Sustainable Fabric Design

Chemistry of our Sustainable Faux Leather Upholstery Fabric

When looking at the chemistry of a faux leather upholstery fabric, there is more to consider than just the polymer used, such as the additives necessary to meet performance criteria. The EnviroLeather™ urethane-based TPE is designed to be a sustainable fabric that is PVC-free, minimize hazardous VOC emissions and incorporate recycled and renewable materials. Special care was also taken to use additives that would minimize the impact on the environment and our health. It contains no flame retardants, plasticizers, heavy metals, formaldehyde or toxic biocides.

By specifying EnviroLeather™ you can not only feel good that you are doing something to help minimize people’s exposure to harmful toxins. You can also feel confident that EnviroLeather™ is a sustainable fabric that will hold up to heavy-duty commercial use and remain beautiful long after installation.

Indoor Air Quality and Low VOC

Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) inside hospitals, schools, hotels, restaurants and other workplaces is important not only for workers' and visitors’ comfort but also for their health. According to OSHA, poor indoor air quality has been tied to headaches, fatigue, trouble concentrating, and irritation of the eyes, nose, throat and lungs. Asthma, cancer and other diseases may have links to exposure to air contaminants. EnviroLeather’s low-VOC faux leather upholstery products can significantly reduce one common cause of potentially harmful indoor air quality.

Many factors affect IAQ. These factors include poor ventilation (lack of fresh air), problems controlling temperature, high or low humidity and the presence of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).  VOCs are emitted as gases from certain materials and they include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects. According to the EPA, concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than outdoors and they are emitted by a wide array of products including building materials such as upholstery.

When selecting sustainable upholstery fabric you should ensure the material passes IAQ testing. Two commonly used and accepted tests are CAL 01350 and Greenguard™. EnviroLeather™ is tested to and passes CAL 01350 as a low VOC emitting product.

Vinyl (PVC) Health Effects

Studies have shown vinyl (PVC) can have toxic effects throughout its lifecycle. Vinyl is listed on the EPA’s warning list of materials that contribute toward poor indoor air quality among other health and safety concerns.

During manufacture, or disposal, hydrochloric acid and other toxic emissions can be created. Incineration of vinyl can lead to the formation of dioxin which is a known carcinogen and hormone disruptor.

Vinyl (PVC) contains plasticizers. See below for more information on the harmful effects of plasticizers.

Our sustainable low-VOC faux leather products use safer materials that meet indoor air quality testing and don’t contain plasticizers, halogenated flame retardants, or heavy metals.


Plasticizers are used to soften vinyl (PVC) faux leather. These plasticizers can leach from the material during its useful life cycle and have been linked to developmental impairment, especially with young males. Along with halogenated flame retardants, plasticizers can volatize (VOC emissions) into the air becoming a bronchial irritant and potential asthma trigger.

To learn more about the harmful effects of plasticizers commonly found in vinyl, click here.

Flame Retardants

The Healthier Hospitals Initiative encourages members to choose flame retardant free upholstery fabrics. To meet certain flammability standards, flame retardant chemicals are added to a wide range of products, including computers, couches, hospital beds, waiting room chairs, and hospital privacy curtains. Unfortunately, many of these flame retardant chemicals do not remain in the product and slowly off-gas into the air, dust, and water, eventually entering the food chain and building up in our bodies. Many flame retardants are linked to a range of negative health effects. Levels of toxic flame retardants in people have already reached levels of concern. Depending on the flame retardant, effects include reproductive, neurocognitive, and immune system impacts, among others. Three common flame retardants appear on California’s Proposition 65 list as human carcinogens.

When selecting upholstery fabric, you should seek to avoid the use of added flame retardants whenever possible. EnviroLeather™ low-VOC faux leather passes standard industry testing for flammability without the use of flame retardants.

A note on CAL 133: EnviroLeather™ has successfully demonstrated to comply with TB 133 on furniture systems when tested with suitable components. Cal TB 133 is a composite test that evaluates a fully assembled furniture system. There are many variables which affect the result of this test, such as surface area, contour design and component materials such as type of flame blocker and urethane foam used. EnviroLeather™ is only a component, so we cannot say if it passes TB 133 or not. It is the responsibility of the manufacturer to choose what components to use and to validate performance for TB 133 on the appropriate assembled furniture system. The same material can pass on one chair and fail on another due to the variations in furniture construction listed above.


Perfluorochemicals (PFC) are widely used to make everyday products more resistant to stains, but they are toxic and they bioaccumulate in the food chain, eventually reaching our bodies. PFCs may impair child development and are suspected carcinogens.


EnviroLeather™ does not use antimicrobial biocides. This is because the latest thinking is that AMs may cause more harm than good. Healthcare industry leaders and organizations, such as Health Care Without Harm, Kaiser Permanente, Healthier Hospitals’ Interiors and Safer Chemicals Challenge are also calling for the elimination of antimicrobials.

Antimicrobial chemicals are commonly added to products to try to improve infection control. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has not found any evidence to suggest antimicrobials offer any enhanced protection from the spread of bacteria and germs. CDC’s 2003 findings stated that properly cleaning and disinfecting surfaces will kill pathogens effectively and prevent the risk of spreading hospital-associated infections. The risk is further reduced with appropriate hand washing by staff and patients.

Related to upholstery fabrics, PVC (vinyl) coated fabrics require added antimicrobials because the plasticizers added to PVC to make it soft are good food for the microbes to grow and flourish. Without AMs, vinyls would be susceptible to bacterial growth and staining from mold and mildew. EnviroLeather™ is PVC-free and does not contain plasticizers, so it is inherently resistant to bacteria and mold without using antimicrobials.  We have never had a complaint related to this.

There are two main reasons why healthcare is asking to eliminate the use of antimicrobials (AM):

1. Toxicity

  • Biocides are designed to be toxic and can leach out toxic substances that people can be exposed to.
  • For example, triclosan (when tested in laboratory animals) is known to interfere with thyroid hormones which are critical for normal growth and brain development.
  • Both triclosan and triclocarban interfere with male and female sex hormones, which are necessary for the normal growth and function of the reproductive system.
  • Triclosan can also be transformed into highly toxic dioxin compounds under naturally occurring conditions in freshwater streams and rivers. Some dioxins are known human carcinogens.

2. Avoid creation of "Super Bugs"

  • One theory is that bactericidal (bacteria-killing) AM products diminish their efficacy over time and the AM may not be present in sufficient concentration after (migrating) leaching out.
  • The result is the residual AM may not be strong enough to kill all the bugs. Thus, the most resistant, surviving bugs replicate, potentially creating a resistant strain.

Again, the only known way to reduce the spread of infection is to wash and clean surfaces with disinfectants and cleaners known to kill viruses. Thus, when selecting upholstery it is most important to specify materials that will hold up to these chemicals and then the facility needs to implement proper protocol to wash and clean the surfaces regularly. To achieve the maximum useful lifespan of upholstery fabric, it is also important to rinse the residue from cleaners and disinfectants with clean water and then dry with a clean cloth (after the appropriate dwell time has been achieved).

EnviroLeather™ has very good chemical resistance to cleaners and disinfectants. Please review our Cleaning Instructions and Chemical Resistance Data for more information on caring for EnviroLeather™ low-VOC faux leather products.