Piece of mid century furniture waiting to be reupholstered with modern fabrics containing toxic chemicals

Chemical Toxins in the Furniture Industry

We have a crisis looming in the new and second hand furniture industry, in particular the high use of chemical toxins that impact the health of our families, homes and pollute our air. These chemicals have been proven to be more dangerous in a fire, than the fire itself according to the fire service.

What are these chemical toxins?

These toxins are flame retardant chemicals found in stuffings and fabrics, that have been added to furniture since 1988. Remember the days when a high percentage of people smoked indoors and falling asleep with a cigarette was common. Well the world has changed, our habits have changed but the high level of chemical toxins remain. The levels of these chemical toxins are set to increase, even though the damage and risk to health is known and well documented with scientific research.

Why do the fire regulations need to change?

The current fire regulations have been reviewed over the last 13 years as they have been acknowledged as out of date, not fit for purpose and recognised as highly toxic. We ingest these toxins as they puff into the air from our furniture, but they remain in our bodies for life, impacting our health.  These chemicals are even found in breast milk. The chemicals are can cause cancer, infertility and in children, neurotoxicity  which can lead to behavioural problems and reduced IQ.

The government have recognised how toxic these flame retardants are and now want to remove them from baby products like cots, car seats, prams and pushchairs; however babies are placed on sofas and beds so they still breathe them in. When they crawl on the floor they ingest these toxins, as the toxins grab dust particles in the air which then fall to the ground. This also impacts our pets.

The Guardian published an article this week, as research found these chemicals in 100 species of animals, from birds, frogs to killer whales. These chemicals have leeched across the world from landfill, in areas as close as Norfolk and as far an away as penguins in Antarctica.

Orcas that are being affected by toxic chemicals. Link to Guardian artilce

What is the new legislation proposing?

The new legislation drafted by the government will also see furniture without fire labels, post 1950’s incinerated. All those beautiful iconic, mid century and vintage chairs, sofas and seating, that never had fire labels, as fire labels were not introduced until 1988 will be affected.  The sale of any furniture without a fire label on eBay, Etsy, Facebook, markets, auctions house etc will be prohibited. Fire labels fall off all the time. In 11 years I can count on my one hand how many fire labels I have seen.

To make matters worse, a different department of the government has openly acknowledged the toxicity of these chemicals. As such they said that all waste furniture, anything at the end of its life when a consumer doesn’t want it anymore, has to be incinerated. They can’t risk these chemicals going into landfill and then seeping into river systems where they can become harmful to humans and wildlife.

 But, from an environmental perspective, this is counter-productive, as incinerating every piece of waste upholstered furniture will be appalling in terms of progression to net zero carbon emissions, which is something the government has promised. Plus these toxins go straight up into CO2 and back down for us to to ingest.

Dining Chairs Before ReupholsteryDining Chairs after Reupholstery

Under Proposed Legislation These Chairs Would Be Incinerated

Is there a solution? 

The solution is already in practice in USA and Europe and lots of other countries across the world, they removed chemicals 10 years ago with no increase in fire deaths. All their new and reupholstered furniture is now chemical free and fire safe,  but how?

They tightened the weave on their fabrics and all fabrics are tested with a burning cigarette till it burns out 45 mins later. This is the test we want and had expected to move to. In a 2019 environmental audit in this country, they had already decided this would be a good idea for us to adopt.

The new proposed fire regulations, which can only really be adopted by big manufacturers ie. IKEA etc, will destroy a whole entire sector, the 2nd hand furniture market, therefore destroying the circular economy.

The new legislation will also require all furniture makers to incinerate a whole piece of furniture to prove its fire safety; this will cripple the bespoke furniture market. But worse still, if a customer asks an upholsterer to make a headboard, footstool, or banquet seating, for example, they will have to make one full item and send it away to be incinerated before they can make that one item for a customer.  You can only imagine the cost and the impact on clean air, if we are needlessly burning furniture. It makes no sense!

A much cherished family heirloom that would be incinerated

Piece awaiting reupholstery

How is this affecting upholsterers?

Upholsterers are also exposed to high level of toxins on a daily basis, when stripping furniture and reupholstering with new fabrics, foams, calicos etc.

Every layer of stuffing and fabric is treated to meet current fire regulations, and there are questions and studies that show these toxins are harmful in our homes and workplaces. The fire brigade have also raised issues about the safety of their teams when the enter a fire because of these chemicals.

What can you do to help?

Delyth Fetherston-Dilke a former lawyer now upholsterer, has developed a website, see link below, with a huge amount of data, studies and research. She has deciphered the new fire regulations and their implications, with guidance on how to respond. We really need to share this far and wide and get as many online signatures as possible to oppose these measures which affect EVERYONE.

This is how you can help ⬇️ and it’s takes 1 minute.


We all welcome change, we welcome toxin free and fire safe furniture like the rest of the world.

Thank you

Before restorationChair after restoration

A transformation that wouldn’t take place under new legislation

Add your name to the 1,000’s against this, to increase the chances of changing this proposed legislation.

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