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Label Education: Furniture

Laying out what certifications to look for

Home isn't home without comfortable furniture. When it's time to find something new, we usually focus on what feels and looks good, and of course the price. But did you know that furniture can contain, and leak, various chemicals like flame retardants that aren't so good for us into your home? The good news is that there are more and more healthy options! You can read our article on choosing a healthy new couch.


When you get to considering individual pieces advertised as being "green" or "healthy," you'll probably come across various labels and certifications. Decoding them can be a bit of a maze. We've gathered all the important ones here so that you know what they mean and how to use them to find that perfect piece that you'll love.

Before you launch in, here's the quick dirty on the three general things to look out for: flame retardants, VOCs (volatile organic compounds, like formaldehyde) that leak into the air from various materials and contribute to poor air quality, and stain-resistance and waterproofing treatments.

1) Flame retardants

Thanks to a California flammability standard, TB 117-2013, furniture is commonly labeled with a tag containing the language below, which makes it easy to find pieces without chemical flame retardants. These still meet safety standards for flammability, so it's a win-win. There are also older tags that say TB 117 only, no year, and with no language on flame retardants. These are likely to contain flame retardants, so be sure to look for the TB 117-2013 tags, which always have the language below! Look for these tags under the cushions or on the bottom of the couch.

2) VOCs

These are generally found in synthetic materials, so there are two easy things you can do: 1) choose natural fillers like cotton, wool, or natural latex (this allows you to sidestep flame retardants too), and 2) choose solid wood over manufactured because the glues in things like particleboard and plywood are common sources of VOC emissions. If these aren't options for you, check out the certifications below to find the lowest-emitting synthetic products.

3) Stain-resistance and waterproofing treatments

These are pretty common, but can contain some not so good chemicals. It's worth asking retailers if they have any products that don't use them. If you find something that is untreated but are worried about cleaning stains, consider going with a darker or patterned material or getting a washable cover. The GOTS and Oeko-Tex certifications (details below) don't allow the use of these treatments (learn more about these PFAS chemicals).

Good luck. It might take a bit of time to find the perfect piece, but it's well worth it—for your comfort, your health, and the planet!

a) Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)

What is it? Certifies the processing, manufacturing, packaging, labelling, trading, and distribution of textiles, mattresses, and furniture components made from at least 70% certified organic natural fibers. There are two label grades: 1) "organic," over 95% organic fibers, and 2) "made with X% organic materials," 70-95% organic content. Read details on standards and search the product database (select Retailing or Mail Order).

Furniture Components Certified: upholstery fabrics, fiber-based fills, natural latex foam

Environmental Health: Many toxic chemical restrictions, including any chemicals linked with cancer, reproductive problems, genetic defects, or organ damage, or harm to the environment. This is a way to avoid upholstery treated with chemicals of concern including PFAS (stain resistance treatments) and flame retardants.

b) Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS)

What is it? Certifies latex foam and foam-based products containing at least 95% organic latex, with chemical restrictions for both the latex and non-latex parts. Read details on the standard.

Furniture Components Certified: natural latex foam, entire pieces of furniture

Environmental Health: Emissions of total and specific VOCs are restricted. Use of certain toxic flame retardants and other chemicals are banned. Cotton fills and coverings must be certified by GOTS (see above) or Organic Content Standard-100 (see below). Synthetic latex and other synthetic foams are not permitted. Synthetic fabrics and fibers are permitted in interiors of products.

c) Oeko-Tex Standard 100

What is it? Certifies that textiles, mattresses, and furniture components do not contain or release certain harmful chemicals. Read details on chemical standards and search the product database.

Furniture Components Certified: upholstery fabrics, fabric-based fills, foam fills (natural and synthetic)

Environmental Health: Many toxic chemical restrictions, including limits on emissions of total and specific VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Synthetic foams are allowed as long as they meet the chemical restrictions.

d) GREENGUARD and GREENGUARD Gold

What is it? Restricts emissions of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) from a wide range of consumer and commercial products. There are two labels: 1) GREENGUARD and 2) GREENGUARD Gold (previously called Greenguard Children & Schools Certification). Search the product database and read more details on the standard.

Furniture Components Certified: entire pieces of furniture, fabrics and glues used in furniture

Environmental Health: Emissions of total and specific VOCs are restricted. Read details on the emissions limits. GREENGUARD Gold has stricter restrictions.

e) CertiPUR-US

What is it? Certifies that polyurethane foam in furniture and mattresses meet standards for chemical ingredients, emissions of VOCs, and durability. Read about the chemical restrictions and view a list of companies selling products containing certified foam (including but not limited to furniture).

Furniture Components Certified: polyurethane foam

Environmental Health: Requires that polyurethane foam be made without heavy metals and without certain types of phthalates and flame retardants. (This does not mean the products are completely free of potentially harmful phthalates or flame retardants.) Emissions of total and specific VOCs are restricted.

f) Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard

What is it? Product standard which provides designers and manufacturers with sustainability and social criteria across five quality categories (material health, material reutilization, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness), awarded at five levels. Also has requirements for continually improving what products are made of and how they are made. Range of certified products including clothing, home textiles, building supplies, furniture, and cleaners. Search the product database.

Furniture Components Certified: upholstery textiles, office furniture

Environmental Health: Chemicals that accumulate in the environment or can lead to irreversible negative health effects are banned. View the banned list of chemicals.

g) California Phase 2 Compliant, California 93120 Compliant for Formaldehyde

What is it? California Air Resources Board's standard for restricted formaldehyde emissions from composite (manufactured) wood products. Right now the standard is only being implemented in California, but labeled products can be found outside of CA as well. EPA is planning to implement a similar national standard at the end of 2018. Read details from CARB and EPA.

Furniture Components Certified: entire pieces of furniture, hardwood plywood, particleboard, medium density fiberboard

Environmental Health: Sets strict emissions restrictions for formaldehyde. There are additional provisions for no-added formaldehyde (NAF) and ultra-low emitting formaldehyde (ULEF), which may also be stated on products or product packaging.

h) Organic Content Standard

What is it? Assures presence and amount of organic content. OCS 100 is for products that contains 95% or more organic material. OCS blended is for products that contain 5% minimum of organic material blended with conventional or synthetic raw materials. View a list of companies certified to the organic standard.

Furniture components certified: upholstery fabrics, fiber-based fills like cotton, wool, hemp, and linen

Environmental Health: Verifies that final products contain the stated amount of organic material. Chemicals added to raw materials during manufacturing (dyes, finishes, etc.) are not addressed.

i) USDA Certified Organic

What is it? USDA seal verifies that agricultural products are grown and processed per organic standards. "Certified organic" means at least 95% of the ingredients are organic. "Made with organic" means 70-94% of ingredients are organic. Only "certified organic" products can bear the seal.

Furniture components certified: upholstery fabrics, fiber-based fills like cotton, wool, hemp, and linen

Environmental Health: Fiber materials must be grown and processed per USDA Organic standards for food, without use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. GOTS and GOLS (see above) both meet USDA Organic standards. Note that USDA Organic does not address toxic chemicals that may be found in the non-organic components.

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