Safer Sofa Foam Exchange Announced for Bay Area

by / Wednesday, 19 February 2014 / Published in Green Building Consulting

You may have heard about the problem with flame retardants in polyurethane furniture foams. If you haven’t, and you want a safer sofa, I highly recommend reading the Chicago Tribune’s exposé on the flame retardant industry: Playing With Fire.

The California flammability standard, known as TB117, in effect required manufacturers to use toxic flame retardant chemicals in polyurethane furniture foams. For almost 40 years, consumers have been exposed to these endocrine disrupting chemicals, as studies have shown that they escape furniture foam and end up in household dust. Adults, children, and domestic animals ingest these chemicals through hand-to-mouth (or paw-to-mouth) contact. And what’s worse, the flame retardants do not slow fires under real world conditions.

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Go ahead, flip over your couch cushions, or look under your computer chair. If you have any furniture or baby products with a tag labeled “TB117,” they contain flame retardants.

Thanks to the efforts of Arlene Blum and the Green Science Policy Institute, as well as to media coverage by the Chicago Tribune and The New York Times, among others, the California legislature last year moved to revise their flammability standards. With TB117-2013, flame retardant chemicals are no longer necessary to meet flammability standards. Unfortunately, you still have to ask your manufacturer for flame retardant-free foam.

When people find out they have endocrine disrupting chemicals in their couch, the first question is, where can I buy a new couch without flame retardants? Unfortunately for many of us, couches made with organic materials (that did not require flame retardant treatment) are significantly more expensive than foam alternatives. But even now that foam couches are available without flame retardants, they are still a huge investment. We can’t all afford to buy a new couch this year.

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Keep the couch you and your dog love!

The exciting news is that you have the option to keep the couch you love AND have a safer sofa. Simply swap out your old, flame retardant-treated cushions for new, untreated cushions. (According to furniture manufacturers, untreated foam is much more comfortable than treated foam, so it’s a double win). There are a few other advantages to the program:

  • Your couch foam won’t just end up in a landfill where toxic chemicals will leach into the environment.
  • You won’t have to sell or donate your old couch, knowing that the next owner will be exposed to endocrine disrupting chemicals.

Safer Sofa Foam Exchange partners will make sure your old foam is disposed of responsibly.

Want to sign up for the program? Go to the Safer Sofa Foam Exchange and fill out their inquiry form. Currently, only Bay Area residents have the option to swap out their foam through this program. But if you are outside the Bay Area, tell your favorite upholstery shop to participate in the program!

13 Responses to “Safer Sofa Foam Exchange Announced for Bay Area”

  1. Alex Stadtner says :

    Try Pine Street Interiors in Sausalito. They sell custom-made healthy furniture without any foam.

  2. Frank Connolly says :

    I am trying to buy this non flame retardant foam for a furniture project I am working on. Does anyone know someone in the Bay area that sells it?

  3. Alex Stadtner says :


    There are hundreds – perhaps thousands – of chemical components in a couch. From the feet, to the frame, to the cushions and the upholstery. While the manufacturer may not have added halogenated flame retardants to the foam, the foam itself is still a 21st century cocktail of chemicals. And the upholstery? You don’t want to know. It may also be laced with flame retardants, anti-stain/wrinkle chemicals, formaldehyde, etc. The only way to really know what the chemicals are is to do a chamber test of the various materials. It’s expensive and will frighten the buyer almost 99% of the time.

    Your instincts were right to ventilate the space continuously. I’d keep that up. You may actually add a small fan and/or heater to the room. Both may help expedite the off-gassing process of the couch and the room.

    Unfortunately the only way you could have avoided this would have been to smell the couch in the plastic before it was delivered. And even then – “they all smell in the store.” So it’s a tough predicament.

    A few certainties:
    1) If a Macy’s furniture manufacturer “doesn’t use toxic chemicals,” it would be a first. I suppose the word toxic has a lot of flexibility… but if you consider REACH or CA Prop 65 or Living Building Challenge Red List… that couch is full of toxic stuff. (period)

    2) The longer you let it off-gas the less it will smell.

    3) The only way to really know what you’re smelling AND if it’s coming from the couch would be to do both chamber testing of the couch materials and air testing in the space.

    4) Consumers must still be vigilant when buying furniture. Just because a small group of do-gooders were able to win a battle over flame retardants in our furniture, it doesn’t mean the war is over. There are myriad other chemicals in everyday products – some equally dangerous as the flame retardants.

    Sorry not to have an easy answer for you. I’m glad you asked the manufacturer about the odor and HFRs.

    Keep airing it out or return it to Macy’s – I believe those are the two easiest answers to your current predicament.


  4. Susan m says :

    I just purchased a Sectional from Macy’s called the Doss Sectional. It’s made by Mccreary Modern. I’ve had it for 2 weeks now and it still has a strong odor that hadn’t gone away. We left it outside for 3-4 days and have had all 4 windows in the room open 24 hours a day. They don’t use flame retardants and the label on the sofa proves that. The inside is a core foam with feather, down and ticking I noticed the body of the sofa, without all the cushions also has a strong odor….what do you think is causing this chemical odor? I called the manufacturer and they say they don’t use toxic chemicals or materials in their sofas. I’m perplexed.

  5. Alex Stadtner says :

    Yay! That’s great!
    Like when kids pajamas were available again without flame retardants – this is a real victory!
    Enjoy that couch,

  6. Mina says :

    Just purchased a sectional couch from Create and Barrel after running from store to store. They had them there. All of the couches are now flame retardant free now.

  7. @avalee cohen I’m not sure what Pottery Barn’s policies are, but I don’t know that the change in the recent law will be able to help your case. I’m very sorry you were sold a toxic couch after being assured it would be flame retardant free. I’m not sure what recourse you have.

  8. avalee cohen says :

    Last year I purchased a 6 piece sofa sectional from Pottery Barn and was told it was flame retardant free. It appears this is not the case after all. Can I ask for a return of the sofa and a new flame retardant one?

  9. avalee cohen says :

    Last year, I purchased a large sofa (6 sectional pieces) at Pottery Barn because I was told the cushions were flame retardant free. It appears this is not the case – can I ask for a return and new sofa? Unfortunately I was told this over the phone and at the store without having it in writing. I do have my daughter who was with me for a witness to the conversation.

  10. Melanie Loftus says :

    @Beckett and @Keely Saner, the Center for Environmental Health has published a list of manufacturers that are now making flame retardant-free furniture at http:// As you two discovered, Crate & Barrel is not on that list, unfortunately.

    That said, it is great news that they will be in compliance in 2015, and CEH will keep their page updated to include manufacturer’s names as they phase out flame retardants. I hope this helps!

  11. Beckett says :

    That’s good news about the foam in Crate & Barrel furniture, but what about flame retardants in their fabrics? CA still requires a smolder test and so many manufacturers will continue to use fabrics treated with harmful chemicals.

    I tried contacting Crate & Barrel two months ago and got a very vague response, something like, “…all of our furniture will meet the new CA regulation by 2015.”

    That regulation doesn’t ban flame retardants, so the statement is rather meaningless.

  12. Keely Saner says :

    @Alden Miller- I too just called Crate & Barrel, but was told that the flame retardant free sofa’s won’t be produced until September. Apparently there’s a new sku for them, but you can’t actually purchase them, because they aren’t available yet. Is this what you were told?

  13. Alden Miller says :

    Hi Melanie,

    Great post and so much value to replacing existing foam. I am doing research for a client of mine who, as many people do, wants a safe and affordable sofa. It has been possible to do this with custom sofas for an extra price, but not for retail. Just called Crate and Barrel and they have adapted to the treatment free foam already! So for those in the market for a new sofa that is also safe, now there is a cost effective option as well. Just wanted to pass on the word!

    Alden Miller

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