What is organic upholstery and why should I care?

This is a common question in my work, which includes restoration and customization of vintage upholstered furniture. Our mission is to educate as well as offer resources for organic & sustainable upholstery materials – an important choice for those who are chemically sensitive, as well as those looking to create a cleaner indoor environment.

It is helpful to know what kinds of questions to ask your furniture dealer or upholsterer when purchasing new furniture or rehabilitating your favorite sofa or chair. Confusion runs rampant with the current trend toward greenwashing everything from vitamins to kitchen sinks, partly due to a lack of guidelines that consumers can trust. Two Sisters Ecotextiles, an organic textile manufacturer who walks the talk, addresses this issue in some depth in their blog.

Happy sheep in Montana grow organic wool used in sustainable furniture

Some of the certified organic wool used in our furniture line came from a local sheep ranching and wool producing operation

‘Organic’ vs ‘Natural’

Not all upholstery materials are available as certified organic products, so we have to do the best we can by examining the “next best thing” alongside the certified products, while keeping an eye to the horizon for new and better options as they become available. The certified organic upholstery foundation materials used in our Living Home Furniture line (circa 2010) include latex foam, wool batting, organic cotton batting, and organic cotton ticking fabric.

The wool batting must be covered with a layer of tight-weave ticking fabric to prevent ‘migration’ of the wool fibers through the cover fabric.

Layers in organic upholstery: sustainably grown alder wood, organic wool batting, organic wool felt

Certified organic wool batting and felt wrapped over a hemp canvas base layer

Other non-organic fabrics that may be used include natural fibers such as hemp canvas (used as a base layer over the springs) and jute burlap. Both hemp & jute may be grown without the use of chemicals, and the non-organic products woven from these fibers are most often considered to be safe.

Both wool and latex are widely touted as natural barriers to dust mites, mold & mildew, which are known allergen sources in many home environments.

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