I am a scientist at heart. Before I took up upholstery, I loved nature & ecology in my early youth, and later acquired a Bachelor of Science from Montana State University in biology. I like to see facts backed by scientific study. And yes. New studies are constantly re-writing the findings of old studies. We would still be living in the dark ages if that were not the case.

The Furniture Flammability and Human Health Task Force

I have been following the science and health implications of chemicals in furniture for several years, posting my findings in this blog. So when I was invited to participate in the Furniture Flammability and Human Health Task Force in early 2020, I did not hesitate to join. The task force was convened to gather and publish science-based facts about safe & healthy furniture. Now, one year later, the results are in.

The information below has been provided by Chemical Insights, an Institute of Underwriters Laboratories, on which delivers scientific insights that policymakers, healthcare providers, business leaders and consumers depend to make informed environmental health decisions.

The Research

Throughout 2020, the group got busy compiling scientific resources and summarizing key facts and action steps that were ultimately compiled in UL Guidance Document 118F: Managing Fire and Chemical Exposure Risks of Residential Upholstered Furniture. To help put this knowledge into practice, Chemical Insights created an educational tool for interior designers: Specifying Residential Upholstered Furniture to Safeguard Human Health and Well-Being: A Toolkit for Reducing Fire and Chemical Risks.


Chemical Insights Toolkit Cover

image credit: Chemical Insights

Toolkit Highlights

The Toolkit:

  • Presents a case for why both chemical safety and fire safety must be considered when selecting furniture
  • Offers guidance on how to specify solutions that address this safety convergence
  • Summarizes meaningful research on flame retardant exposure and furniture flammability.

Making the Case for Chemical Safety

“There is an abundance of research and information available to designers that addresses mitigating the impacts of consumer products and building materials on indoor air quality. They often focus on six specific classes of chemicals of concern. These chemicals can be released into the air and dust for human exposure contributing to health concerns, especially for vulnerable populations.”


6 Classes of Chemicals of concern to human health

image credit: Chemical Insights

Making the Case for Fire Safety

“Current statistics report that of fires that result in death, residential upholstered furniture is the leading item to ignite, above mattresses and flammable liquids. When residential upholstered furniture was the first item to catch on fire, it resulted in 17% of home fire deaths. This suggests that efforts to mitigate residential fire risks associated with upholstered furniture over the past few decades have not been overly successful.”


list of items ranked by order of ignition in a residential fire

image credit: Chemical Insights


Research Summary

“Open flame testing showed that a chair with a fire barrier material installed to fully encapsulate the polyurethane foam under the cover fabric (no flame retardants were added) demonstrated significantly lower fire hazards when compared to the other chairs with and without flame retardants (and without barriers).”

What is a Fire Barrier and How does it Work?

“A fire barrier is a protective layer designed to prevent or delay ignition of the cushioning material. It successfully reduces the fire growth rate and fire size after ignition. Fire barriers can be made from a variety of inherently flame-resistant fibers, including carbons, polyesters and fiberglass.

A barrier should be identified for furniture construction that will delay or reduce open flames.

A fire barrier is installed over the padding or filling materials to completely encapsulate it. In studies, fire barriers have been identified as an effective solution to reduce fire risks without the use of chemical flame retardants — achieving the desired safety convergence. Barriers demonstrate a significant decrease in heat release rate and ignition propensity that results in lower transmitted fire hazards, such as temperature, smoke and carbon monoxide.”

Specifying a Fire Barrier

“Just as identifying materials with recycled content or selecting low-VOC paint were once new concepts, specifying a fire barrier in residential upholstered furniture may be a new process for any or all involved parties — the designer, the client and/or the manufacturer. As with all emerging technologies, utilizing a fire barrier may not be an option on all projects and certainly not on all pieces of upholstered furniture — at least initially. However, you are likely to encounter certain situations that make any additional effort and potential cost worthwhile to the client. And as awareness of and demand for solutions that minimize fire hazards and chemical exposure risks grows, just as with the mattress industry, furniture manufacturers are likely to follow suit. There are already manufacturers in the market using the barrier, upon client request.”


decision tree for considering fabrication strategies for slowing ignition

image credit: Chemical Insights

Learn More

Thanks to the folks at Chemical Insights for providing this information. To view the complete toolkit, alongside additional tools and resources, visit chemicalinsights.org/FFHH.

This post was first published on the National Upholstery Association blog in June, 2021. Since then, new Federal fire safety regulations have been approved by congress, and labeling requirements are set to go into effect on June 25, 2022. I will be writing about this in the near future. Meanwhile, you can find more information here and here.

I am happy to present various viewpoints, and realize that opinions will vary. This Blog is made available for general information; not to provide specific business, financial, or legal advice.

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