As part of our commitment to overall net positivity, Humanscale is committed to using exclusively healthy materials in our products. It’s a decision that’s distinguished us from the competition and made us a company that consumers can trust in their workspaces and their homes. It’s also brought to light an industry standard that many manufacturers fail to question—stain-resistant coatings.

What Is a Stain-Resistant Coating?

Stain-resistant coatings are applied to fabrics to repel liquids and oils (like mustard, for instance). They are also used to keep furniture looking new and fresh for longer. Most textiles receive this coating as a standard final step in manufacturing. However, when reviewing the ingredients used in stain-resistant coatings, we grew concerned at the number of harmful chemicals we found. Specifically, many coatings contained Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAs) and Perfluorochemicals (PFCs).

According to research, PFAs and PFCs can pose an array of health risks to humans. These include lowered immunity, resistance to vaccines, and even increased risk of certain kinds of cancer. In addition, exposure to these chemicals can cause build up in the human body that decreases slowly over time. After the discovery of these and more health risks associated with stain-resistant coatings, Humanscale committed to a healthier, more sustainable way of providing durable products to our customers.

Putting Stain-Resistant Coating to the Test

We decided to test the effectiveness of stain-resistant coating. Did the coating really prevent stains? We compared untreated textiles against treated ones with red wine and mustard in a standard stain test. The coated textiles did indeed resist stains better.

However, this then led us to question the durability of the stain-resistant coating compared to our very durable textiles — how long was the coating actually staying on the textile? In order to access the coating’s durability, we conducted the Wyzenbeek Abrasion Test, which measures a fabric’s ability to withstand wear from rubbing. During the test we periodically stopped the machines to do a stain-resistant assessment. The results surprised us: the textile itself could withstand 150,000 double rubs, but the coating wore off after only 5,000 double rubs. The coating likely only stayed on the chair for the first few months of use!

If the coating only stayed on the textile for the first few months of use, where did it end up? Was it turning into dust that could be inhaled? Was it sticking to people’s clothes? Could it be ingested if people ate at their desks? Our questions reinforced what we knew about the dangers of including the harmful stain-resistant coating on our products. For the health and safety of our valued customers, we knew that we had to remove all the coatings that had PFA and PFC in them from all our textiles. 

A Different Kind of Durability

What if we left off these coatings altogether? We had no history of quality issues with stains on our chairs. Therefore, the coating did not add any practical value to our products. We did not want to create a potential hazard for our customers with unreliable coatings, so Humanscale made an easy decision against using stain-resistant coating. Our ongoing efforts focus instead on creating quality textiles that do not need any additional coatings or treatments. Options like Path, our newest task chair, or our award-winning Smart Ocean can be customized with a wide variety of durable fabrics that provide longevity without risk.

In other words, we questioned the status quo and found a creative solution. This innovative problem solving allowed us to remove dangerous Red List chemicals from our products. In doing so, we did not add cost or compromise performance. By focusing on sustainability and durability we create products that are better for both the environment and our customers. Shop our chairs designed with you in mind here.