This discussion is in regards to one of the issues when down feathers are used in the cushions of upholstery. Although down is considered more luxurious and used in higher quality furniture these down feathers are considered a fire hazard. As a result, the cotton ticker that covers the down feathers is treated with a flame retardant.
Fire retardants that are water-soluble can tend to break down and deteriorate into a strong buffered acid that will have an impact on cellulose fibers like cotton, linen, and other cellulose fabrics. The acid starts reacting soon after the application and will accelerate with humidity and from what I have seen, sunlight also seems to play a part in the process.
The first visible signs of a problem are when the cotton covering that covers the down, which is called a ticker starts to discolor and turns a brownish tone. Just remember, first the flame retardant breaks down and is absorbed into the outer fabric and as more humidity reacts to the acidic residual, it then starts to show visible signs of discoloration. So there is a point in time where there is the residual in the outer fabric yet there is no discoloration yet. The acid can also hurt the fibers making them brittle and stiff and can also affect the dyes themselves. This can also be confirmed by taking a ph reading of the ticker and the outer fabric. If the ticker has a ph reading of 2 and the outer fabric between 2 and 5 that is a positive for the breakdown of the flame retardant.
The Federal Trade Commission has since notified furniture manufacturers in the United States to stop applying these offending flame retardants once they have used up all their existing supplies. But there are no restrictions on imported furniture. There is also no liability to the furniture manufacturers for the use of these products.
With fabrics that are not cellulose, you may see some discoloration but if there are no other negative effects on the fabric, then these may be restored with multiple cleanings using baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) at room temperature.
Unfortunately, this is a very real problem that exists today and will ruin the outer fabric of the upholstery. Therefore the consumer will be looking for someone besides the manufacturer to take responsibility for the problem. Remember, there are also many furniture manufacturers that for this reason and many other health safety reasons have committed themselves to not using any tickers that have flame retardants applied to them.
If you have any questions regarding this, feel free to e-mail me at Alec@Alecscarpetandupholsterycleaning.com