Help! We are looking for a 'non toxic' sofa

(33 Posts)
princesschick Tue 13-Mar-12 15:48:06

Is there anyone out there who can suggest a company that sells real, proper non toxic and preferably organic sofas? I have found one company so far, Harlands, however they are £2,999 before they are covered in fabric. ouch This is way beyond our modest budget.

We have looked high and low, thinking that we had found two companies (ID Patriot and only to be disappointed by their rather misleading sales blurb.

Ideally looking for something that doesn't contain any petrochemicals or nasties - main problem here being the flame retardants. We found out that standard flame retardants are tested on rabbits, fish, mice, rats.... and that some companies who stuff their cushions with feathers are using bi-products of the meat industry... that's foie grois geese to me and you.

Any help massively appreciated. Or I will be saving very hard and sitting on cardboard in the new home for a few months!!!

jennymor123 Thu 05-Jan-17 10:39:15

Roger, it isn't actually true that all interliners must be water-soaked; this only applies to those that have been treated with flame retardants (FRs) (the soaking is to test the veracity of the treatment). To quote Schedule 3 of the Regulations [my emphasis]:

"2. The interliner, water-soaked or not as the case may be"

When we exchanged emails a while back, by way of proof that your products pass the required tests, you just sent me a page from a general guide by FIRA, with parts ringed in ink by you that oddly enough appeared to confirm that you do use FRs in your interliners. I pointed this out and the fact that FIRA is just a test house, not the law, and summarised that you had so far provided no proof that your products are FR-free. By response you threatened to sue me for libel! As I said at the time, libel is about people making false accusations. I have merely inferred your position from the information you have provided. If you are able to provide proof that your products are FR-free and pass Schedule 3 (for interliners) and Schedule 2 (for fillings) I'll be happy to infer differently.

This, by the way, is not correct:

"[w]e use pure wool [interliners] which is inherently retardant & does not require any chemicals added, if it is used with fabrics that are 75% natural by their weight."

The fact is, any kind of interliner is for fabrics that are 75% or more cellulosic (natural) not, as you imply, that an interliner does not require FR treatment if it is used under such fabrics.

You say that your interliners are 'pure wool'. However, my contacts in test houses and fabric production tell me that the only interliner they know of containing wool also contains cellulose and silicon. There is general agreement that it might be possible to produce a pure wool interliner but it would probably cost around £20 per metre (or around £400 per sofa).

I appreciate your offer for me to visit your workshop and examine your products but clearly I would not be able to tell what's in them without sending them to a lab for analysis.

ecosofa1 Wed 04-Jan-17 14:05:32

Jennymor, I understand your concern. You state that almost all interliners contain fire retardants, this is correct, almost all of them do but not ours, we use pure wool which is inherently retardant & does not require any chemicals added, if it is used with fabrics that are 75% natural by their weight.
The testing house's must subject all items to the water soak test to ensure that any added fire retardants do not wash out. Outs do not have them but, must be subject to the test. We only use natural fillings & you are welcome to visit our workshop & examine everything we use.
Regards Roger

AmyInTheBoonies Sun 09-Oct-16 13:59:48

Ah I see that only refers to the U.S.A., no wonder Ikea had no idea what I was talking about. However, they definitely don't want to enter into any discussion about FR as I have had my general enquiry email about FR ignored too.

What a shame those proposals are a con and will change nothing in terms of choice for consumers.

I have found a futon sofa which looks like it is the best bet in terms of avoiding FRs but it is not a sofa in the traditional sense and doesn't look comfy - not an ideal solution!

I am looking into leather at the moment although there is nothing ethical about buying leather as the tannery and it's processes are very polluting and have v bad animal welfare too.

Any way I will update with what the labels on the Ikea sofa say and will decide once I see them.

Thanks for your info again jennymor123.

jennymor123 Sat 08-Oct-16 10:27:42

Okay, that article refers to the situation in the US.A They changed their flammability rules in 2014, so that US sofas do not now need to contain flame retardants (although they can still be used if manufacturers choose to). However, the US standard is not as stringent as ours, so easier to meet without FRs.

I agree it's very tricky to find a low-cost solution! Or even a high-cost one, come to that. What would be ideal is if consumers put pressure on the government to sort this out via the consultation that's running at present (closes Nov 11th):
These proposals are a con and will ensure that nothing changes for some years to come!

AmyInTheBoonies Fri 07-Oct-16 20:10:48

Thanks for your response jennymor123 - it is great to hear from someone who is knowledgeable about this. I only read about the 1/1/15 change here. Not confirmed by Ikea so not sure if true or not.

I think the packaging prevented us finding the label as I asked in the warehouse. I may go and tip a few sofas up on the shop floor to check the label.

I will look into leather now, maybe if I see their leather sofa does have an interliner in Ikea that may be good enough/the best I can afford. But as you say as it's cheap leather who knows what is in that - I will try and research. It's v tricky to know what is the best solution if you have a small budget.

jennymor123 Fri 07-Oct-16 13:46:44

By law, sofas must carry a permanent label containing certain information. This is usually found underneath the sofa. There are two versions, long and short. The long version contains the date the sofa was manufactured or imported. The short one does not have to carry this date and the supplier only has to provide it at the request of Trading Standards.

Both long and short must say if the sofa does not contain a Schedule 3 interliner. If it doesn't contain one, it means the cover fabric must pass the match/small flame test. In order to pass this test, most manufacturers have the fabric 'back coated' with a chemical paste that will contain some of the worst flame retardants - the brominated variety. Unfortunately, this paste only needs to last long enough to pass the test (although even then there is often cheating with a properly coated roll sent for testing and under-treated material used on the actual product), which means the stuff often comes off easily (as Trading Standards have discovered).

An interliner can be used with 'cellulosic' materials, e.g. cotton, flax (by 75% or more). This means the cover fabric doesn't need to be coated with flame retardants. Instead, the interliner has to protect the filling material from ignition. Flame retardants are therefore usually used in interliners - in this case, it's the organo-phosphate variety. These were once thought to be less toxic but quite a bit of recent research is showing that they are also pretty nasty too.

So, on balance, you're probably better off with an interliner, but it's not perfect. Until recently, IKEA only sold sofas with interliners. But I heard somewhere that they might have started selling products without, in which case they will probably have to treat cover materials with flame retardants. Check the label.

I don't know where you heard that products made after 1/1/15 don't use flame retardants. But the law has not changed in 30 years so the same tough flammability tests remain in place. It may be that a particular manufacturer has promised not to use FRs after that date. If so, their products are probably going to cost quite a bit more.

Leather sofas in general use less FRs, simply because leather will pass the cover tests without treatment. However, bear in mind the fillings still contain FRs and you might want to try to find out what chemicals are used in making cheaper leather (essentially it's leather dust glued together).

There are some expensive sofas you can buy that claim not to use FRs. This is possible where the cover fabrics are concerned, if say high quality wool is used. But any kind of foam filling will need to be treated with FRs to pass the test. Natural fillings, again such as wool, could pass but that would be even more expensive.

AmyInTheBoonies Fri 07-Oct-16 12:42:50

Thanks jennymor123 for all the information, it is really interesting and concerning too to read.

After looking around for different sofas I decided to go to Ikea as it seemed the least toxic mass produced one available. I spoke to quite a helpful assistant who tried to check when the sofa I was about to buy was produced (I had read it needs to be made after 1/1/15 to avoid the fire retardants on the outer material).

Anyway he couldn't find the label anywhere which tells you the date it was made - he said he thought it would be ok but no actual confirmation. Then he emailed someone further up the chain to confirm that the info about less FR being used afte 1/1/15 was correct. I had only read this on the internet so not sure it was correct and wanted confirmation. Anyway no response from them and it is all so unclear. I have not bought a new sofa yet!

I was wondering if I need to buy a leather sofa from Ikea instead? As far a mass produced sofas maybe that is as 'safe' as I am going to get.

jennymor123 Mon 01-Aug-16 18:58:32

It's perfectly legal to make your own sofa and it doesn't have to comply with the UK regulations. However, you won't be able to sell it on. Good luck!

micemicebabies Sun 31-Jul-16 13:55:30

Jenny thanks for posting that about Ecosofas, will definitely not be using them!

I've actually been looking into making my own sofa but I'm a bit of a dummy when it comes to diy and my past creations leave a lot to be desired so I have been looking for one online just in case!

jennymor123 Mon 18-Jul-16 17:02:00

(Copied from another thread for info)

Regarding Ecosofa, I wrote to them recently to ask them how they manage to pass the flammability tests without using flame retardants (FRs). After much faffing around they told me that they use interliners (which is permissable with cover fabrics that are 75% or more cellulosic, e.g. cotton) and that they use no FRs in their sofas. I said that almost all interliners contain FRs. They then sent me a certificate from a test house that they claimed proved their interliners don't contain FRs. However, the certificate shows that the test house pre-washed the interliner which is only required if it contains FRs! I wrote back to point out that their certificate actually proves my point, not theirs, at which juncture they threatened me with libel!

jennymor123 Mon 30-May-16 16:57:24

‘If you are on a burning sofa’ is misleading. Of course you wouldn’t be on a burning sofa if conscious/sober. Your implication is that the flames will get you before the toxic fumes. However, this is not necessarily true. If you were asleep upstairs and in the room below a sofa caught light, there is a very good chance the toxic fumes will get you before you can escape the fire.

‘The fumes won’t be a worry’ - taking this statement at face value, what is it based on? There is a whole mass of evidence that flame retardants - particularly brominated flame retardants - have all sorts of negative effects on health and the environment. Only a few days ago, articles based on research appeared in several papers, e.g., detailing how flame retardants cause thyroid problems.

You’re quite right about smoking and ‘stinky’ candles which is why I don’t do either. But advising to avoid risks in two product areas does not automatically deny the risks from another. Also, it’s arguable that without knowledge (not freely offered by furniture retailers), it’s not easy to avoid sofas that contain flame retardants. Everyone needs a sofa, pretty much, so unless you know what to go for, you’re saddled with flame retardants in your house dust.

Why is it a silly question to ask if they add chemicals?

Asking what materials they use will not tell you what flame retardants are in those materials.

Do you work for the flame retardant industry?

specialsubject Mon 30-May-16 16:24:59

If you are on a burning sofa the fumes won't be a worry.

And if you are concerned about toxins ypu wouldn't be smoking or lighting stinky candles.

Don't ask if they add chemicals, clearly a silly question. Ask what materials they use.

jennymor123 Sun 15-May-16 11:05:01

Something else to look out for:

Many sofas are more flammable than they should be. One reason for this is that the lab test for cover fabrics is done over a thick slab of foam. But in a finished sofa, there are several parts that are covered by only a thin layer of foam, e.g. the sofa arms. In most modern furniture, all kinds of highly flammable materials can appear under the foam - cardboard, hessian, etc. Which means if you drop a match or candle on to the main cushion, you'll be okay, but if you drop it on to a sofa arm, a fire will develop in a matter of seconds. A fire that will fill the room and your lungs with highly toxic chemical fumes.

So, ask manufacturers what materials are used in their sofas.

jennymor123 Sun 15-May-16 10:59:44

Oh, I should have said: the reason that Cambridge Natural Mattress's products are not hugely expensive is because they have developed a natural cotton fabric that is able to pass the flammability tests without chemicals having to be added to it. Again, I don't work for them but I have seen the results of tests carried out on their products.

jennymor123 Sun 15-May-16 10:57:35

I've had a quick look at the Ecosofa site. It's difficult to tell but I'm a little sceptical. It is possible to produce a sofa that complies with the regulations, using natural materials, but it would be very expensive, and these seem a bit cheap. They mention they use interliners - ask them if theirs contain chemicals, since an interliner has to do the job that chemically-treated cover fabrics would normally do, which essentially is to protect the fillings. Also, ask them to show you proof that their cover fabrics, fillings and interliners pass the requirements of the regulations. This normally takes the form of certificates issued by an approved test laboratory.

I'm also sceptical that their fillings can pass the relevant test. Because their fillings are a mixture of materials, the cover fabric has to bear the brunt of preventing ignition, and that would be difficult without chemicals of some sort.

IKEA's interliners contain chemicals but those that currently at least are not regarded as being as harmful as the type normally used to treat cover fabrics.

gloriagumdrop88 Wed 04-May-16 13:14:44 - any good?

crystalle Thu 05-Nov-15 22:29:26

thank you for all this info! I am always searching for ways to avoid flame retardants, but that is a good tip about the anti-stain sprays, i will check for that! Thanks

jennymor123 Thu 05-Nov-15 20:42:07

Oh and by the way, I've just noticed that Cambridge Natural Mattresses say on their website that they do not use any adhesive sprays on their products. This is in reference to the habit many furniture suppliers have of spraying your sofa/bed with anti-stain sprays (they'll often ask you if you want this at extra cost). The fact is these sprays make covering fabrics flammable!

jennymor123 Thu 05-Nov-15 20:38:35

I would think so since I'm fairly sure IKEA use interliners with all their sofas. You could always ask them. The only sofas/beds I know of that are completely free of flame resistant chemicals - both in the cover fabrics and the fillings - are made by Cambridge Natural Mattresses: They make sofa beds rather than simple sofas. But they're the genuine deal and pass all the flammability requirements. I don't work for them by the way!

crystalle Thu 05-Nov-15 20:13:06

Hi, thank you for this information,
I was also searching for a flame retardant free sofa, and so far only ecosofa seem to offer an affordable option, but they have a long lead time... do you know if the Ikea removable covers would be free of chemicals? I was thinking of buying a spare set and stuffing them with feathers... not sure if this would work!

jennymor123 Sun 01-Nov-15 17:15:51

You need to be wary of claims made by makers of organic sofas containing only natural materials. The fact is the UK's furniture fire safety laws are very stringent and it's difficult for manufacturers to pass them without using powerful chemicals that have been proven to be harmful. For example, some organic makers use latex for filling materials but latex is highly flammable and it's extremely unlikely that it can be made to pass the flammability tests without chemical treatment. You should ask the manufacturer to confirm that any latex fillings he uses have passed the required test for filling materials.

If you want to avoid the worst of the chemicals, buy a leather sofa or one that contains an interliner. For the latter, IKEA put interliners in their sofas so they don't have to use the more dangerous chemicals in the covers. The label under the sofa will tell you whether or not it contains an interliner.

hairbrushbedhair Wed 07-Oct-15 13:27:46

Sorry to be slightly cheeky but can anyone give me a price bracket estimate? I need a new sofa and want to avoid flame retardant if I can avoid it but modest budget

ecosofa Thu 17-Sep-15 09:44:16

Thank you, EmeliaRose. We’re glad to see that you are pleased with our range of EcoSofas on offer.

We specialise in handcrafting eco-friendly sofas and chairs made using carefully sourced natural, sustainable and recycled materials. Our models are filled with natural fibres; we do not use any chemical flame retardants, or brominated fluorides, and we only use non-toxic water-based adhesives, combined with a natural fabric to give you the purist upholstery possible. We have a selection of seat and back cushions made using natural fillings. If you have any allergies or concerns, we are more than happy to discuss alternative fillings.

Please take some time to visit our website for more information, or alternatively you can e-mail us directly at or telephone Roger on 0115 9786699.

EmiliaRose Tue 15-Sep-15 08:02:07 looks quite affordable. And they offer bespoke, too.

EmiliaRose Tue 15-Sep-15 07:45:23

I'm looking for a non-toxic sofa, too. So far, I've found Green Woods Furniture in Bristol who offer one (nice) design but can build custom designs, too, so this may be the answer to my ercol longings (ercol uses chemicals, sigh).

It's not cheap, but comparable to ercol, which I was going to give my right arm for.

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