Natural & Organic Upholstery Materials

To reduce our carbon footprint, we make every effort to source our materials locally.
Organic wool batting: To reduce our carbon footprint, we make every effort to source our materials locally.

Organic wool batting & felt

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:

Natural jute burlap: Natural and organic fabrics form the base layers in organic upholstery

Natural jute burlap, organic cotton ticking, and hemp canvas take the place of synthetic materials used in conventional 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.
100% natural latex foam used in organic upholstery - produced from rubber tapped from rubber trees

Latex Foam

  • 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 in upholstery as a dense cushioning layer

Organic Cotton Batting

  • 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.

Coconut Fiber/Hog Hair – antique sample

Here’s a quick guide to layering natural materials in your upholstery project

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.
  1. Andrea RosenAndrea Rosen08-04-2014

    Thank you for this wonderfully informative web page. I so wish I did live near you in Montana, because I’d have you reupholster a slew of sofas that contain fire-retardant foams–or take classes from you to learn to do it myself! I live in Washington, D.C., and I have been unable to find any upholsterers who are presently, or are interested in, using organic or even traditional upholstery materials. Their resistance is due at least partly to their using suppliers who do not deal in these materials and on top of that, misrepresent the virtues and availability of 100 percent natural latex.

  2. CarlaCarla08-05-2014

    Hi Andrea,

    It’s so nice to know this has been helpful for you! Go to the BLOG in the menu at the top of the page to learn more about alternative, natural and organic upholstery materials. Or visit the SHOP to buy materials supported by videos and instructions to help you learn how to use them. These are handy resources you can take to your local upholstery shop to help them learn more about using natural upholstery materials in your project. (updated Dec, 2015)

    Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help!

    Carla

  3. Andrea RosenAndrea Rosen08-05-2014

    That’s great news. Do you have an ETA for the availability of that information? It seems upholsterers’ suppliers pose an obstacle to the dissemination of reliable information about alternatives, as well as the alternatives themselves.

  4. CarlaCarla08-11-2014

    Andrea,
    I am in the process of compiling a resource list, and plan to make it available by the end of this month (Aug ’14). I will post a notice here when it’s available.

  5. Andrea RosenAndrea Rosen08-31-2014

    Sorry to take up so much comment space, but I wondered what your considered opinion is of using feathers and/or down in upholstery. They never seem to be included in lists of alternative materials, altho they are certainly traditional and predate chemical/manufactured elements by centuries! I won’t try to guess why, although several ideas come to mind.

  6. CarlaCarla09-05-2014

    No problem Andrea. I’ve been thinking about why I didn’t include feathers/down as an option, and realized that many of the people I have worked with have not wanted to use down because it’s an animal product and they were either concerned about the treatment of the birds or they were allergic to down. That said, I am not necessarily averse to listing it as an option, since it is, as you say, a traditional material.

  7. Andrea RosenAndrea Rosen09-05-2014

    An upholsterer way back East in Pittsburgh who is willing to undertake a green reupholstery job for me (I live in D.C., so have to ship him my sofa) said he could obtain feathers/down, but wondered if and how same were treated . . . . Yes, I too wonder about whether the birds are treated humanely and would hope that they are not slaughtered for their feathers, but rather their feathers were harvested if they were being used for food anyway. I feel bloodthirsty just typing this, actually.

  8. CarlaCarla09-05-2014

    🙂 Cushions with down are usually formed as a down envelope into which you insert the appropriate size of foam. Latex foam can replace conventional foam with no adjustment to size. However, the firmness rating is different. Latex is commonly sold in 3 different firmnesses (some sources have 5 or 6). In general I use the firmest for seat cushions and the softest for back cushions.

  9. NancyNancy09-18-2014

    Thank you so much for this information. I am chemically sensitive and I am in the process of having all of my furniture reupholstered. I am going to pass your website info to my upholsterer since he has become quite interested in “natural” upholstery. For anyone who wants to attempt to do their own upholstery, I took a correspondence course through Foley-Belsaw back in the early 1980’s. It was inexpensive, self paced, easy and fun. I used an old treadle sewing machine to do my upholstery sewing. The Viking Emerald is a very good machine for this type of work also if you want to buy a good home sewing machine that can take the heavy duty fabrics and threads.

  10. CarlaCarla09-27-2014

    Thanks Nancy, for the great tip on the Viking machine. I would love to talk with your upholsterer or any upholsterer interested in ‘natural’ upholstery – to add them to my resource list. There are some great online upholstery courses available now. I offer a boxed cushion eCourse which includes detailed instructions on how to use alternative materials to make upholstery cushions – check out UPHOLSTERY CLASSES in the menu for more info. If you download the free ‘Buying Guide to Natural Upholstery Materials’ on this page, you’ll be signed up to receive updates on upcoming classes as well as valuable tips, guides, design ideas and stories to help you get started with the right upholstery materials for your project.

  11. LisaLisa10-14-2014

    I live in California and am chemically sensitive – since a formaldehyde exposure in building materials 3 years ago. I am excited about your workshops and hope to join one some day. If you do webinars or virtual classes, I would love to be involved!

  12. Victoria M.Victoria M.10-23-2014

    I am trying to figure out how to make my own bed and livingroom furniture, those are my next two projects for my home. I am thinking of making two day beds (twin sized or similar with pillows made into an L shape) for my living room, as we like lounging on the couch. I also want to make a natural king size bed. Any information or guidance to do so would be greatly appreciated

  13. CarlaCarla10-24-2014

    Victoria,
    Google ‘DIY Natural Bedding’, whom I highly recommend – Deborah is very helpful with questions about bedding materials. If you’d like to learn how to make a boxed and corded upholstery cushion using natural/organic & flame retardant-free materials, check out my ‘Bodacious Box Cushions’ eCourse. If you sign up for the free download on this page you’ll be on the mailing list to get all the details about upcoming virtual classes and free DIY upholstery videos.

  14. KendrahKendrah11-12-2014

    Andrea Rosen, I would love it if you could share with me the name of your upholsterer in Pittsburgh. I have a sofa in Pittsburgh that was my grandma’s. I was planning on having it brought to Philly where I live and having it reupholstered. But, I am having a hard time finding someone here who works with natural products and seems any good. It would be great if I could just have it done in Pgh and then have the sofa brought here. I’d love the name of the upholsterer you mentioned!

  15. Andrea RosenAndrea Rosen11-13-2014

    I’m happy to refer you to Mike at Blanax Upholstery, Pittsburgh, PA [(412) 826- 9080]. He was exceedingly patient and helpful to me while I tried to figure out what to do about reupholstering. A couple of life traumas interrupted my projects (specifically brainstorming a reasonable way to ship two sofas from DC to Pittsburgh), but I still intend to get back to him when everything calms down. Please tell him I sent you!

  16. KendrahKendrah11-13-2014

    Fantastic Andrea. I will give them a call. Ironically, my dad’s office used to be right down the street from here. You don’t know how grateful I am for this info. It is really challenging to find upholsterers who know about this stuff and don’t look at me like I am crazy.

    On the task of getting two sofas from DC to Pgh., I read on apartmenttherapy.com about a company called uShip http://www.uship.com/ You list what you want to have moved and people bid on the job. The bids come from a range of movers from guys with a van, to small movers who haul antiques across the country, to actual moving companies. I tried it once and was totally overwhelmed by the number of replies I got. But, it might be worth a shot.

  17. KendrahKendrah11-24-2014

    Andrea,

    Thanks for the info about the upholsterer in Pittsburgh. I have done some more research and am not sure yet that I want to use them. I thought I would share my brainstorm with you in case it would save you figuring out how to ship your sofas to Pittsburgh.

    I have read a lot about latex and learned that the term 100% natural latex is pretty vague. It can mean any number of things including a mix of natural and synthetic latex. It is entirely confusing because it says 100% natural, but from what I read, it can be a misnomer because there of course are no regulations for labeling. For more information check out this blog, which is authored by the owners of Oecotextiles. (Oecotextiles also happens to be one of the fabric manufacturers that the Blawnox upholsterers use.) Their posts have a lot of scientific research and citations, which I appreciate: http://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/2010/01/20/foam-for-upholstery-cushions/

    The comment section of the post is extremely useful too. They recommend using foam that is certified by Global Organic Latex Standards (GOLS). From what I can tell, that certification is the only certification out there that will make sure the latex you are using is actually all natural and not a combination of synthetic and natural.

    When I spoke with Mike, who was very nice and helpful, he told me he has thus far only made sofas with a latex that is a combo of natural and synthetic. He gave me the name of his supplier, whom I called to ask about their 100% natural latex, and it is not certified, so there is no way of knowing what its contents really are.

    I suspect the way I will go is to try to find a supplier that carries GOLS 100% organic certified latex, and have them ship it to whatever upholsterer I use, be it Blawnox or somewhere in Philadelphia, where I live. The only place I have found so far that sells it retail is in San Francisco. The woman was so nice and encouraged me to try to find it for sale on the East Coast as she said shipping from her would cost a fortune.

    So, long story short, I wonder if you can find GOLS foam and get it sent to an upholsterer in DC. It will be a lot more expensive of a material than the stuff that Blawnox is using but you will know what it is actually made of and will at least save the hassle and expense of shipping. As for finding organic fabrics, that seems to be a much easier find.

  18. WandaWanda12-31-2014

    Carla, I found you on Pinterest, I was so excited to find all this info available. I will be starting a Upholstery Class here in Mississippi next month and feel that the info you have available will really give me a boost. Thanks so very much for sharing with all of us.

  19. CarlaCarla12-31-2014

    Wanda,
    I’m so glad you’re finding this information useful! Let me know if you run into any questions during your class. I’m always excited to talk with other instructors about using these materials.

    PS. I would love to share where you’re taking your class on my ‘Where to Learn Upholstery’ Pinterest board http://www.pinterest.com/upholsteryarts/where-to-learn-upholstery/ You’re welcome to contact me through Pinterest or post a link here.

    Thanks!
    Carla

  20. StephanieStephanie01-04-2015

    If you are looking for alternative Organic GOTS certified material, please contact us :
    contact@only-organic-fabric-shop.com

    our website : http://only-organic-fabric-shop.com

  21. DeborahDeborah01-14-2015

    This is a great resource, thank you. I have an upholster willing to make cushions for us using natural latex and GOTS certified fabric that we purchased. However, we don’t know what kind of glue can be used. The upholsterer has only used a conventional (probably toxic) spray glue, so I offered to do some research. What suggestions for glues do you have? Thank you!

  22. DeborahDeborah01-14-2015

    Andrea, I am in DC, too, found an upholster in town who is new to these materials, but very willing to work with us. We are getting fabrics from Oekotextiles for chair cushions and shades, and next week, we are getting a sofa from Ekla that was made with Oekotextiles fabric. Cannot say enough about what a positive experience we have had, so far, with both companies. Happy to share information on the upholster, if you are still looking for someone.

  23. CarlaCarla01-14-2015

    Deborah,

    Yes, Please! Do share your upholsterer’s name & contact info, and website if they have one. I am compiling a list of upholsterers who are willing to work with non-toxic materials, so I can share it here as a resource for people like you who are looking for alternatives. It’s great to hear of your positive experience with Oecotextiles (https://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/) and Ekla (http://www.eklahome.com/) too. Thanks!

    Carla

  24. CarlaCarla01-14-2015

    Hi Deborah,

    I assume your upholsterer is using wool batting? If so, the wool will stick naturally to the foam – you don’t need to glue it to the foam, but you do need to wrap it to hold the wool in place as you stuff it into the cushion cover. Our Premium Wool Batting comes with a thin spun backing, which is perfect for this purpose – I hand stitch it around the wool-wrapped latex at the edges. I have also used a 4mm silk gauze available from Dharma Trading. If you need more info about this, I cover building a cushion using latex & wool in more detail in my online class Bodacious Box Cushions (www.bodaciousboxcushions.com), and have several supporting videos on my blog. Just sign up for the mailing list to be in the loop for classes (automatic if you’ve downloaded the Buying Guide for Alternative Upholstery Materials).

    When you do need to glue upholstery layers, I have had success using Aleene’s Tacky Glue, a non-toxic water based glue with similar consistency to Elmers Glue (which btw, might work just as well). I dilute it with enough water to make it spreadable with a brush. It takes longer to dry than the ‘toxic’ upholstery spray glues, but it does work!

    I use Simalfa water-based non-toxic glue in my shop. Unfortunately they don’t sell the product in smaller than 5 gallon quantities.

    Thanks for the great question!
    Carla

  25. VanessaVanessa02-02-2015

    I’ve looked high and low for many of the organic materials you have listed here. I love that as a society we are looking towards greener and friendly options. I’m struggling to find this material to use in my projects. Where can I purchase organic 100% chemical free latex foam? Thank you!

  26. CarlaCarla02-02-2015

    Hi Vanessa,
    We now carry Certified Organic Latex and ‘certified’ 100% natural latex, which you can have custom cut. Visit our SHOP to learn more.

    The ‘certified’ latex has no chemicals other than those necessary for the vulcanization, foaming & curing process that are a part of both organic and non-organic latex foam production..

    Thanks for this very important question!

  27. DeborahDeborah02-07-2015

    Well, turns out that my lead here in DC isn’t working out. He uses a really toxic glue (Camie’s), and though he was willing to work with the materials we have, I don’t think he’s going to flex on the glue. If anyone here has suggestions for an upholsterer who could help us, please share. Long story short, we bought a latex mattress from Savvy Rest, and there was a problem with the top layer of the mattress. They replaced the top layer, and are allowing us to keep it for our own use. We need to have chair cushions made, and since 100% natural latex is very expensive, we want to use this piece that we already have. Now we just need someone who is willing/able to make it who does not have cats. (We are so allergic that we’re worried about cross contamination.) The latex is very heavy, so we could ship it, but it would be a pain and expensive. Any leads in near/DC???

  28. DeborahDeborah02-07-2015

    Btw, Carla, he might be open to using the other glue, but I’m worried that he would get too frustrated having to learn and quit on us. Yikes.

  29. Carla PyleCarla Pyle07-13-2015

    July, 2015 update: I was finally able to find a source for GOLS organic latex foam, and now offer it for sale in Living Home Furniture’s DIY-Shop.