heavy metal-free colorants. Ranging from embroidered sheers to upholstery.
  • Brentano – Eco-textile (organic/green fabrics), faux leather and more.
  • Kravet – Their green collection is made of 100% recycled polyester with no added chemicals, water-based products and environmentally approved dyes.
  • Pallas Textiles – A full line of sustainable textiles.
  • Envirotextiles – Provides wholesale hemp fabric, natural fiber products and Enviro-Fiber Foam™; a natural latex alternative to polyurethane foam.

Have a favorite place to shop for eco-friendly furniture that didn’t make the list? Let us know below.

Feature image courtesy of ELKA Home

By Lisa Beres

Lisa Beres is a healthy home authority, Baubiologist, published author, professional speaker and Telly award-winning media personality who teaches busy people how to eliminate toxins from their home with simple, step-by-step solutions to improve their health. With her husband, Ron, she is the co-founder of The Healthy Home Dream Team and the 30-day online program Change Your Home. Change Your Health. She is the author of the children’s book My Body My House and co-author of Just Green It!: Simple Swaps to Save Your Health and the Planet, Learn to Create a Healthy Home! Green Nest Creating Healthy Homes and The 9 to 5 Greened: 10 Steps to a Healthy Office. Lisa’s TV appearances include "The Rachael Ray Show," "Nightly News with Brian Williams," "TODAY," "The Doctors," "Fox & Friends," "Chelsea Lately" and "The Suzanne Somers Show."