Four Characteristics of Green Upholstery

Green Upholstery is all about safe, non-toxic, and sustainable materials that do not harm people or the planet.  A truly green piece encompasses all these characteristics, and ideally also includes ethical labor practices, a local supply chain, and materials that are biodegradable.  There are many retailers on the ‘green’ train who are using materials that are indeed non-toxic, but not biodegradable, so what is actually ‘green’?

The materials that put the green, in Green Upholstery.  Click through and learn about our non-toxic materials.

The materials that put the green, in Green Upholstery. Click through and learn about our non-toxic materials.

The following characteristics are each a consideration when researching and purchasing green upholstery.  

Is it non-toxic?

Having stuff that’s not poisonous is a nice thing.  Seems it should be an automatic characteristic if it’s something we eat, touch, breath, or sit on.  The general world of non-toxic covers products that do not have irritants like noxious fumes in paints and glues, or chemicals like formaldehyde used in older furniture made of particle board[1].

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Nothing synthetic or petroleum based in our couches (except the thread)!

In upholstery, flame retardants found in foam of couches made from 1975-2015[2] are the most likely to contain dangerous, man made chemicals that cause cancer[3] and infertility[4], as well as damage DNA and cause lower IQs[5] in children.

Mass manufactured furniture and their cheap plastic parts rely on synthetic chemicals, and consume petroleum to make materials like polyurethane cushion foam that contain flame retardants.

I don’t think a single manufacturer means to harm anyone’s health.  As a consumer, really understanding what your stuff is really made of, is a power each of us beholds.

Is it non-fuming?

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How flame retardants like PBDE are fuming. The Green Science Policy Institute sure makes a nice infograph huh?[6]

Particles of toxic what-nots hanging out in the air like good buddies, or falling to the floor to hang with the dust bunny crew, means air can go anywhere and everywhere.  The flame retardant PBDE becomes airborne when a bit of old seat cushion foam breaks away into the atmosphere.  Last week’s blog, Flame Retardants Are Still a Part of Everyday Life, explores the relationship of older furniture and dust that contains PBDEs[7].

VOCs[8], volatile organic compounds, found in paints and glues could be considered fuming’s cousin, looming in the air as vapors and gas.  

Personally, I believe in natural rubber latex for cushions, non-toxic glues, and prefer water based stains and finishes.  Controlling each component’s impact will all together quickly add up to reliably safe.

Is it sustainable?

If you can grow or make it without damaging something else in the short and long term, then it is sustainable.  We use american wood for our custom built frames and are thankful for the 1:1 cut to plant ratio, but imported wood sometimes cannot guarantee it’s true source.  

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We use jute webbing instead of that cheap and non-degradable plastic webbing.

The Forest Stewardship Council[9] sets the standard worldwide, enacting an FSC certification[10] for lumber suppliers who follow strict guidelines in practices that protect the forests, people, and our planet.  You can find their seal on many household, wood, and paper products.

We use many sustainable materials in all our custom and restored furniture.  Kapok fiber used for pillows and natural latex foam for cushions is sustainable when from a responsible source, and coconut fiber is a  super plentiful by-product.  All these plant based materials faded from the mainstream as our love of plastic grew over time, and now need to return to their status as the safe standard in future manufacturing processes and methods.

Is it biodegradable?

This characteristic is as important as non-toxic, and the most overlooked in current green upholstery.

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Natural latex foam is used in seat and back cushions. It's biodegradable and flame retardant free!

Polyurethane cushion foam is not biodegradable, and can only be recycled by reformatting into smaller bits for products like carpet padding.  Many retailers claim they use foam free of flame retardants and consider themselves ‘green’, but lean a bit farther, and you’ll realize it’s just more petroleum based plastic we’ll live with forever.  Beware of hybrid foams, a mix of mostly synthetic foam with a dash of natural soy or latex, both of which are not biodegradable although less fuming than their completely synthetic versions.

Both banned and legal flame retardants used in furniture and mattress foam contain some of the strongest chemical bonds in all the world of chemistry.  These bonds do not break down[11], allowing toxins to travel farther in the air and deeper into our water[12].  These neurotoxins, mutagens, and carcinogens are seemingly with us forever, just like that plastic.

Plant based materials are biodegradable and naturally avoid chemical processes.  Learn about our array in the Materials section, and about the plant origins and characteristics of our Fave Raw Materials.

Does this help you?

It’s a lot to take in.  I’m still learning how green upholstery reflects the big picture of everyday toxins in our bodies, dirt, air, water, and animals.  It can be overwhelming the more we learn how intensely effected we are by cheap and convenient materials used in mass manufacturing.  We as consumers have the choice of what kind of environment we want, and the first step is sharing what we know.    


Interested in learning more? Read about more green upholstery topics below!