Greener Ways to Be Environmentally Responsible When Updating Your Furniture

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), approximately 9 million tons of furniture and home furnishings are dumped into municipal landfills each year. That’s around 5% of everything brought to a landfill. You could potentially save millions of tons of waste through repurposing quality furniture pieces, purchasing environmentally responsible furniture, and adopting more environmentally conscious practices. 

[Related: Is Your Furniture Worth Refinishing?]

In an era of responsibility to our planet, and for the sake of future generations, here are some ways to be greener when updating your furniture.

Reupholster and Repair vs. Buying New

Naturally, we do not want to be wasteful. But we may have heard that reupholstering can be time consuming and expensive. Some people might think they can save time and money by going to the nearest mass-producing furniture store and simply buying new off the floor.

What can justify reupholstering? Here’s the answer.

As you may know, buying new furniture in this day and age is risky. Most furniture built even as recently as 15 years ago was built at a time when there was a much higher standard for construction. Even finer furniture manufacturers of late have had to lower their standards to keep up competition with the more cut-throat, corner-cutting furniture manufacturers. 

What’s going on underneath the upholstery of newer furniture that makes it inferior? Here are just a couple of detriments to purchasing inexpensive, new furniture.

[Related: Guide to Armchair Styles]

Low-Quality Wood

In order to offer the consumer furniture at a dramatically low price, manufacturers cut costs in production. Companies are now using lower quality woods previously unsuitable for furniture frames. You can find this type of wood in dressers, bed frames, and everything in between. Manufacturers shoddily throw these frames together as quickly as possible with staple guns and fast-drying glues.

Sinuous Springs

A lighter gauge of sinuous springs are starting to replace coil springs and heavy-duty sinuous springs (no-sag).

Reupholstering solid, well-built furniture using fabric purchased from a reputable source can be quite cost-effective. Furthermore, reupholstering is considered a contribution to recycling and aiding our greener movement in this country.

[Related: Our Top Leather Restoration Tips and Tricks]

Here are a few questions to ask yourself when considering reupholstering vs. buying new furniture:

  • Do you like the shape and size of the piece? Upholsterers can replace cushions, remove a skirt, and add new legs, as well as alter styling details such as channeling or button tufting. Although an upholsterer has to work with the structural frame of the furniture, the possibilities are only limited by your imagination.
  • Has your taste in color or style changed, or do you predict it to? A furniture piece can receive a complete makeover from an array of fabrics from an upholstery professional. This can include material with differing patterns, colors, thread account, etc. Your specific tastes and needs change over time, as well as needs when you have children or pets.
  • Is the frame hardwood with a good coil spring system? Check under the skirt or beneath the fabric dust cover on the bottom. If the piece has some weight, it’s probably hardwood and a better-quality frame. That may also indicate denser stuffing and a coil-spring foundation. These all make a piece heavier. Such features can also make furniture worth reupholstering for longer use.

[Related: Seven Ways to Breathe New Life Into an Old Couch]

Use Organic Fabrics, Foams, and Padding

The world is just now beginning to recognize eco-design. Materials including bamboo, soy, organic cotton, linen, flax, recycled polyester, and hemp are increasingly popular with leading fabric mills.

Natural latex and soy foams, organic cotton padding, jute webbing, hemp spring twine, and “water-based” fabric stain protector are other examples of available materials used in eco-conscious workrooms.

The question is: why? Many of us probably have never given the eco-friendliness of fabric a second thought. Here are some green industry keywords, and what they mean:

  • Sustainable

Fibers come from rapidly renewable resources with growth and harvest cycles of five years or less.

  • Organic

Fibers are grown without the use of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers.

  • Recycled

Fibers come from post-consumer waste such as soda bottles. They also come from post-industrial waste by-products from the manufacturing process.

  • FSC Certified Wood

FSC-certified wood comes from a forest that is well-managed to produce wood indefinitely. Cutting wood from this forest is different from (and way better than) clear-cutting. When wood comes from a clear-cut forest, the ecosystem is leveled out when all the trees are cleared for wood.  

  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC)

Furniture made with VOC means that during the manufacturing they were exposed to noxious chemicals, and can easily be absorbed by porous materials. Avoid furniture classified as VOC, such as furniture made from particle board or plywood.

[Related: How to Clean and Protect Outdoor Furniture]

Make Environmentally Responsible Furniture Purchasing Decisions

So what should you look for when making environmentally responsible furniture purchases?

Look for Durability

The first thing to do when making environmentally responsible furniture decisions is to look for furniture that’s well-constructed and made to be reupholstered. One of the most important but often overlooked aspects of green products (especially furniture) is durability.

If something is well-made and can be readily repaired, this lessens the chance that it will end up in a landfill. Investing in well-made furniture could easily save you money in the long run, even if it’s initially more expensive. 

Even recyclable materials require energy and other resources to reprocess and replace if they permanently break. If your style changes down the road, at least you’ll know that you can update the upholstery to match your evolving taste. Also know that well-made furniture that lasts a long time can be passed on from person to person in your family or your circle of friends.

[Related: How to Protect Your Furniture From Child-Sized Disasters]

Avoid Flame Retardants

As helpful as they might sound, flame retardants are actually fairly ineffective at slowing down the rate of a fire. What flame-retardant materials are good at, however, is releasing a host of toxic chemicals that are terrible for you and the environment.

Check with the manufacturer of any furniture you purchase to ensure they don’t include flame retardants. Replacing foam with wool or down will also make for a less toxic atmosphere when burned. 

Buy Vintage

With all of the modern eco-brands jumping into the market, it can be hard to keep in mind that pre-owned goods can be the greenest purchase of all. Vintage and pre-owned furniture requires no additional resources to manufacture, is often locally sourced (cutting down on transportation), and eases the load on the landfill.

Quality vintage furniture will be durable and unique in character. Such furniture helps create a remarkable interior for any setting — whether that be your entire home, office, theater, hotel, or restaurant.

[Related: Buying Antique Furniture: Seattle Shops to Check Out]

Buy Local

Source furniture close to where you’re located. This supports the local economy and job market, and independent mom-and-pop shops. This also decreases the environmental toll of shipping and transportation.

Continue the Cycle

When you are done with your furniture, you have the responsibility to continue the sustainable life cycle. Resell your old furniture online, donate it to a local thrift store, or give it away to a friend or family member. 

You can also repurpose existing furniture into something that serves a new function, or brighten it up with a coat of paint. 

Contact professional upholsterers like Queen Anne Upholstery for high-quality assistance on environmentally responsible furniture and giving your pieces new life.

Extend Your Environmentally Responsible Furniture’s Lifespan

Make sure you’re taking good care of your furniture to get the most out of it. Keep pieces clean and polished using natural, nonchemical cleaning products. When something breaks, make sure to get it repaired as soon as possible, and look into repurposing when you are done with a product.

[Related: How Long Should Furniture Last? How to Tell When it’s Time for an Upgrade]

Contact Queen Anne Upholstery Today!

Seattle Magazine names Queen Anne Upholstery “Seattle’s Best.” We are an industry leader in customer service, custom furniture, and furniture repair and restoration. Our business was established on the top of Queen Anne Hill in Seattle in 1936, is family-owned and operated, and committed to the excellence of old-world craftsmanship. 

Contact us today for an estimate and let’s get started on your dream project.

Featured image via Unsplash