Thursday, November 19, 2015

Your Guide to Stress Free Flame Retardant Free Furniture Shopping

After our conversation with Duke University's Superfund research director last week, we received a couple of emails asking for details on where to buy furniture without flame retardants...

If you are currently in the market for a new sofa, the good news is that today it is much easier to find a flame retardant free sofa than it has been in recent history! 

The reason? In the last 2 years 2 new laws  have come into effect in California that no longer require chemical flame retardants in furniture with polyurethane foam (ie: almost all upholstered furniture like sofas, upholstered chairs, children’s seating futons, carpet padding etc contain polyurthane foam).   Up until recently, California law required furniture manufacturers to douse these toxic chemicals on all foam containing furniture.  Because California is such a large market, most companies selling in the US made all their furniture compliant with California’s old law (TB117).  Now that the chemicals are no longer required in California, companies can finally legally sell furniture without hazardous flame retardants.  Hurray!

To read more on why flame retardants are bad for you please read our post :Duke's Boss Lady of Flame Retardants: What To Do About Flame Retardants in Car Seats and Beyond

So the timing is right; in theory, from now on, buying flame retardant free sofas and upholstered furniture should get easier and easier.  Having said that, there are still A LOT of sofas/upholstered furniture out there with flame retardants - the California law does not ban flame retardant chemicals it just states that other means can be used to reach their fire safety requirements...  so read our guide carefully! Here is what you need to know;
  • Types of Furniture
To be clear, we are talking about upholstered furniture.  All furniture that has polyurethane foam inside and is covered by fabric.  This type of foam is the most common cushioning material used in all furniture. This includes, among others, sofas, loveseats, children’s soft seating, office seating, armchairs etc.

Some mattresses, comforters, mattress pads, bed pillows and decorative pillows contain polyurethane foam, however laws governing mattresses and these items are different and so we will not be discussing them here today.  
  • Labeling
Before buying new upholstered furniture you want to look at the tags.  There are 3 tags you might find:

- AVOID: TB 117” label: This will, by definition, contain flame retardant chemicals.  Avoid.

 TB 117-2013 label:  Items labelled with this tag might contain flame retardant chemicals, but they might not.  If you see this label call the manufacturer and ask if that specific item is flame retardant free. Most store employees you will find are not knowledgeable on this subject so I recommend calling customer service.

SP 1019 tag
The best label to find are compliments of California Senate Bill 1019the most recent flame retardant California law passed. This tag specifically tells you if the item contains flame retardant chemicals or not.  It requires upholstered or foam-filled furniture offered for sale to carry a label with two boxes, one of which must be accurately checked stating: 

This product meets California’s furniture fire safety standard and:
_____ contains added flame retardant chemicals
_____ contains NO added flame retardant chemicals

  • Companies Selling Flame Retardant Free Furniture
There is a growing group of major retailers that offer some or all furniture without flame retardant chemicals.  In most cases you will have to make sure the manufacturing date is after January 1, 2015.  Many pre 2015 furniture pieces might still be for sale and contain flame retardants, so it is important to confirm your piece’s manufacturing date.

According to their own websites or company statements, the following companies sell furniture without flame retardants;
  •  Room & Board:  According to the Center for Environmental Health, "all special orders can be made flame-retardant-free except for one line. Products on floor are likely to still contain flame retardant chemicals. Company expects to have all products free of flame retardant chemicals before end of year (2015)."
  • Ikea:  Proving that flame retardant free furniture doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg!  All couches sold by Ikea and manufactured after January 1, 2015, are reportedly made without chemical flame retardants. 
  • Crate & Barrel: As of January 1, 2015, all newly manufactured Crate & Barrel couches contain no chemical flame retardants
  • West Elm and Pottery Barn : All couches made after January 1, 2015, do not contain added chemical flame retardants.  
  • Design Within Reach: Design Within Reach sells select sofa collections made without flame retardants. According to its customer service, these include the Bantam, Camber, Flight, Goodland, Parallel, Portola, Raleigh, Reid and Soto Collections. 
  • Ashley Furniture:  The nation’s largest furniture manufacturer is selling upholstered furniture without flame retardants as of January 1, 2015
  • Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams :  all of their cushions are free of fire retardant chemicals  
  • Ethan Allen :  All of their upholstery products are free of flame retardant chemicals.  
  • Ekla Home:  They use wool to be able to offer flame retardant free furniture

Macys recently also pledged to eliminate flame retardants  in the near future

Please note:  in an ideal world you would have your sofa custom made using real hardwood (or metal), no fire retardants and organic textiles (we were able to do this locally).  However, this is not always available or possible.  To that end,  the company’s mentioned at least produce sofa’s without flame retardants- a huge positive step in decreasing your family’s exposure to toxic chemicals.  

However, just FYI, furniture which uses “engineered hardwood” or fiberboard, gives off formaldehyde (from the glue it uses) and should, at the very least, be allowed to off gas in a well ventilated area away from young children and pregnant women.

Finally, avoid stain resistant finishes since these contain Perfluorinated chemicals (chemicals in Teflon)


  1. Great information Aida Maria! Good to know since I need to buy a new sofa!

  2. The finish reminded me of hair conditioner in consistency. It gives the leather a nice, Demir Leather