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

(54 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 Sun 26-Feb-17 19:34:02

Just checked the link to Terry's website and am getting an error message. However, it seems that when you type "" into the your browser it takes you there.

jennymor123 Sun 26-Feb-17 19:31:01


My background is in testing and Trading Standards. I know a lot of people in the furniture business and there is small but growing collective that is trying to get things changed, particularly to reduce chemicals in furniture. I've worked closely with the government, too, who have been shockingly weak-minded in dealing with this issue. Someone in government who paid the price for speaking up is Terry Edge. I know Terry well and can vouch for his integrity. You can check out a lot more information about all this on his website: Interest is growing in the media; keep an eye out over the next few months. I don't want to say any more because I don't want to tip off the chemical industry.

I sleep on a mattress that is FR-free. I bought it from Cottonsafe, one of the few companies who make FR-free mattresses that are also legal. It wasn't cheap but it's hand-made in the UK from the best natural ingredients and will hopefully last for the rest of my life. I've also bought FR-free bedding, which is alas also quite expensive. There is no legal requirement for duvets to be flame resistant but the all-powerful chemical industry often persuades manufacturers to stuff flame retardants into them anyway. For some odd reason, pillow fillings do come under the Furniture Regulations which again usually means flame retardants. But there are producers of FR-free pillows. They aren't always legal (probably don't pass the fillings test) but personally I don't need a flame resistant pillow!

As you've probably seen from this thread Eco Sofa make what are almost certainly quality products. If they are truly FR-free, however, they probably won't pass the fillings test under the Furniture Regs. I've said before that it would be good if the eco manufacturers got together and petitioned the government to change the law.

You're right that flame retardants are everywhere and it doesn't really bear thinking about where schools are concerned, especially because children are more vulnerable to them.

Charlieismydarlin Sun 26-Feb-17 07:13:49

This thread is a little old now but just wondering if anyone did order the Eco Sofa?

jenny I don't know what your background is but I find your knowledge pretty impressive. I don't have allergies but I feel like I need to start a crusade against the chemicals used literally everywhere. I have no doubt that our schools, for example, must be pretty toxic.

Finally, does anyone sleep on a mattress that is flame retardant free? My understanding is that these mattresses are generally made of wool and therefore very expensive....

jennymor123 Fri 10-Feb-17 17:17:26

You're right about the bottom line. And it has been allowed to happen by governments who are all too willing to support business before safety. It's a near exponential situation: the chemical business has the money, the safety-protectors do not. Which means business can continually promote itself, often with lies and obfuscations; it can also afford to attend in numbers the standards-making bodies, thereby skewing things even further in their favour.

We should be able to choose products without chemicals we don't want. But business has managed to influence the EU chemicals legislation so that companies are not obliged to tell you what chemicals they use. And I know from experience that trying to get any of them to give you the information is all but impossible: they just push you around in circles, between their suppliers, their consumer contact departments, etc; or just say they don't know, which may or may not be true.

I agree that Ecosofa is trying to do the right thing, at least where flame retardants are concerned. I've said already that I'm not personally bothered that they appear to be breaking the law in doing so. However, it could be argued that if they are breaking the law, it's not fair on manufacturers who aren't but are also not using flame retardants. As I said earlier, it would be good to see Ecosofa challenging BEIS about all this, since that department has done more (less?) in the last couple of years than anyone else to ensure we're stuck with flame retardants in our furniture.

Final thought: it doesn't help that all these chemicals in products add to the toxins that get out of more natural items. A recent report shows how the level of nasty particulates from log-burning fires can be far worse than traffic pollution.

MiniMum97 Fri 10-Feb-17 16:16:26

Personally, I don't think things being "cheap and comfortable" is a good enough reason to have unnecessary harmful chemicals in our home. Regardless of all this hair splitting, bottom line is that we are exposed to more pollution in the modern home that we are out of it....from the soup of different chemicals that comes from our furniture, cleaning products, cosmetics, toiletries etc etc. It's shocking to me that this is allowed to happen.

I want to be able to choose a product without those chemicals if I wish and that is the big problem here. Some of the people on this thread want the chemicals, fine you have them, I want to be able to choose not to have them and that is extremely difficult in this country. And frustrating!

I am impressed however by Ecosofa's involvement in this thread and am glad that there are a few manufacturers out there trying to do the right thing! I have approached Ecosofa with a view to them making one for us.

jennymor123 Mon 06-Feb-17 10:40:26

I'm a little allergic to phrases like 'I'm not convinced'! Have you read the government's consultation document of August 2014 and the accompanying technical document? If not, they can be found here: (fifth document down is the consultation document; second down is the technical support document). The case to be convinced of here is essentially two-fold: that the current match test does not work in most cases and that the proposed new one does. The technical document has never been questioned by anyone in any industry. Study these and then if you're still not convinced, I'd be grateful if you set out exactly why.

I see you've shifted the argument somewhat. I don't dispute that cheap hard-wearing materials play a part in producing affordable goods. But that isn't what I've been talking about. I've been challenging the high levels of flame retardants in UK furniture that damage our health but don't actually do very much. In the case of furniture, cheap materials - e.g. thermoplastics - have allowed the chemical industry to push a lot more flame retardants into our homes than would be the case with more natural materials such as cotton and wool. Such is one of the prices for cheap.

My allergy, by the way, stems from hearing many similar vague, un-evidenced, statements from those with commercial interests to protect.

On standards, yes, that's what I'm saying: that the OJ references standards (or doesn't). You also say that in most other (non-specified) sectors, standards not harmonised under a directive are only referenced when the directive is transcribed into national laws. This is sort of true but not entirely accurate. If you take the General Product Safety Directive (which covers EU furniture), for example: it's been transcribed into national law as the General Product Safety Regulations. Under those regulations, furniture manufacturers must ensure their products are safe. It's up to them to find out what's regarded as 'safe'. There is a hierarchy of standards to check, from ISO standards down to national codes of practice. Where furniture flammability is concerned, EN1021, can apply. However - as the EU Commission itself once said - because EN1021 is not referenced in the OJ, it is "useless" (to quote).

engineersthumb Sun 05-Feb-17 20:42:39

I have worked in an extremely regulated sector hence my familiarity with EU compliance, the OJ only references harmonised standards from memory. In very specific sectors the directives contain the standards that may/must be applied, in most others sectors standards not harmonised under a directive are only referenced when the directive is transcribed into national laws. Apologies if I'm splitting hairs.... it's possibly why I fitted in so well!
I agree that it is a shame that we live in a throw away society but I also recognise the great advances in materials science that we have made. Cheap heard wearing materials make our homes affordable, comfortable and in many ways safer than ever before. All that said I'm ever more aware and interested in the toxicity of the everyday materials we are sourounded with, it's just in this particular case I'm not convinced.

jennymor123 Sun 05-Feb-17 17:43:28

I think you're being a little hair-splitting now. I did not mean that the actual (full length) standard is published in the OJ. But the reference to it is published to give it authority. Similarly, if a reference to it isn't in the OJ, then it doesn't carry as much weight.

'These chemicals are here for a good reason'? What, like asbestos and DecaBDE? Also, contrary to what I think you're implying, such chemicals actually raise the cost of furniture! It doesn't help that a culture has been developed of replacing furniture much more rapidly than in the past (partly for fashion reasons), e.g. the National Bed Federation's latest publicity campaign to get us all to change our mattress every 8 years. This fashion, unfortunately, means of course even more FRs getting into our homes than is necessary.

engineersthumb Sun 05-Feb-17 17:02:33

Standards are never published in the official journal of the European Union. Directives are (amongst others) but not standardsure. BS and BS EN are accruelly national standards that may (or may not mirror those agredays as internationally adopted i.e those adopted as harmonised standards under a specified directive (a coordination of national standards).
These chemicals are here for good reason. In terms of increased toxicity due to the amount of furnature whats the alternativend, return to the days when the average person could not afford to furnish their houses comfortably?

jennymor123 Sun 05-Feb-17 16:26:25

I was referring more to EN standards for consumer product safety. What I meant by member states not applying them is a complicated point. Essentially, most EU consumer product safety falls under the General Product Safety Directive. Under that directive, it is up to manufacturers to find out what is considered 'safe' - which standards, etc. Where furniture flammability is concerned there is EN1021 parts 1&2 that could be considered to demonstrate safety - a match and cigarette test. However, the veracity of EN1021 is reduced because it was not published in the Official Journal. Also, most member states enforcement bodies simply ignore it, which means very few EU manufacturers apply it to their furniture.

I agree that flame retardants are intended to reduce ignition but would question how effective they are at doing this. Yes, NASA-levels of FRs in furniture will probably reduce ignition. But FR levels are much lower than this in UK furniture and are often reduced further (criminally) from the level used to pass the test anyway. Not that that means the levels are safe where health is concerned, as hundreds of studies show. Also, the coating begins to wear off as soon as it's sat on. And, as I've been saying, the government proved that the existing UK match test fails in around 90% of cases, meaning those FRs in our covers are doing nothing much other than poisoning us.

I take your point that our homes have always been full of toxic materials. But I don't agree they are less toxic overall these days. For a start, we have far more stuff than we used to - carpets, big sofas, etc. But in any case, I don't buy your implied point that this means we should happily accept the toxic chemicals we get in modern materials. As said, the existence of high levels of FRs in sofas and mattresses is mostly down to the greed of the chemical industry, not to consumer protection.

engineersthumb Sun 05-Feb-17 16:02:40

I really can't agree. By European standards I assume that you mean IEC and other such bodies (I'm most familiar with IEC but obviously this is outside their remit). Member states don't support these or otherwise, the only connection between the two is when a specific standard is recognised as a harmonised standard under a European directive. I'm not familiar with the specific directives in this area as I come from a maritime electro tech background. Any way that aside the main thrust of the fire retardants is to reduce the likelihood of ignition so actually I do see the advantages. As for the track record of the industry I do think that modern materials have reduced the toxicity of our homes. There are always counter arguments but as mentioned previously many "traditional" materials were far more toxic than there modern replacements.

jennymor123 Sun 05-Feb-17 11:34:14

Hi engineersthumb,

I agree that fire safety has improved over the past 20 years but the evidence points to that being mostly down to a huge increase in smoke alarms and decrease in indoor smoking. And I don't agree that fire safety is a challenge for the chemical industry (to develop new materials). This is the same old sleight-of-hand constantly used by the chemical industry, i.e. to imply that fire safety and their products are one and the same thing. Just like they've been banging on for decades about how their products increase escape time from fires by up to 14 mins. Yet when you look closely, they provide absolutely no evidence for this claim and plenty of counter-evidence exists to show that any escape time they provide can be measured in seconds rather than minutes. And that's without mentioning the highly toxic fumes - like deadly hydrogen cyanide - that are released from sofa chemicals within a minute or two of ignition. As for the industry producing chemicals that are more benign - well, good luck with that! Their track record so far is abyssmal in this respect.

I agree that regulatory bodies need to develop more effective international standards. The problem is that international standards-making bodies are awash with representatives from the chemical industry and tend to be short on reps from the safety and enforcement bodies (mainly because the former can afford to attend and the latter can't). Hence, you get European standards for furniture flammability developed with gusto by chemical industry-dominated standards working groups; standards which are then ignored by most member states who wisely prefer their sofas to be flame retardant-free.

engineersthumb Fri 03-Feb-17 19:23:14

Veneer is a thin slice of timber usually glued to a base material (unfortunately mdf is popular). Strips of timber glued together (sometimes called glue lam or lam panel) is an effective use of material and issee the normal way to maufacrude table tops etc. Taking the example of a table top it's almost impossible to makeep this out of a single piece of timber as it will curl and split (and be almost impossible to source). So it would meet my understanding of "solid", but agree all the furnature retailers are misleading in their blurb!

engineersthumb Fri 03-Feb-17 19:15:57

Hi jenny,
Agree the regulations could be better i'd like to see the ignition test conducted on all fillings/foams directly. The retardants used on most fillings should still offer good protection after a long time in service. In general the fire safety of furnature has improved over the last 20 years and this has saved lives. It's a challenge to the Chemical industry to develop new materials and retardants that are more benine and also regulatory bodies to develop more effective international standards.

jennymor123 Fri 03-Feb-17 18:54:10


I agree that old furniture can contain some nasty stuff, and probably you're right to warn against mdf and polyurethane. It doesn't help that manufactures pull all kinds of tricks to fool us into thinking we're buying more 'natural' products. You may have seen in the news recently that Oak Furniture Land got its knuckles wrapped for bellowing out on the TV 'No veneer in 'ere!', claiming that their oak is, solid hardwood. Which was false on two counts: one, it was clearly meant to have consumers believing they're selling solid oak, and two, their idea of solid hardwood is in fact strips of hardwood glued together or, as most of us would understand it, veneer.

I'm not sure you're right, however, in stating that fire retardants are beneficial in terms of safety (in furniture). They certainly aren't where health is concerned. And there is quite a lot of evidence that shows they do not perform the job they're supposed to, which is increasing escape time from a fire. For one thing, the chemical treatment on the back of sofa cover fabrics starts wearing off immediately (and gets into our lungs and blood) so, even if it was effective at the point of purchase, it very soon won't be.

As for the Furniture Regulations, I would agree they shouldn't be relaxed - if they worked. But the government's own consultation in 2014 proved that the main covers test doesn't work in around 90% of cases. The consultation proposed a new test that would have put the problems right but it got blocked by the chemical industry. So, as it stands, the regulations don't need relaxing: they need fixing.

engineersthumb Fri 03-Feb-17 18:18:50

Word of caution about "old" furnature made of "natural" matrials. Traditional techniques have used arsenic, auxilac acid (approximate spelling as I can't remember er), waxes / polishes containing shellac, oil, and active solvents. Traditional or antique furnature is not necessarily healthier and if sanded, cut or refine is he'd can be hazardous to the person doing it and possibly to you. I understand your fears about off gassing but I think I'd try to stay away from mdf, polyurethane etc. Using feathers as a by product from meat production I think is more ethical than wasting them. Also birds have been kept for feather production in the past and it's appalling, they literally tear the feathers out and stick up any skin tears, I do think know if this still goes on. Fire retardants are beneficial in terms of safety so it's a trade off, personally I wouldn't have furnature in the house without it but it is a trade off. Certainly I don't want the regulations relaxed!

jennymor123 Fri 03-Feb-17 18:02:40

Hi Roger, thanks for your further reply and the reply from your supplier.

His reply is somewhat confusing, however. He appears to be saying that the UK domestic interliner test is not a crib 5 test; but it is. To quote from Schedule 3 of the regulations:

"The interliner, water-soaked or not as the case may be, shall be tested using cover fabric corresponding to the specification set out in paragraph 3 below and foam filling corresponding to the specification set out in paragraph 4 below. The test shall be conducted using ignition source 5 of BS 5852: Part 2."

Source 5 is of course the same as Crib 5.

And he appears to be saying that your interliners will not pass it. It's not clear, but he seems to be indicating that the test you are actually applying is BS7177, low hazard. While this doesn't involve a crib 5 test (unlike medium hazard for, e.g. hotels), it is not the test required for domestic furniture. It's a composite match/cigarette test as in the EU standard, and is not the right test for UK domestic sofas. This appears to be confirmed when he says:

"not only will it help your furniture pass the UK test it will also pass the BS5852"

But the UK test is in fact the BS5852 test, which appears to confirm that he/you believe the domestic test is BS7177, which it isn't.

Look, you've probably gathered that I'm all for ridding UK furniture of flame retardants and personally would choose a sofa without them that doesn't comply with the UK regulations over one that does but is stuffed with FRs. I would probably buy one of yours on those terms. But you appear to misunderstand the legal requirements and are testing to BS7177 which may or may not be sufficient but isn't the right, legal, test.

You could always organise a lobby of organic suppliers, to press the government to sort out what have become rather complicated requirements. BIES recently put out a consultation with a proposed new match test that would help organic manufacturers considerably. Unfortunately, it's very obvious that they have no intention of actually going through with the new test. Why not challenge them about this?

Best wishes,

Jenny M.

ecosofa1 Fri 03-Feb-17 15:26:50

Hi Jennymor123
Here is the reply from my supplier.
"Regarding the conversation about cellulose and silicon I can assure you that the product we have supplied to you contains neither. The material is 100% pure new fleece wool, this product is perfectly fine to use in domestic furniture and not only will it help your furniture pass the UK test it will also pass the BS5852 I have enclosed a copy of both our specification and a test report on the needled wool.
I can perhaps understand where your enquirer has come across the terminology. Whilst pure new wool sufficiently needled will pass the domestic FR tests in the UK it will not pass the contract fire test standard (hotels etc) which is effectively classed as Crib 5. In order to pass Crib 5 the wool would normally need to be blended. One of the common fibres which is blended with wool is an FR Viscose ( cellulose) there are a number of FR viscose products on the market, one of which uses Silicic acid as the FR component. We do supply this product but would never classify or label this as anything other than wool/FR Viscose Crib 5.
However as above, the wool you are taking does not contain any Silicic Acid or Cellulose and as an individual product will pass the UK domestic fire test. There is a Polyprop backing on the wool ( for ease of transportation that we remove ) whilst this isn't natural it is there as an aid to production to make sure there is sufficient strength and fibre coverage across the width of the roll to enable process consistency"
I have been upholstering for 46 years and sometimes find the rules difficult to understand. But again assure you that we do not use any toxic chemicals or fire retardants. I am trying to produce the most natural and healthy range of sofas & chairs available. I am not against you, I am on
your side.

homecome Tue 31-Jan-17 09:56:37

Thank you for the clarification - that's helpful.

jennymor123 Tue 31-Jan-17 09:18:52

homecome: technically, under the UK flammability laws, you can't sell or even give away a sofa made before 1988. However, the reality is that Trading Standards are never going to bother prosecuting you, especially when you've been up-front about the fact it doesn't comply.

homecome Fri 27-Jan-17 14:18:36

I've got a sofa, which predates the offending fire regulations by one year, so is completely retardant-free. It's obviously ancient, but I have a friend with multiple chemical sensitivities, so know the value of non-toxic furniture. It has faded loose covers, so would need re-upholstering to look pretty, but it's tolerable as it is! I'm going overseas and it doesn't make much sense to store it while I'm away. I'd love it if it could go to someone who would benefit from it. Obviously I can't sell it - very happy to give it to anyone who can collect from Witney, Oxfordshire. I'd need to know by Weds 1 Feb if anyone wants it, and collection would need to be no later than morning of Sat 4 Feb. I hope this is an OK message to post - I'm new to Mumsnet, but as far as I can tell there's no ban on advertising free to collect non-toxic sofas!

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!

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