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How to Buy Non-Toxic Furniture

Written by Irina Webb

Don’t you just love your family time on a comfortable couch in your living room?  I definitely do, especially since we bought a non-toxic sectional that we have enjoyed for several years already.  Actually, I had spent multiple hours researching the furniture industry before making the final decision.  Although it is true that chemical-free furniture costs more than conventional furniture, it is worth considering.  First, it is a long-term investment: divide the price by the number of days of usage and it will be very reasonable.  Second, it is healthful: you do not have to inhale toxic substances that may potentially cause health issues.  Third, it gives you peace of mind: you know that you and your children are resting in a safe environment.  So, let’s see what constitutes non-toxic furniture and how to buy a non-toxic couch.

How to Buy Non-Toxic Furniture. A photo of a non-toxic couch.

My opinions about product safety come from thorough research and personal experience.

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that I have been a product researcher since 2012.  It started as a hobby for me but then turned into a full-time occupation that I love.  Believe it or not – I actually like to research product ingredients and read scientific studies on them.  To learn more about my research process and reference sources, please visit here.  As for health-related claims, they are reviewed by Myrto Ashe, MD, MPH, IFMCP.  Look for her name on posts she has reviewed.

My research led me to the creation of several e-books, e.g., Shampoo and Conditioner and Baby Wipes rating list e-books.  In addition, when I came across non-toxic products, I wanted to save them somewhere to share them with you.  This idea gave birth to the Savvy Consumer Circle, a community of people who strive to make healthy changes around them.  You can apply to join us to take advantage of the useful information and/or contribute your own.  

When it comes to shopping for a non-toxic couch, there are certain things you want to avoid.

Non-toxic furniture has no flame retardants or other toxic ingredients. 

To begin, upholstered furniture manufacturers resorted to using flame retardant chemicals to meet California’s Technical Bulletin 117 fire safety standard.  Specifically, it required that all upholstery padding withstand a small open flame for at least twelve seconds without catching fire.  Later, however, it turned out that flame retardants were associated with a number of serious health issues.  Thus, scientists link them to reduced IQ, infertility, thyroid disruption, damaged immune system, and possibly cancer (source). 

As a result, in 2013, California revised Technical Bulletin 117 and altered the fire safety standard.  To clarify, California’s TB 117-2013 regulation replaced an open-flame test with a smolder test.  This means that the use of flame retardants is unnecessary.  To learn why there is still no certainty that manufacturers stopped using flame retardants, read my post about TB 117-2013.  Besides, the upholstered furniture made before 2015 still has flame retardants.  Therefore, if you own a sectional from before 2015, you may consider replacing it with a non-toxic couch.

Avoid polyurethane foam and soybean foam.

First, you may want to switch to non-toxic furniture because conventional furniture in the US contains potentially toxic polyurethane foam.  One of the components of polyfoam is diisocyanate, namely toluene diisocyanate (TDI), a derivative of petroleum.  The US National Toxicology Program classified it as “reasonably to be anticipated as a human carcinogen” (source).  This means that the upholstery padding in your home may emit carcinogenic TDI.

Additionally, polyurethane in furniture may emit toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which may cause both short-term and long-term problems.  Namely, they may contribute to headaches, allergies, and even cancer.  To learn more about the research and other issues associated with this material, read my post about polyurethane foam

Second, soy foam is not actually made of soybeans.  Unfortunately, it is the same polyurethane foam with a touch of soy.  So, the harmful effects of polyurethane are still present in the soybean foam.  Besides, soy is not the best material for furniture foam because most soy in the US is genetically modified.  They use very toxic pesticides to grow it.  To learn more about soy foam and other pitfalls of non-toxic furniture shopping, read my post about soybean foam.

A non-toxic couch contains no synthetic fabrics.

Of course, furniture made with synthetic materials attracts buyers because it is less expensive.  However, synthetic fabrics are usually petroleum-based and often utilize toxic dyes.  In other words, synthetic fibers are a form of plastic fibers.  When at home, microplastics may shed potentially toxic additives into the house dust that may end up in our bodies.  Globally, scientists seem to agree that plastics pose a threat to human health because they contain and leach hazardous chemicals.  They include endocrine-disrupting chemicals that can increase the risk of cancer, diabetes, reproductive disorders, and neurological impairments of developing fetuses and children (source).  Additionally, this study describes evidence of the presence of microplastics in human placenta.

 On top of that, microplastics contaminate waterways during both the production process and laundry (source).

One of the popular materials for upholstered furniture is fake leather which is not the right material for non-toxic furniture.  In most cases, it is a synthetic fabric made with plastic polymers such as polyurethane, vinyl or PVC.  To learn about the downsides of PVC, read my post PVC Yoga Mats.  Although there are safer options made with plant materials (e.g., cork), they do not seem to be available for furniture.

Beware of stain-resistant chemicals and formaldehyde.

Additionally, manufacturers may spray furniture fabrics with perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), e.g., perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), to make them stain and water resistant.  Scientists link PFCs to cancer, reproductive system problems, birth defects, and issues with child development (source and source).  Therefore, a non-toxic couch will not contain stain and water-resistant materials.

Plus, for plywood, medium density fiberboard, or particleboard furniture, manufacturers may use glues containing toxic phenol-formaldehyde (PF) or urea-formaldehyde (UF).  Thus, formaldehyde affects the respiratory tract, central nervous and reproductive systems, skin and eyes, and may be carcinogenic (source).  Further, the Healthy House Institute compared manufactured wood to natural wood.  They concluded that PF-glued products emit 10 times the formaldehyde, and UF-glued wood can release 100 times more formaldehyde.

Non-toxic furniture utilizes certified organic materials.

For starters, furniture materials that can have an organic certification are of agricultural origin.  Specifically, they include organic latex, wool, cotton, kapok, linen, and hemp.  Plus, a non-toxic couch will have a solid wood frame that has no need for toxic glues.  Some low VOC stains and varnishes include linseed oil, walnut oil, refined hemp oil, and Rubio Monocoat.  (Read on to learn more about Rubio Monocoat.)

Common natural materials for cushion fillings are latex, wool, and kapok.  The latter provides a squishy feel to your cushion, and wool is a natural flame-resistant barrier and water repellent.

When it comes to latex, you want Dunlop latex certified to the Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS).  The other kind of latex, Talalay, does not adhere to GOLS standards. 

To ensure that you are getting truly non-toxic and organic fabrics, look for Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certification.  It will allow you to avoid toxic chemicals added in the processing and dyeing of fabrics used in conventional furniture.  GOTS is the highest standard for organic fibers and indicates that the material is the safest the market can offer.  

Another standard, OEKO-Tex, is not as meticulous as GOTS.  Indeed, it bans or limits a hundred toxic chemicals and allows for both organic and non-organic fibers, including synthetic fibers.  In fact, it okays some flame retardants, pesticides on the growing of the cotton, and lower levels of formaldehyde.  Conversely, GOTS does not allow any of these within the GOTS certification.

Non-toxic couch options

In this section, you will learn about three non-toxic furniture brands with which I have had direct and indirect experience.  They are Pine Street Natural Interiors, Pure Upholstery, and Medley.

Pine Street Natural Interiors

We own an organic sectional sofa that was custom-made for us by Pine Street Natural Interiors.  The materials are natural and organic, and the GOLS certified foam is free of petroleum, soy, and any fillers. 

Further, the wool comes from family farms in Oregon and California, and the organic cotton has a GOTS certificate.  They use vegetable or low impact dyes to dye natural hemp canvas and linen.  As a finishing touch, there is a combination of hemp webbing, jute, and hemp burlap on the frame.  Plus, the slip covers in this non-toxic couch are removable and washable.

Next, the alder wood is Forest Stewardship Council (FSC®) certified.  It is fastened with steel screws and double-dowelled with water-based low-VOC glue.  For wood finish, they used Safecoat Naturals penetrating oil which is low-VOC oil without pigments or any preservatives.  It is a blend of polymerized linseed oil, organic flaxseed oil, modified soybean oil, hemp oil, and the least harmful solvent (with removed aromatic hydrocarbons).  The drying agents are free of lead.  Though not perfect, it is about as good as it gets.  Indeed, in my entire career as a researcher, I have found only one toy maker and one crib manufacturer that use 100% pure linseed oil.

The best way to shop is to call the store.  You can also get 10% off on your first purchase if you mention my name (Irina Webb of I Read Labels for You).

If you are looking for a non-toxic mattress …

In addition to non-toxic furniture, Pine Street Natural Interiors sells GOTS-certified organic mattresses.  However, they are too expensive due to high cost of materials. 

If you are looking for a non-toxic mattress, consider reading my post to find out what constitutes an organic mattress.  

I personally like a Naturepedic adult mattress, organic kids mattress, and crib mattress.  We own both an adult and a kid’s mattress, and we had a crib mattress when our son was a baby.  (Please, click here to see how to get 15% off.)

Additionally, Naturepedic offers a more affordable option, Happsy.  Happsy organic mattresses cost less because they come only in one firmness and are available only online.  (Click here to get a discount code.)  

Pure Upholstery non-toxic furniture

Pure Upholstery makes all their products in the US and is a good place to look for a non-toxic couch.  We own their high-quality armchair custom made for my husband.  The chair is so comfortable that we even fight for a turn to sit in it.

In addition to organic couches, they make chairs, sectionals, ottomans, arm cover throws, headboards, and custom pieces.  They use GOLS-certified organic foam, organic wool, organic cotton, and a big variety of fabrics.  Some fabrics are certified to GOTS, and others to OEKO-Tex.

Next, their wood frames are made of 100% solid wood, which is important from the standpoint of durability and toxicity. 

Further, they use Rubio Monocoat Oil Plus 2C as their finish on the wooden parts of their organic furniture.  Its main ingredient is made of linseed oil (aka flax oil), but there are also undisclosed ingredients.  So, I contacted Rubio Monocoat directly and received from them the Safety Data Sheet and a test report for VOCs. 

The Safety Data Sheet showed that the oil contained no harmful chemicals to declare to the European Union.  And the lab reports showed 25.2 mg/L of VOCs, which classifies it as zero VOCs according to US standards.  I also found it on the Eurofin website as certified to Eurofins Indoor Air Comfort standard for low VOCs.  Plus, Rubio Monocoat oil is a product from Belgium (not China), so I think Pure Upholstery made a good choice.  (Mention my name, Irina Webb, to receive a discount.)

Medley non-toxic couch

There are pros and cons about Medley because they offer not only non-toxic furniture.

First, for foam, they offer both polyurethane and organic natural latex.  So, when you order, be sure to choose organic latex foam with GOLS certification. 

Second, their fabrics include GOTS-certified organic fabrics, OEKO-Tex polyester fabrics from China, and Greenguard polypropylene from the US.  Clearly, I recommend GOTS organic fabrics, and OEKO-Tex fabrics would be my second choice.  By the way, their wool is not organic but is OEKO-Tex certified, which is fine because it’s inside the furniture.

Third, they use solid wood, which is great.  And they also use beeswax, carnauba wax, and olive oil for their wood finish, which is also great.

Cons of Medley furniture

On the other hand, I have a client who has had a negative experience with this company.  Specifically, she discovered polyurethane foam in the non-toxic pull-out couch she had paid for.  To be fair, that happened when the company operated under a different brand name.  So, chances are some improvements might have taken place since then.

Frankly, I tend to be skeptical about companies that sell a combination of toxic and non-toxic products.  First of all, cross-contamination is possible, and mistakes can be made.  Second, these companies are not fully on board with non-toxic healthy living.  They seem to offer healthy products as an option to satisfy the demand.  As customers, we just trust companies to do the right thing.  But if they do not display full commitment to healthy living, it is hard for us to trust them.

Nonetheless, I list Medley here because they are not bad for tight budgets.  Just make sure that the furniture you are paying for as non-toxic is truly made with non-toxic materials.  You can use the discount code IREAD5 to get 5% off.

Conclusion about non-toxic furniture

To sum up, a non-toxic couch is a couch that has no toxic chemicals in it.  The best way to avoid toxic chemicals is to avoid polyurethane foam entirely.

Additionally, the fabrics in a non-toxic sofa are organic with GOTS certification, and organic latex foam has GOLS certification.  The wooden frame is normally made of solid wood finished with low VOC lacquer or finish. 

Consider Pure Upholstery and Pine Street Natural Interiors as natural furniture options.  Also, decide to invest in a healthy organic mattress such as Naturepedic or Happsy.

Book a consultation with me to get clarification on non-toxic living and purchasing non-toxic furniture.  You can join the Savvy Consumer Circle and get access to tons of useful information about daily healthy living.  And check out my e-books, my healthy product shop, and my favorite non-toxic makeup.

30 thoughts on “How to Buy Non-Toxic Furniture”

  1. Thanks for sharing! I didn’t know much about Cisco Brothers or their Inside Green line. I have tried researching this topic quite a bit but never have finished the process or made a decision. It’s hard! What do you think of EKLA Home or Ecobalanza (if you have heard of them) and do you know how their prices compare to Cisco Brothers?

    1. I like EKLA Home a lot too. And they might be even cheaper. But they do not have showrooms and that’s a deal breaker for me. Ecobalanza is non-toxic too but I found that their customer service is inconsistent.

  2. I love Rowena at Pine Street Interiors!! I’ve also used her in the last year and purchased a Cisco chair – it came out beautifully. Highly recommend her – she has impeccable and classic style and is extremely knowledgeable. Not to mention, fun to work with 🙂

  3. Great posts and excellent to know about Rowena resource as working with a smaller boutique has it’s perks and sounds like better pricing too.
    I just got my ekla custom furniture delivered last week. We did sit on a piece by meeting the delivery van carrying one couch and pillows. We met them in a parking lot and went into their delivery truck. Funny experience but well worth it. We preferred it for comfort and looked good so we took the leap. We liked viesso and they could apply the wood stain with no voc but they had less organic healthy textile options. At viesso, their showroom has a mix of healthy non polyutheane products so be sure to talk to knowledgable specialist. I wonder what that means for the rooms they manufacture and assemble? Both viesso and ekla have some options but will customize. We understand that ekla has no Voc stains and their manufacturing warehouse won’t allow other types of furniture ie no polyurethane dusts.

    They use the certified organic natural latex rubber cores and wrap layers of needlepunched eco-wool around the rubber. This makes it firm and comfortable. – it was our favorite. They then upholster in undyed organic cotton twill fabric and use the upholstery fabric of your choice n the outside. We love oeco textiles and I met the founder in seattle. It started as a small woman run business and sthe is still at the helm working to grow it. I saw more than just what ekla offered from oeco but found by getting the ekla oeco textiles I got the bet price since they buy in larger quantities. Many designers can get the oeco fabric samples for you to explore more options but ekla has chosen fabrics that will last.
    Oeco textiles website is very knowledgable about these same issues. They have strong clients and designers in Europe but possible still small here. Of all the oeco fabric options they were one of the most strict about the fabric quality. I highly recommend them
    Slip cover was not discussed. Good idea. I would think ekla and viesso could do that too.

    The good news is whether Cisco, viesso, ekla or ?? , there are increasing choices of true healthy soft coverings. Thank you for bringing up this important topic!

  4. Thanks for the great info! Do you have any idea on how I would go about finding non-toxic furniture in Canada? How would I find a store like this? We recently bought new couches and the smell when they were delivered was horrible and my husband and I were worried it would cause harm to myself (being pregnant) and my 2 year old son as well as everyone else at home.

    1. I believe Cisco Brothers as well as other companies I recommended will ship to Canada. You can check with Rowena. You can also search online for Canadian manufacturers of organic furniture.

  5. I want to buy my son a small kid-sized chair (not a hard wood one, a comfy one we can put in the tv room with us). It doesn’t appear any of the recommended manufacturers make these (or I missed it on their site!). Do you have any recommendations for toddler-size chairs? Thanks!

    1. The rug is a funny coincidence. We did not try to match the rug with the house or furniture but it happened that it works for both. I got the rug long time ago before we bought the house. It was in one of those boutique stores that probably is not there.

  6. This could not have come at a better time! I am in the market for a non toxic sectional and chair. I found Cisco a year ago or so and loved him! My laptop got water spilled on it an died so I lost his website and couldn’t remember his name. Only problem I don’t live in Ca or NY so I can’t visit a showroom. I’m like you I really want to sit on it and touch it before I purchase especially at this price! Now I don’t know what to do. But thanks again for your hard work!! PS Yeah do you have any info about non toxic rugs?

  7. Thank you!! I did not see that; for some reason the Cisco Home site only lists their locations not how to find a retailer. I found one an hour and a half away. Not ideal but do-able! Thanks!! I’ll check out Earth Weave. Are rugs equally full of toxins? It seems we can’t escape them! argh!

    1. Great! Be sure to call Rowena first to see how you can buy through her (cheaper and 10% off). She will tell what to ask for when you are in a showroom. Rugs are not as a big source of exposure just because they are smaller but they may have bad chemicals such phthalates, formaldehyde, and flame retardants.

  8. I am new to your blog and wish I found it years ago as I love to read information on healthier products. Thank you for all of your hard work! Do you know anything about Eco Select Furniture? Thank you so much!

    1. If they just offer no flame retardants, it is not good enough because most furniture manufacturers stopped using flame retardants. The flammability law has changed. You want natural latex foam over polyurethane foam.

  9. I have to add my voice to the chorus of praise for all the meticulous research you are conducting on ways in which we can decrease the amount of toxins in our home.
    I love all the suggestions for furniture retailers, however, I live in Perth Western Australia and am really struggling to find any suppliers over here. I am in the market for a non-toxic lounge.
    It’s a long shot, but I was wondering if you might know of any suppliers over this way?
    Thanks!

  10. Hi…I am looking for a fabric manufacturer in the US, preferably in North Carolina, that carries fabrics that are in the same ballpark as Cisco Brothers fabrics. I would like to get the names of a few if possible. I love Cisco fabrics, but like to have multiple options. It would be for 2 couches and 8+ chairs.

    Thanks!

  11. Hello All – and Irina!

    Thank you for all of your kind comments about the products and services that we offer at Pine Street Natural Interiors. Since Irina started this blog, we have completed our website and you will be able to find a lot of very in-depth information regarding everything you need to furnish a healthy home – including healthy home interior design. As you will see, when you visit our site, we are very particular about what items we offer our customers. We cater to a lot of people with chemical sensitivities, so we have to be very careful in order not to add to their already very extensive list of woes. Please take a look at our site and don’t hesitate to contact either Lali or myself with your questions. We look forward to hearing from you! And don’t forget, 10% discount to Irina’s referrals! http://www.pinestreetinteriors.com/index.html

  12. Hi! Thanks for the info and research that you share! How is your Cisco Brothers couch holding up? I recently purchased Smith Brothers furniture, and realized it contains flame retardants. 🙁 Not sure if I should try to return them (I’ll probably get a 25% restocking fee). What do you think the risk is?

    I do have more furniture that I need to purchase (mattresses and sofa/chairs for another room). I’ll be much more careful with those purchases. I’ve looked at Stem, Joybird, Room & Board and Cisco. I just need something that will really hold up. Any information is much appreciated! Thanks!

      1. Hi Irina, Our whole family (2 adults and kids). We do dust weekly and vacuum weekly with a dyson vacuum cleaner. I did find out that Smith Brothers does not contain flame retardants in the cushions any longer, however we did purchase some leather and the smell is quite strong, I think it is more of a “leather” smell. But now, I’m concerned about whatever the leather may be off gassing. Ugh! How have you liked your Cisco sectional? Does it wear well? Thanks!

        1. Hi, Cary:

          We love our Cisco sectional. It is not cheap but I believe it is worth it. I literally feel better when I spent time on it. It has this natural, comforting non-synthetic feel about it. I recommend contacting Rowena Finegan, the owner of Pine Street Natural Interiors, by phone (415.331.9323). She is a wealth of information. And she will help you find a local showroom for Cisco Brothers line of natural furniture. Mention my name for a discount. Let me know what you think. ~Irina

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