Technical guide to your next sofa / armchair purchase
A guilty pleasure, a trivial mission: You are on a hunt for your next piece of designer furniture. When it's not a vintage one, then you'll probably have the chance to customize it with your own choice of fabrics. The idea is pleasing and exciting, but then comes the moment of overwelmth with the variety of visual and factual information.
A friendly heads up — this article is technical, but also crucial if you want to understand what's defining the prices and how the fabrics are performing during given tests while applying standardized methods. A small educative research I did, that hopefully will help you understand what those unearthly combinations of letters and numbers mean on the back of the fabric samples.
Martindale — a measure unit for the fabric’s abrasion resistance. Also known as a rub test, Martindale tests are undertaken on upholstery fabrics to check their suitability for various uses — decorative chairs, commercial furniture or heavy-traffic areas.
The Martindale machine’s small discs are continually rubbed against the fabric in circular motion. The fabric is observed and inspected. The test ends when two yarns break or when there is a noticeable change in appearance. The test results are given as a score of 1.000’s of rubs and that’s how the fabrics are categorised:
- Decorative use - Martindale value is 6.000 - 10.000
- Light domestic use - Martindale value is 10.000 - 15.000
- General domestic use - Martindale value is 15.000 - 25.000
- Heavy duty use - Martindale value is 25.000 - 30.000
- Commercial use - Martindale value is 30.000 and more
Pilling is the term used to indicate the formation of fuzzy balls of fiber on the surface of a fabric that remain attached to the fabric. The fabric pilling test (ISO 12945-2) takes place in the Martindale Machine. Compared to the Martindale test the machine now rotates its disc in a more compact notion applying more pressure to a large surface area or a fabric.
The pilling is observed at intervals of 500, 1000, 2000 and 5000 rubs and assessed from 1 to 5.
- Grade 5 – no change
- Grade 4 – slight surface fuzzing
- Grade 3 – moderate surface pilling. Pills of varying size and density partially covering the surface
- Grade 2 – distinct surface piling. Pills of various size and density covering a large proportion of the surface
- Grade 1 – severe pilling covering whole of the fabric surface
The light fastness refers to the degree of lightfastness of the dyed fabric, that is, the degree of discolouration of the dyed fabric under the illumination of sunlight or artificial light sources. Sunlight fading is a complicated process. Under the illumination of light, the dye absorbs light energy and the molecules are decomposed or rearranged to cause discolouration.
By international standards the light fastness is divided into 8 grades. The standard is a wool fabric dyed with 8 different light fasting blue dyes and the degree of solarisation between them is geometrically spaced:
- The lowest grade (1) is equivalent to fading after exposure for 3 hours
- Level 2 - sun exposure for 57h
- Level 3 - sun exposure for 112h
- Level 4 - sun exposure for 166h
- Level 5 - sun exposure for 220h
- Level 6 - sun exposure for 275h
- Level 7 - sun exposure for 329h
- The highest grade (8) is equivalent to fading at 384h after exposure to sunlight.
AS/NZS 1530.3 (Australian/New Zealand Standard) - Radiant panel test for Material Fire Hazard Properties (Radiant Heat Testing) involves a sample being progressively moved closer to a radiant heat panel. The movement of the sample is stopped when ignition occurs.
AS/NZS 3837 (Australian/New Zealand Standard) - Method of test for heat and smoke release rates for materials and products using an oxygen consumption calorimeter.
BS 5852 (British Standard) - Fire test of upholstered seating used to assess the ignitability of material combinations, such as covers and fillings used in upholstered seating, when subjected to a smouldering cigarette and a match flame equivalent as ignition source.
- BS 5852 crib 5: A crib is composed of wooden planks, glued together. Lint is attached to the bottom. After adding propane-diol the crib is placed on the test rig and ignited with a match. If no flaming or progressive smouldering is observed on both cover and interior material, the test is recorded as no ignition and the material passes the test. A Crib 5 material does not mean that it is entirely fireproof, but massively reduces the risk of ignition and could therefore potentially save lives.
- BS5852 part 1 - simulated match A burner is lit, held along the crevice of the test rig for 20 seconds and then removed. If no flaming or progressive smouldering is observed on both cover and interior material, the test is recorded as no ignition and the material passes the test.
DIN 4102 (German Standard) - classifies the building materials according to their flammability. The valid norm is differentiated into two fire protection classes: ‘A’ stands for non-flammable and ‘B’ for flammable materials. Class B is relevant for PU foam. This is then subdivided into the following levels:
- B1 = low flammability
- B2 = normal flammability
- B3 = high flammability
EN 1021-1/2 (EU Standard) examines a fabric's reaction to a burning cigarette and butane flame (which simulates a match). How it works: a standard textile test rig is constructed like a chair, from fabric and foam, with the back at a right angle to the base. This enables the ignition source to be kept in permanent contact with both back and seat throughout the test.
- Test Method Part 1: a lighted cigarette is placed in the angle of the test rig and left to smoulder until it’s completely burnt out. After 60 minutes, no smouldering or flaming of the fabric should be observed.
- Test Method Part 2: a 35mm butane flame is used in the test to represent a burning match. It’s applied for 15 seconds, again in the corner angle between the test rig’s base and back. After the flame is removed, no burning of the fabric should occur after 2 minutes have elapsed.
IMO FTP Code 2010: Part 8 - Fire test of upholstered furniture - Ignitability. The standard is used for maritime safety to assess the ignitability of material combinations, such as covers and fillings used in upholstered seating, when subjected to a smouldering cigarette and a match flame equivalent as ignition source. Products and materials for maritime use is fire tested according to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) code, IMO 2010 FTP Code. The results from fire testing according to the FTP-code can be used as a basis for type approval (also called the wheel mark). Type approval is regulated in accordance with European Parliament Directive 2014/90/EU.
NF D60-013 (French Standard) - Protocol for assessment of the ignitability of upholstered furniture - Ignition source equivalent to a burning 20 g paper cushion - Coverings and upholstery materials
The NFPA 260 test is a standard of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) that measures the burning properties, or fire resistance, of upholstered furniture that may be exposed to cigarette ignition
Önorm B1/Q1 (Austrian Standard) - The test fabric is placed on a simulated chair. A flame is applied to it. The ignition time, after flame time, and afterglow time are recorded.
SN 198 898 (Swiss Standard) - The test specimen is hung in a test cabinet. A flame is applied to the bottom edge of a test sample, for a duration of 3 seconds and 15 seconds. The after flame and afterglow time, damaged length, and the rate of flame spread are observed.
UNI 9175 - Classe Uno (Italian Standard) - The combustion of upholstered furniture is evaluated in presence of or without flame and/or glow. This gives an indication of the reaction to fire of furniture exposed to a small ignition source.
US Cal. Bull. 117 – 2013 (Californian Standard) covers flammability requirements for upholstered furniture – such as couches, recliners, and cushions.
The direct airflow method (method A according to ISO 9053-1) is applied: A steady unidirectional airflow with different airflow rates is pressed through the test object in the specimen holder. The resulting pressure drop between the two free faces of the test object is measured.
This test method is designed for the measurement of values of specific airflow resistance ranging from 100 to 10 000 mks rayls (Pa·s/m) and pressure differences across the specimen ranging from 0.1 to 250 Pa. The upper limit of this range of linear airflow velocities is a point at which the airflow through most porous materials is in partial or complete transition from laminar to turbulent flow.
Established in 1992, and recognised across Europe and worldwide, the EU Ecolabel is a label of environmental excellence that is awarded to products and services meeting high environmental standards throughout their life-cycle: from raw material extraction, to production, distribution and disposal. The EU Ecolabel promotes the circular economy by encouraging producers to generate less waste and CO2 during the manufacturing process. The EU Ecolabel criteria also encourages companies to develop products that are durable, easy to repair and recycle.
The EU Ecolabel criteria provide exigent guidelines for companies looking to lower their environmental impact and guarantee the efficiency of their environmental actions through third party controls.