Upholstery Made Without Chemical Flame Retardants

safer sofa without chemical flame retardants condofurniture.comThis is a brief explanation of how we cleaned up our upholstery, excerpted from an email written by Ross on February 25, 2016:


My own path to a furniture store cleared of all chemical flame retardants was the birth of my daughter in 2007. My son was just 3 then, playing with mountains of flame retardant-filled seat cushions leftover from the prototyping of many of our own designs. No way to be sure, but we just hope that the FR crystals in the brand new cushions leftover from prototyping hadn’t yet started to cut through all the polyurethane foam as he played, but he was a good sport and let me remove all those from the house. We donated them to a local re-upholsterer; unfortunately, there is still no safe way to dispose of FR-laden furniture or cushions these days.


We were already specifying what to use and how to make the designs we came up with, using a conventional but very high quality North Carolina factory we had great experiences with.  As we found out about the flame retardants, we ran into many hurdles getting rid of them:

  • One factory initially thought we might be putting the factory workers and our consumers at risk by NOT using the FR cushion cores and foam padding in the arms, backs, and elsewhere.  
  • Our own attorneys misunderstood the issues and recommended we put lengthy disclaimers on all the furniture, essentially stating that we were making the furniture more dangerous, not less.
  • Suppliers sent us samples that Dr. Heather Stapleton at Duke tested positive for PDBE’s and Tris.
  • A couple of big suppliers to all foam makers that I had been contacting for years finally said they would make the foam just for my production, but only if I put up a bond, promising to buy all the foam they were going to extrude for me – each bun is 225 feet long, the size of a greyhound bus, and I needed 6 different foam densities to redo all my designs correctly.
  • More challenges during the height of the recession – lower sales, no consumer awareness, etc.
  • We couldn’t pass the cost on to customers, so we converted our entire line once we got our foam made, and then the density of each sample varied from what we were told the firmness would be, until finally our better suppliers started making foam without FR’s. 
  • Even then, the suppliers’ own networks of distribution were not set up to accommodate our orders, so delays ensued while we pushed to get the right foam through the established suppliers to the factory.


Despite all this, we persevered, not for status or profit, but because I mostly work alone, meeting and educating every consumer that walks into my store.  How, with two young children of my own, can I look consumers straight in the eye and tell them the furniture is safe to take into their new, energy efficient, airtight home if it has toxic chemicals in it?


We then decided to lay down our own law: no FR’s in our store, period.  Any furniture line that did not clearly label their furniture with law labels that explicitly stated they were made without chemical flame retardants would be banned.  That thinned the herd a bit, but fortunately we were able to stick with some of our bestselling lines. When some new lines came into viability, we waited to make sure the items we placed on the floor were properly labeled before we would carry the line (several stated they would be switching over, but their furniture wasn’t yet labeled properly).


Please see the two-part law label (attached) we require to be on all the upholstered furniture in our store. This is something you might consider updating on your blog, as the reference to the TB-117 label alone is a bit misleading, it doesn’t go far enough to clearly pronounce whether there are flame retardants if the label doesn’t have a clear statement of being made without the FR’s.


We do use polyurethane foam of very high quality for our seat cushion cores; you’re right in saying that for the most part, these are what we have to work with unless our consumers have very big sofa budgets for natural latex foam, which nearly doubles the cost of a single sofa.   


Our approach is simple: if we can replace new materials with recycled, and the cost is not greater, and the resulting quality is not reduced, we will integrate the recycled into our furniture:

- twine for eight-way hand-tied springs

- paperboard covering the frame under the arm padding

- sustainably harvested hardwood plywood made with soy glues and zero formaldehyde (we have no pressboard or formaldehyde in any of our furniture or fabrics for upholstery)

- recycled PET plastic instead of Dupont Dacron in our throw pillows and some back cushion cores

- recycled steel springs and staples


We have developed an optional natural soy seat cushion core alternative, but due to cost, our local thrifty Yankee consumers have all said they appreciate the option, but prefer to go with standard foam without flame retardants, so that offering has largely sat aside, underutilized.


I realize you’re getting this information directly from me, with no prior exposure to our little business here in Maine, but if you want to ask a few people about me, please do reach out to:

  • Judy Levin at CEH
  • Heather Stapleton at Duke University
  • Arlene Blum at the Green Science Policy Institute


We are on the list of non-toxic sofa suppliers at Green Science Policy Institute and CEH.  I wonder if you would consider placing our business on your list of safe sofas?


We are researching where and how we find other chemicals of concern including fluorinated stain treatments, antimicrobials PVC, low formaldehyde, etc. in furniture we consider for our store.  Presently, we do not treat any furniture with stain protection, because all forms are harmful to my employees when applying, toxic for the furniture consumer, or devastating later to wildlife once disposed of; none of the fabrics we carry has stain treatment already applied. The antimicrobials and formaldehyde tend to come in imported items, so that’s less likely to present in our store. We sell mostly USA -made furniture custom built to order, and our suppliers are acutely aware of our stance.


Please feel free to reach me with any questions. 


Email questions to Ross@condofurniture.com