Couches and Chairs

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written in 2008

It is not a huge leap from realizing your mattress is a toxic chemical concoction to realizing your conventional couch and easy chairs must be too. Not only do these items offgas into your home when they are new, but as that petroleum based foam filled with PBDE flame retardents begins to break down, it becomes an airborne dust (SVOCs)that fills your home. As you walk through your house you kick that dust up and breathe it in. This, studies are showing, is the greatest way the PBDEs are getting into the human body. A recent study looked at the vaccum dust of homes all across America and found alarmingly high levels of PBDEs in every sample. Unlike VOCs, SVOCs get worse with age.

Fortunately, we don't spend nearly as much time on our couch as we do in our beds. So first course of action in creating a healthy home is always to begin with your bedroom, where you spend one third of your life, during the hours your body is meant to rest, heal and rejuvenate. But eventually, as it becomes time to buy a new couch, or "upgrade your green" - a natural non-toxic couch is definitely the way to go.

Our family, who has always lived on a tight budget and chosen to purchase used whenever possible, recently made the switch to an organic sofa. This was prompted by several customers looking to use our 2" or 4" budget latex mattress as a low cost couch alternative. We decided to try it out before recomending it to others. I thought I would share our ongoing journey with you.

Several years ago our theory was to buy used. The free nationwide classifieds at www.craigslist.org always has a great variety of couches that are practically new. This option is gentler on the earth and the item, whatever it is, has already offgassed. Well, this was what I believed before I attended West Coast Green and heard information about the SVOCs. After learning about the tiny dust particles filled with PBDEs and other toxic chemicals that become airborne in our home, I became conscious of whenever my daughter jumped on our second hand couch, imagining our family breathing in mouthfuls of that dust. Soon I began researching our options for a chemical free couch.

There are several companies out there making beautiful eco furniture.Most are very pricey. We have been unable to find a reliable affordable company so far....We ended up deciding to go the futon route.

After weeks of researching just what would work as a futon, we settled on a 2" natural latex surrounded by 5" more of cotton and wool batting. We had a custom cover sewed up in a dark brown hemp canvas.  I spent a lot of time trying to track down a frame with a water based or non-toxic finish and FSC certified wood, but they are just not out there. What is out there are unfinished frames that you can finish yourselves with non-toxic products. Unfortunately my husband and I just did not have the time right now to do that. I ended up going with the same acrylic finish that Lifekind sells which they claim is Low VOC, but the company told me is considered Low VOC because when it cures it becomes inert. It was not a green or non-toxic finish to begin with. The wood, we were told, is not certified but is responsibly harvested and no clearcutting is used.

We ended up adding a 2" latex topper, as I wanted more comfort.

Pros - the cover is washable. A big plus with our messy daughter.

Cons - it wasn't really much cheaper and I suspect the futon style frame will be less comfortable, although I was able to find one with two positions. I was hoping to offer this system to customers looking for a low cost alternative but am unsure it is a viable option, unless of course, you are looking for a couch that doubles as a place to sleep.

UPDATE: Well our new couch is at last all set up. Our frame took 9 weeks to get here and when it arrived it was damaged. We had to wait two more weeks for a replacement piece. When we unpacked it, it really smelled horribly. We ran the air purifier and within a few days we could no longer notice an odor. The reason we really wanted to go with the company we did is because the couch frame had two positions, one sitting more upright. Most futon frames have your knees substantially higher than your butt and I did not think this would be comfortable night after night. Once it was set up, I was glad for this second position, as I did find it more comfortable.

We put the futon on to the frame and it was okay. I did experience some disapointment at the comfort - or lack thereof. During the two months the futon had sat on the floor, the cotton and wool had compressed quite a bit and was a bit flat and hard. I could not feel the comfort of the latex through the cotton and wool. Also, the custom cover, which had fit the brand new, uncompressed futon quite well, was now too big. So we brought home a 2" latex topper to add to our new couch system. Now it is really quite kush and comfy. What a difference latex on top makes! The cover fits better and we are quite happy.

A note that during it's first two months home, our daughter did draw on it with a marker and that made me quite happy we did not go with a real couch. The washability factor is a huge plus, at the stage of still having toddlers in the house.

Total cost:

Queen 2" latex futon with 5 inches wool and cotton batting $1050
Queen Futon Frame $500
Custom Cover - heavyweight canvas Hemp $400
2 Wool pillows Euro size $180
Custom Organic Sherpa Pillow Covers $60
Queen 2" Latex Mattress Topper $360

Total Cost $2450

We went with the priciest route possible in search of ultimate comfort. You could chop this cost easily by buying a used futon frame from www.craigslist.org and choosing a more affordable cover fabric or even sewing the cover yourself. The 2" Topper was a decadent add on but I felt like it is what made this system comfortable enough for us.

Our next step in the quest to rid our home of all petroleum based foams is to replace the cushions on our rocking chair with natural latex cushions. Our home is feeling much, much healthier with this last round of upgrades, that included tearing out our moldy, unhealthy living room carpet and replacing with a good quality formaldehyde free cork flooring. It has been a slow step by step process, but well worth it!

Update: We have now had our futon sofa for several monthes. About a month ago, we laid it out in bedmode so we could "be a pirate ship". We loved it so much that we've added a few more pillows, and mostly keep it flat. It allows our family of three to stretch out and really be comfy. We have, finally rid our home of the last of the pillows and cushions, after making our custom rocking chair latex pillows. It took several years but our home is at last petroleum foam free.

UPDATE November 7th 2015
We are thrilled to be able to offer truly clean Organic Sofas and Loveseats by Savvy Rest! Though not exactly a "cheap" option - this is a company we trust and respect - they are the real deal. Call us for a special price we can't post online.