Fabrics are often feel like the biggest choice when buying a new sofa. And while color and texture affect the way you enjoy your new piece, there are some other key factors to consider when you pick your fabric, especially in regards to environmental safety, both in your home, and for your planet. Consult the following guide when shopping for upholstered furniture for your home to make sure you bring home something that is both safe for your family, and a durable investment of your money.
When enjoying your new sofa, the thing you'll notice most is the fabric. You’ve chosen the color and the texture and now that this piece is in your home, you sit on it every day, whether it’s watching movies, reading books, eating a meal, or entertaining guests. You know exactly how soft it is and how scratchy, but do you know how safe it is? Because it could be that your skin and lungs have been bathing in chemicals every day.
In textile manufacturing, and in the certification world, there are two certifications you should know about. One is GOTS (Global Organic Textiles Standard) and the other is the Oeko-tex Standard 100 certification. Both guarantee that the fabric in your home is entirely non-toxic and completely safe. The difference between the two is simple: GOTS certifies every step of the production process, and an Oeko-tex certification guarantees safety of the post-production material.
There’s a reason to differentiate between the two: a fabric that was treated by a myriad of chemicals during production can still pass an Oeko-tex certification if when finished, all those chemicals have been treated or washed out, and the fabric is tested for off-gassing and chemical residues and found to be completely clean. For instance, bleach isn’t safe for constant contact with humans, but used once to lighten a fabric, it’s generally washed out.
When it comes to making fabric, it is this process of soaking fabrics in chemicals and then washing them that is repeated over and over. This makes a GOTS certification especially relevant. Most of the water used during fabric production is not cleaned or treated before it leaves a factory, entering directly into local water systems like ground water.
GOTS certification investigates the ecological and social impacts of production, ensuring that local communities aren’t devastated by water pollution. It also ensures that workers are not being exposed to dangerous working conditions and unlivable wages. Considering that China’s textiles is definitely a goal to prioritize.
While in a perfect world, everyone would get GOTS certified fabrics for their new sofas, it remains incredibly difficult and expensive for textile manufacturers to attain GOTS certification—which means the range of options in GOTS certified fabrics are still fairly limited. If you are really hoping for something non-toxic for your home, and you can’t find a GOTS fabric in the color or texture you want, you will need to be careful with what it is that you get for your sofa. The chemicals used to treat fabrics, and which coat fabrics for those stain-resistant or wrinkle-proof finishes can often leave toxic residues that you come in contact with every day.
This is where we recommend Oeko-tex certification, as a bare minimum. Fabrics that have received Oeko-tex certification have been tested for any residual chemicals that might be harmful to your health, ensuring that they won’t be off-gassing into your home and causing any number of negative health effects.
SYNTHETIC OR NATURAL?
When it comes to the material your fabric is made of, this is dependent more on your expected use, and should be a conversation you have with your salesperson when you buy the sofa. Polyester is a petroleum product, and requires non-renewable resources for its production.
On the hand, there are some 100% recycled poly fabrics made from plastic bottles and industrial scrap, which can pass the Oeko-tex certification—obviously, these fabrics cannot be GOTS certified, as they could never be considered organic—but they do make steps to fix existing waste into useable products.
The benefit to poly fibers is the durability, which can be many times that of natural fibers. The downside is that these fabrics are not naturally-derived, nor are they biodegradable when the time comes to say goodbye to your sofa. Polyester can take up to 200 years to degrade, durable long beyond its use.
MAKING THE RIGHT DECISION
It’s not rocket science to understand that the chemical processing of textiles can leave residues on fabric which will come into your home on your new sofa. It does take some extra time and research to make sure that you make a choice that is good for your family and your planet, though. Stick to certified fabrics which are guaranteed to be non-toxic, and discuss the pros and cons of materials like linen, hemp, cotton, and even recycled poly blends with your sofa maker. Anyone familiar with making these pieces will be able to help you navigate the different options so that you get the color, texture and safety that you want and deserve.
EcoBalanza is on a mission to create the ultimate luxury sofa, uncompromising in comfort, beauty, healthy living, environmental preservation and social responsibility.