Looking to use organic or natural materials in your furniture?
Are you seeking to use healthier materials in your furniture? Whether you’re a DIYer, an upholsterer or are having some upholstery work done for you, we have a guide that will help you find the right materials and learn how to use them. Our new guide will be available on our new website: NaturalUpholstery.com, which will be online by April 1st, 2017. (thanks for your patience!)
Alternative upholstery materials are becoming more accessible for individuals who are chemically sensitive or who simply seek to create a health-supportive, non-toxic living environment.
Materials used in organic/natural re-upholstery:
- Wool is naturally flame retardant as well as mold, mildew and dust mite resistant – used as a padding layer. Much of our organic wool comes from a local ranch just outside of Bozeman, close to our Montana studio locations. Other resources are available online.
- Natural jute burlap provides a sturdy base layer for pillow-back upholstery elements.
- Organic cotton twill or muslin is used as a ticking layer to prevent wool fibers from migrating through the cover fabric.
- Hemp Canvas, produced from exceptionally durable long-staple fibers of the hemp plant, is used as a base layer separating springs from the bottom padding layer.
- Natural Latex Rubber, processed without any harmful chemicals or petroleum products, is tapped from Para Rubber (Hevea brasiliensis) trees, today grown mainly in Asia. Latex naturally repels dust mites and other allergy agents and is also resistant to mold and mildew – used in place of urethane foam in cushions and padding. 100% natural latex is created from the latex of trees and formed into a foam with minimal chemicals, heated and then thoroughly washed to remove traces of chemicals, leaving you with just the latex foam. Additionally, natural latex foam is biodegradable, unlike polyurethane foam.
- Organic cotton batting is used as a padding layer.
- Organic linen is used as a dust cloth on the bottom of a chair or sofa – for a finished look underneath.
- Water-based wood and fabric glues provide a secure bond for eco-friendly furniture frames and upholstery. The relatively slow drying time of the fabric glue requires additional time in the process, but is well worth the reduced health risks.
Traditional re-upholstery materials
Used in antique furniture and traditional re-upholstery techniques:
- Coconut fiber/Hog hair
- Latex rubber (see image above)
- Jute burlap (see image above)
- Conventional cotton batting
Conventional re-upholstery materials
Conventional upholstery materials include a wide range of fabrics, foams and finishes, some of which may be hazardous to our health. However, it must be noted that not all ‘conventional’ furniture contains toxic materials. This is a subject about which today’s consumers are keen to educate themselves, since flame retardants in upholstery foam (and other household items) have introduced unnecessary health risks into the home environment. One way to begin addressing the problem of indoor pollution is to ask questions. Furniture stores are eager to do their part for the environment, and customer interest in this important issue translates to significant “grassroots” impact as retailers begin to incorporate requests for non-toxic materials into their offerings. The upholstery craft has always been a friend of the environment, reducing consumer waste by reusing aged-but-solid furniture pieces, transforming them for a stylish new look that fits with modern decor. Here are a few examples of conventional upholstery materials:
- Urethane foam is a petroleum-derived polymer, and does not have the longevity and resiliency of a high quality latex rubber, although the higher quality urethane foams may last 15 years. Brominated flame retardants (PBDEs), which have been associated with severe health disorders, were used in the manufacture of most urethane foams between 1975 and 2013, due to the California law known as TB 117. The law was updated in 2013 (TB 117-2013) to eliminate the requirement for the use of these chemicals in furniture. Read about the updated law and how to avoid harmful flame retardant chemicals in your furniture here.
- Fabrics: There are an increasing number of ‘green’ fabrics available on the market today, which are completely free of chemicals. Others provide varying degrees of eco-sustainability.
- Polyurethane sealant: Used as a sealant on most all residential wood furniture and in the production of polyurethane foam. It contains toluene di-isocyanate which is toxic and a known carcinogen.
- Formaldehyde: found mostly in the glues used in sheet goods like plywood and particle board, and also in durable press textiles as an anti-wrinkle agent – can cause eye, nose & throat irritation, nausea, respiratory problems, headache, fatigue, skin rash, and severe allergic reaction. It is also toxic to aquatic organisms.
- Cotton: Conventional cotton is widely regarded as a ‘natural’ alternative to synthetics. What many people do not realize is the high environmental costs incurred during cotton production, including the impacts of extremely high water use, and pollution from defoliants, herbicides and pesticides. There is also pervasive use of genetically modified seed stock in cotton farming, which carries both known and yet-to-be-determined adverse consequences for farmers and consumers.
- FSC Certified wood products are harvested from tree farms that employ superior forestry management practices, and are not imported from threatened ecosystems.