Sofa Saga, Part 4: Some Success! Two Great Sources for Greener Sofas

I know from some questions I’ve gotten that folks were worried about my sofa sitch. So for all (two of you) who were wondering: are Laura and Maya sitting on the floor amidst all those toxic dust bunnies? Or am I stuck in mid-air, in a yoga chair pose, hyperventilating as my thighs complain louder than an oddly persistent toddler at (twenty minutes past her) bedtime?

Your fears can now be put to rest. We will soon have someplace actually and truly non-toxic on which to rest our weary dogs at close of day.

In fact, I’m happy to report that I found not one but two affordable options for furniture free of chemical flame retardants! And you’re the lucky reader who gets to hear all about my quest.

(If you’re new to this blog or topic, look here, then here and here for the exciting earlier stages of my formerly sad sofa saga. It will be worth your time, I promise. Even if just for the image of our “family doctor.”)

There may be other folks out there who do this in the big wide world as well. As it turns out, one trick is to find a custom furniture manufacturer who will work with you (or already has purged the chemicals), and then to decide the foam or filler that’s right for you. The trickiest part of the trick is that, if you don’t happen to be, say, Leonardo DiCaprio, you may also have to convince that individual to give you a decent price.

Or the next time you need a new piece of furniture, you could just contact one or both of the two gentlemen below who make greener custom items.

Without further ado, then, I present the options: Tah-da…

Option 1:  A Nice Man from North Carolina Does Right By Me

Any attentive readers of the earlier parts of the sofa saga may be cheered to learn that my initial assessment of one Mr. Kenneth Fonville as a truly good guy was not at all off-the-mark.

Mr. Fonville, owner of Eco-Select Furniture, was kind enough to scan and send me his furniture foam’s Certipur label, knowing fully that I would run it by flame retardant toxicity expert and environmental scientist (and fellow North Carolina resident) Heather Stapleton. Stapleton, as anticipated, promptly analyzed its fake-ish assurances of eco-safety with aplomb, revealing that the label, in truth, said nothing at all reassuring on the topic of flame retardants.

I cheekily shared her analysis with Mr. Fonville, who checked into the issue further with his foam supplier. He reported back that he was able upon request to purchase foam without flame retardants in it, and that his fabrics were similarly untreated.

The offerings from Eco-select Furniture are largely traditional designs, covered in leather, hemp or other materials, with many green features, such as locally harvested sustainable hardwoods in the frames. They do use some soy-based foam in the furniture, rather than latex, for durability reasons. (Note that his blend is 25-30% “soy-based” feedstock and the rest is petroleum-based, which may be significant information for those wanting an ultra-green sofa or chair.) Their prices are also generally aligned with regular, non-“eco” furniture.

Mr. Fonville started his company fairly recently, in 2010, and his background was in traditional furniture companies, having worked more than 30 years in the industry. He began the new venture because he had become disappointed in the poor practices in the industry and the reduced quality of many imports, and he knew he could do better. His most popular furniture designs are these:

I will likely be ordering a new leather club chair to replace the icky Ikea one we have downstairs, and will look here as well for other furniture needs as they arise.

Option 2: (Green) Sofa of the Stars

Robert Craymer, of RCGreen, is, quite literally, a rock star. Or was at one time, anyway, according to this charming 4-minute video featuring his eccentric and likable ways, as well as some of his gorgeous and hip modern furniture designs.

He’s also an incredibly decent and accessible guy who has spoken to me almost every other day over the past few weeks, and has offered me a terrific price (which I promised not to reveal) on a very high-end green sofa:

It’s gorge, right?

Robert runs with the Hollywood set, and was really an innovator in the green furniture market. His turn toward all things green first came about in 2006 when he was asked to design a novel lounge for the premiere showing of “Who Killed the Electric Car?” a tragi-comic documentary about how Detroit utterly screwed up its best opportunity to innovate on energy usage in cars. (As an advocate who watched the industry commit hari-kari over fuel economy standards all through the early aughts, this movie artfully broke what was left of my heart.)

At any rate, Robert took the themes of the film seriously, and designed what was, for its time, a truly groundbreaking lounge, with furniture and items made sustainably and responsibly. This led to an explosion of interest in his business, including more lounges at high profile eco-events, and designing furniture and settings for very fancy celebs and others, some who have excellent taste, and some who have both good taste and acute chemical sensitivities.

Here are some of his other designs:

On foams and fillers, he was quite helpful in explaining the options. Basically, for the foam inner core, most furniture makers use: latex, soy blend, standard U.S.-made foam or foam made overseas (often in China). For cushions, options are latex, soy foam wrapped in cotton, cotton alone, or wool interior with a cotton bag on the outside.

For RCGreen designs, customers can choose the foams and fillers they like, but the materials do have disadvantages and advantages (also, he doesn’t use any foreign-made foams).

For example, a wool-wrapped cushion or seat can feel, as you might expect, lumpy and it will likely become harder over time. Latex, he said, is reported by some customers as having an odor (though Robert doesn’t smell it), and is more rubbery or bouncy, even though in his shop it’s wrapped in cotton. Soy-based foam, also wrapped in cotton, has been free of customer complaints. All of these are available without flame retardant chemicals.

I’m still weighing the options on fillings. There’s good evidence that soy foams may not be that much greener than traditional petrochemical foam, and many “soy-based” foams  actually have only a small percentage of soy in them, meaning that the manufacturing process that produced the rest of the foam is still a problem in that it makes nasty chemicals as a byproduct. And soy is mostly a genetically modified product, with terrible environmental costs in places like Brazil. I’ve asked both of these companies about the percentages of soy to traditional, petrochemical foam. (The EcoSelect answer is above, RCGreen’s soy foam is 22 percent soy.)

The “greenest” answer on fillings is therefore likely wool, though it settles and can become hard, or natural latex (rubber). I’m a bit allergic to some types of wool, so that is not great. On latex, the notion of a sofa made of rubber (even if wrapped in cotton) doesn’t thrill me — both for comfort and because both of the furniture makers I talked to raised issues (Mr. Fonville talked about its lack of durability; Robert about a reported smell and some level of customer dissatisfaction). Even with the price break, it’s still a real investment for us to get a new sofa, and I don’t want to have to do it again. So I’m a bit stuck on this one.

Robert is an earnest man, even — I would say — an eccentric seeker on an environmental quest of sorts, and he has a genuine interest in helping those with budgetary constraints. For example, he gave me a substantial price break on the sofa before he learned I had a blog or would write about it in any way (I swear!). That’s because he’s accustomed to working with people who are dealing with serious chemical-related illnesses or extreme allergies, and he regularly offers them deals in the same kind and generous way he did for me.

And he will work with you, too. He told me that he works with everyone who calls him, for jobs large and small. As he put it, “My goal is to get a piece of healthy furniture in your room.”

The Up-Shot:

Great, we get a new sofa! Still, overall, it was a bit stunning to me how difficult and time-consuming it was to find decent, chemical-free options.

Here’s a summary of what I’ve learned: harmful chemical flame retardants are in most foam-based products, including mattresses and sofas. They shouldn’t be there. They don’t help to reduce fires, according to Stapleton and they may even increase the risks of a fire as people inhale dangerous chemicals when they burn. Despite this rank stupidity, they are very hard to avoid, which means that hundreds of millions of people are needlessly exposed, every day. The scale of this is actually hard to take sitting down.

More Sources for Sofas:

Just today, I also found this new post from another eco-blog with a few more companies that make chemical-free sofas — including from Eco-terric, Furnature, and Eklahome — most with hefty price points, and most latex-based. (I appreciated the input in the comments on that blog pointing out the eco-issues with soy-based polyurethane foams.) I’ve since found one more, Green Nest, with prices topping a whopping 5K for sofas.

There’s always the sources for greener furniture that I identified in Part 2 of the Sofa Saga series. For the real DIY-er, here are directions to somewhat affordably make one using an “organic” mattress. For reupholstering furniture with more eco-friendly fabrics, you could check out Harmony Art and Organic Leather.

If you have the dough, for really artsy “green” items (with prices to match), you can also check out a new environmentally focused artists’ market, Ecofirst Art (for lamps and similar decor, there is also has a lower-cost boutique that sells smaller items, EcovolveNow). I would be sure to inquire with all of these sources about how to ensure what you order is flame retardant-free.

I would also refer you to the comments, which include an informative dialogue on fillers and foams, fabrics, greenwashing, transparency and related topics.

if you know of any other sources for custom-made goods or truly green furniture, please do share them in the comments!

If you most understandably lack the budget for new furniture, here are 10 tips to reduce exposure:

  1. Open the windows and air out the room whenever you can;
  2. Wash your hands (and your childrens’ hands) frequently, and definitely before eating;
  3. Vacuum more often, using a vacuum with a HEPA filter, and move furniture to get the dust underneath;
  4. If upholstery is damaged or leaking, fix it promptly and re-establish a seal (use duct tape if you need to, as we did!);
  5. Minimize polyurethane foam products among children’s items whenever you can (most polyester foam is better, according to Stapleton). Just last year, California evidently revised its rule on juvenile furniture to clarify that strollers, nursing pillows and infant carriers are now exempt from the requirement for flame retardants, but older items, or those that have not been redesigned since this change in the law last March, may still have the chemicals (for example, a recent test from an environmental group found them in My Brest Friend nursing pillows);
  6. Don’t let children spend time unnecessarily in car seats (or strollers with foam padding);
  7. Look for furniture from before 1970 or so (if you can stand the dust and dust mites!);
  8. Avoid buying products when you can that are labeled “flame retardant” or “Meets California Technical Bulletin 117″ or “Complies with TB 117″ or some such nonsense;
  9. Write to lawmakers in California telling them to ditch this stupid law;
  10. When you do need to replace your mattress, sofa or upholstered chair, consider going FR-free! I’ve done some of the research for you, anyhoo, all you have to do is make the call.

176 thoughts on “Sofa Saga, Part 4: Some Success! Two Great Sources for Greener Sofas

  1. Had the same problem, we landed on a custom made sectional from Viesso. It cost about 6,000. Not happy with that, but had no other choice. We don’t use leather or wool for ethical reasons, so it was all organic hemp, cotton, and 100 percent natural latex. It’s held up well after 5 years. Now we are having the same issues with finding a RUG. Do you know of any jute or hemp rug manufacturers who don’t add Flame retardants or stain protectors?

  2. Hello Laura,
    I came across your website a few months ago and it really opened my eyes on the issue! I had no idea all my furniture was so toxic! I’ve decided to start with beds and just purchased a FR- free mattress, all cotton mattress pad & a platform bed. What I’m wondering is are there FR traces in my down pillows and current (mostly all cotton) bedding? Buy all new (pricey!) or would it be ok to wash it thoroughly? Thanks for any info you may have!
    Olivia

  3. Thank you for all this info! I’m going to look at Amish furniture, as I am local to them. People have mentioned Pa and Oh, but there is also Shipshewana, Mi – and there is a large furniture store there with gorgeous pieces. I think I’m liking the idea of buying the wood frames and having cushions made. So what’s the most affordable way to do this? I love the thought f using wool since it’s naturally antibacterial and doesn’t collect odors.

    We are moving soon. Since we’ve never really been in a place long term, we’ve held off on buying much furniture. Though a number from ikea. I’m glad the particle boards aren’t as nasty, but we do have a sofa-bed that I recall smelling pretty strong when new. Sigh. We did buy one couch new for our current home and it was awful. I never sat on it. And I didn’t notice the gases until I’d laid my newborn on it for a moment and then picked her up. I smelled her sweet head and it smelled toxic!!! I couldn’t believe it. And she was ANGRY on the couch. Any time I laid her on it she would scream. Now I know why! (I no longer own it.)

    We do have what I believe is an environmentally friendly mattress free of FR. I’m pretty sure I looked into that, but now am a little unsure – at least of the FR status. It has a Swedish coil system bottom, natural latex core, wool filler somewhere and topped with an organic cotton cover. It’s distributed by Design Sleep in Yellow Springs, Oh. It is hands down the most comfortable mattress. Well below brand name prices and will not wear out and sag like brand names due to the Swedish coils. I think we paid $1,200 for a king. We were looking at upwards of more than $2000 at Macy’s.

    • I’m remembering that the mattress did smell strong when we got it. But after reading some of these posts I’m wondering if it was the latex, because I don’t recall it being a chemical smell (I’m quite sensitive – can’t even breathe around chemical cleaners).

  4. Dear Laura, Thank you so much for all the information you have provided on your website. It has been instrumental in guiding me on how to rid my home of flame retardants.

    I did purchase a $5000 couch from RC Green and really wanted to like the guy but did not have a good experience. I want to believe that the couch I bought from RC Green is as he claimed – flame retardant free.

    So I am now looking for another reasonably priced couch and wanted to see what your thoughts are on CertiPUR-US **(http://certipur.us/pages/about-our-seal/). There are some reasonable priced couches I have found by American Furniture (http://www.wayfair.com/American-Furniture-Temperance-Loveseat-AMF1482.html?redir=amf1482&rtype=8&dept=0&ust=). In my correspondence with American Furniture, they state their foams do not have flame retardants and they use a Class 1 fabric that is not treated with any stain resistant sprays or chemicals and meets Per my limited understanding of the new regulations the fabric covering the foam and the decking have to be a class 1 fabric to pass the smolder test. So if the manufacture claims that the foam is free of flame retardants and the fabric does not have flame retardants, then is this couch safe to buy?

    ***CertiPUR-US: The CertiPUR-US® program is a voluntary testing, analysis and certification program for flexible polyurethane foam used as a cushioning material in home furnishings such as adult mattresses, crib mattresses, upholstered furniture and some accessory comfort products. Certified flexible polyurethane foams have been independently laboratory tested and certified to be: Low Emission (VOCs) for indoor air quality. Made without ozone depletes, PBDE flame retardants, mercury, lead and heavy metals, formaldehyde or prohibited phthalates.

    Thank you for your help,
    Jennifer

    • Hi Jennifer, So sorry you didn’t have a good experience with RC Green. I waited months, as I wrote, but in the end I did like the piece. I also want to believe its FR-free, but have no way of verifying, and hope that is also clear.
      In terms of Certipur — if you look up Sofa Saga 3, you’ll see that Heather Stapleton looked at that label for me and didn’t find much reassurance in it at all. She thought it likely contained FRs.
      But there is good news! California has changed its stupid law, and so it appears that some of the major companies, like Crate and Barrel, will soon have items without any FRs in the foam (as you explain). Can you wait a bit? If so, there may soon be a lot of more affordable options. I’m planning a post soon after I have time to call around to places and verify that they have switched. Hope that helps! Laura

      • From research I have done, I am not trusting Certi-pur. Nice name, nice coverup, but not really pure at all. Back to the drawing boards! Ann

      • We are still shopping for a non toxic sofa. When we were out in California, we visited the small showroom of Viesso. They have beautiful modern designs, and can do a custom sofa with natural latex cushions. We are still hemming and hawing on which fabric we want, but we’ll take the plunge sooner or later. Has anyone actually purchased from them, and if so, are you happy with what you bought? On a somewhat related note, does anyone have experience with Monte gliders/reclining chairs? And finally, on another somewhat related note, Savvy Rest makes an amazing non-toxic natural latex mattress. We’re happy with ours!

    • I, too, was excited to see the certi-pur us certification. However- after a lot of prodding, the furniture manufacturer who had provided me with the certi-pur information in the first place, admitted (only through a series of links) that while there are no flame retardants in the foam originally- they were added in the manufacture of the couch itself! It was disingenuous at best. So certi-pur really tells you nothing about the couch it winds up in. Sorry.

      • CertiPUR does not mean foam is free of flame retardants, it only states that the foam is free of PBDE flame retardants. It does not go beyond that to say which flame retardant(s) are in the foam. In fact, their press states that they cannot because each mix of chemicals is proprietary to the manufacturers (listing would give away a company’s secrets and potentially allow others to copy them).

        The CertiPUR designation was created by the Foam Industry. This industry initiative was launched in May 2008 and is now managed under the Alliance for Flexible Polyurethane Foam, Inc.

        In Washington state the certification doesn’t go beyond WA State law for products manufactured here and it’s leagues behind Oeko Tex standards. The industry states that foams with this designation (CertiPUR) are made, “without ozone depleters, methylene chloride, PBDEs, or problematic heavy metals, formaldehyde or prohibited phthalates, and are low emission (low VOCs) for indoor air quality.”

        That list ignores chlorinated tris and a host of other toxic substances. This industry certification seems like image control or green washing more than a genuine effort to make a safe product.

  5. Bad news from Simplicity Sofas. Bummer….
    Hi Ann,
    All of the foams available to us include flame retardants. Our premium quality Ultracel foam has fewer chemicals than the cheaper polyurethanes but there is still a significant amount present.
    All of the major foam manufacturers currently produce products that conform to the old California 117 flammability standard. Even though the law has now been changed to eliminate most fire retardant chemicals the foam companies are not required to conform to the new requirements until Jan. 1, 2015 so that they can use up the materials they already have in stock. The best article I have seen on the subject is http://www.ireadlabelsforyou.com/flame-retardant-law-is-about-to-change/.
    For customers who are concerned about the potential danger of flame retardants we suggest our optional Spring-down cushion construction. The Spring-down cushions include an inner core of fabric covered coil springs. There is a 2″ border of Ultracel foam which goes around the coil springs and this is then covered on the top and bottom with a layer of feathers and down.
    As a result the amount of foam used in the Spring-down cushion is less than 20% of the total cushion weight. In contrast our standard foam cushions are nearly 100% Ultracel foam by weight.
    The foam suppliers have until January 2015 to change over to the new foam specification. It is probable that they will begin producing the new foam before that date. Unfortunately I have no way of knowing what the actual date will be that my supplier will make the switch. It will probably be some time after July 1 2014 since that was the original changeover date and the foam producers lobbied successfully to have the date pushed back six months.
    Please let me know if you have any further questions.

    Jeff Frank, Owner
    Simplicity Sofas

    • Good news — All of Simplicity Sofas’ foam suppliers have now switched over and eliminated the fire retardant chemicals from the foams they are supplying to us.
      Jeff Frank, Owner
      Simplicity Sofas

  6. Sigh… exhausted by my search for a chemical free, flame retardant free sofa that I CAN AFFORD, I have sort of given up for awhile. The good news that the California Flame Retardant laws have now been pulled, means that perhaps mass producers like Crate and Barrel, etc will jump on that bandwagon, eventually. BUT, you know there will still be lots of China-made junk and though that one chemical may not be present, we will still not know what IS. My local Printers Alley store has beautiful fabrics and sent me to Lancaster Furniture in High Point, NC to see their sofas. Well made, amazing amount of care and feathers and natural latex etc, but by the time we are done with a 3 cushion, fairly traditional couch and Printers Alley fabrics, it will hover around $4000. Cannot do this. Then, there is Lee Furniture which two local stores have samples of. Problem is that there is not one ounce of knowledge in staff in either store and Lee keeps referring me back to the retailers. Lee is a bit dicey too, about their stuff saying things like
    “Second, there is almost no way to make a piece of upholstered furniture without foam padding in the frame. (Polyurethane is foam.)
    When you order a non Flame Retardant seating package, the piece of furniture will not have any flame retardants in any of the components including the foam padding.
    Lee makes two non flame retardant seating packages. One has foam in the cushion, one does not.
    The seating package without foam is very soft and we call it the Plush Package. It sits like a true down cushion, but it is a resilient down alternative and does not have any foam or any flame retardants.
    There may be foam in the interior of the frame, depending on the frame you choose, but that padding will not have any flame retardants in it when you choose a non FR package.
    The other non Flame Retardant seating package is the non flame retardant (non FR) version of Naturalee.
    This is our standard seating package with a soy based foam core and recycled fiber wrap.
    Lori can have you sit on this seating package in the store and you can order it without flame retardants.”

    Being here in NC does make it somewhat less challenging. EcoSelect is here but boy, the photos of their sofas look so “doctor-office” to me, so I can’t love those.

    I have a Word document of now 10 pages of all the couches we’ve considered, all the possibilities, most of the prices and I’m worn out by the process and the expense. Went to High Point to the world’s largest furniture store and fell in love over and over, but eventually found out that the sofas we chose really were chemical laden. Really loved Bradington Young leathers– gorgeous and affordable, but everything the sales person told us was mostly incorrect and the companies customer service woman was horrendous and disgusted by my questions. Said she’d get back to me after she spoke with engineers and of course I never heard.
    Sooooo, just thought I would update my journey here. We see great stuff too, in consignment stores but then, we really don’t know what’s in those couches. We remain, squished in together on our red, microfiber couch where we do not fit and are inhaling chemicals. Christmas will be really tight with all my 5 sons and other relatives, and we will all breathe in the flame retardants then too. Sigh again…..

    • this is Ken Fonville of ecoSelect furniture—I regret that our styles were not to your liking–we have selected them to be almost timeless transitional looks. A couple of very similar styles even showed up after this past furniture market as “best of market” (though with the newest fabric designs). Anyway–we also do custom styles for customers–though of necessity they cost more than the standard frames–though don’t believe we would be as high as the prices you were quoted for custom. So, send us a photo of something you like with the size, and we’ll take a look at it to see if we can make it for you.
      Our hemp fabrics are also untreated with any of the soil repellents in addition to our foam being non-flame retardant–and we have that right now–not a year from now–
      Ken

      • Hi Ken,
        We have some classic furniture from This End Up which have solid wood frames with “loose”/removable cushions. We don’t want to buy completely new furniture as that’d be so wasteful – plus we love the heavy duty wood frames since we have a toddler tornado & a baby who I’m sure will soon turn into toddler tornado #2. We are hoping instead to replace the cushions with better cushions made from FR-free materials. The fabric would have to be able to take some abuse or maybe have removable covers that can be switched out & washed. Would your company be able to make custom cushions like this?

        Thanks,
        Lauren

  7. Well, I have uncovered a couple more options for the sofa issue – – Drexel Heritage will make sofas with foam that is flame retardant free, upon request. I will be contacting local retailer today with questions.

    Endicott Home Furnishings – has their own line Condo Sofa http://condofurniture.com/ and they are free of FR’s – cannot be sold to CA residents. Limited to their own line – many options here. http://condofurniture.com/flame-retardants-overview (nice article about the FR’s)

    Many fine furniture companies deal with Amish furniture – as do some retailers of wood or unfinished items – though oddly we found the lines vary store to store and ordering direct can be done via internet.

    GreenSofas.com has been on the HGTV website for a long time, unfortunately it has also been a dead link for a long time.

    Oh – I want to add here, due to repeatedly seeing such, many seem to tout the eco friendliness of the frames, perhaps the soy content, plant manufacturing practices – – yet most can still be purchased with ‘stain resistant fabric’. Laura, digging for info can be exhausting and oh so frustrating. Oy…

  8. Hello,
    I referred to this site when trying to make decisions about new living room furniture and a new mattress/boxspring.
    Just want to share what we did about sofa, loveseat, and chair. We bought Amish furniture with the majority of each piece being solid hardwood. Only the seat and back cushions are upholstered, and the furniture can be bought without these cushions, making it possible to have cushions made locally (and choosing your own filler and fabric).
    Barb

      • Sorry for the delay. Your choice of Amish furniture builder would depend upon where you live, as shipping cost is a consideration. There’s a group around Millersburg, Ohio and around Lancaster, Pennsylvania; also in northern Indiana I believe. We drove up to Ohio and Pennsylvania to see and sit on the furniture. (We’re in North Carolina.) There are a couple of Amish furniture dealers closer to us but the prices were a bit higher. You can also search and order online, although I’m not sure whether you could get the furniture items without cushions, if you went through one of the internet-only dealers. The depth of the seat is important to me which is why I wanted to actually sit on the furniture before ordering.

  9. Hi Laura, we totally relied on your series here for our own couch-hunting epic earlier this year. We found RC Green to be a little iffy in execution and backed out of working with him after doing some research into his longevity and business model. We ended up going with Eco Balanza out of Seattle (I think they’re a new one for you?). http://www.ecobalanza.com/ Because we live close by, we were able to visit throughout the process, and we were even given the information to visit the farms they source from if we wanted to! We have been super happy with what we got, although, as you often mention, they did not come cheap! Anyhow, I’m in the process of writing a blog post about flame retardents and why we chose to do what we did, and I’m hoping you won’t mind if I link people back to you as a resource for WAY more information, and one of our resources for our own journey!

  10. I’ve just found your blog. Thank you for posting all this information. It’s ironic because I had saved a magazine article from a few years back that said Ikea and Crate & Barrel were “safe” options for upholstered furniture since neither used toxic flame retardants! So, without running a search on the web, a couple months ago, I blithely went out and purchased two new Ikea upholstered chairs, as well as several chair pads, all (I assume) filled with toxic polyurethane foam. I also just put in an Ikea kitchen, being reassured by my “green” builder that Ikea’s particleboard conforms to European standards, and therefore is a “green” product. Today I came upon your blog, and started looking at my cute (and cheap) Ikea purchases differently!

    What, exactly, is filled with polyurethane foam? Is it only found in upholstered furniture? Could it be inside that cute stuffed bunny I saw on your blog? Inside the chair pads I just bought at Ikea? Is it in that green foam I bought at JoAnn fabrics to use to make floor cushions? I asked the saleswoman at JoAnn, and she assured me that their foam was flame-retardant free.

    Where does one find this information?

    I bought some solid wood furniture at Ikea for my kids’ rooms, but they have particleboard drawer bottoms and backs! Does this mean my kids’ rooms are filling with formaldehyde?

    I’ve spent the past 10 years cleaning up and “greening” my home: no rugs, all wood furniture (except for those pesky Ikea drawer bottoms and kitchen cabinet boxes), air cleaners in each room, RO filters, HEPA vac, fabric shower curtains, etc. etc. I thought I had it all covered!

    Now, does this mean that my 22-year-old Hickory Chair couch is packed with flame retardants? My kids sit on that thing every single day! It likely has PBDEs, no? I thought it was somewhat “safe” because it has wood frame, and the cushions are just that — down-wrapped cushions. But somewhere inside that layer of down lurks a core of polyurethane inside each cushion, doesn’t it? My couch does not have a label saying it’s flame resistant, but it’s 22 years old!

    One more comment about mattresses: We had an allergist who told us to wrap all our pillows, mattresses and box springs in dust-mite covers. Would those covers contain the PBDEs and whatever other flame retardants are in our 17 and 15 year old mattresses? Or are we just out of luck?

    Your blog is useful, but it’s also frightening. For a busy, exhausted parent, I doubt I can do much more at this point. I don’t even have the energy to haul those @#$$% Ikea chairs to the curb. Oh, and BTW, do those 100% cotton Ikea slipcovers contain flame retardants too?? Do all upholstry fabrics contain flame retardants? Curtains from JC Penny? (I just bought some 100% natural cotton/linen curtains from JC Penny — are they toxic too?) I’ll never sleep again.

    • Sorry it’s so overwhelming! It sounds like you’ve already done a lot, and every bit does count. Though it’s also frustrating, of course, to find things out after the fact! First, some good news: I’m sure your green builder was right that Ikea’s stuff does conform to EU and European standards (it would have to, after all) and is likely better particleboard in terms of off-gassing. I have tried to understand the emissions rules for wood products, but have never gotten to clarity on it. A lot of toys, like those “wooden” puzzles allegedly also conform, but when I looked into how to test the emissions, no one could tell me how to do it, which makes me think there isn’t a real protocol here.

      Your mattresses are probably ok as well in terms of flame retardants — there is a federal standard for those and chemicals are actually too weak to meet it, so companies use design features and natural materials to meet that standard. Mattresses have other issues, but we’ll leave those aside for the moment. The dust mite stuff looks ok to me, and there’s nothing about flame resistance on the Web sites where I’ve bought mine, but you could always write them. The stuffing from the fabric store is likely ok, but you would have to write the company that made it to be sure (I don’t think sales people generally know what they are talking about.) Your old sofa might be ok as well, but it would be hard to know definitely. Anything 1975 or before is safe, after that it’s hit or miss.

      Now the bad (worse?) news: 100 percent cotton is good, but most upholstery fabrics are treated, including slipcovers and curtains. If there is a stain resistance on them and warnings about washing them, you can be pretty sure there are chemicals. In which case, you should wash them (or have them cleaned a few times by a green dry cleaner) to take the finish off on purpose. Polyurethane foam is a synthetic foam made from petrochemical byproducts and it’s in everything (airplane and car seats, restaurant seats, etc.) — but it sounds like you have a lot of items with better stuff in it.

      There are a lot more posts on this subject — look for the FAQ under the “New? Posts by Subject” tab. Do you kids rooms smell like anything is off-gassing? If so, open the windows and run a fan! Or put the items in a basement or a porch until they smell better. Next time you need stuff, check out Craigslist, Krrrb or other used options, as that tends to yield older, safer items.

      Most of all, take a deep breath and know that you are doing the best you can. The world is making it that much harder to take good care of our families. Sending you hugs! Laura

  11. thank you so much laura! these posts were a lifeline in my research trying to replace our couch and mattresses. we finally found what i think is a really excellent source for mattresses: abundant earth: http://www.abundantearth.com/store/organicbeds.html. we now have two and are very happy with them. i talked to the company on the phone before buying and they were absolutely on the same page as far as avoiding added chemicals and flame retardants. this same company said they would be happy to do custom orders for couch cushions as well. i thought about buying a solid hardwood framing and having them make the cushions but haven’t quite made the leap.

    i recently found another couch company and wanted to see what you thought: http://greensofas.com/657.html. they do specifically say no flame retardants and the prices are great…almost too good. i’m skeptical. what do you think?

    • A new source!!! Thanks so much. I’ll check them out. And thanks for the encouragement.

      In terms of greensofas, a year or more back when I called no one picked up at any of the numbers listed, so I thought it was a phantom site, and perhaps the company is out of business. I have not checked recently, though. If you find they are legit, I’d love to know!
      Cheers, Laura

  12. Thank you so much for such a great blog! There is just a ton of information here throughout all the posts (which I am now adding to), and I’m wondering if, based on the totality of the information you’ve been able to gather, you can provide your opinion on what the least-toxic sofa available is? I’m intrigued by the eco-select furniture option, since pricing seems reasonable.

    • Hi Phillip, That’s a great question. However, there’s no study that I know of comparing the toxicity of sofas on the market, overall. And all I know, in the end, is what I’ve been told about what’s in them. Robert Craymer provided me with specific assurances; I know from other friends that Eco-Select also seems solid, and I’ve spoken to the owner of Eco-Select, who seems like a stand-up guy, and the pricing is great. There are other options — many in the comments here, including Ekla Home, and some small companies. Ekla Home just introduced a new low-end sofa for 2K as well: http://www.eklahome.com/new/. The greenest options in the abstract would be sustainably certified wood frame, wool and 100 percent natural latex interior (see http://www.treehugger.com/green-home/how-to-buy-mattress.html), with Oeko-Tex organic fabrics with natural dyes, and formaldehyde-free glues. This is, needless to say, an expensive proposition, and hard to come by. Thanks for checking this out! Let me know what you decide please!

  13. Just stumbled on this article. I am completely overwhelmed and frustrated. I purchased a new lovely sectional to replace a 13 year old couch that I loved and never caused me any problems. We have had the couch about 5 months. It was fine initially although I kept asking my husband if he thought it smelled funny. No one else noticed it, but I was bothered. I just thought I am super sensitive and that it was nothing. Slowly I became more irritated by the couch, but did not connect the smell with my problems until more recently. Now I am using an inhaler for the asthma that has developed. I sound hoarse in the mornings and cough and cough, trying to clear the continual congestion. I hate being in my living room, and my eyes, nose and throat burn when I sit on it. I just want to scream! We have no money for a new couch.I am pretty sure the company will not take it back as all sales are final. I know I need to get rid of it and start over. The more searching I do, the more I feel really hopeless about the state of affairs with this toxic soup I am living in.

    • So very sorry to hear it! How awful. What about trying to sell it on Craigslist or Krrrb? That way, you might get some money for it, which could enable you to buy something else. I’m no expert on chemical sensitivities, though I am really bothered by smells as well, but I know from talking to folks that if the offending item is not removed, it can drive worse reactions to even more substances, so I would get rid of it asap! Hopefully then your symptoms will subside. If you haven’t seen it, there are some options in Part 4 of the sofa series (see the New? tab at the top). Best of luck to you! Laura

  14. Has anyone had any luck just replacing the cushions on their couches? I had very tight-backed couch so I figure the bottom cushions are the real issue (I know there are FR in the back and arms too but it couldn’t be much). I’m wondering if I unzipped the cushions and tossed the toxic foam is there something else I could replace it with? Can I buy latex foam? Regular foam from JoAnns (is that treated?)? Wool batting??? I can’t afford to replace the whole couch but I figure if I could replace the main cushions that would at least be better right??

    -Julie

    • Hi Julie,

      I’ve wondered about this as well. Other, please weigh in! I agree it would have to be better, as the issue is dust and amount. My understanding is that craft foam should be fine; however, to be sure I would call the craft or sewing store and write the brand name company to ask them. Wool batting would be fine, but you’d want something in the middle to keep it from just compacting over time. You could make new cushions yourself, or look into it with furniture repair folks, who must do this often. Good luck! Laura

      • It is so nice to find other people going through what I have!! I have settled for the option of replacing the foam in the cushions of our new sectional. I am buying the foam from one source, and having an upholsterer re-stuff. My husband thinks I am crazy, as do ALL of the sales people at the furniture stores. I agree with you Laura- you really have to corner people, and ask the same question again, and again, to get the information! Here in the Northeast, there is a company called Endicott Furniture (condofurniture.com) that makes furniture without the flame retardants in the foam. The owner is very helpful (unfortunately, it seems as though everyone thinks if you are environmentally aware, you must like modern style furniture, which is why I opted for the foam replacement). I believe California is on the verge of repealing CA 117- so maybe this will get better in the near future! Thanks!

    • Julie, yes you can replace the foam in your cushions – – however I’m going to give you a break down… If your foam has deteriorated, you will have a face full of dust and chemicals. Cover your face, eyes, and take it all outside.
      It is harder to get the new in than the old out – but can be done with perseverance and strength. \

      Yes you can purchase latex cushions of certain sizes and or wool batting – there are foam by mail places on line – http://www.foamsource.com/shop/customize/
      most makers of wool bedding sell the parts you will need (Holy Lamb Organics loves to recycle and may have what you need). Sorry I’m short on time today – but hope it helps

  15. Hi,
    We’ve been living room furniture hunting as well, and prefer the look of Amish furniture (mostly hardwood). So far we haven’t found a line that does not contain FR-chemical treated urethane foam. Has anyone else checked into Amish furniture?
    Also, what do we need to watch for in fabrics? FR chemicals, formaldehyde, etc.?

    • Hi Barb, I would call the Amish furniture folks. They make beautiful handmade items, and would answer your questions on the contents of any upholstered items. If they are made and sold locally in someplace like Pennsylvania, there’s no reason that they should even have to meet the CA-specific flame retardant standard, which only applies to furniture sold in California. You should inquire about flame retardants in the foam for upholstered items, as well as treatments like flame resistance or stain resistance on the fabrics, as well as formaldehyde in the glues, and the use of composite woods in lieu of solid wood. I would imagine there would be options — and gorgeous ones to boot! Let me know what you find out, pretty please! And good luck — all best, Laura

      • Last year I did talk to the Amish – several contacts and all said the same thing: they use polyurethane foam that meets flammability requirements. I would also like to add that the fabric they use would most likely be treated as well in order to meet that criteria. They will sell the wood frames without cushions in order for the consumer to have the filling and fabric of their choice. The Mission style sofas have some attached parts, but could easily be managed with loose cushions. The discount without upholstery or cushions is minimal, but there is a small discount for it.

  16. I’m considering a couch from Gus. I emailed them about their sofas, and this is what they said:

    “All Gus* Modern products meet or exceed government and industry standards for health and safety. As part of our requirement to meet California’s de facto standard for fire safety, our upholstery foams are treated to resist flammability. This standard is met without the use of banned chemicals, HBCD, PBDEs or Chlorinated Tris, and without the use of substances listed on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s list of chemicals identified as requiring “further assessment”. Gus* supports continued regulation and clarity regarding product safety standards, and on the use and restriction of chemicals in consumer products.”

    Do you know if this means that their sofas are safe? It sounds like they have some flame retardants but it’s not clear what kind.

    • Hi Winston, It’s ironic that their statement calls for “clarity regarding product safety standards” when their disclaimer is anything but! It’s not clear what that are using, but they do admit to them being treated. It could be Firemaster 550 or any of the newer FRs. Heather Stapleton, the leading researcher on FRs, has been clear that ALL of these chemicals are suspect, so I wouldn’t think these are safe. Sorry for the delay in responding!

    • Hi,
      I purchased the Gus Modern Jane Sofa last fall (2012). The sofa smells so bad! It has been over 9 + months. The company suggested I place bowls of white vinegar near the sofa to help with the smell. We had all doors/ windows open through out the fall and even into the winter (in New England!). As of this month, June 2013 it is worse than ever, and I am not sure if the heat brings out the odor. I am not sure what it is- fire retardant? formaldehyde?polyurethane? and want to get rid of it, and start again. I may try Furnature in Boston, and fabric from http://www.oecotextiles.com/contact.php. I would love to learn about other options, and I do NOT RECCOMMEND Gus Modern upholsterd furniture.

      • KJA – You are correct in thinking the heat releases the smell. In fact heat does accelerate the release of those nasty chemicals and what you smell is lethal.
        My advice is to follow Laura’s example and drag it to the curb :) – Demand that Gus Modern take it back and dispose of it properly. Make a lot of noise about your poison block.

        Most of us have ‘been there, done that’ and wish you well in your search.

      • Also, it sounds like it’s too late for this, but other folks that notice smelly off-gassing on mattresses and furniture may want to ask their credit card company to contest the charge. If you document your complaint, the credit card company can help you. I once got a smelly mattress with memory foam, and after asking the company numerous times for a fix/replacement/refund, got Amex to refuse the charges. That got their attention, and they delivered a replacement mattress and picked up the smelly one for no additional charge. Best, Laura

      • Hi there, Yes, another commenter raised this a while back. I asked Robert about it. He claims it is nonsense, obviously, and that it could be related to a private dispute in his personal life. In my own dealings with Robert, I have found him to be honest, though it does take a really, really long time for the furniture to arrive. But it is as he claims it to be, and beautifully made, and comfortable. People have also had great experiences with Eco-select, and there are more companies in the comments who claim they make FR-free items as well. Ecobalanza is also an option; though a bit pricier, it is latex-based with wool and thus naturally flame retardant. Hope that helps! Laura

      • Thank you for your helpful comments and thoughts, I am really enjoying this site!
        KJA

  17. Yesterday’s NY Times article about the health effects on workers who glue together foam furniture cushions (As OSHA Emphasizes Safety, Long-Term Health Risks Fester, 3/31/13) gave me another reason to find alternatives to the couches typically sold today.

  18. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, there are 2 other options for couches without flame retardants that you can get right now (and hopefully you will have more options starting in July 2014 if the legislature supports the current Toxin-free act):
    Stanton couches (Oregon) stopped using flame retardants I think about a year ago.
    Van Gogh couches (Surrey, BC) – choose the couch and fabric and type of foam (natural latex is a possibility) and they make it for you.

    • We ordered a Stanton couch after we had 2 sale people call the company and the company said they do not have chemical flame retardants in their foam/couches. Then we requested and got an email from them to confirm this. Soon after our couch came, Washington Toxics Coalition had a free testing, so we took in a cushion and it had over 9000 ppm bromine. They had lied to us and we sent the couch back. We love the Washington Toxics Coalition. Don’t buy Stanton.

  19. Does anyone have experience with Viesso (http://www.viesso.com/)? Looks like they have eco-friendly, flame-retardant free sofas that can be custom designed with a short turnaround time. My concern is that there are not a lot of reviews online, and there isn’t a showroom in our city, so we’d have to purchase sight unseen.

    • Hi – we went to their showroom last fall when shopping for our couch. The person helping us was knowledgeable and friendly and the products looked nice. Most had a very modern look, and we are more “slipcovered beach casual”, so we ended up not choosing Viesso – but I can vouch for visiting the showroom and that the products we saw looked nice.

      • Hi Carolyn, I am also looking for a “slipcovered beach casual” couch with no flame retardants. Did you find any that you liked?

      • Hi Lynn,
        Yes, we ordered from Cisco Home after visiting their showroom in LA. Very pleased. Natural rubber wrapped in wool with organic cotton slipcovers. Super comfortable. Not inexpensive but we had eeked 22 years out of the previous couch and will do it again!! Not sure if I can post a picture and I’m on holiday at the moment but I’m happy to if I can.

      • Thanks Carolyn, glad you found a sofa that works! I’d love to see a photo if you could send me one (lynnweller@gmail.com) and if you could tell me what price range the sofa ended up costing that would be great too.

  20. This is great stuff!! I just bought a vintage mid century ratan couch and two matching over sized chairs-I’ll be having all new cushions made after I do a bit more research-but I thought I’d throw thid idea out there-there are a lot of these ratan sets on ebay and local sites like craigslist and most are very affordable. Mine will have to be reupholstered as it has the old upholstery on the backs but many sets would only need cushions. Is it true that foam seats made before 1975 are safe? I wonder if I should just have the old foam cushions upholstered as they are n mint condition-might be safer than new foam even if the new foam has no flame retardents????

  21. Laura- thanks so much for all of your work on this. I’m 4 months pregnant, moving into a new house and am trying to figure out how to desk with our couches and mattresses. I haven’t seen any information on it, but do you happen to know if getting a couch from a place like room and board (http://www.roomandboard.com/rnb/m/product/detail.do?articleNumber=955037&an=0_955037&productGroup=3125) that is soy foam wrapped in a tightly woven fabric and then wrapped in down ticking is any better than a foam sofa? We got a foam sofa from them before I knew about the FR issue, but it hasn’t held up well and we can exchange it. I don’t really want any flame retardants in our house, but am having a hard time figuring outs what to do next!
    Thanks so much for all your hard work,
    Kate

    • Hi Kate, Congratulations! How exciting.
      Here’s what I know: the soy content doesn’t affect, one way or the other, the amount of flame retardants used. A newer sofa is likely to be better, at least for a while, given that the contents have had less time to break down and get into the dust, but that should be small comfort, as that will still happen over time. Have you asked Room and Board whether they are now offering any products without FRs? It’s worth inquiring, given all the recent attention to the issue. Hope that helps — and let me know if you find out anything of interest! All best, Laura

  22. Hi Laura,

    Thanks for all your extensive research on disgusting flame retardants. Fortunately, I don’t have much upholstered furniture but I am getting rid of what I have. I was wondering your thoughts on purchasing a 1950s sofa filled completely with feathers. Do you think it is safe? Do you know the exact date they began using flame retardants and is there a home test to see if they are in there?Also, do they typically treat goose down feathers with flame retardants now? Thanks in advance!

    • Hi Dawn, Furniture that old should be fine. Heather Stapleton made clear to me that pre-1975 furniture is likely ok. There is not a home test, sadly — but I don’t think feathers are typically treated (you may want to check with the feather company to be sure if buying new ones). Hope that helps! All best, Laura

  23. I have purchased and used a sofa and loveseat set from Eco-select furniture. I was very happy with them at first but now after two years not so much. The cushion is collapsing and no longer supportive. When you sit in them you sink in and you can feel the front board across the bottom of your legs.

    I was in contact with Kenneth about 6 months back but apparently this isn’t covered by the warranty. I did ask for a firmer cushion and something to allow them to sit higher. He offered a solution for $200. Though in retrospect when i consider that i’ve paid over $2000 for this set it shouldn’t need “modifications”.

    Lesson learned – Never Purchase Sight Unseen. I’m very disappointed in this “american made” product with all natural materials. I hoped for and expected a more quality product. With the proper execution it has great potential. I wonder if Ken ever visits the location where these are actually built? I guess it’s back to the local stores

    So there’s your first complaint about Eco-Select Furniture.

    • Angelo, Thank you so very much for this information. I agree with you that a sofa that costs so much should not require additional investment to fix. I will inquire about this with Ken. I really appreciate this feedback! All best, Laura

      • Laura/Angelo
        I regret what may have been a misunderstanding and miscommunication.
        I have deleted all the e-mails from that time, but if memory serves, the conversation was about changing to a firmer cushion, not anything about cushion faliure. Our cushions are warranted for 5 years against “breakdown” and we will replace them at no charge. I have sent an e-mail to Angelo asking him for a photograph of his sofa and loveseat so I can document the cushion failure to my cushion supplier. If warranted, we would replace Angelo’s cushions with a denser foam, and would even provide him with cushions without flame retardants (which was not an option at the time he ordered)
        Ken
        Ecoselect furniture

      • Thanks so much, Ken, for the prompt reply and explanation. It’s good to know that Angelo’s needs will be addressed and that there is a good policy in place. All best, Laura

  24. I would like to replace my cushions with natural latex foam. I feel overwhelmed by all of the research. Does anyone know of a good source for the custom made latex cushions?

    Thanks

  25. Wondering if you have heard of Lifestyle solutions in California. They claim that the sofas that are shipped out of California do not have flame retardants in either the fabric or foam. After reading your website I am skeptical but they assure me of this. Any thoughts?

  26. Just wanted to say thank you sooooooooooooo much for taking the time to research and write these posts. I just recently discovered your blog and have learned so much already! I am buying an elka home sofa and ditching my poisonous one ASAP.

    • Hi Laura, I am not very blog savvy and couldn’t figure out how to post without posting under someone’s comment. Anyway, thank you so much for this blog! It has been so helpful to me. I spoke with the kind man at Eco-select today and am ordering a sofa and chair. Coincidently, I live in NC and so I am doubly thrilled about ordering furniture that does not have flame retardant in it AND is made an hour and a half from my home. Anyway, I write to tell you that Mr. Fonville said that he has really seen an increase in business because he is now offering non flame retardant furniture……. and presumedly lots of folks have found out about him from your blog.

      • Hi Kristin, Thanks so much for your comment — that’s really nice to hear. Please let us know what you think of the service and furniture when it arrives! All best, Laura

  27. You know I take it back about the linen. I was pandering because linen is natural and therefore more “eco-friendly”. But I’m not in this for eco-friendly. My goal is to produce the least expensive sofa that won’t be poisonous. I can get FSC wood but that’s $120 more a sofa than regular lumber so scratch that. I can get wool batting but that’s roughly $300 more a sofa than cotton or dacron so scratch that. I can do a traditional, dowelled 1.25″ lumber frame with an 8-way hand tied coil but that’s $550 more a frame then a regular, extremely durable, sinuous spring with a stapled 1″ lumber frame so I don’t want to do that either. The 1″ frame won’t break just the same as the one that’s built “like they used to”

    Where I do want to spend money is where it counts. Polyurethane foam has been treated with fire retardants and so has soy based foam (and how soy is it if it’s still 80% polyurethane?) but Talalay latex doesn’t so I’ll use that instead. A ton of chemicals are used in finishing fabrics so I’ll hot-wash durable family friendly fabrics which will get rid of a ton of the chemicals. Linens and cottons, despite being natural fabrics, simply aren’t built for family use like a good microsuede. Glue can have VOC’s so I’ll use eco-bond brand adhesive. With complete focus on the easily defined non-toxic vs. rather more vague definitions of organic or earth-friendly I think I can sell a non-toxic, sleeker, mid-century frame for below $2400– only a couple hundred more than a fair number of frames from CB and RB. I have a meeting this week with both my latex supplier on bulk pricing and my factory on exactly how we’re going to chop up latex mattresses for maximum yield so I can get exact costs together.

    Any feedback on the philosophy of focusing on non-poisonous over eco friendly? It’s not that I’m anti-earth or anything but I think a $2400 non-toxic sofa is something my largely middle class customers will be able to stretch to afford. A built like a tank, socially responsible, fully organic, sofa would probably cost more than a grand more and become cost prohibitive for most.

    • Hi there, I think it’s exciting that you would think about making newly designed, flame-retardant free sofas at a competitive price. In fact, it’s what is really needed to drive the market towards better choices overall. Nothing would incentivize the bigger companies faster to change than someone eating their lunch!
      I’ve written before about sorting out environmental health cost-upgrades from environmental sustainability ones — while we all would prefer sustainable products, I for one would like to know when I’m paying more for that feature versus when I’m paying more for a healthier product, as the incentives, and the way I price risks to my family are not the same(see http://laurasrules.org/2012/05/03/what-does-green-really-mean-to-you-getting-environmental-health-versus-sustainability-sorted-out/). And you could always consider, whether, given your volume, it would be cost-effective to offer transparently priced eco-upgrades for consumers that care about the FSC hardwoods and other design features on a special order basis. For other customers, just knowing that a couch is non-toxic will be a huge relief, and keeping costs in line (generally) with what they would pay at a major manufacturer for the same piece of furniture is critical to making it a viable choice for many more people.
      Perhaps you can answer the basic question for me: are there chemicals or additives involved in processing latex that consumers should be concerned about? Is latex sustainably harvested? Etc.
      Cheers,
      Laura

      • Laura, This time I’m under a ‘bug’, but will try…
        I have a few links that would help explain latex production. There are chemicals used to produce, there are less used for organic latex – but it’s harder to find.
        Latex is wonderful – but not the ‘end all’ as there are people who have sensitivities and testing is suggested by manufacturers. Not a skin test, but breathability and a small piece by nightstand for a while works for sensitivity testing.

        None of these links is an endorsement, I’m going through my collection for information that is understandable, might not be best. Chemicals are needed to take the sap and create a solid and I will try to find the reports later this week.

        http://www.latexsleep.com/processes.htm

        This link has a visual that shows difference between Talalay and Dunlop http://www.savvyrest.com/why-savvy-rest/natural-dunlop-talalay
        If looking for Organic Latex, ask for certificates – no certificate – not organic. Over the years many have sold with a lie – but it’s still better than polyfoam.

        Not everyone can tolerate the wool, but it’s next on my list of top substances. No fire retardants needed and it’s renewable with aperformance factor that really rocks!

        WA state was the first to pass a ban on those nasty chemicals – however the manufacturers have until 2014 to unload the stuff and shift over! It took years to get this law enacted. Manufacturers are not going to shift their way of doing things until we stop buying it and they have to.

        If I couldn’t make a daybed without chemicals, I would buy a nice vintage or new ENglish sofa made with horsehair and wool.

        Aradwan – at the moment I’m seriously confused – if using Dacron or cotton batting, some sort of flame retardant will be required. I am also certain that using polyester upholstery is enough to keep me and many others from even thinking about such a thing. I for one have determined that if I don’t know exactly what is in it – don’t want it.
        We have decided to focus on ‘healthy’ and that means for us and the planet.

      • Hi Sally! Thanks for this! One question– why would he be “required” to use frs with cotton batting? Is there a law I’m missing? Or do you mean just as a matter of a warranty of safety? Thanks! Laura

      • All natural latex rubber is hardened sap from the Hevea brasiliensis tree, also known as the rubber tree. These trees are found in rain forests in Brazil, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and India and a few other countries with rain forests near the equator. The sap is tapped. The sap will harden if it is not poured into the molds shortly after tapping. Most natural latex rubber producers have plants very close to the plantations and are able to prepare the sap, pour the sap into the molds without using any chemicals to keep it in a liquid form, vulcanize it and rinse it. (They typically add 1%-3% zinc and,, or, soda ash in the processing stage. These plants near the plantation process the sap using the Dunlop method.

        The traditional Dunlop process has been used in latex manufacture since 1929. The thick rubber sap, or serum, is whipped into a froth in a centrifuge, poured into a mold, covered, and steam baked. Natural sediments in the mixture settle to the bottom of the mold. This makes every Dunlop layer slightly firmer on its bottom side.

        The other processing method is the Talalay method.The newer Talalay process adds two steps. After the latex is poured, the mold is sealed and the process is continued in a vacuum chamber. The mold is then flash-frozen before it’s baked. Talalay latex has a more consistent cell structure from top to bottom and edge to edge. It is also more expensive than Dunlop. All Talalay pieces wider than 40″ (Full or larger) are seamed with a safe, natural latex glue.

        Dunlop processed natural rubber is generally denser, heavier and more durable, If a natural latex manufacturer uses the Talalay method and processes the sap here in the States, it has to use more additives to keep it in its liquid form. What they use for additives is typically considered proprietary, which is the case with Latex International in Shelton Ct, the largest producer of synthetic foam as well as Talalay processed natural latex. I have found all of the Dunlop plants to be forthcoming with test results from independent labs regarding the exact contents of the natural latex rubber, but i have never had success getting this from Latex International because it is “proprietary”. Most of the U.S. mattress and furniture manufacturers who use Talalay processed natural latex rubber buy it from Latex International.

        Until recently, none of the makers of natural latex rubber went through the process of having their natural rubber certified as organic. Latex Green does now offer certified organic latex rubber. It obviously costs more than the natural latex rubber that is not certified. I know that EKLA HOME uses the certfied natural rubber and am not sure of any of the other non-toxic furniture maker in the States do.

        I hope this helps!!

      • Laura, it is my understanding that cotton batting does not pass the smolder test without the addition of boric acid for flame retardancy – – many offer the option to have a Dr’s Rx for the omission of such, but not necessarily all. I’m not an expert as are many who reply here – but I have spent over a year researching for bed and furniture and it’s been astounding/.overwhelming.

        There is a difference between Organic and Natural, these are fine lines indeed – Donna thanks for the details. I will attempt again in a few days to gather my references.

      • Hi Sally, Thanks, as always, for your insights. As far as I know, there is no smolder test nationally for sofas (in contrast to mattresses, where the CPSC has a smolder standard in place). Of course, the newly proposed CA rule goes in that direction, but that would only be for furniture sold in CA even once finalized. Theoretically, it seems to me, if someone, say, in OR or WA wants to sell a sofa to say, someone in MD, there’s no smolder or other test that would prevent the use of cotton batting (unless this choice somehow violates the implied warranty of merchantability, which I doubt). Is there something I’m missing here? All best, Laura

      • Well, all this stuff is durn confusing, anyway. You are such a treasured contributor to this blog, and I’ve learned so much from you and your research! I feel like we’re friends. Cheers, Laura

      • A couple of years ago when this quest began for me, there was not as much info available. My search began with GreenLiving.com – now DebraLynnDadd.com, which lead me to Shepherd’sDream.com and then HolyLambOrganics.com and SoaringHeart.com who are local for me. Each of these sites linked me off to vast pages of information. Each has information regarding the processes and benefits of each material they use. These ‘sister’ sites are a wellfont of information and I have no qualms about applying the same requirements to my living room furniture as I do my bed. While it has to be comfortable, it has to not make me sick. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and frankly the most beautiful things I have seen lately have been naked, natural, organic, and clean. No frills, no junk.
        I wanted to know where it all came from, wanted to see it, touch it, test it.

        Soaring Heart is indeed using Latex International Latex and the certifications state so, here is a video showing how latex is manufactured http://soaringheart.com/pages/latex. Other manufacturers are using varying methods, of course they all say theirs is the best.
        Talalay is softer, does not have the durability of Dunlop, yet will outperform polyfoam. Layering is the best way to get the most of these materials, of course it costs more – my head constantly hears the sound of ‘ka-ching’ these days..

        We all have to choose, do we suffer or kill the budget? What if we suffer while trying to perform cpr on budgets? They told us Ikea was ‘good’, but Laura and others know better now. They told us the chemicals would protect us, but instead they make us sick. That is far more important than what most of us have been thinking for a long time.

    • The wool that is used under below the upholstery fabric and over that natural latex rubber or springs is the natural flame retardant that allows the piece to pass the more stringent Cal TB133, which is an open flame test test for commercial or contract use. That is what EKLA HOME uses.

      I am not surpised that some smaller custom upholstery makers are just not in compliance do to low volume output the expense of testing process as well as ruining a sofa to conduct it.

    • Hi Ricky, In addition to the natural flame retardants used by some, I want to be clear that there is no national requirement for flame retardants. The rule ONLY applied to furniture sold in California. Unfortunately, because California is such a large market, the vast majority of national manufacturers made furniture that complied with the California rule. Now, however, that rule has been suspended by Governor, and they are re-writing it.
      Even though it is not in force at the moment, I would be shocked if major companies had redesigned their lines to omit the chemicals.
      But it’s certainly something we should press them to do! Why should we wait? We know California is rewriting the rule, so why should one more stick of furniture be sold that includes harmful chemicals from a now-obsolete rule. I will post on this soon — in the meantime, readers are invited to write to companies and tell them to drop harmful flame retardants, which are no longer required by any law.
      All best, Laura

      • Although it’s true that there is not a national law that requires FR chemicals be used in sofas inside our homes, the states and municipalities all have laws on the books that require upholstered furniture used in any public spaces (i.e., offices, theaters, restaurants, etc.) be able to pass local fire codes. That means that fabrics and foams used in those pieces are treated with FR chemicals.

      • Hi there! Thanks for your comment! That, to me, points out the magnitude of the job to convince folks that chemicals do not improve fire performance. Nonetheless, I don’t see why furniture manufacturers that sell products primarily for home use should not be pressured — now — to take these chemicals out of residential furniture, even in advance of the final new CA rule. More on this later!

      • I’m in California and in need of a new couch for my home. Does TB117 specifically require chemical FR’s? Or is it just too difficult to get the furniture to pass any other way, so the manufacturers add them?

        Donna mentioned TB133 above. I don’t understand if that is relevant – this couch would be for my home. Or does 133 supersede 177?

      • Hi Rick, TB117 imposes a test that, to meet it, requires manufacturers to use chemical FRs, but does not specifically require the FRs. But note that it has been suspended, pending the revision — sadly, that doesn’t mean that most makers have dropped the chemicals. The rule on public accommodations, as far as I am aware, has no applicability in the residential context. Given your location, your best bet is Robert Craymer, Eco-balanza, or some of the other green manufacturers — for some, like Viesso, you may have to special order and send a note. Hope that helps! All best, Laura

  28. Laura:
    EKLA HOME uses certified organic natural latex, certified organic wool, certified organic cotton, recycled steel springs, FSC hardwoods, and zero VOC adhesives and finishes. EKLA HOME uses NO chemical flame retardants, and has passed lab tests for CA 133 for contract use, which ensures compliance with CA 117 for residential use. None of the other manufacturers you mentioned use all of these certified organic ingredients. In many of the comments it is like comparing apples to oranges. EKLA HOME sells factory direct. Pricing is very fair for these premium ingredients, and not in the same $5k + range as the two companies you used in your comparison. Pricing for sofas starts at $2300.00 plus fabric. Prices are posted on the EKLA HOME website. Thanks!

  29. Yesterday I finally gave up and ordered a lovely sofa from Crate & Barrel because they at least use sustainable wood in the frame and “soybased polyfoam.” However, today’s paper (what timing!) made me re-think my decision. After reading yet another story about the ubiquity of flame retardants in our furniture, and the dangers within (see the Sunday, Sept. 9th, NYT magazine article: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/09/magazine/arlene-blums-crusade-against-household-toxins.html?_r=1), I’m going to cancel my order. I will call Ken at EcoSelect and go that route.

    The article said that Jerry Brown, governor of CA, has told the Bureau of Home Furnishings to revise TB 117 “so that chemical flame retardants are no longer mandated.” Instead, a different standard, called the “smolder standard” will be used. This new standard “tests whether furniture ignites if exposed to a smoldering cigarette…Focusing on the entire piece of furniture, rather than the foam, [would allow] manufacturers to use nonchemical solutions like barriers and less-flammable fabrics…” The new standard could possibly be in effect next year. Let’s hope!
    Cynthia
    p.s. Thanks for all your research, Laura!

    • Thanks so much Cynthia for the link and the great update. We’ll have to monitor the rewriting of the standard, and I definitely plan to stay involved in this! Keep us posted please on what you decide — these issues are so hard! All best, Laura

  30. I just wanted to provide an update on my sofa search. It ended yesterday and I’m tossing in the towel. We couldn’t make it last weekend to see the sofas by EcoBalanza, Tuesday I got an e-mail telling me that there were “several you can view right now”. I was so excited! Well we saw one loveseat at one store and another at yet another store – neither was I able to sit test due to the now trendy fifteen inch seat height which puts knees in agony. In short – I have nothing to report or assist others with.
    So – that’s it – I give up and am going back to my idea for a daybed – My frustration has weakened my resolve – I almost bough a used couch out of sheer desperation.
    I did want to point out though, back up the page reference was made to GreenNest and offerings for seating. The products offered there are Cisco Brothers design line with Rowena Finnegan of Eco Terrific – – it’s a good website, but not a different maker.

    I wish everyone luck – it will take twelve weeks for daybed to arrive and if you like I will send photos upon completion. Thanks so much for all this blog is providing -

    • Hi Sally,

      Sorry to hear that you’re back to the daybed, though I suppose that will work well for you! Thanks so much for filling us all in, and for the information on GreenNest. Cheers, and we would love photos!

      All best,
      Laura

    • Hi SallyS,
      I don’t know if you have settled on a sofa solution yet, but in reading your dilemma about seat hight I’d like to tell you that we bought a couch from Ecobalanza and Aimee made the couch height exactly right for us. My husband and I are tall and she measured our legs while sitting and made our couch exactly right for our legs. We visited her at her small factory in N. Seattle and it is really nice to see and touch and smell everything before buying (I am sensitive to a lot of chemical smells so they let me take home a bit of the latex etc. to make sure I’d be ok).

      • Becky – I have tried that route (made posts regarding) and determined that I prefer to work with someone who has a better grasp on appointments. Quality starts up front and I was not comfortable with this company early on.

  31. Thanks to everyone here for all the valuable (and hard to find) information! Wow. I was about to purchase a couch from Lee, but got to feeling sick about the fire retardants, so started looking harder into other options. Now I feel like I have two decent options: a couch from EcoSelect, which looks like it will cost about the same as what I was going to spend at Lee, or reupholstering a 1960s or early 70s couch that used to belong to my grandparents. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s any guarantee that the vintage couch is chemical-free; but it seems likely it is. Which leads me to fabrics…do most upholstery fabrics contain fire retardants?

    • Hi there, and welcome! My understanding is that some do (and that anti-stain treatments may contain similar, or similarly problematic, chemicals as well). So it will be important to ask, and to order “untreated” fabrics as you can. Also, please be aware that Heather Stapleton and other experts raise questions about whether reupholstering a sofa that may have the chemicals in it can expose you, all at once, to a far higher level than you might get exposed to through household dust. Sad, but true, so the older the better. Hope this is helpful! All best, Laura

      • Thanks! Yeah, I think the sofa in question may be too close to the dates in question for comfort…so I am excited about the EcoSelect option. One more thing, though, that I haven’t seen talked about: If California is changing the law, how far away are we from being able to buy flame retardant-free couches somewhat easily? Should I just wait a couple of years until I can buy one at Pottery Barn?

    • Sheila, while there may be no ‘guarantee’ that the older sofa has no chemicals in it – most of these chemicals had not been invented in the 60’s. Have a professional do the recovering if you can, but if you can’t then get a mask and toss the cushions away & start fresh with those. If you do it yourself, take it outside or in a garage where the particulates don’t float in your home.

      I have found that many fabrics do contains stain resistance and flame retardants, but not all and would certainly verify prior to purchasing. Fabric does not have to be labeled as ‘upholstery’ fabric, any heavy and or tightly woven fabric will work.

  32. Hi Laura
    Thank you for your blog. I am another mom who has been up all night trying to figure out what to do to make my home less toxic for my son and I. The more I learn the more sick to my stomach I get! Like others, I have educated myself on food, cleaning and bathing products and since pregnancy been very conscientiousness on what I eat and buy. I am at a stand still on what to do about this new area of toxins, I feel overwhelmed with the information (and the potential costs) of how to make my home safer for my 21/2 year old son. Like you, I just got rid of our Ikea couch and am currently couch-less. But on a single parent income find it really disheartening on where to go for a new couch. Have just signed all the petitions I could find. I know you have included some potential options for couches, but am now more concerned about our bed. I feel like getting rid of all our furniture! What do you think is a good place to start bed or couch? And if bed which kind? Wool, Latex etc…. Thanks so much for your support and everyone else’s posts. So good to not feel alone on this issue!

    • Before buying any mattress be sure and make contact with Lifekind. They are the most organic of any mattress I researched. The customer service is superior. The product is superior.
      Lifekind.com. I saved and saved and bought one, and now own a second and I have to say it is the best purchase I’ve ever made. The mattress, the wool cover, the pillows (different kinds) have all been fantastic. Oh, I am not wealthy, probably the opposite, but it is my life’s priority to have my home become as chemical free as possible. I feel I’m succeeding one small step at a time, sometimes with a year in between. Lots of good luck to you.

      • The search is getting easier thanks to sites like this and I learned an awful lot at http://www.debralynndadd.com/_blog . In a lousy economy it’s really painful on our personal budgets to try and be healthy, that’s what we’ve decided to call it – living healthy – but it takes a lot of green and that is giving a lot of us a green tinge.
        I so agree with Rita, we started with our bed – it made the most amount of sense – and am now working on sofa. I looked everywhere, high and low – ended up building our bed in stages, but am so happy we did. I’ve not tried Lifekind, instead I went with a company local to me, but they are online. Products are fabulous and prices are a bit less than Lifekind (I just totalled up same set and any way you look at it, five hundred dollars is still five hundred dollars for same thing). http://www.soaringheart.com I’m not affiliated, just in love with the products.
        The best thing is that once the budget recovers, we don’t have to do this again for a long time.
        LeonMama, I hope

      • Hi Sally and all, I reached out to Ecobalanza about whether or not they had a showroom — here’s what Aimee said:

        Hi Laura,
        Thank you so much for contacting me and letting me know about these conflicting reports. Indeed, I do not have a set showroom but show pieces at different showrooms in Seattle, such as Urbanata, Green Home Solutions and Slab Art (models on floor change). We encourage people who are in the area to visit our shop, so they have the opportunity to see and touch the materials and true sense of what goes into the sofas and how they are made. Let me know if this answers your question and if there is anything else I can assist you with. By the way, we just received our gorgeous shipment of organic cotton batting and it is to die for! So beautiful! We purchase directly from producers and have a woman in Oregon custom card it for us!
        Have a wonderful day and thank you for your great and thorough work!
        Sincerely,

        Aimee Robinson

      • Thank you Laura, I will let you know what I find – looks like a day in the city for us! I did ask about seeing items when I contacted Aimee, but that was close to a year ago – can you believe I’ve been doing this for so long? I was also overwhelmed and didn’t push it, but I am determined to get this right – ‘bulldoggin’ seems to require a lot of deep breathing and teeth gritting.

        This link is for above mentioned bed ideas and relates to this topic (tons of information) is a great resource – http://www.debralynndadd.com/BlogRetrieve.aspx?PostID=509094&A=SearchResult&SearchID=2386045&ObjectID=509094&ObjectType=55

    • Thank you so much Sally and Rita for your information will be looking into those resources, I think for now I will be getting a futon frame from Craigslist for a temp couch and am contemplating making the cushion myself (we’ll see how that goes!) And then in the meantime saving to buy a “chemical free bed” and like you Laura, have been told I need a Dr’s. note to get something totally chemical free from here in CA. So ridiculous! One thing to be weary of, I have found they use wool and/or organic cotton it doesn’t mean they don’t use fire retardants on that material. Also looked at a company Essentia.com (for mattresses) they have been featured on Oprah and Dr. OZ (go figure) based out of Canada but have a showroom in Berkeley, CA and they seem to be legit, but again need a Dr.’s note to get a truly chemical free product in CA budget conscious price category. In Canada the opposite is true, if you want fire retardants on your mattress then you need to request it!

      So taking some steps to rid my home from some of the toxins, Thank you all for your information it has been soo helpful. My son has been sick (congestion and cold like symptoms) fDr.s can’t seem to figure out why it has lasted for several months and my heart is heaving thinking our home and the toxins here could be the cause and have somehow weakened his immune system. In the meantime he drinks almost daily Kale smoothies and as much fruits and veggies and I can give him (thankfully he likes them). Hoping that it somehow builds up his immunity and he won’t be harmed by what I didn’t know before.

      Anyhow really hope more awareness and movement happens on this issue since so many are not aware of the toxins coming into their homes and the false “green” advertising out there. I have posted a few of the links I saw here for petitions on my FB and hope more will do the same. Wishing for a truly chemical free home! Thanks all!

      • LeonMama – Yes, a futon frame can be cushioned many ways. I tried the The Super EZ Sofa at Soaring Heart – it’s too low for me, but comfy with a deep seat. Pine frame, less than two hundred – White Lotus has some good options.

        The fire retardents are only added to some products, not all. Take a look at Shepherd’s Dream, SouthHard, Soaring Heart, and check the link to Debra Dadd. I looked & looked – it made me mad, made me cry, and still makes me want to make noise. Yes, some still use boric acid in ‘natural’ mattresses, but not all. If it has cotton batting – yes. There is a difference between cotton batting and cotton encasement. If only wool then not necessarily. I know it takes time and money, fries your patience. What I found about natural mattresses is that with a latex core, you really do have a lot of similarities between beds – try one here and there, but it does take work.
        I have also found that some more budget priced ones are layered with soy or polyfoam on top of the latex – this is deceptive and not good, in my humble opinion. FloBeds mattresses are adjustable – you can peel back the encasement and shift the layers – or exchange them. SavvyRest is similar.
        I’m so sorry your son is ill. I’ve had MCS my entire life, my immune system is toast – it wans, but does not disappear. I worry about my grandchildren now.

  33. Hi Laura…I have so enjoyed your 4 part blog on this topic! I’m a mom of two boys, ages 7 and 10, and, after 22 years of our old off-white couch and love seat (can you imagine what they look like at this point) I finally had my husband convinced and was just about to purchase 2 new couches (to face each other on either side of the fireplace) when the New York Times article on foam came out. Since having kids, we had become much more conscious of the products we bring into our home (all our mattresses are natural latex from Lifekind or Ecobaby, our curtains were made from a beautiful hemp fabric I bought, etc) and so I started searching the internet to find my options for a true eco-couch. And thus, the last 4 weeks I’ve gone down much the same path as you…I had to laugh…I’ve called that same phone number for the place in Laguna Beach whose web site looks so good (we are in Southern California) but the phone number is out of service, etc. My hesitation right now besides the price (ugh…I’m trying to get not 1 but 2 of these) is that I really like to sit on a couch before I buy it….to see how the cushions feel and even how the overall dimensions feel. At any rate, you gave me some new sources to check out, and I’ll keep checking back to see what you end up doing and to update on what we find.

    • Hi Carolyn! Welcome to the blog and I’m so glad you found the listings here useful Please let us know what you decide on new furniture — in part so that we all can benefit! Cheers, Laura

      • Hi Laura! Based on one of your links from part 4, I had a lovely, long talk with Rowena from Eco-Terric today. She is very knowledgeable on this topic and they have a lot of beautiful sofa styles that were between $3k and $4k. Best of all, I can get slipcovered (remember the 7 and 10 year old boys!) As I mentioned, we want to try some of them out first and she pointed me to a place in LA where we will be able to do so. Will update again after we try some.

      • Carolyn, I am interested in how this goes for you. I talked with Rowena several months ago, was planning a custom sofa and we got off to a great start and yet somehow in the middle of things the ball was dropped. My swatches never came and e-mails not responded to. After weeks of discussing fabrics, construction, and size I received dozens of e-mail fabric swatches. Vague pricing – changes in prices – then I was offered a chance to purchase a ‘gently used’ sofa for a mere 3,000 – after a few questions regarding dimensions – nothing. No response.
        I know that Cisco builds those sofas and now I have found other questions regarding their products. I hope your search is satisfactory.

      • Thank you so much for the heads up Sally. I’ll let you know how it goes for us. Ugh….it should not be this hard to buy a couch! Sitting cross-legged on our hard wood floor with no couches is actually starting to seem appealing. But I’m going to persevere for now….next up…my husband will be in LA where Cisco has a showroom and he can try sitting on some of the couches that can be made eco…we really want to try ours out first to check on the comfort, size etc in person. Sally if you know of other options for us in California, let me know!

      • Hi Carolyn, Agreed! He could also check out Viesso and RC Green, both of which are in LA. Links on the blog post — good luck and keep us in the loop please!

      • Hi – Just wanted to update – my husband was going to do a little couch shopping without me, but we decided I really need to be there too. So, planning to go together at end of July to 3 Los Angeles places: Cisco (to check out Rowena’s line), RC Green, and Viesso. Will update then how it goes and how they feel to sit in!! Note: I googled each to see if there were any public opinions, and there is one out there on RC Green that is not positive – someone who says they got the couch and tested it and it had chemicals in it. Hard to know if this one comment was for real, or from a competitor, you really can’t go from one comment….but it made me think….as mentioned in one of the earlier posts that perhaps suppliers do fib and that I’d love a way to test the couch once I get it to make sure it really is what it claims to be. Or perhaps I need to see written info from the suppliers. Or perhaps I need to just trust…hmmmm….interested in other’s thoughts….

      • Hi Carolyn, Thanks so much for this update. Would love to know how the products check out, and also that link about the issue with RC Green, which is featured so prominently in the post. I would also love a way to test the couch, but don’t know of one. It’s always best to verify, then trust IMHO! All best, Laura

      • Very concerned by this, obviously. I am looking into it and will update the blog when I have more information. Thanks so much for sending along the link. All best, Laura

        Update: I spoke with Robert Craymer about this. He believes that the complaint was invented by the boyfriend of his ex-wife as part of a custody battle about his son, and points to timing, which was during that period, and the strange personal details about his car as evidence. He cannot recall these customers, nor has anyone tried to return items. So that’s his side of the story.

        Because I’m lawyerly like that, I’ll note that I have no independent way of confirming or denying the accuracy of any of this, on either side, but am reporting what I have been told.

      • Hi – I wanted to give an update on our recent Los Angeles eco-couch shopping trip.

        Hi – wanted to give a short update on our recent LA shopping trip. We went to three places: Cisco Home, Viesso, and RC Green.

        – Cisco Home. They have the Basal line which seemed very eco. They told me that the foam has no flame retardents (I plan to get this in writing if we purchase here as nothing they showed me said it in writing). I found a good video on their web site about their green lines at http://www.ciscobrothers.com/Videos. (watch the one called “Inside Green”). We were very glad to be able to sit in multiple couches – my husband and I are both 5’7″ and we found that certain couches are just too big for us. We also found that we liked the natural latex wrapped in wool option over the latex wrapped with down (we personally don’t like the feeling of sinking in). The showroom had a nice model of a chair cut in half so you can see all the materials used inside. They told us we can choose any of their sofa styles and have it made in the eco options we choose. We are mulling over a particular sofa now and the quote is between $3k and $4k. We have ended up realizing that’s what we will probably need to pay for an eco couch…gulp…we keep reminding ourselves it’s made with better materials, by people getting a decent wage, and that we had our last couch for about 25 years and we’ll try to keep these even longer (getting slipcovers as I have kids). Leaning towards this company but does anyone have any input on Cisco Home?

        – We stopped by Viesso. However, we found all of the choices to be a bit too modern for us. Seemed a good option if your style is modern.

        – Our final stop was RC Green. Robert Craymer’s showroom is by appt only and he said soon it will probably be internet only. He said that’s the way the industry is going (sad for those of us who like to sit on the couch before buying). There were several sofas to try. We found one potential sofa there. He said he can build a sofa any way we want.

        On a side note re the smell of natural latex, we have a natural latex mattress – I never noticed a smell, my husband, who seems to be more sensitive to smells, says our mattresses did have a slight smell in the beginning, but it didn’t bother him as he knew what it was. Bottom line, we are ok with natural latex.

        That’s my update. No purchase yet. Still mulling and researching…

  34. Laura–haven’t checke your string in a while, but wanted to thank you for the postings-
    Sometimes the “perfect is the enemy of the good”–so want to re-emphasize that we continually follow the trends and what is available to make our products and processes “more” eco-friendly, since we all lilve in the same place–
    One comment above is correct in that there is almost no leather tanning done in the US and our tannery is in South America, and is a major supplier to the auto and aviation industries, which as you know both are very stringent in their requirements of their suppliers–since we are small, have relied on their certifications to insure our leather supplier is eco-friendly.
    To also re-iterate, our foam supplier is providing us with certification that when specified, the foam we use, has NO flame retardant chemicals added, and does not meet the CA TB 117 requirements. Also, to support the foam industry for a minute,. all the foam manufacturers are exquistely aware of which chemicals are known or suspected carcinogens and are working diligently to remove those materials from their foams–to my knowledge, there are no PBDE’s, (or their close compounds,Octa or Deca bromated FR’s), CFC’s, or TRIS in any polyeurathane foams that are manufactured in the US today. All bets are off when it comes to imported upholstery–and regrettably, that includes many of the largest brand names in the market.
    I applaud your petition effort, but the articles I have been following in the trade press, lead me to believe that there will be lots of hand wringing about the FR issue, but not much will happen to repeal the requirements in the near future, Especially since the CA lawmakers have much more pressing (to them) issues to deal with right now.
    As always, I stand ready to answer any questions I can or to research for answers–
    Ken Fonville
    EcoSelect Furniture

    • Hi Ken, Thanks so much for these comments about your line at Eco-select. It’s always interesting to hear from someone who is trying to do this as a practical matter, and I appreciate the reassurance on your supplier specifically. In terms of whether California will change the rule, I will have to disagree. There’s a lot of pressure in the state to do so, and it may be that the governor could even basically do it by executive order, more or less. So I think both my little petition effort and the other efforts by groups are really important to keep the heat on! All best, Laura

      • And in fact, that is what happened! The Governor has ordered the state to revise the rule, so now we will need to make sure that process comes out well for consumers, and less well for the chemical industry!

  35. I know, I know! The answer to this: “Still, I’m really interested in the question I asked above — do you know of customer experiences with latex re comfort and durability?”

    In answer to this question, I wish you could come and sit on my sofa from Ecobalanza! It is latex with a wool wrap. It is NOT LUMPY, not a bit, not even slightly and it is really comfortable. Why would it be lumpy, does the person suggesting lumpiness think that the wool is taken straight from the sheep and bunched up inside the furniture? That is ridiculous.

    Seriously. Are you planning a trip to Seattle anytime soon? If so, you are invited!

    I posted a long reply on an earlier portion of your Sofa Saga and compared my current excellently-natural sofa to my previous Eddie Bauer conventional sofa. The foam in the conventional sofa broke down. Especially the back cushions which went from over-stuffed top flat in less than 8 years. Yes, it got a lot of use, but what happened to all that fluffy foam? I hope it didn’t turn into smaller and smaller particles that puffed out of my cushion, but I suspect that’s what did happen.

    Meanwhile, my grandmother had a sofa from the fifties. It is super cool with natural latex cushions and a crazy green flower brocade fabric. It cost a fortune, we found the receipt and she paid $2,371.00 in 1957 (I think you could buy a house for that). It got a lot of use in a very sunny room and was still comfortable in the 70’s and into the 80’s. By the late 80’s the latex in some of the cushions had gotten hard and some of the springs were wearing down. A friend of mine still has this couch and is still sitting on it (it is really cool, did I mention it is curved?). Although the cushions are not very soft, they are still the same size as they were when the couch was new. The latex has not yet become dust. The springs, however are in really bad shape and the fabric is faded and badly frayed in several places

    In my previous post I also said that I like that my couch came from a factory that doesn’t have any components with flame-retardants in them. There was no way for a factory worker to put the wrong thing in my couch, because they only had all the right stuff from the start.

    • Laura,

      I will enjoy taking some time to see what you and others are finding and sharing.

      Regarding latex, my mattress and the one for my second bedroom are both latex from the tree and I am so pleased. I now sleep so well and wake feeling so good. I’m older and think it is never too late to live healthy. I believe these will be excellent for years to come, for the rest of my life is my plan. I want the same material in my couch cushions, plus organic cottons and wools where padding is needed.

      Thank you!

    • Becky,

      I loved reading your story about your grandmother’s couch. That really gives me even more confidence that my organic mattresses will last forever. Makes me think even stronger about my couch becoming an investment for my healthier future.

    • Hi Becky! Thanks so much for your incredibly kind and generous offer. If I ever make it out your way, I’ll certainly let you know! I’d love to see your couch. All best, Laura

    • I’m behind on posts, having just discovered your blog – a thousand thank yous for all the information and honesty.
      Latex – well, I was extremely skeptical about the stuff. I have an intense contact allergy to latex, why would I want to sleep on it? Why on earth would I want a rubber mattress or seat cushion? I hit a major turning point with my MCS (multiple chemical sensitivities) when we moved into a “green’ building and suddenly neither of our beds worked for me. I will happily offer details but don’t want to derail this topic.
      Long story short we made a drive for a couple of hours and did some testing on both latex and wool – brought home samples to test for tolerance (had found great advice for this).
      My husband and I love this bed so much – the comfort is amazing and we spend more evenings lounging on the bed than in our loiving room. A latex cushion should be wrapped in a quantity of wool or cotton (cotton batting gets hard and I can’t tolerate the smell of organic cotton batting) and I was still terrified to cough up the cash for it all – desperation was the driving factor. I found so many bogus claims to healthy beds – was blown away at how much time and effort it took to get things tracked down and decided upon. Cost was and is a shocker – but consider that time frame when you don’t have to go hunting a replacement and the idea mkes sense – by the time we saved up the 4k I was in tears when they delivered the bed. Sheer gratitude – something I wake with every day now.

      Our latex mattress is organic – yes I’ve seen the certification. The wool may not be totally organic, but as many have stated – we have to make choices. If you have a wool allergy, consider that most wool allergies are contact and the majority of those actually are due to the processing of the wool and not neccesarily the wool itself.

      I have to agree with the statement of the ‘sins’ and think I’m just another who is sick and tired (literally) from all the greenwacshing and the cavalier way chemicals are dumped into our lives without our knowledge or consent.

      Comparing the sitability of latex compared to polyfoam; it’s a comparable sit – but that also depends on the quality of polyfoam that you are accustomed to sitting on. Some are firmer than others. Soy based foams seem to be a bit firmer to me. Latex again is so incredibly similar in feel – the wool wrap allows it to breathe therefore you aren’t exactly sitting on rubber. A sofa cushion could have any number of wraps, each with it’s own set of +’s or -‘s.
      Smell of latex does indeed vary from manufacturer and some Dunlop does have a rubbery smell that reminded me of a tire store. Organic latex is a limited supply and you don’t have to ask if it costs more – yes it does. Another form of latex is Talalay has some chemical additives to process, resulting with a smell similar to a vanilla wafer. Smell bothers some – however many bothersome things have no smell.
      I would urge you to get some samples of latex – and any other item you consider to have for testing your tolerance.
      Bottom lne here is that now that I have a latex mattress I intend to have latex upholstered pieces from now on will be the same.

      • Thanks so much for this terrific information, Sally. I know I and others are really looking for data on the consumer experience, and this kind of personal story is really invaluable. Please let us know what you decide on furniture, and what you think of it! All best,
        Laura

      • I think it’s fair to say that latex is a bit springier than polyfoam, but again it will depend on type and density. Agree the modern styles do look firm and would be – as I would told by one manufacturer the tight looking seat and back will be ‘springier’ – they’re designed that way and for softness a layer of ‘fluff’ needed. Wool batting can take an impression over time, though I frankly think lumpy is a ‘not’, and a wool mattress will take a deeper impression.

        We discussed this even further and have agreed that our idea for a daybed makes so much sense for us that’s the way we will go. For us it will be easier to keep clean, easier to move, and easier to change the color/texture and tweak the details. No upholstery to fret over and I can stash baskets or whatever underneath it. It suits our lifestyle and my cottage home.

        This is how we are going to do it. I’m ordering an Amish Daybed frame, a country french style – but there are gobs of daybeds out there – I prefer this route for many reasons & think some are obvious. I have two local companies that I will coordinate with on details. I will then have Soaring Heart make me a twin mattress of the same organic latex as our bed. To that we will add a Talalay topper and a wool fleece topper from Holy Lamb Organics – I love this stuff. Then we will have a futon cover made to fit, first will be organic cotton ticking stripe. I will not be trying to cover it all up, no skirts draping or ‘frou frou’, rather letting the piece speak for itself. For lumbar support I’ll use wool body pillows and matching cover, then will pile assorted sizes of wool pillows around. I’m head over heels in love with the wool bolus pillows – washable, clumps of wool that are maleable like down and yet far better in my opinion. Not lumpy, but nobody uses these for furniture. I’m going to take advantage of those little clearance items with minor flaws on some things to save money, an off size body pillow or mattress pad with a snag. I’m going to do my best to keep the total under 4k and it’s close.
        This same sort of thing can be done with less costly fillers, a less spendy frame, but I’m simply not in the mood to compromise this time.

        I like the idea of playing with my furniture, we’ve had sofas, still have a loveseat and chairs that will eventually go, but am intrigued by the playful aspect of being able to change the entire look for just a few hundred dollars for new covers. I may have to wait for the cover at first and just toss a quilt over it. I may have to wait a bit for pretty pillow covers, but I have pillows. I will know exactly what’s in it, on it, and where it comes from. I know I will love it because we love our bed.

        LOL – the idea of spending another twenty years with a singular style seems a bit much to me at this point also. Originally my budget was 2k, you’ve seen what that will get me. I upped it and upped it again – the compromise has been the waiting.

      • Thanks so much for all this great detail! And please let us know how it goes — sounds like it will be comfortable and beautiful. And I also love the idea of being able to change up the covers! Brilliant! Cheers,
        Laura

  36. I am so happy to have accidentialy found this blog. I have purchased two organic mattress and foundation sets from Lifekind to get my home more organic. Now I want to do the same on a couch and chair, but I’m at a dead end. I have put a price tag on my purchase and am not sure I can do any better than Pottery Barn. I’ll take the time in the next few weeks to follow and catch up on this blog by also looking at the links. Most all of my furniture is solid wood in the antique range, bought very inexpensively, so guess I should spend more and get healthier soft furniture.

  37. Hi Laura: The data about women who work at home having a 54% greater chance of getting cancer is one that I got from http://unsafehome.com/ (and others). However, in trying to find the original study for you I could only find other companies – most with a product to sell – repeating that same sentence over and over. I think I’ll ditch that particular statistic (and shame on me for not verifying thoroughly)! But I don’t think that means we should overlook the variety of other equally surprising statistics (such as the fact that women who work in textile mills that produce acrylic fibers have 7 times the incidence of breast cancer than the normal population ) which point to increases of disease in industrialized countries . Early and better detection doesn’t offset the rate and size of these increases – something else, we think, has to be going on (and we think it’s synthetic chemicals). Actually I try to draw attention away from FR chemicals, for example, because the media is all over that right now, to focus on the fact that FR chemicals are just one in a very long list of chemicals used in textile processing.
    I do have the list of sofa prices you asked for, and tried to put it in my Excel chart onto the comment page, but the comment site wouldn’t accept it. I’ll try again below, where I list the manufacturer’s name and the name of the sofa I used for comparison (if it doesn’t work, please email me at info@oecotextiles.com and I’ll send you the information). I tried to use the base (or lowest) price for each sofa type. Most of these prices can be corroborated online or by calling a local retailer:

    manufacturer sofa name width in inches base price
    George Smith 17475 78 $10,000.00
    Baker 6305-89 72 $8,670.00
    Ralph Lauren 800-01 91 $6,495.00
    Ligne Roset Belem 83 $6,300.00
    Hickory Chair 9th Street Sofa 88 $5,700.00
    Ligne Roset Rive Droit 63 $4,600.00
    Century Furniture Vincent 80 $4,365.00
    Baker 66945 85 $3,993.00
    Lee Furniture 1017-03 80 $3,870.00
    EKLA home Camille 84 $3,300.00
    Mitchell Gold Bob Williams Charlotte 85 $2,700.00
    Restoration Hardware Lancaster 84 $2,700.00
    Thomasville Mercer small 80 $2,500.00
    Drexel Heritage Bond 78 $2,700.00
    Ethan Allan Avanti 75 $1,700.00
    Crate & Barrel Barrington 78.5 $1,700.00
    Pottery Barn Landon 88 $1,500.00
    Eco Select South Beach 79 $1,500.00
    La Z Boy Talbot 78.5 $1,460.00
    Bassett CU2 80 $1,179.00
    Lane Campbell 85 $1,150.00
    Broyhill Redford 80 $900.00
    Macy’s Remo Fabric 88 $900.00
    IKEA Karlstad 80 $600.00

    The variables that go into making any sofa are considerable; here is what Tony Shintani, owner of Benchmark Upholstery Ltd., in Edmonton, Alberta, has to say about the industry:
    Almost all upholstered furniture made here in Canada in the 1960s was manufactured using maple, alder or birch hardwoods that were dowelled, glued, and screwed. There were also quality control inspectors that went around to all manufacturers and custom shops inspecting all upholstered furniture, making sure that the right products were used (high-quality foams, springs, fabrics) and that trained upholsterers were finishing the pieces according to the highest quality recyclable standard.
    Today in 2012, nearly all of the same furniture is manufactured off-shore and sold in Canada by the majority of the box stores. Upholstered pieces are made with 90% particle board/ MDF board, with no dowels, watered-down glue, and very few screws to hold the wood joints together. Also there are high levels of V.O.C.s/toxins in the fabrics, foams, frames, and there are no springs used in the lower priced, mass-quantity upholstered furniture. The consumer is being fooled into believing that they are buying safe, good quality furniture, that it’s the same today as it was yesterday. Many companies still use the brand name approach, banking on the public’s belief that an old name is a guarantee of Canadian-made quality when, in reality, the product is made overseas with no concern for any of the issues affecting our consumers.
    I’m sorry that you found my language accusatory – I admit to being stiff and academic but I really don’t mean to come across as accusatory, because I believe you can always catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. In my defense, I only used the word “sin” because that’s what TerraChoice uses in their “Six Sins of Greenwashing” – calling it the “sin of fibbing” or the “sin of vagueness”. See http://www.terrachoice.com/files/6_sins.pdf. I refer to the Six Sins so often that I forget other people may not have heard of it.
    As to comfort, that’s another variable fraught with choices. When I reupholstered a loveseat recently, I also wanted to make sure the cushions were soft, the kind you’d sink into, with a lot of loft. The upholsterer went into the many choices I had of wrapping the foam (whether latex or polyurethane) – I could choose from cotton batting, wool batting, Dacron batting or a down envelope! And then there’s the quantity of batting used – one wrap or two? The construction of the cushion is apparently important as to whether it’s sinkable – the foam or latex is just the first step.
    And I really believe you must define for yourself what “affordable” means, since it’s obviously different for everybody. I was not trying to be anything but direct. Too many variables go into that choice for me to be able to tell you what “best” would be. What’s best for me might not be for you. Our aim is just to give you as much information as we can so you can make an informed choice.
    I do admit to having been merciless to RCGreen because I am so tired of manufacturers claiming vague eco credentials and establishing themselves as a voice to help people make safe decisions – when there is no evidence to back up their claims nor is there any educational value in their marketing to help people come to a reasoned conclusion. Unlike you, I did not find anything on his web site which identified why his sofas might be a good, safe choice so I was not willing to translate his statements into “good intentions”. I see his unsubstantiated claims as undermining the ethical foundations of business, whose end result is to lose the trust of the public.
    One of the FTC criteria for legitimate advertising claims is that of substantiation – meaning providing reliable evidence to supports claims. We long ago thought that we would offer transparency, and have worked hard, through our blog and in our product declarations, to educate people on the issues that are important so they will be better prepared to make safe choices they say they’re looking for. We’re thrilled to find manufacturers with character who do the right thing when nobody’s looking – and we’ll happily point you toward them. (Harmony Arts, Organic Leather and EcoBalanza are some that come to mind immediately.) We have third party certification when we can, and we try to let people know exactly what that means – and when we don’t have it we’ll let you know that too. But to have a cavalier approach such as the one shown on the RCGreen website is beyond the bounds of what I consider moral behavior – his wide, sweeping generalizations of how he is going to “clean up the world and turn it “green”” is a bit hard to take. (Didn’t one of the reply comments suggest you ask him for a written declaration of his FR-free foam, which he claims he has? I would especially like to see that. )
    In the end, it is this kind of vagueness which, I believe, leads to consumer distrust of green claims. Hard working companies, who pay extra for each non-mainstream item (such as water based stains, organic fabrics and latex cores) end up having a product that costs more yet appears to offer the same benefits as the lower priced product that doesn’t really offer the same benefits. This hurts us all because illegitimate claims take the market share away from products that do offer legitimate benefits, which slows the spread of real environmental innovation. It also leads to cynicism and doubt about all environmental claims – and consumers may just give up. These companies just muddy the waters for us all – because when buyers throw their hands up in confusion we all lose.

    • I really deeply appreciate the thought and care in this reply — and have learned a ton from our dialogue. Thanks so much for your work in this area. I will add a note in the main text to reference this conversation and the issues it flags. And I hope you saw I added your site to my blogroll!

  38. You make a good point that we can’t wait for perfect – green is a process, and I totally agree.
    But since you say your central consideration is the “environmental health of stuff “ in your home I am surprised that you would consider using polyurethane foam, or soy/polyurethane foam, since you know that the stuff used to make it is carcinogenic (see my earlier reply). Whether a carcinogenic material is free of fire retardant doesn’t make it any less carcinogenic. Add to that the fact that the polyurethane foam degrades over time – it oxidizes (chemicals evaporate) so you breathe them in. That’s my first point: the stuff is simply not healthy for children and other living things. Comparing polyurethane (or soy) foams to latex in terms of usability:
    POLYURETHANE:
    • Polyurethane doesn’t breathe, so is hot in summer and clammy in winter.
    • The life of the product is fairly short, 5 – 10 years (depending on the grade used), after which it breaks down and loses resiliency;
    LATEX:
    • Cell structure is much more open than manufactured foams, making it cool in summer and warm in winter.
    • Life of this foam is well beyond 20 years.
    So the latex lasts twice as long as polyurethane and is more comfortable to live with. It’s not made of chemicals which are known to cause cancer, which oxidize in your home so you can breathe then in. Yet you prefer the polyurethane foam to latex? The issue of getting a soy foam without fire retardants is a different issue entirely.
    Before getting to actual prices of comparable sofas, I wanted to make a case for the reason the component parts cost a bit more than standard components. Each time we request a product that is not mainstream, there will be upcharges. (I’m speaking from experience, because I just bit the bullet and ordered natural latex for a loveseat I am reupholstering. And it cost me an additional $340 for two small cushions – just for using latex rather than polyfoam! Ouch.) It is very hard for small manufacturers to produce a totally safe product, while at the same time matching prices for conventional pieces. And the three companies we seem to be comparing (Eco Select, RC Green and Ekla Home) are all small custom manufacturers.
    Consider what you get in return for your relatively small investment in a safe piece of furniture:
    • You and your family will not have to live with fabrics containing chemicals which have been proven to cause harm – chemicals which are often outlawed in other products – because the fabric is produced to the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS).
    • The wood from FSC certified forests guarantees that wood comes from sustainably managed forests, which helps stabilize climate change. (Deforestation is one of the leading causes of greenhouse gas emissions).
    • Your cushions of latex will last twice as long as polyfoam, be easier to live with and will not be a source of oxidizing chemicals which are known to cause cancer.
    • The water (averaging over 500 gallons for each sofa produced) used to make the fabrics is treated before release, so the 33 pounds (average) of chemicals used to make the fabrics is not released into our groundwater.
    • Soils used to grow the organic fibers in the fabric have been renewed rather than depleted, and by supporting organic agriculture you’ve conserved water, mitigated climate change and ensured biodiversity.
    • Your health costs will assuredly go down if you don’t happen to get any of the diseases that the chemicals used in the production of the fabric, wood stains, glues, and foam are known to cause.
    In answer to your question about whether there are affordable options, let’s go to specifics. I did some quick research to find comparable pricing for sofas, picking sofas that look relatively similar and which were close to 80” in width, having two cushions and upholstered in fabric. I used the base, or lowest, price for all the sofas because as you know the choice of fabric and other variables makes a true comparison very difficult and can lead to very expensive results. I found that the lowest priced sofas averaged $1182 each, the next group averaged $1590 per sofa, then the averages were $2650, $4207 and finally $6791 for the highest priced group (which are not the most expensive sofas on the market, by a long shot). I identified the manufacturers in each group (both Baker and Ligne Roset appear twice since they both have an “affordable” collection). This is what I found:

    There is a big jump between the lower priced group (priced on average at $1590) and the next group (priced at $2650). And many of the conventional sofas claim eco credentials, but their credentials are mostly limited to using soy foam and hardwoods. The Ekla Home sofa, at $3248, is less than $600 more than the sofas in the $2650 group – yet provides all the benefits listed above. It is fully credentialed – i.e., it has a full variety of certification standards.
    Looking at it a different way, the monthly cost of a $1500, 10 year sofa is slightly more than that of a $2700, 20 year sofa – $12.50/month for the first and $11.25/month for the second . But they’re both a bit less than the cost of one latte per week. So I guess you need to define for yourself what “affordable” and “ordinary price” means.
    With regard to your question about whether the chemicals used in fabrics affect users directly vs. simply damaging the environment : my easy answer is to agree with David Suzuki, who told us to remember that we ARE the environment. But that’s a bit flip, so:
    According to the National Cancer Institute, women who work at home have a 54% greater risk of dying from cancer than those who work elsewhere – because of their increased exposure to household chemicals and poor indoor air quality. Why do you want to increase your exposure at home? But in answer to your question, the chemicals used in textile dyestuffs, especially, are designed NOT to wash or wear out. If they did, you sure would return the clothing or sheets or sofa, wouldn’t you? Dyes are among the most toxic of the chemicals used in textile processing, and they remain in the fibers – lead, mercury, copper, cadmium, and nickel. And these don’t evaporate, but they do become available to us through our skin – and also because each time you sit on a couch, microscopic particles of fabric are abraded and fly into the air, to be breathed in. Other chemicals are used in fabric finishes of all types – for example formaldehyde resins are on almost all cotton/poly sheet sets sold in the USA – as well as things such as optical brighteners (so the whites and light colors look really white or bright) or softeners. In fact, about 10 – 100% of the weight of the fabric IN CHEMICALS is used to make that fabric. And the final fabric is by weight about 25% chemicals from processing. So you’re playing Russian roulette if you don’t know what chemicals have been used in the fabrics you live with. The real concern, and what I believe is what prevents this from becoming a media sensation, is that the correlation between fabric and eventual disease is hard to draw, especially since the diseases often don’t appear for many years – or even several generations. But we should take careful stock of our environment. Do you wonder why cancer rates have almost doubled since 1960? It’s not just cancer – asthma has increased 600% since 1960 and ADD/ADHD is now epidemic. Allergies. Headaches. Fertility problems. Nervous system disorders. In 1924 there were only 24 cases of endometriosis in the world. Today over 5 million women have that condition.
    I could go on. But it is clear that our world is filled with chemical stressors – and textiles are one of those stressors. I think that anything we can do to limit our exposure can only do us good in the long run.
    And finally, your explanation that RCGreen is/might be “environmentally” aware because he’s letting customers determine the content of items, I have to say that I think that is highly irresponsible. Customers cannot, without a lot of effort and study, know the issues in as complicated a product as a fabric, let alone an upholstered piece of furniture! I think he’s committing the “sin of vagueness” as defined by Terra Choice in their “Six Sins of Greenwashing” – which is that a claim is so poorly defined or broad that its real meaning is likely to be misunderstood by the intended consumer.

    • Thanks so much again for this wealth of really helpful information. Your expertise is clear. Do you have on your blog the listing of the sofas and price points you examined? It would be so useful for comparison!

      You make a ton of excellent points. I gather that for you, the best sofa is a latex rubber with an organic fabric from a company such as Eklahome. You’re right that their prices are not THAT far out-of-line with other furniture, but they do start in the mid-2000s: http://www.eklahome.com/price-list/ (I do find their designs a bit plain for all that money). Are their fabrics free of the harmful dye sources you describe? I couldn’t find anything about that on their Web site. In terms of certifications, they do seem to be greener than most companies I reviewed.

      I would be very interested in the National Cancer Institute cite regarding the risks of staying at home. That’s an amazing statistic, and I would love to see the underlying study.

      Of course, I agree with you that we likely have a very poor understanding of the relationships between chemicals in everyday products and health. And I really do appreciate your comments. In the interests of fostering real dialogue, I also do have to say, respectfully, that the way you replied was fairly loaded with accusatory language, and I think heavy-handed terms like “sin” are a bit much here.

      For example, I raised concerns about the comfort of sitting on rubber, having never seen/felt a latex-based sofa, and in doing so I was not ignoring your point about polyurethane so much as expressing doubts about ordering an unreturnable sofa for thousands of dollars based on a product I have never seen or sat on. If it’s not comfortable, and even the Eklahome ones look a little stiff to me, I’ll be quite upset by the purchase. The information I’ve gotten from folks on this point is contradictory, actually, as you and another commenter appear to think latex is fine (though you didn’t respond directly to the comfort question), while the furniture makers report issues with durability and consumer satisfaction. For example, can you “sink into” a latex sofa? Is it flexible? Or does it feel like the ones in a waiting room?

      And lines like this one: “So I guess you need to define for yourself what “affordable” and “ordinary price” means.” — are pretty off-putting. Are you being sarcastic? I was asking a genuine question, in a spirit of exploration and understanding. On the point on price, I agree with you as well that greener products are often — though not always — a more durable investment. But we simply could not afford a fully “green” house — including all furniture, carpets, food, linens, mattresses, etc. Even things that pay for themselves over the long term can be an affordability challenge up-front. We have to pick and choose. And honestly, I can’t imagine wanting to have a sofa around for 20 years, even if it pays to do so in both environmental and other ways.

      For example number 2, you’re fairly merciless about RCGreen, both in this post and your last one, despite what I read to be his genuine good intentions. I read him as operating like most custom manufacturers — based on demand — and I, for one, appreciate his flexibility and availability.

      I’m all for calling BS on actual BS when it appears to be motivated by greed, but I think haughtiness is misplaced — and is off-putting to an audience primed for information on greener alternatives — when directed at those merely seeking to understand, or to make items that do, in fact, do better by consumers, even if in smaller ways than would be ideal. A more friendly tone directed at some possible fellow travelers would go a long way.

      • Two Postscripts:

        I was fascinated by the notion of an environmental health penalty for stay-at-home moms, given the intersection of my interests in feminism and environmental health. But you may be interested to learn that, insofar as the National Cancer Institute study is concerned, the cite to NCI at least appears to be a Web phantom. While cited on many Web sites, none of them link back to any study at all, and the NCI site does not have anything remotely related on it. There does appear to be some other cites, from earlier, to a presentation by consultants at the 1990 Toronto Indoor Air Conference, that was a 15-year study with this conclusion, but I can’t find that version of the study or even the full proceedings of the conference anywhere, including PubMed. If anyone else knows about this study, I’d be keenly interested to see the full conclusions and methodology.

        On another topic, I spoke with Robert at RCGreen further on the fillings question. I asked whether latex sofas are cushy and comfortable. He said, “They’re not. They’re rubbery, and have an odor.” This continues to give me real pause, as I really prefer a sink-into-it kind of sofa seat.

      • My thoughts on the comment from RC Green about rubbery and smell. The latex should be wrapped in layers of batting, wool or cotton or kapok, and that allows breathability and softness.. Add to that a layer of either feathers/down or even more wool and there is a nice loft. My sit preference is to sit in something, rather than on it – Latex comes in different levels of firmness – referred to as ILD – and that has a lot to do with the response or ‘sitability’. Not all latex is created equal.
        Dunlop can often have a rubber smell, yet I found no such thing with our organic Dunlop mattress. I did request samples – tested each piece of latex and wool individually beside my bed for weeks to test for trouble. What trace of odor there was dissipated very quickly and frankly was overtaken by the smell of the wool (I’m a country girl and like that – but it too fades away).
        Talalay latex is more chemically processed, has same ILD ratings, yet tends to be softer due to a more open cell structure, it has a shorter lifespan but longer than polyfoam. We added a two inch thick Talalay topper to our firm organic latex mattress – but I have to tell you that I find even the mattress itself a vast improvement over our old beds. So I have 6″ firm latex, 2″ softer topper, along with a 1 1/2 inch thick wool fleece topper – it sits great and we are having a hard time justifying not repeating this process with a daybed in our living room instead of a sofa.
        I have heard so many negative responses about latex, yet they seem to always come from those who offer other options….. hmmmmm = I will only go with a manufacturer who uses only the ‘good stuff’ and not those who offer to substitute. It’s just to risky in my opinion.

  39. Sounds like they’re doing a good job! I support regulation for a lot of things, but it’s nice when market pressure creates changes too :) Thanks for looking into that and sharing!

  40. Hi Laura: I read your post about finding two companies which produce truly safe upholstered furniture. I am always interested in finding such companies, so I took a look at the websites. But I have some concerns about both, identified below:
    Eco Select:
    In checking the website for Eco-Select Furniture, Mr. Fonville may be very well-meaning, yet his products, in terms of safety for yourself and your family as well as protection of our environment, are not up to the standards that exist elsewhere in the market. For starters, none of the certifications he mentions are recognized by any national or international impartial body, so we can’t evaluate whether the information is unbiased or substantive, and one of them is definitely a second-party certification (see our blog post: http://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/2011/07/13/how-do-i-know-a-fabric-is-green/ ) but let me be a bit more specific:
    First, the fabrics he offers (because I do know about fabrics):
    LEATHER. First I have to take issue with your response to KIamellia who asked how you can help her understand how leather can be eco. Your argument is that because you eat meat and wear leather shoes you can’t take issue with using leather. You can continue to do that, because leather can be produced organically (see http://www.organicleather.com/organic_leather_white_paper.pdf ) using natural wood smoke and oils, but recently the introduction of synthetic chemicals to speed the process has resulted in an environmental disaster. Most leather, conventionally processed, just contributes to environmental degradation, and contains chemicals you don’t want to live with. But the only way to push the industry to adopt organic methods is to ask for, demand, organic leather.
    1. The process of tanning leather and finishing it (regardless of type) is nasty business and uses a number of harmful chemicals and carcinogens. That’s a major reason why 95% of USA tanneries moved overseas and old tannery sites cannot be used for agriculture or built on or even sold. Check out this YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4A6siB9B4Ak
    2. The web site says they use semi-aniline dyed top grain leather, and the tannery recycles all liquids used in the process. But they don’t say where this terrific tannery is to be found or whether the dyestuff contains any toxic ingredients. Some aniline and semi-aniline dyes are considered toxic. It’s not just the tanning process that uses noxious substances – other steps in the process of turning skin into leather (such as dehairing and defleshing) are very chemically intensive. Do they use sodium sulphide, formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde, sulphuric acid, or arsenic?
    3. “All leather comes from a source which is ISO 14001 certified, which means we don’t use harsh chemicals or metals in the tanning process, and all waste is either recycled or disposed of properly.” ISO 14001 is not a blueprint for what can/cannot be done in a manufacturing facility, so unless the tannery has instituted their own restrictions on “harsh” (how defined?) chemicals or metals and what constitutes proper disposal this is a misnomer.
    HEMP:
    1. It’s the processing of the fabric where the chemical use is most egregious, and the Eco Select fabrics are not advertised as being processed to GOTS standards, nor is wastewater mentioned. Because it takes about 600 gallons of water to produce fabric for one sofa, the process chemicals (which easily can be 50% of the weight of the fabric, or 33 lbs. of chemicals) are returned to our groundwater if the wastewater is not treated. See our blog posts: http://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/2011/09/02/global-organic-textile-standard/ and http://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/2011/10/05/why-use-organic-fabrics-for-your-new-baby/

    2. And a finished fabric is about 23% residual synthetic chemicals by weight, so are the chemicals used in processing safe for your family?
    3. Eco Select implies that the hemp fabric is dyed with vegetable dyes – if so, what mordant is used that is both nontoxic and provides a colorfast finished product?
    4. Various LCA’s (see Patagonia and Timberland, for example) have found that transportation is only a very small portion of the total embodied energy of a fabric, because the resource is so energy dense. So this is a red herring.
    WOOD:
    The wood used is not FSC certified wood. See our blog post to discover why this is such a terribly important consideration. (http://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/2010/01/13/what-kind-of-wood-is-best-for-your-new-green-sofa/)
    SOY FOAM:
    Soy foam is simply 20% of the polyol portion of polyurethane, which is made equal parts of polyol (made using methyloxirane) + toluene diisocyanate (TDI). Both methyloxirane and TDI are carcinogens. So the soy replaces 20% of 50% – or 10% of the polyurethane. If you added 2 soy creamers to a 20 oz. latte, is that a soy-based latte? What they’re really selling is polyurethane with a touch of soy for marketing purposes.
    Polyurethane foam is so flammable that it’s known as solid gasoline. Yet Eco Select identifies his soy foam as being certified by Certipur (a certification of the Alliance for Flexible Polyurethane Foam), which advertises it does not use PBDE flame retardants. (This by the way, according to TerraChoice, is one of the sins of greenwashing.) But according to your blog, Mr. Fonville says he can get foam without the flame retardant upon request. So that must mean that the foam is produced with another one of the brominated flame retardants which are just as toxic as PBDE – probably DecaBDE.
    Other objections to using soy foam is that it cannot be recycled, and it introduces a whole new universe of concerns such as pesticide use, genetically modified crops, appropriation of food stocks and deforestation. See more at our blogs: http://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/2010/01/20/foam-for-upholstery-cushions/; http://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/2010/01/27/does-soy-based-foam-deliver-on-its-promise/
    RCGREEN:
    The website doesn’t even try to offer any kind of information about what goes into his furniture to make them “eco”. The only claim I could find is that glues and stains are non toxic and formaldehyde free and that recycled steel is used for springs and screws. But other than sweeping generalizations (such as using “eco fabrics” and “natural wood” (sic)) there isn’t much to go on to evaluate his claims of “leading by example”. Not one certification is mentioned of any kind.

    • Thanks so much for this careful review. I learned a lot!

      There’s just a lot I don’t know on this topic, and I gather from your blog and terrific comment that this is really your area. It’s one reason why, as an ordinary but persistent consumer, I’m documenting the steps in my journey to greater understanding.

      Some thoughts: My understanding from Mr. Fonville was that he could get foam without ANY flame retardants, and I believe both he and I were clear on that. He’s aware that the Certipur label does not assure that point, and Heather Stapleton surmised it could be Firemaster 550 (but that was just a guess). Since that’s my central consideration — i.e., the environmental health of stuff in my home (rather than overall environmental consideration, which are a much more stringent standard) — then that’s a central point for me at least.

      In fact, this distinction is why I say that these are “greener” — they are likely significantly better than the current marketplace, even if still imperfect.

      Are there affordable options, that you know of, that do meet full variety of certification standards? I’ve only found sofas that cost more than 3K, and most above 5K. Without options that are more similar to an ordinary price for furniture, my worry is that people will chuck the whole project and go back to Ikea.

      On soy, I do mention GMOs and link to your blog for more. But I’m also concerned about the options: in your estimation, how does latex wear/feel in a sofa? Is it really a good substitute? Are the methods for harvesting rubber/latex green and fair to workers?

      On FSC wood, I’ll be happy to ask EcoSelect. It may not be certified, as it is local to his factory.

      In addition, the issues you point to with fabrics are considerable, and I doubt that on those basic processes there would be much room for improvement.

      In terms of RCGreen, your point is absolutely valid on certifications, though my experience with him has shown that there is more beneath the surface than is indicated on the site. For example, his foams were free of any flame retardants even though it was noted as such, and he uses reclaimed woods, mainly, which may help to explain the lack of FSC certification. Then again, he may use it and not note it.

      Also, as I mention, both of these companies are custom, not mass, manufacturers and do seem responsive to requests from customers for particular items. Robert really does really appear leave it up to customers to determine the content of items.

      Do you know of furniture manufacturers that use organic leather? I’d be very interested, obviously, as it’s the most practical material for my allergies, and considering my toddler’s tendencies.

      Also, what do you think of the trade-offs in comfort and durability of the particular filler materials? What’s been your experience in wear, comfort, etc.? Any more information on sources for more affordable options would also be great.

      And again, thanks so much for your thoughtful comments. It’s exactly this kind of deeper exploration that I hoped to occasion.

      • One more question: Can you help me understand please whether the issues you raise with fabrics — including hemp, leather and the dyes — are issues with the manufacturing process or remain sources of pollution for those using the furniture? Do they persist and trigger exposure on use, in other words? I’m trying to understand which of your points affect users on environmental health grounds and which are larger sustainability/environmental pollution concerns. (And I know that stuff in the environment also affects us, but I’m asking about user exposure in particular here.) Thanks so much!

      • HI Laura. I stumbled upon your blog through Google Alerts for eco upholstered furniture. I have a blog to which I seldom post, but I did tackle the the eco options for upholstered furniture back in 2009. I tried to rate companies’ products by purity/ non-toxicity and enlighten readers on green claims. The end result is that people got what they paid for. It was a bit easier for me since I’ve worked in the industry and worked with Furnature for years in the past when it was the only company making truly non-toxic upholstered furniture. I’ve followed most of the companies and ingredients to come inot the marketplace.

        I have found that people don’t necessarily lie about what is in the components of the upholstered furniture. I think some have been lied to by suppliers or are sold something that they truly believe is non-toxic becaue they haven’t done their own research. Using RC Green as an example, all of the U.S. made soy-based foam has flame retardants in it. It sounds as though Robert may not even be aware of that. Also, soy-based foam is still primarily petroleum and may have 5%-20% soy in it. Oh, and pesticides and fertizers are used to grow the soy. It isn’t any better than than the polyurethane foam, doesn’t cost that much more and cannot compare to natural latex rubber in quality or purity. It has been brilliantly marketed by Cargill, the chemical company, for leaving a lighter footprint. They sell the BioH (http://www.bioh.com ) to the foam manufacturers, who , in turn, sell to RC Craymer and other furniture manufacturers.

        Every furniture manufacturer has a repsonsibility to understand and comply with Federal and state flame retardancy laws (no matter how much the law sucks). This includes manufacturers of custom pieces such as Furnature, EKLA HOME, RC Green and the nice guy in the Carolinas. (Ignorance of the law is no defense.) I have witnessed many small manufacturers of mattresses and upholstered furniture buying toxic components, especially foam, that distributors insist are free of flame retardants or any toxic chemicals. ( These claims should be supported by independent 3rd party testing and verification.) Many small manufacturers don’t do their own due diligence. So, the untruth is then passed on to the consumer.

        The cost of natural latex rubber and organic wool is more than quadruple that of conventional foam and poly batting. This is the biggest reason for price disparity between the truly natural and non-toxic and conventional sofas. Furnature and EKLA HOME are not working on high margins. They are working with quality, honesty and knowledge though.

        One more thing that you might find interesting. Back in 2008 when I did my review of eco-upholstered furniture companies, RC Green was using only all natural latex rubber and eco-wool. At that time, his sofas averaged about $5600. I am curious as to why the company has compromised on the materials if not for price. There are many conventional manufacturers out there that are producing with the same components as RC Green. Lee Industries is one of them. I really don’t know if that company is greenwashing or just completely unaware. But, I find it a bit scary.

      • Thanks so much for this thoughtful response! I’m really heartened by all the folks who have looked into this question, and am learning a ton.

        On your specific points, I know Robert personally inquired with his foam manufacturer and was told it did NOT have FRs in it.

        I do note the drawbacks with soy, which are considerable. I don’t doubt that cost is a driver, and the price you quote is not far off the prices I’ve seen for RCGreen products from third parties. Dealing directly with him yields more price flexibility. He certainly does produce products as requested with those better materials from an environmental perspective, so I think “compromise” is a bit harsh here. IMHO, we sometimes let the perfect be enemy of the better.

        Still, I’m really interested in the question I asked above — do you know of customer experiences with latex re comfort and durability?

      • Yes, most people I have worked with prefer the feel of a natural latex core in terms of comfort. Natural latex rubber will not breakdown the way synthetic foam will. The ones with innerspring cores can be a bit harder to execute if the producer hasn’t become adept at working with the natural materials. Having said that, Furnature makes comfortable peices with innerspring cores if you choose that as an option. Many people who suffer from MCS (mutiple chemical sensitivity) tend to be unable to tolerate the odor of even natural latex rubber ( a person without MCS will seldom sense any odor).

        But, much like a mattress, each person seems to have his or her own preference of what is truly right for them. This includes the pitch of the back, the seat depth, the seat height, the firmness level on the seat and back cushions…etc. When people are buying benchmade furniture, they tend to take advantage of the opportunity to customize it to their needs.

        Regarding the supplier’s comment on the foam, I would suggest that you ask your friend Robert to get written documentation about the FR status of the foam and share it with you and all of his potential customers on the site. Transparency is key for consumers.

    • Once more proving his good nature, Mr. Fonville of Eco-Select Furniture replies to the excellent points raised above (This is so exciting! I do love a good dialogue on facts!). From Kenneth Fonville:

      EcoSelect Furniture strives to make choices in our products, vendors and processes that provide a more environmentally friendly product than is typically available from “mainstream” suppliers and to do it at a reasonable price–we don’t believe that providing “better” products should cost an exhorbitant amount.
      To speak to some of the specifics:
      Our leather supplier does use chemicals in the processing of the hides into top quality leather — but the ISO 14001 certification means that they practice state of the art environmental efforts. For example — the liming liquids, water, chome salts, paper, plastic, oil and wood are recycled. Hair and hide trim proteins are recovered and transformed into compost for organic fertilizer, that is provided to the local farmers.
      Our lumber suppliers are local, family owned mills in western North Carolina, Tennesee and Virginia — they adhere to the SFI standards (Sustainable Forestry Initiative) and while not as stringent as the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) they are proud of their efforts at sustainable forestry and avoiding National Forest lands for their harvesting.
      Foam is fundamentally a chemical process — and using soy feedstock for a portion of our foam means that it is more sustainable and uses less expensive and depleting fossil fuel feedstock. We do offer foam that has no flame retardant chemicals added, or can offer foam that meets the California standards — either at the customer’s request.
      Regarding the hemp fabric — the primary method of releasing the hemp fibers from the plants does use a lot of water — but it is able to be recyled and reused–the minimal chemicals used are significantly less harmful than the ones used to create other “green” fibers like bamboo and the grasses. Processing is not the entire story however. Hemp grows in a much broader climate range than cotton and takes signifcantly less fertilizer and pesticides to grow — it is primarly grown by subsistance farmers and wholesaled to fabricators who process it. It has the additional property of being more naturally soil resistant than cotton or synthetic fibers.
      Again, EcoSelect strives to bring a “more” eco-friendly product to the marketplace than is readily available–and to do it without the premium price often associated with eco-friendly products — we believe you don’t have to choose between good value and good stewardship. We don’t claim to be “pure” — we just strive to be “better” — and to stay abreast of developments so we can continually improve our products. Personally, I have passed the first “GreenLeader” training by the Sustainable Furnishings Council, and am scheduled to take re-certification in the near future.

    • Well, I eat meat, and leather is a byproduct of that. I wear leather shoes, as well. So I don’t take issue with a sofa covered in the material that’s all over my shoes. But I can also understand if vegans or others raise ethical or environmental issues with leather.

      • HI there! We’ve been having internet issues. I wasn’t ignoring you!
        Anyway, yes, I am vegan so I was partly asking from that perspective. As I’m sure you know, the meat industry creates a lot of pollution (run-off, methane gas) and is resource-intensive, etc., etc. But I know there are some leathers that are “eco-leathers” (at least according to their marketing) and so I was wondering if the leather used by this manufacturer falls into that category. For example, is it not tanned with toxic chemicals? Truthfully, I don’t know much about it, but was wondering if you knew, since you’ve done so much wonderful research! I’m really enjoying your blog and the dialogue that you create. Thank you!!!

      • Thanks so much for your interest! So, I’m not that knowledgeable on the eco-leather question, but EcoSelect does make a claim to environmentally-friendly leather (probably an oxymoron from a vegan perspective!). Here are a few more details:

        1. All EcoSelect leather is semi-aniline dyed top grain leather from ISO 14001 (since 2001) certified tannery. ISO 14001 is the international specification for environmental management systems.

        a. Tannery recycles all liquids used in processes

        b. Byproducts transformed into compost, brick additives, and organic fertilizer for local farming

        c. Training program for all employees in environmental consciousness

        d. Bio-diesel used in facility trucks and tannery has moved to Natural Gas from oil and coal for cleaner electricity generation. Also participates in co-generation of electricity for public utility.

        Whether this amounts to compliance with the greenest practice in tanning leather, I’m not sure. I’ll look into it a bit more. Very interesting question!

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