Upholstered furniture and mattresses can be a major contributor to fires. They are often some of the first products to ignite in a house fire, and they are often the largest fuel source in the room.1Source: National Fire Protection Association. Home Fires That Began With Upholstered Furniture by Marty Ahrens, February 2017. Learn More.,2Source: NFPA Journal. Home Fires Involving Heating Equipment by John Hall, Jr., Marty Ahrens, Ben Evarts. Published on January 1, 2012. Learn More.
Fires that start on upholstered furniture and mattresses frequently spread beyond the room in which the fire originated.3Source: National Fire Protection Association. Home Fires That Began With Upholstered Furniture by Marty Ahrens, February 2017. Learn More.
The addition of flame retardants to the fillings and fibers used in furniture and mattresses can help provide individuals with an extra layer of fire protection and increase critical escape time in case of a fire.
There are a range of safety standards and tests that exist for upholstered furniture.
The standards are technology neutral, allowing furniture manufacturers to determine the best way to meet the designated standards and fire safety tests. Nothing in these standards requires the use of flame retardants.
On December 27, 2020, as part of the COVID-19 Regulatory Relief and Work from Home Safety Act (Public Law No. 116-260), CPSC was required to promulgate California Technical Bulletin 117-2013 (TB 117-2013) as a federal flammability standard for upholstered furniture under section 4 of the Flammable Fabrics Act. The rule took effect on June 25, 2021.
This requirement came despite analysis from CPSC technical staff that TB 117-2013 does not “adequately predict real furniture flammability performance.”4 Source: U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, “Staff Briefing Package: Upholstered Furniture Flammability; Staff Activities and Recommendations,” September 2019, page 5. Learn More. CPSC technical staff as part of its 2016 analysis of TB 117-2013 noted that it had “numerous concerns about the standard.”5 Source: U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, “The Feasibility, Benefits and Costs of Adopting TB 117-2013 as a Mandatory National Standard,” September 2016, page 11. Learn More. The biggest disadvantage that CPSC technical staff cited in adopting TB 117-2013 was that it “would not effectively improve upholstered furniture flammability performance.”6 Source: Ibid., page 14.
The state of California removed its requirement for upholstered furniture to resist ignition to a small open flame when the state implemented TB 117-2013 on January 1, 2015. Passage of smolder resistance testing is still needed for compliance with TB 117-2013.
The CPSC has also been evaluating options for a national standard and recently completed its own internal review. The CPSC review recognized furniture as a critical fire source (that is probably underestimated) and recommends that the CSPC not adopt California TB 117-2013, since it would not be an effective test and would not result in any significant improvements in upholstered furniture fire safety.7Source: CPSC. Staff Briefing Package. Upholstered Furniture Flammability; Staff Activities and Recommendation. September, 2019. Learn More
In terms of state requirements, California has established fire safety standards for both residential and commercial upholstered furniture. Since there is currently no federal/national standard, California’s standards have become a key market driver. California has two standards related to furniture:
New research shows how product fire standards impact the severity of room content fires. For the research, rooms were constructed to simulate a living area commonly involved in a house fire. The simulated rooms demonstrate that differences among country-specific fire codes in real-world scenarios can dramatically affect overall fire conditions, including ignition development, smoke generation and quality, escape time, and time available for emergency personnel response
The time to flashover of furnishings from the U.K. room was delayed more than 13 to 17 minutes in comparison to countries with less protective fire safety standards. In addition, the development of the black smoke is significantly delayed by the use of flame retardants. Learn More.
For additional information about the use of flame retardants in couches and other upholstered furniture, click here.