Ouch, Couch! A Sad Sofa Saga… Part 2

In which our heroine searches in vain for someplace safe and healthy to sit. Should be simple enough, right?

If you read my last post, you’ll know that, just as Dr. Seuss says, there’s a Bofa on my sofa.

So what am I going to do about it? Well, the Sofa Situation is still evolving, but here’s what I know so far:

First, there’s a lot of green-washing on the question of what is an “eco-sofa.” The vast majority of “green” sofas may have sustainably harvested wood, which is great, and may even have traded some soy-based foam for petroleum foam, which I suppose is good (I haven’t looked at the climate tradeoffs, but it seems likely to be better to use fewer petrochemicals).

But they don’t often mention the issue of chemical flame retardants. With a few rare exceptions, you basically have to corner a customer service representative who actually knows the answer to your nutty questions, and even then, they may be reading from a document with more relation to the periodic table than to typical customer service scripts.

Nonetheless, the answer, pretty uniformly, is that an idiotic California law called California Technical Bulletin 117 requires anything sold in California (i.e., almost anything sold by any seller of any size in the U.S.), to have these harmful chemicals in it.

This law is defended every year against attempts to take it off the books by a shadowy chemical lobby group masquerading as a fire safety squad, and so a chemical dictate from the crunchy state of California ends up polluting homes and people all over this great nation. Of course, if they didn’t make all the foam in things out of, basically, solidified gasoline, then they might not need to douse it in toxics just to keep us from blowing up the house. (But see: fire retardants do bupkis to improve fire safety.)

Second, if I read one more post from a green living Web site about the new “eco-fabulous” green design options, I’m going to toss my sprouts. There are, it turns out, a few incredibly pricey options for chemical flame retardant-free sofas, if you’re willing to auction your first-born to get them. Since I only have one child, that’s not really an option.

If you want a sofa without chemicals in it, you’re all in on the green thing – you can’t go halfsies, because they won’t let you. You’ll get the certified sustainably harvested this, and the hemp fabric that, which I suppose would be ok, except for the fact that you’re paying a hefty upcharge for all of it. (The menu option of “I’ll just take one without the added side-dish of toxics” is basically a non-starter.)

One company requires – and I’m not joking here – a doctor’s note saying you should be allowed to order your sofa chemical-free, because of, you know, your mentally questionable insistence on not wanting to breathe toxic chemicals while watching Game of Thrones.

Here’s what didn’t work:

1)    Crate and Barrel and West Elm have a number of attractive options marketed as “green sofas.” But when I called customer service, they said that they complied with the California law by including a “chlorinated phosphate” in the fabric and foam, which sounds like Tris to my uninformed, and admittedly paranoid, ears. (If someone else has a better guess, please let me know.) At any rate, phosphates = chemicals.

2)    Despite overly enthusiastic referrals from an eco-design Web site, Overstock was similar, but with even less clear information and even more of a green tinted hue concealing the facts. Even their more environmentally friendly options often only had one “green” thing about them, for example, this “eco-sofa,” which was allegedly green because it “uses environmentally friendly soy based foam that offers improved durability, strength, support and comfort versus conventional foam cores.” To be fair, the one reviewer did say that there was minimal off-gassing, which can’t be a bad thing, but I’m still concerned that they believed the product is more environmentally healthy than it actually seems to be from the information provided.

3)    An outfit called Greensofas.com seemed promising, given the reasonable prices, despite the California location. But when I called the phone number on the site (there was no way to place an order online), I got the phone company operator saying that it was an invalid number. Hard to place an order there.

4)    Here’s my comically uninformative exchange with “The Sofa Company” via their Livechat option: “You are now chatting with ‘thesofaco.’ you: Is it possible to buy an eco-friendly sofa without any flame retardants in the fabric or foam please? thesofaco: No at the moment there is still about 60% off flame retardants in the foam”

5)    Broyhill Furniture’s Customer Service representative told me over the phone that “to comply with furnishing and fire safety regulations…all coverings and fillings are cigarette and match resistant.” ‘Nuff said.

6)    A couple other companies, such as If Green, were nice enough to talk with me but were no longer producing furniture. Q Collection these days seems to be a fabric-only company. Pure by Ami McKay appears to be a bedding line for Bed, Bath & Beyond, with no sofas in evidence.

7)    I even called two custom furniture places in my area. One didn’t get back to me. The other makes knock-offs of designs from other furniture places on the cheap. They checked on the issue, and couldn’t get supplies without chemicals due to the fact that everything came from – you guessed it – California, which seems to be some kind of chemical-cabal couch clearinghouse with a lock-down on the national market.

Drum roll, please.

Here are the 5 options I found for  “green” sofas without (known) chemical flame retardants:

Option 1: The High-End Winner

The sofas that I liked best were from Ecobalanza, which offers a number of styles to choose from. Here’s how that conversation went:


I am very interested in purchasing a sofa, in particular, the Eli in dark brown Hemp, the Mai in crimson, or the Round-d in crimson. What are the prices and shipping charges please? Please confirm that you do not use any chemical flame retardants, including PBDEs or Tris.



Hi Laura,

Thank you for your interest in our furniture line. We pride ourselves in the purity of materials, craftsmanship and love that goes into building our sofas. We do not use any chemical fire retardants in our furniture. In fact, we only use natural and organic materials. Synthetic materials would only be used in case you requested a recycled polyester upholstery fabric. Below I am including a pdf with a more about how we build our furniture and some photos.

For fire retardants, we use 4 different types of wool, 2 of which we have developed in collaboration with local farms and artisans:

1. Local felted wool covers all wood and flat surfaces
2. Certified organic German wool for cushions and smooth backs.
3. Local breed specific wool for back cushions filled with hand fluffed kapok.
4. Thick wool padding over springs

Let me know if you have more questions and if you would like swatches sent, we work with a broad range of fabric options that are not currently shown on the website.

Pricing for the pieces you are interested in are as follows:

Eli in dark brown Hemp: 72 x 36 x 36 $3775

Mai in crimson (priced in wool, but other fabrics available): 75 X 40 X 32 $5880

Round-d in crimson (priced in wool, but other fabrics available): 72 x 35 x 34 $4375

Did you get a chance to check out additional photos of our work? You can view them on Facebook. Thank you and hope your day is wonderful,



888.220.6020 | F. 888.503.0535

PO Box 17183

Seattle, WA 98127


Passionately committed to contributing to a healthier home, community and environment.


She also estimated shipping, in a later exchange, at around $500 for curbside delivery. So even the cheapest option from this company clocks in at over 4K.

On the other hand, her response was refreshingly thoughtful and thorough. And the designs from this company are modern and stylish, so at least they also look spendy.

Option 2: The Green Slouch

For about the same amount of money, you can also buy a sofa from Dalla Terra. There’s really only one style, plus a matching club chair. There is also a loveseat and sectional. You have the choice of 4 colors of hemp fabric and 4 wooden trim tones. For the sofa, it’s 5K plus shipping.

They are a little schlumpy for that pricetage, in my view. But they do look comfy, and they are free of chemicals:

Hi there,

I’m looking to order an environmentally friendly sofa. Would you please confirm that your natural foam latex and other materials in the sofa foam or fabric are not treated with any chemical flame retardants? Thanks so much!

Laura MacCleery

From: EcoChoices Natural Living Store
Date: April 9, 2012 7:30:54 PM EDT
To: ‘Laura MacCleery’
Subject: RE: Dalla Terra Freight Quote Request

Dear Laura,

Yes, that is correct. There are no fire retardants on our sofas. Please let us know if you have any questions.

Best Regards,
Customer Service
EcoChoices Natural Living Store
Helping people live greener & healthier lives since 1997.

Option 3:  The Latex Solution

Another company, Viesso, offers a chemical-free upgrade to their basic sofas, which already do already have eco-friendly features. These include, according to their Web site:

– locally sourced hardwood frames
– natural jute webbing and a wool deck
– fabrics that are natural, recycled, or both. you can filter by “eco-friendly only.”

If you pay a significant up-charge and select “Extreme Green” from the foam menu, you also get a sofa with 100% natural latex on the arms, back, frame, and cushion filling. (Latex is essentially rubber, and I have concerns about whether it’s really the most comfortable thing to stretch out on. In addition, due to a later conversation, I’d also now want to ask whether the latex itself is treated with anything, which I have not yet had time to do.) You can also add goose down inside the seat and back cushions around the latex, to make it softer, again for a surcharge.

I asked the customer service fellow, who was very helpful, about the fabric. He said that you can choose to cover the furniture with untreated “organic cottons and hemp,” and that some of the polyester fabrics did have flame retardants in the stain-resistance treatments.  There are a significant number of styles to choose from, and a lot of fabrics, and those without flame retardants are indicated in the fabric menu. Shipping would range from $290 to $390 per item.

Fiddling around with the site, it also became clear that all of the more reasonably priced items were in-stock furniture that did not include custom options like my eco-upgrade. With the upgrade and shipping included, these sofas also topped $3K, and most were above 4K.

Option 4:  With a Note from Your Doctor, Crazy Lady.

Cisco Brothers, which has a “greener” outlook on furniture, allows customers to choose an “inside green” construction option for an up-charge.  Inside green construction uses 100 percent wool, organic cotton, and latex. There are a lot of styles and fabrics to choose from.

But in order to get the latex free of any chemical treatments for flame resistance, I would need a note from my doctor, which they allegedly keep on file in case there’s a fire in my home and I want to sue them for selling me a healthier sofa.

I asked the Customer Service representative for a sample form for such a note, but she didn’t have one. So here’s my draft:

Dear Company,

My patient would like to have her toddler’s bodily fluids remain as free as possible from IQ-lowering chemicals.

Zank you very much,

Dr. Strangelove

I asked how many times this is requested per year, and she said “five or so, not very often. It’s mainly if you have a chemical sensitivity, or something…” Her voice trailed off, her question mark just hanging in the air.

They don’t sell directly to the public, and there’s not a retailer near me, so we didn’t get into pricing. But they do have floor models out in New York City at the enormous style emporium, ABC Carpet, and I might get a chance to pop by next time I’m up there for work, which happens fairly often.

Given that an ashtray at ABC is out of my price-range, I’m not hopeful. But at least I’ll have someplace decent to sit while I’m visiting the store.

Option 5:  The Mystery Chemical that Is, Sadly, Likely Not OK. 

A very nice man, Ken Fonville, runs a small eco-furniture concern in North Carolina, Eco-Select Furniture. He seemed genuinely troubled when I told him that a fellow North Carolinian, Heather Stapleton, had identified toxic chemicals in young children that likely come from furniture.

He did mention in passing as part of our convo that latex-based furniture degrades under UV rays. He also pointed out that it tends to, as he put it with a slight drawl, “take a set, after a while” meaning, I guess, that it would eventually show (un)shapely indentations.

I have no opinion on whether this is true, but it didn’t seem to come from a competitive place. He was merely reflecting on why he didn’t use latex in his upholstery.

I liked his furniture because it is covered in leather. With a toddler and stain resistant chemicals off the table, all this hemp coverings business gives me real pause. And his prices are in line with what furniture normally costs.

His products use soy blend for 25 percent of the foam, and his lumber is locally certified. He read me the chemical tag for the foam, which indicated that there were no PBDEs, and no Tris. So his might be the Firemaster kind? I’m guessing. Without a test by Ms. Stapleton, we’ll never know.

It’s too bad, really. He was that nice. He was an owner who answered the phone and patiently listened while I basically lectured him on the risks to children from flame retardants in his furniture. He’s obviously really trying to get it right.

And so I really wish I could buy his couch.


What’s the upshot of all this?

Basically, we’ve got to cough up enough dough that we’ll have to forgo the next few vacations and then some, or continue sucking it up with old Ikea.

I suppose that instead of traveling the world, we’ll just hang out on our new couch, basking in how eco-fabulous we truly are. We’ll have to cancel cable, so we’ll just stare at the wall.

Seriously, what do you think I should do? Do you know of any other options for a truly green set-to?

Until then, I wish the Bofa would just move over. Just a little bit. There.

[Update: For more options on chemical-free furniture, please see the post and discussion in the comments for Sofa Saga, Part 4.]

59 thoughts on “Ouch, Couch! A Sad Sofa Saga… Part 2

  1. I have been unhappily living with a new BROYHILL sofa that is gassing off so badly that I don’t go into the living room. I thought it would stop, but it’s not. I’m hoping the store will work with me..it’s been 6 weeks. They are calling Broyhill..I camp out in my bedroom. My eyes burn, sore throat, and mouth breaks out into a rash. And I just figured out it transfers onto clothing and into the wash! AAARGH! I cannot afford the Green sofas. Guess I’m stuck in the middle right now. But I am getting that thing out of my house, one way or another.

  2. I know I am going to get some serious flack from your readers, as this is a very active blog thread, even after all these years. But I feel compelled to comment.
    I do not think it is unreasonable that a green furniture manufacturer should charge you $3-5 k for a green sofa. Durability is one of the foremost green components of a product, and yet our standards on what a piece of furniture should cost will not budge.

    Let’s analyze what went into a good quality green sofa;
    Hardwood timber (hopefully FSC certified) for the frame, is kiln dried, so it cannot sustain mildew, then shaped so that the frame below exactly follows the contours of the finished sofa, so that the covered item is evenly padded, without any square corners to cause hard spots in the finished item.
    This wood is then glued and screwed together, and the stress points will have hardwood blocks added for additional strength.
    Then steel springs are added to the frame so that the area where the cushions will be is not a hard platform, like a wooden bench, but a firm but resilient surface.
    I have no idea how long this process takes, but with my limited knowledge of woodworking, we are at a couple of days of full time work. Say the raw hardwood costs are around $3-5 a board foot (http://www.kmhardwoods.com/athruco.cfm) and you need a minimum of 38 board feet to make a 6′ sofa. The wood is around $200, plus 3 days of full time labor, I assume between 15-20/hr for a skilled furniture maker = $360 in labor. Now lets add in steel for the springs. Assuming that the springs are cheaper than shown on this web site (http://www.diyupholsterysupply.com/upholstery-springs.html), and assuming you are buying a sofa with the cheaper sinuous springs in the seat and back, for our 6 foot sofa we need 36 springs at 1.50 we are at about $50 for the springs. This is assuming you do not choose to do 8 way hand tied coil springs.

    Now to cover this frame with foam and Polyester batting. I have purchased latex foam for upholstery projects and pay about $100 per cushion. Let’s assume our quality manufacturer can get it for 1/4 the price- add $75 for the cushions, and another $75 for foam on the frame. Both of these layers of foam padding would now be covered with batting- Polyester in the case of conventional upholstery. Lets add on $10 for the batting, assuming our manufacturer pays 1/2 retail, and uses 1/2 a roll. Let’s add 4 hours labor for this process.

    Now a quality manufacturer will cover a frame and cushions with ticking before upholstering, so your final upholstery fabric does not go directly on the polyester batting. This aids in having removable cushion covers, and makes it easier to reupholster, but is optional. If ticking was added, it would be the same yardage as the upholstery fabric, at about minimum of $3 a yard. I will not add this to my total, but it would probably add about $60 wholesale.

    Finally we add fabric, and the labor to apply fabric. The fabric is cut and stapled and sewn to the frame, and the cushion covers are sewn. Depending on the pattern repeat, you can assume a minimum of 20 yards for fabric. I usually tell my clients to assume a cost of $50 to $60 a yard for fabric. But let’s assume our manufacturer can get good, healthy upholstery fabric at $15 a yard, and that it takes 10 hours to do all the sewing and covering of the sofa. So we are adding $300 for fabric and $150 for labor. This is assuming a fairly cheap fabric.

    By rough estimate- a decent sofa costs:
    $200 – hardwood
    $360 – construction Labor
    $50 – springs
    $150 -foam
    $10 – batting
    $ 60 – labor to cover frame with padding
    $ 300- fabric at wholesale cost
    $ 150- sewing labor

    We are at $1280 wholesale cost for what went directly into your sofa. The markup charged by the manufacturer – probably around doubling the cost of the sofa- would cover their cost of insuring their workers, researching materials, renting, buying or building a manufacturing facility, equipment purchases, paying for advertising, quality control, janitorial service, customer service and bookkeeping so that they can stay in business. So if we assume they deserve the markup the cost of your sofa should logically be at least $2560. Add in freight to your home, and some mark-up for the store front, or online sale portal that answered all of your questions and wrote up your sale, and boom, you are at kissing distance of $3000 (and this is assuming I did not leave off any costs, like hardware, testing, hand tying springs together, etc.) If the sofa is then sold through a 3rd party retailer, like a large box store, they probably mark it up again.

    I guess my point is that a lot goes into a complex hand make custom product, like a sofa made exactly for you, with healthy materials. And if the acceptable price is $1000, that means that the quality of each of these items: from the frame to the labor to the fabric, must go down. The market will meet the demands of the consumer, but the cost will be paid in lower quality. A sofa used to last decades. It would not be unusual to reupholster something after 20-30 years, and get another 20 years wear out of it. Now we just buy a sofa to use for 5-7 years, and then put them in the land fill. I think it is sad, and wish I could get the message out that a quality product might cost more to buy, but pay for itself over time.

    • kirfly – your detailed response is appreciated.
      I promise that I’m not going to give you “flack”. I get it. All of it – pound for pound and inch by inch.

      The difficulty lies in the ability for the consumer to try these products. The old ‘butt test’ is really the best method, but it’s a rare gem to find a place to do this. Which brings up a serious snag – yes, the cost is high and as consumers we are seriously leery of putting our funds on something we have not seen, touched, sat on. It’s a major gamble from our side. Just as it would be a major gamble on the side of a manufacturer or builder to construct something with no deposit or promise of follow through – we have no way of knowing we can live with said purchase until it’s all said and done.
      We aren’t all one size fits all and we aren’t all just fine with the ordering from scratch approach.
      Ah – there’s the rub. Round and round we go.

  3. Placed an order with crate& barrel for their new “eco friendly” couch 11/2014. When it arrived it had fire retardants in it. I sent it back. Supposedly they are making me a new one but it will be a couple of months. What a hassle!!!!!!! I have done a lot of research and many of these so called Eco couches are not Eco! So do your homework! It frustrating, time consuming, and expensive. I just want a couch with no chemicals.

    • Hi Laura,

      I bought a sectional from Ecobalanza with organic hemp fabric. Since I’m in the Seattle area I was able to visit the workshop for a close look at materials and construction. I was impressed with Aimee’s knowledge and willingness to work out design details with me. I was so disappointed to learn that first fabric I chose had been discontinued but with Aimee’s help was able to find a gorgeous hemp that worked as well and wouldn’t take long to source. I expect to be using the sectional for many years and feel that it is an investment in my family’s health.

      • Well we ended up buying 2 couches and a chair from EKLA HOMES. They were the only truly chemical free non-foam couches that are fairly priced. We spent about $9500 for 2 couches and a chair (including delivery). Really love them and they are vey high quality! 3/25/15

  4. Hi I’m new to this blog but been researching sofa chemicals and how to get an eco type sofa on a budget! It’s so hard!!! I’m in Australia and can’t seem to find much info in what is being used re: laws here. I was wondering if a sofa is made with a natural filler such as 100% feather with linen/cotton cover and made with hardwood, is it still being smothered in chemicals? Or does it make no difference between foam/feather/wool filling etc.

  5. Can you tell me if PotteryBarn Kid’s anywhere chairs have fire retardants in it? I called and asked and they said they do not spray any on their foam furniture but after reading your article I’m still wondering….please let me know.

    • Hi Claudia,

      The issue of whether they spray it on their foam furniture doesn’t provide you with the information about whether it’s in the foam already! Sometimes with Pottery Barn kids, it is sprayed (as they just informed about their cloth teepees), but other times, in my understanding, it’s in the foam in a manner similar to other furniture. So it’s hard to know unless they are forthcoming fully! Laura

  6. I’ve been reading this blog post series over and over. I still need to get someone to help me lift the couch so I can check the label, but I’m pretty sure mine has flame retardants. I am definitely in no place to purchase a brand new, less toxic couch as that would cost about a third of my life savings so far. I have read almost all of the comments, but I guess I’m trying to figure out the best thing to do in terms of dealing with a couch full of FRs. I know I need to sweep and circulate the air in the room often, but is there any consensus on whether covering a couch may help? I’m not sure if any research has been done on that. I remember reading something about covering the bottom of the couch with a thick material since most of the dust comes out there. My couch is covered in some sort of faux leather and doesn’t have removable cushions. I just found out my dining room chairs have FRs in their cushions so I’m trying to figure out if I should cover those too. I would possibly be interested in getting the cushions on both types of furniture replaced if that’s an option, but I just don’t think there is any non-toxic furniture company anywhere nearby where I live in Arkansas.

    Also, I remember reading someone’s comment on here about mattresses made after 2007 being safe in terms of FRs, but I was wondering if there was a final word on that or if that was proven wrong or what? My mattress is only a year old, so I’m really wondering about that. I am definitely in no place to buy a new mattress either especially when mine’s practically new. I remember it did smell pretty strongly when I first got it so I’m sure it has something fun in it.

  7. Pingback: Where the wild chemicals go | Way To(o) Green

  8. thinking about building from scratch. maybe check out http://www.woodyou.com/ they make unfinished wood furniture. They seem to be located along the SE of the US. I wonder if they fulfill all the safe requirements you talk about? I really don’t know all of the questions I should be asking to make sure it’s safe.

  9. Hi Laura,
    I am wondering if you icame across anything about about European standards in your research? I can’t phone manufacturers here as when I start trying to explain what I am looking for, they think I am crazy and it often gets lost in translation. When searching for a “healthy” couch, I often see comments of “that would never be allowed to be sold in Europe” made regarding products sold in America. I am currently living in Norway and heading home soon. I am wondering if my best option would be to purchase a couch here and bring it back with me!
    Thanks for your informative articles!!
    Shea Tysdal

    • Hi Shea, It’s true that the EU countries have better EU-wide and country standards for chemicals. It’s also the case that while the situation in the U.S. is improving, it’s case-by-case (and will be for a while) that manufacturers have changed their supply chains to non-FR materials in the sofa foam (and fabrics may still be treated). If you want to be perfectly assured of no FRs in a sofa, and can afford to ship it, you could buy one in Norway. Best, Laura

  10. Pingback: Toxic Hot Seat on HBO tonight! | Laura's "Rules"

  11. I found this post on Land of Nod’s FB page confirming they use Firemaster 600 in their foam. “The covers of our nod chairs are 100% cotton, and are not treated with any flame retardants, however the polyurethane foam inserts of our chairs are treated. The flame retardant that is currently used is an aryl ester/phosphate blend, commonly known as Firemaster 600. Our Customer Service Department can help answer further if you’d like more information at 800.933.9904 or customerservice@landofnod.com“https://www.facebook.com/thelandofnod/posts/10151383546846946

    • Yeah, Land of Nod also treats some play houses with retardants as well. Just got a confirmation today. Luckily, we purchased the custom bean bag covers only, and filled them with buckwheat hulls.

  12. Pingback: My Lovely Green Flame Retardant Free Couch | greenwake

  13. Just a tip – I bought several really cheap small carpet dots
    yesterday and affixed them to the underside of the feet
    of our dining room chairs. No more scraping over the
    floor boards when our daughter makes use of them like a walker!

    • Good question. I will research this myself. This government couldn’t care less about our health and safety. Cancer is a booming industry in this country. Canadian furniture may be safer if they don’t have lobbyists from the chemical industry as we do in CA.

  14. Hi Laura, what a great blog you have created, thank you! I have also sent off numerous emails of this sort and would be happy to add my research. Recently Land of Nod gave me this response: “None of our upholstered chairs are sprayed with chemicals of any kind, this includes flame-retardants. Also, the materials used do not contain any PBDEs. The Joya Rocker is made by Monte Designs, and you can read more about the safety and sustainability of their products here: http://www.montedesign.net/sustainability.html“. If you know anything contrary to this, please let me know – I know they are a Crate & Barrel company which is on your bad list. I was encouraged by their response and the link they gave. I also inquired about the Puff Rocker by Chicago Textile Corp. which was sold in our local “organic” furnishings store and received this response: “All of our products meet the Cal 117 Flamability requirements as indicated on the attached warning label. The cushion is made from polyurethane ether foam.” They sent me a pdf of the label mentioned. I used this rocker to nurse both my children and it has been in my son’s room for 7 years. I have also just sent an email to Cisco Brothers after reading your warning that they require a doctor’s note. I bought one of their couches last summer under the deliberate request that it not contain any flame retardants and was sold as such by a local retailer. I’m asking Cisco to clarify their policy for me.

    • Hi Alex, Thanks so much for this information, and so sorry to hear about your rocker. I also think Land of Nod is being very misleading — they say only that it is not “sprayed” with FRs, and that there are no PBDEs. Many, if not most, companies stopped using PBDEs after 1995 because public opposition to those chemicals could have resulted in a ban and more rules for the companies to follow. I would follow up with Land of Nod and ask what IS being used in the foam. I would bet it’s tris or Firemaster or some such chemical, as in the other Crate and Barrel products I researched. It’s actually so upsetting that they would give you such an artful and greenwashed response, given that they market to parents for children’s furniture. Ugh. Hope that helps, and please let me know what you learn from Cisco — all best, Laura

      • First, thanks for all you do! I so wish I had found you 8 years ago when I had the first of my three children instead of 4 days ago! Two of my children have bedding, rugs and drapes from Pottery Barn kids. Pottery Barn Kids flame retards everything it seems, even the wool rugs! Someone needs to scream this from the mountain tops! Stay away!! You probably already knew this, but I had no idea. It was pretty easy to find out that those adorable cotton sheets are “easy care” (now I know what that means), but the rugs and drapes really made me crazy and none of them were marked flame retardant. The folks who work the Pottery Barn phones proudly told me they use it. They didn’t know the chemical make up of the fire retardant and were clueless when it came to TB117. Money out of your wallet and poison into your house. Terrific.

      • Natalie, I totally share your alarm and frustration. I feel like the more of us that keep contacting all these companies and asking the questions will generate some momentum on their part to make a change, I hope. Laura, I followed up with Land of Nod and as you suggested and got this “Thank you for your question. I understand your concern. Our gliders do meet California’s burn rate standards. California requires that the rate at which such items burn meet a specific number. Our gliders are not treated with flame retardant chemicals. Our teepees and play homes are the only items treated with flame retardant chemicals. The materials which are used in our gliders, naturally meet the rate required by the state of California. I hope this clarifies things for you.” I think this means it is probably polyester which is “naturally” flame retardant. This comment also caused me to question my HABA playtent, and subsequently all the products I have from HABA that contain foam, so they also got an email from me and a list of products in question. I’ll let you know. I contacted Crate & Barrel about two wool rugs and received this message: “None of our rugs or rug pads contain chemical flame retardants or stain protection. We hope this information helps.” I’ve also followed up with Cisco Brothers and am told you do not need a doctor’s note to get the upgraded fully organic version. I’m still waiting to find out what is used to meet CA 117 on their standard models, same for Verellen.

  15. Thank you for this post. I nodded my head throughout, being dubbed as the crazy lady when I call and ask about flame retardants. My husband rolls his eyes at me but I WILL NOT bring something into this home and expose my children to it if I already know it contains dangerous chemicals. Thank you again, at least I know I’m not the only one looking for a needle in a haystack!!

    • Yes, thanks so much Barbra — they are on the list in the more expensive retailers, I believe — in Sofa Saga Part Two — but I should do a round-up of all the sources in one blog. I’ll try to do that this week. Appreciate your helpful comment! All best, Laura

  16. Thanks for taking the time to write your experience, I am dealing with the same issues trying to find non toxic, functional, comfortable & *durable* furniture–it’s quite the task!!!

    Here are some of my suggestions for those who are on a serious budget–buy those old wooden sofa & chair frames-Some of the sofa’s used to be wooden frames. I’d like to post some pics of what I am describing–some are ugly–some are beautiful. Mission style/colonial/early american/mission style–those seem to be the choices.

    You can then choose whatever filling for the cushions you choose. Latex, cotton, spring/cotton/wool etc–you can put whatever cover you want. There are some “affordable” online sources for fillings & some even do the covers affordably. Unfortuneately I am not at this stage yet & am still reviewing companies, as I just read the one I was going to choose has horrible reviews, so am searching yet again.

    I recently managed to find a mid century danish modern sofa & 2 chairs-frames only on craigslist for $50, and another knock off that matches perfectly for $50, & pitched the dry-rotted cushions. So 2 sofas & 2 chair frames $100–Now the cushions are gonna cost—but even of I spent 1k on cushions alone, & say $500 on covers, it’s a whole livingroom set for less than the price of 1 new sofa.

    Also, you can find those super long lasting safa/chair frames used too–from “This End Up”–& put your own cushions in as well. Their frames are nearly indestructable–& have your own cushions made.

    I’d like to share some pics of what I am referring to. I plan to do my project *super budget style* –I do not have the resources financially to buy any of those non toxic sofas, & I feel it’s ridiculous that it costs so much to purchse something without the toxic chemicals.

    About the Dr’s not for a sofa–I believe you only need to have the Dr’s not if you *LIVE* in California. But you may want to double check.

    hint to finding cheap retro sofa frames–stop looking for “danish modern” & similar or by designer name–on craigslist I looked up things like: wooden sofa, sofa frame, patio sofa, camp sofa, daybed frame, do searches similar to that.
    –these sofa frames are often in someone’s old gameroom & neither of the people I bought mine off of though they were anything special, they just wanted them out of the space in oder to make room for their new toxic over stuffed monstrosity lol.

  17. I design and manufacture furniture in Canada, and we also offer a ‘green’ line, which is available as an option/upgrade on any of our styles, but it took a lot of research to get it to the point that I am comfortable calling them truly ‘green’..

    You may be interested to know that in Canada it is against the law to use any foam with the California-style flame retardants. We also do organic and recycled fabrics (my favourite is a fantastic ‘regenerated cotton’ line from Maxwell, which is recycled cotton, and looks great), latex seats, and latex seats/base, which is the path chosen by most people who wish to purchase a piece with the least impact on the environment.

    You may also be interested to know that while people will sometimes choose feather-fill as a ‘green’ option, if those feathers come from a supplier in China, there is a good chance they have been live-plucked, which is possibly one of the most horrific practices I have heard of.

    There is a lot of information out there, and it is very difficult to get the truth, but I think your estimates of pricing seem about right. Our least-expensive environmentally sensitive sofas would normally start at around 3000, and range quite easily into 5-6k, if you go with all the bells and whistles, and choose a wool covering.

    • @jrslumlord Do you know what that law in Canada is called? And would it apply to a couch from Crate & Barrel in Canada? I’m about to order one from them and now I’m freaking out a little bit after reading all of this. What is the name of your company and do you ship to Quebec? Thanks!

    • jrslumlord,,can you please tell me the name and location of your company? I am in Quebec and looking for a clean ‘n’ green sofa.

      Jorjia B.

  18. Thank you for the article and the feedback was great! It truly is a daunting task to try to find something affordable. I am a single mom with twins and I cant afford $1000’s of dollars on a sofa….really seems that only the very rich can afford to “Go Green” I am trying to come up with an affordable sofa alternative I have $500 to spend….any tips? I’m open to DIY project perhaps buiding something out of safe materials!

    • Hi there, Thanks so much for your nice comment! There are ways to make your sofa from a daybed, as SallyS describes in the comments to this post: https://laurasrules.org/2012/04/28/sofa-saga-part-4-success-two-great-sources-for-truly-green-sofas/ — or to make your own sofa from a mattress: http://www.veganreader.com/2011/04/09/organic-eco-friendly-sofa-for-less-than-2000-how-i-made-it/ (though that’s more than $2000). There’s Ecoselect, as described in the Part 4 post, which may have cheaper options, though again it would be over your budget. I did just find a chair, mid-century-modern on Craigslist, with the original upholstery, for just over $100, which makes me wonder whether a mid-century sofa might — just might — be gettable for that amount. I also found an Italian leather chair for very cheap, which came from an expensive set more than 20 years ago, and is likely FR-free. So scrounging Craigslist, estate or thrift sales may be an option. Then there is always the futon option — I have not investigated, but those cushions are likely polyester, rather than polyurethane, in most cases, and if so, may — just may — not have the chemicals in them. Sorry these options are so lame! Please let me know if you figure it out, as I’m sure folks will be interested. All best, Laura

    • For your budget, I agree that Craig’s list is a great resource – as is e-bay (check for local listings that have ‘local pick up only’). Check your local Goodwill and Salvation Army – see if there are consignment stores in your area. Check with local upholstery shops (sometimes people change their mind or the shop owner has a few pieces awaiting ideas).

      I have found futon frames, new, for as little as 200 for pine – used frame would be much less – my personal favorite is called the EZ sofa, but many like a futon. Futon cushions can be had in organic cotton batting, a mix of cotton and wool, or a mix of wool, cotton and latex – average market cushions are going to be full of those nasty chemicals.

      If you have a wall or corner that you can put your sofa in, then a simple twin bed frame can make a daybed – we did this in a our urban apartment for years – frankly elegant. A daybed does not have to look like there is a bed in your living room – although I think a beautiful organic bed would be preferable to a pile of chemicals or being so sick you can’t enjoy your living room! Mattresses are spendy, especially without all the chemicals – but you can pile pillows, fold blankets and comforters to make a cushion.

      This time of year many retailers are clearing out their collection of outdoor furniture, there are some lovely wooden sofa and loveseat frames that would be nice indoors. I’ve mostly seen this done on my travels, but it’s nice.
      I have also looked at mid-century modern pieces (Laura I hope you got that chair!), they are simple and easy to refurbish.

      Barrier cloth may buy time and protect from fumes and dust.

    • Hi there, I just wanted to share a new tip from another reader on a separate post — http://www.zafu.net/index.html They offer Japanese- style floor seating with natural fibers (wool, kapok, buckwheat) and just challenge us to re-think our Western ideas about furniture and comfort… — while these are floor cushions, they might work well with kids! And the price is right. Just a thought… all best, Laura

    • Hello whitemilkisrowdickolis – I just found this online and immediately thought of your post. Never mind that after all my diligence it took this long to find it….

      Here is a daybed frame that won’t break the bank! http://www.goodnightmoonfuton.com/beds/kd-day-bed.shtml

      I would have to paint it or something, but honestly it’s a solid frame with endless potential for under 200.

      Round that off with a week of feeling lousy, looking at far too many photos of rooms and furniture – – I noticed a huge trend in the return of the daybed.

  19. I just visited Ecobalanza in Seattle. WOW! THEIR COUCHES ARE AMAZING!! I was so impressed with Aimee and the company! She makes the couches with the best materials (from local and orgaic sources as much as possible) and wonderful construction.

      • Thanks for the tip – but I did that, over a year ago – that’s how I got on her mailing list. I’m near Seattle – was told there was “no showroom” and that all work was done via internet. No chance of seeing the products. This is just another example of what I’ve run into. sigh – sorry, it’s very deflating and discouraging – as apparently many others can agree.

      • Sally, Oh, I do agree! How disconcerting and strange. Of course given their price point it would be really essential to see them if you can. It sounds like you’ve been at the sofa quest a lot longer than I have! I’ll give them a call today just to see what I’m told on this point. Best, Laura

      • Hi there, I wanted to respond on this thread as well. I reached out to Ecobalanza to ask whether they had a showroom and this is what they 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!

        Aimee Robinson

  20. I ordered a floor model sale sofa from cues so and then paid extra for them to change out the foam cushions for latex ones. If you ask they are willing to some upgrades on their sale items if you will pay extra.

    • My concern with this, or as it sounds to me – changing out the polyfoam for latex is a good idea, but there are lots of additional chemicals in the other polyfill stuffing that can’t be replaced without totally recovering the couch.

  21. Great article, I not only enjoyed it – I nodded emphatically throughout! I’ve contacted all of the above makers except one – it’s frustrating and a bit scairy to spend so much money on something you can’t test or touch prior- add a couple more that were equally shaky with responses.
    I contemplated many – so I will toss a couple of ideas your way. At the moment ABCHome has a sale going – yes there are healthy sofas, but a couple Pure are under 3k.
    Sale – yes, even EcoBalanza is having a sale!

    Neither of us likes futons, we tried and I can’t handle the angle of the seat – if I could then I would go that route in a blink. The slipcovers, pillows and ease of cleaning seem very appealing.

    We thought about putting a daybed in our living room and it’s not totally out of the question just yet – but even that’s going to cost me a chunk by the time all is done. I’ve not liked average daybeds, but finally decided for Amish and craftsmanship. If we do the daybed it will cost well over 1500 for frame, add healthy mattress (we love our latex and wool bed), cover, pillows (again I will have wool), and when I added it all up it cleared 4k- well, we aren’t taking a vacation this year either. At a decision point here and from what I’ve discovered in my absurdly long search is that this is going to hurt, the wallet – – but at least can be sort of ‘pieced out’ over a little time.

    I echo the previous comment on older furniture – my last sofa lasted twenty years and is going to live with family – their ten year old sofa is junk.

    If we buy a sofa or chaise I’m leaning heavily towards EcoBalanza, for me they are local and I completely agree regarding the responses and information. Style is dropping on my priority list, very sad – comfort and health are paramount. Thu numbers of people currently in this same search is staggering – – (don’t get me started on mattresses)

    • Hi Sally! Welcome to the blog! There are a few more options in the text and comments of Sofa Sage Part 4, as well as a good exchange about latex versus poly foam. Hope you let us know what you decide and what you think of it after it arrives!!! All best, Laura

  22. I really enjoyed this article. I went through a similar search about 4 years ago when I learned that flame retardants are in polar bears. They don’t even sit on sofas, walk on carpets or watch TV. These chemicals are bad and almost nobody knows about it.

    In my hunt for flame-retardant free products I too have gotten the, “Uh oh, crazy lady here, I will try to humor her because she seems nice and I am supposed to be polite to customers” reaction whilst trying to find an affordable alternative to chemically-polluted furnishings.

    In addition to being obsessed with avoiding flame retardants as much as possible, I am also a bit chemically sensitive and have to avoid a lot of things because of off-gassing (even some natural latex gets me).

    I ended up buying a couch from Aimee at Ecobalanza and we are super duper happy with the results. Because we live in Seattle I was able to go to the factory and sniff all of the ingredients to make sure I’d be able to live with them. The people who build sofas and chairs at Ecobalanza even agreed to not use fragrant hand-lotion when building our couch. And they didn’t even act like I’m a crazy person (If they thought so, they hid it really really well).

    I like that they don’t have any toxic materials in their factory. They are not making some furniture with flame retardants, and some without. They only make furniture with good ingredients, so they cannot accidentally fill your sofa with crud.

    Yes our couch was expensive (I think it cost more than our car is presently worth), but it will last a lifetime and it makes me really happy when I sit on it. They have lots of options, including some incredible leather choices for coverings. We had ours slipcovered in raw hemp and it is excellent because when our toddler squishes a strawberry into the couch cushion, we can unzip it and toss it in the wash. I also love that the arms of the couch are built for sitting on. It is a really heavy frame built of solid (FSC certified) wood and real metal springs. It is extremely solid.

    I have a couple of critiques of the people/companies above that you talked to. The first is about natural latex. It was used for furniture in the fifties and earlier, and it has well-proven longevity; especially when compared to petro-based foam which breaks down. Wrapped in wool and fabric (or leather), latex isn’t going to get exposed to much UV. Mr. Fonville seems pretty uninformed. He has an eco-factory but knows nothing of flame-retardant toxicity?

    Our previous (conventional) couch was supposedly top of the line from Eddie Bauer. It was labeled 8-way-hand tied springs etc., but it It lasted less than 8 years. The fluffy white foam in the back cushions literally disintegrated (I am sure we din’t breathe any of this in as it slowly disappeared from the cushions). We stretched out the life of the couch by stuffing the cushions with pillows. The seat cushions also sunk in badly.

    We took it apart ourselves thinking that we would reupholster it. But our friend that does upholstering advised us against using it because the frame was really not worth saving, especially with the work involved.

    Now that I know better, I’d never take apart a couch unless it was from the early 60’s or earlier (before they started putting such harmful things in furniture). And this leads me to one more option you might want to consider. You could buy a vintage/antique sofa and re-upholster it yourself. Many fabric stores have do-it-yourself classes. The challenges with this plan (I tried this too) are 1) finding the time and 2) locating the ingredients. You can do a whole blog post on finding batting without flame retardants.

    Ecobalanza will also re-upholster an old chair or couch for you. I fell in love with an old worn-out wing back chair and they fixed it up nicely.

    Thank you for you blog!

    • Thank you for this post! I was on the exact same path and ditched my couch for an IKEA one I thought was safer and now am looking for the ultimate in chemical-free. One other idea, although not nearly as stylish but a whole heck-of-a-lot cheaper, is to get a futon and frame from White Lotus Home. Their “green” line would cost about $1500 and their organic about $2100. They have multiple options for their futons, including wool, latex, and eco-friendly or organic cotton. I had purchased a crib mattress years ago from them and just purchased two twin futons for our bunk beds. I’d really love to get a couch from Ecobalanza though and may just start saving up.

      • Thanks so much for the idea! I love new sources — and those prices are on the lower end of what I found, so I’m sure folks will be very interested to know about that possibility. All best, Laura

    • Slipcover is a FABULOUS idea. If I can convince my husband to spend that much on a sofa, we will surely be purchasing a slip cover too. 🙂

    • That’s really helpful information on Ecobalanza! I’m considering buying a sofa from them (I’m deciding between Ecobalanza and Ekla Home), but it’s so hard without any reviews online. Which sofa did you buy? How are you liking it these days? Thanks!

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