Natural & Organic Upholstery Materials 2017-04-26T23:38:59+00:00
About Natural Upholstery Materials

Looking to use organic or natural, non-toxic materials in your furniture?

Are you seeking to use healthier, more sustainable materials inside your furniture? We have a guide that will help you choose chemical-free materials and learn how to use them – whether you’re a maker, a designer specifying natural materials for a client, a professional upholsterer or are having some upholstery work done for you. Download the FREE ‘Buying Guide to Natural Upholstery Materials‘.

Alternative natural and organic upholstery materials are becoming more accessible for individuals who are chemically sensitive or who simply seek to create a healthy, non-toxic living environment.

Natural latex foam for upholstery.

tapping a rubber tree to make natural latex foam

Natural Latex Rubber, processed without any harmful chemicals or petroleum products, is tapped from Para Rubber (Hevea brasiliensis) trees, today grown mainly in southeast Asia. Latex is a natural repellant to dust mites & other allergens, and is also resistant to mold and mildew. It is used as a healthy, eco-friendly replacement for urethane foam in cushions & padding for upholstery. Biodegradable 100% natural latex is created from the latex of trees – formed into a foam using minimal chemicals, heated and then thoroughly washed to remove traces of chemicals, leaving you with just the latex foam. 

Other natural materials used in modern re-upholstery.

Natural upholstery materials: cotton batting, wool batting & cotton ticking fabric

Organic cotton batting is used as a foundation padding layer in upholstery.

Wool batting forms a naturally flame retardant barrier between latex foam and the outer fabric. Wool is also mold, mildew and dust mite resistant. It is used to ‘soften the edges’ in the top layer of upholstery.

Organic cotton twill or a tight-weave muslin is used as a ticking layer between the wool batting and the outer fabric to prevent wool fibers from migrating through the cover fabric and ‘pilling’ on the surface.

Traditional re-upholstery materials

Natural Materials for upholstery - image: ModHomeEc.com

In the very early days of upholstery, there were no synthetics or foams. Aside from the materials mentioned above, any discussion of natural upholstery would not be complete without including traditional materials. 

You’ll find some of these materials used in antique furniture, as well as in fine modern pieces using traditional re-upholstery techniques:

  • Coconut fiber – the rough fibers of the coconut husk forms a ‘crunchy’ layer in traditional applications. If you buy a fresh coconut, you’ll find some of these fibers on the outside of the hard inner shell.  
  • Spanish moss – often mistaken for horsehair with its long fibers, but a closer look reveals a plant material.
  • Hog hair or horse hair – yes, this is the wiry hair from a real animal, often found as a tightly packed dense layers in old chairs.

Ready to ‘Go Natural’ with your furniture?

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29 Comments

  1. Andrea Rosen August 4, 2014 at 7:45 am

    Thank you for this wonderfully informative web page. I so wish I did live near you in Montana, because I’d have you reupholster a slew of sofas that contain fire-retardant foams–or take classes from you to learn to do it myself! I live in Washington, D.C., and I have been unable to find any upholsterers who are presently, or are interested in, using organic or even traditional upholstery materials. Their resistance is due at least partly to their using suppliers who do not deal in these materials and on top of that, misrepresent the virtues and availability of 100 percent natural latex.

  2. Carla August 5, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    Hi Andrea,

    It’s so nice to know this has been helpful for you! Go to the BLOG in the menu at the top of the page to learn more about alternative, natural and organic upholstery materials. Or visit the SHOP to buy materials supported by videos and instructions to help you learn how to use them. These are handy resources you can take to your local upholstery shop to help them learn more about using natural upholstery materials in your project. (updated Dec, 2015)

    Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help!

    Carla

  3. Andrea Rosen August 5, 2014 at 8:10 pm

    That’s great news. Do you have an ETA for the availability of that information? It seems upholsterers’ suppliers pose an obstacle to the dissemination of reliable information about alternatives, as well as the alternatives themselves.

  4. Carla August 11, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    Andrea,
    I am in the process of compiling a resource list, and plan to make it available by the end of this month (Aug ’14). I will post a notice here when it’s available.

  5. Andrea Rosen August 31, 2014 at 2:55 pm

    Sorry to take up so much comment space, but I wondered what your considered opinion is of using feathers and/or down in upholstery. They never seem to be included in lists of alternative materials, altho they are certainly traditional and predate chemical/manufactured elements by centuries! I won’t try to guess why, although several ideas come to mind.

  6. Carla September 5, 2014 at 11:45 am

    No problem Andrea. I’ve been thinking about why I didn’t include feathers/down as an option, and realized that many of the people I have worked with have not wanted to use down because it’s an animal product and they were either concerned about the treatment of the birds or they were allergic to down. That said, I am not necessarily averse to listing it as an option, since it is, as you say, a traditional material.

  7. Andrea Rosen September 5, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    An upholsterer way back East in Pittsburgh who is willing to undertake a green reupholstery job for me (I live in D.C., so have to ship him my sofa) said he could obtain feathers/down, but wondered if and how same were treated . . . . Yes, I too wonder about whether the birds are treated humanely and would hope that they are not slaughtered for their feathers, but rather their feathers were harvested if they were being used for food anyway. I feel bloodthirsty just typing this, actually.

  8. Carla September 5, 2014 at 2:44 pm

    :) Cushions with down are usually formed as a down envelope into which you insert the appropriate size of foam. Latex foam can replace conventional foam with no adjustment to size. However, the firmness rating is different. Latex is commonly sold in 3 different firmnesses (some sources have 5 or 6). In general I use the firmest for seat cushions and the softest for back cushions.

  9. Nancy September 18, 2014 at 3:19 pm

    Thank you so much for this information. I am chemically sensitive and I am in the process of having all of my furniture reupholstered. I am going to pass your website info to my upholsterer since he has become quite interested in “natural” upholstery. For anyone who wants to attempt to do their own upholstery, I took a correspondence course through Foley-Belsaw back in the early 1980’s. It was inexpensive, self paced, easy and fun. I used an old treadle sewing machine to do my upholstery sewing. The Viking Emerald is a very good machine for this type of work also if you want to buy a good home sewing machine that can take the heavy duty fabrics and threads.

  10. Carla September 27, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    Thanks Nancy, for the great tip on the Viking machine. I would love to talk with your upholsterer or any upholsterer interested in ‘natural’ upholstery – to add them to my resource list. There are some great online upholstery courses available now. I offer a boxed cushion eCourse which includes detailed instructions on how to use alternative materials to make upholstery cushions – check out UPHOLSTERY CLASSES in the menu for more info. If you download the free ‘Buying Guide to Natural Upholstery Materials’ on this page, you’ll be signed up to receive updates on upcoming classes as well as valuable tips, guides, design ideas and stories to help you get started with the right upholstery materials for your project.

  11. Lisa October 14, 2014 at 10:43 am

    I live in California and am chemically sensitive – since a formaldehyde exposure in building materials 3 years ago. I am excited about your workshops and hope to join one some day. If you do webinars or virtual classes, I would love to be involved!

  12. Victoria M. October 23, 2014 at 8:45 am

    I am trying to figure out how to make my own bed and livingroom furniture, those are my next two projects for my home. I am thinking of making two day beds (twin sized or similar with pillows made into an L shape) for my living room, as we like lounging on the couch. I also want to make a natural king size bed. Any information or guidance to do so would be greatly appreciated

  13. Carla October 24, 2014 at 9:43 am

    Victoria,
    Google ‘DIY Natural Bedding’, whom I highly recommend – Deborah is very helpful with questions about bedding materials. If you’d like to learn how to make a boxed and corded upholstery cushion using natural/organic & flame retardant-free materials, check out my ‘Bodacious Box Cushions’ eCourse. If you sign up for the free download on this page you’ll be on the mailing list to get all the details about upcoming virtual classes and free DIY upholstery videos.

  14. Kendrah November 12, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    Andrea Rosen, I would love it if you could share with me the name of your upholsterer in Pittsburgh. I have a sofa in Pittsburgh that was my grandma’s. I was planning on having it brought to Philly where I live and having it reupholstered. But, I am having a hard time finding someone here who works with natural products and seems any good. It would be great if I could just have it done in Pgh and then have the sofa brought here. I’d love the name of the upholsterer you mentioned!

  15. Andrea Rosen November 13, 2014 at 6:08 am

    I’m happy to refer you to Mike at Blanax Upholstery, Pittsburgh, PA [(412) 826- 9080]. He was exceedingly patient and helpful to me while I tried to figure out what to do about reupholstering. A couple of life traumas interrupted my projects (specifically brainstorming a reasonable way to ship two sofas from DC to Pittsburgh), but I still intend to get back to him when everything calms down. Please tell him I sent you!

  16. Kendrah November 13, 2014 at 10:48 am

    Fantastic Andrea. I will give them a call. Ironically, my dad’s office used to be right down the street from here. You don’t know how grateful I am for this info. It is really challenging to find upholsterers who know about this stuff and don’t look at me like I am crazy.

    On the task of getting two sofas from DC to Pgh., I read on apartmenttherapy.com about a company called uShip http://www.uship.com/ You list what you want to have moved and people bid on the job. The bids come from a range of movers from guys with a van, to small movers who haul antiques across the country, to actual moving companies. I tried it once and was totally overwhelmed by the number of replies I got. But, it might be worth a shot.

  17. Kendrah November 24, 2014 at 6:37 am

    Andrea,

    Thanks for the info about the upholsterer in Pittsburgh. I have done some more research and am not sure yet that I want to use them. I thought I would share my brainstorm with you in case it would save you figuring out how to ship your sofas to Pittsburgh.

    I have read a lot about latex and learned that the term 100% natural latex is pretty vague. It can mean any number of things including a mix of natural and synthetic latex. It is entirely confusing because it says 100% natural, but from what I read, it can be a misnomer because there of course are no regulations for labeling. For more information check out this blog, which is authored by the owners of Oecotextiles. (Oecotextiles also happens to be one of the fabric manufacturers that the Blawnox upholsterers use.) Their posts have a lot of scientific research and citations, which I appreciate: http://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/2010/01/20/foam-for-upholstery-cushions/

    The comment section of the post is extremely useful too. They recommend using foam that is certified by Global Organic Latex Standards (GOLS). From what I can tell, that certification is the only certification out there that will make sure the latex you are using is actually all natural and not a combination of synthetic and natural.

    When I spoke with Mike, who was very nice and helpful, he told me he has thus far only made sofas with a latex that is a combo of natural and synthetic. He gave me the name of his supplier, whom I called to ask about their 100% natural latex, and it is not certified, so there is no way of knowing what its contents really are.

    I suspect the way I will go is to try to find a supplier that carries GOLS 100% organic certified latex, and have them ship it to whatever upholsterer I use, be it Blawnox or somewhere in Philadelphia, where I live. The only place I have found so far that sells it retail is in San Francisco. The woman was so nice and encouraged me to try to find it for sale on the East Coast as she said shipping from her would cost a fortune.

    So, long story short, I wonder if you can find GOLS foam and get it sent to an upholsterer in DC. It will be a lot more expensive of a material than the stuff that Blawnox is using but you will know what it is actually made of and will at least save the hassle and expense of shipping. As for finding organic fabrics, that seems to be a much easier find.

  18. Wanda December 31, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    Carla, I found you on Pinterest, I was so excited to find all this info available. I will be starting a Upholstery Class here in Mississippi next month and feel that the info you have available will really give me a boost. Thanks so very much for sharing with all of us.

  19. Carla December 31, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    Wanda,
    I’m so glad you’re finding this information useful! Let me know if you run into any questions during your class. I’m always excited to talk with other instructors about using these materials.

    PS. I would love to share where you’re taking your class on my ‘Where to Learn Upholstery’ Pinterest board http://www.pinterest.com/upholsteryarts/where-to-learn-upholstery/ You’re welcome to contact me through Pinterest or post a link here.

    Thanks!
    Carla

  20. Deborah January 14, 2015 at 12:01 am

    This is a great resource, thank you. I have an upholster willing to make cushions for us using natural latex and GOTS certified fabric that we purchased. However, we don’t know what kind of glue can be used. The upholsterer has only used a conventional (probably toxic) spray glue, so I offered to do some research. What suggestions for glues do you have? Thank you!

  21. Deborah January 14, 2015 at 12:12 am

    Andrea, I am in DC, too, found an upholster in town who is new to these materials, but very willing to work with us. We are getting fabrics from Oekotextiles for chair cushions and shades, and next week, we are getting a sofa from Ekla that was made with Oekotextiles fabric. Cannot say enough about what a positive experience we have had, so far, with both companies. Happy to share information on the upholster, if you are still looking for someone.

  22. Carla January 14, 2015 at 8:48 am

    Deborah,

    Yes, Please! Do share your upholsterer’s name & contact info, and website if they have one. I am compiling a list of upholsterers who are willing to work with non-toxic materials, so I can share it here as a resource for people like you who are looking for alternatives. It’s great to hear of your positive experience with Oecotextiles (https://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/) and Ekla (http://www.eklahome.com/) too. Thanks!

    Carla

  23. Carla January 14, 2015 at 9:34 am

    Hi Deborah,

    I assume your upholsterer is using wool batting? If so, the wool will stick naturally to the foam – you don’t need to glue it to the foam, but you do need to wrap it to hold the wool in place as you stuff it into the cushion cover. Our Premium Wool Batting comes with a thin spun backing, which is perfect for this purpose – I hand stitch it around the wool-wrapped latex at the edges. I have also used a 4mm silk gauze available from Dharma Trading. If you need more info about this, I cover building a cushion using latex & wool in more detail in my online class Bodacious Box Cushions (www.bodaciousboxcushions.com), and have several supporting videos on my blog. Just sign up for the mailing list to be in the loop for classes (automatic if you’ve downloaded the Buying Guide for Alternative Upholstery Materials).

    When you do need to glue upholstery layers, I have had success using Aleene’s Tacky Glue, a non-toxic water based glue with similar consistency to Elmers Glue (which btw, might work just as well). I dilute it with enough water to make it spreadable with a brush. It takes longer to dry than the ‘toxic’ upholstery spray glues, but it does work!

    I use Simalfa water-based non-toxic glue in my shop. Unfortunately they don’t sell the product in smaller than 5 gallon quantities.

    Thanks for the great question!
    Carla

  24. Vanessa February 2, 2015 at 5:00 am

    I’ve looked high and low for many of the organic materials you have listed here. I love that as a society we are looking towards greener and friendly options. I’m struggling to find this material to use in my projects. Where can I purchase organic 100% chemical free latex foam? Thank you!

  25. Carla February 2, 2015 at 10:16 am

    Hi Vanessa,
    We now carry Certified Organic Latex and ‘certified’ 100% natural latex, which you can have custom cut. Visit our SHOP to learn more.

    The ‘certified’ latex has no chemicals other than those necessary for the vulcanization, foaming & curing process that are a part of both organic and non-organic latex foam production..

    Thanks for this very important question!

  26. Deborah February 7, 2015 at 1:10 pm

    Well, turns out that my lead here in DC isn’t working out. He uses a really toxic glue (Camie’s), and though he was willing to work with the materials we have, I don’t think he’s going to flex on the glue. If anyone here has suggestions for an upholsterer who could help us, please share. Long story short, we bought a latex mattress from Savvy Rest, and there was a problem with the top layer of the mattress. They replaced the top layer, and are allowing us to keep it for our own use. We need to have chair cushions made, and since 100% natural latex is very expensive, we want to use this piece that we already have. Now we just need someone who is willing/able to make it who does not have cats. (We are so allergic that we’re worried about cross contamination.) The latex is very heavy, so we could ship it, but it would be a pain and expensive. Any leads in near/DC???

  27. Deborah February 7, 2015 at 1:11 pm

    Btw, Carla, he might be open to using the other glue, but I’m worried that he would get too frustrated having to learn and quit on us. Yikes.

  28. Carla Pyle July 13, 2015 at 5:08 pm

    July, 2015 update: I was finally able to find a source for GOLS organic latex foam, and now offer it for sale in Living Home Furniture’s DIY-Shop.

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