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healthy safe sofas sectionals

Healthy & Sustainable Sofas & Sectionals 

By Tobias RobertsRise Writer
Jan 19, 2018

A sofa or sectional sofa is a mainstay in every living room. Snuggling up in front of the fireplace on a comfy sofa is a great way to make it through those long nights of winter, and a sofa that doubles as an extra bed is undoubtedly helpful when you have extra company. While most people prioritize comfort and luxury when searching for the sofa to adorn their main living space, consumers should keep in mind several health and sustainability considerations. Below, we explain what to look for in the healthiest sofas and sectionals and offer a brief review of the top four manufacturers of sustainable sofas and sectionals in North America.

What Are The Health Impacts Associated with Traditional Furniture?

Most people with at least some sense of ecological awareness understand the importance of maintaining the indoor air quality in your home free of potentially toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other carcinogens. However, many people believe that VOCs' only sources come from the paints and varnishes on your walls and perhaps from the glues and polymers in the plywood and trimming on your walls.

However, VOCs and other toxic chemical compounds can be found everywhere, from mattresses to carpets to air fresheners and even in the woods and upholstery on your couch. A recent article by TIME magazine discussed how flame-retardants used to treat couch, sofa, and sectional cushions eventually off-gas from the cushions and settle as dust on your floor and other furniture. Many of these flame-retardants are highly toxic and can cause cancer.

The plywood that makes up the base of several cheaper couches is usually high in formaldehyde, another known carcinogen. Other couches and sofa cushions contain stain and water repellant chemicals, both of which have been linked to an increased tendency in liver and kidney cancer.  A comfortable night on your couch while watching your favorite TV program, then, might just be exposing you to dozens of dangerous, potentially cancer-causing chemicals.

What to Look for in Healthy and Sustainable Sofas and Sectionals

As health and ecological awareness have grown in the North American consumer, several companies are now dedicated to manufacturing healthy furniture options with low VOC emissions and no known carcinogens. To find the healthiest and most sustainable sofa or sectional, keep the following in mind - and read all about them in the following section.

  1. Flame retardants
  2. Solid wood and low-VOC finishes
  3. Cushioning materials
  4. Third-party certifications

Flame Retardants

A 1975 California law known as TB 117 required flame-retardants to be incorporated on all different fabrics and upholstery. Because of California's economic importance, however, almost all furniture manufacturers followed this fire safety law. After concerns were raised over the toxicity of several different types of flame-retardants, this law was amended in 2013, thus banning certain flame-retardants and not requiring furniture manufacturers to include other types of retardants in their products.

If you want a couch, sofa, or sectional that is guaranteed to contain no flame-retardants, consider looking for products that mention that they comply with TB 117-2013. This usually means that the couch was manufactured after the date when flame-retardants were no longer required. New sofas might contain labels following California’s 2014 Toxic Furniture Right-to-Know Bill, which mandates that manufacturers disclose what types of flame-retardant chemicals are used on the furniture if any.

Solid Wood Frames with Low-VOC Finishes

Most cheaply made sofas and sectionals will be made with a plywood base. Plywood is a significant source of formaldehyde, which is considered to be a known human carcinogen. The finishes on these plywood bases might contain certain paints, varnishes, and sealants with high VOC emissions. By opting for sofas or sectionals made from solid wood finished with natural wood finishes or low VOC varnish, you can vastly reduce your exposure to dangerous chemical compounds off-gassing into your home.

Cushioning Material

It would help to be on the lookout for sofas and sectionals that advertise cushions fabricated from natural latex, eco-wool fiber, or recycled content fiber. While many cushions use polyurethane foam, this is the most synthetic material on the market. And, because polyurethane is highly flammable, it will most likely contain dangerous flame-retardants.


Sustainable and healthy sofas and sectionals should mention one or several different sustainable and health certifications. Besides the California labels mentioned above, sustainable sofas should have an FSC certification for the wood they use. The Forest Stewardship Council certification makes sure that wood products are harvested sustainably from the world's forests.

The Sustainable Furnishing Council (FSC) offers a certification program for furniture. In addition, Certi-Pur certification is a good standard for certain foam products, while the Greenguard Certification programs test for low VOC emissions.

Manufacturers of Healthy and Sustainable Sofas and Sectionals in North America

Many furniture manufacturers are located outside of the United States. The ecological cost of transporting a couch made in China across the world significantly increases the carbon footprint of that product. The health, safety, and sustainability standards are often much lower in other countries. The three manufacturers of healthy and sustainable sofas and sectionals (detailed below), Cisco, Environment Furniture, and EcoBalanza, are all based in North America.

cisco home richard


CISCO Home is a California-based furniture company that makes all of its handcrafted furniture (including sofas and sectionals) from natural materials that are naturally fireproof and contain no chemical flame-retardants. The woods they use are FSC certified, and they incorporate several types of natural materials, including goose feathers, natural latex, jute, and hemp, into their sofas.

Environment Furniture morgan
environment furniture morgan

Environment Furniture

The L.A.-based company, Environment Furniture, uses FSC-certified woods, organic latex, jute, hemp, wool, goose feathers, and down, all without any chemical flame-retardants. In addition, they re-use discarded wood products, such as salvaged maritime shipping beams for the sofas and sectionals they make.

ecobalanza clara


EcoBalanza is a Seattle-based company makes sofas, sectionals, and other pieces of furniture with 100% non-toxic materials. They incorporate organic cotton and wool into their upholsteries and focus on solvent-free and water-based glues.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-07-16T14:44:14+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.