When did they stop using horse hair in furniture?

by | Jan 26, 2021 | Furniture Cushions, Furniture FAQs, Furniture History | 15 comments

Question:

When did upholstery manufacturers stop using horsehair in sofas?

Answer:

Horsehair is still being used in some upholstery applications.

Today, it is used primarily as a stuffing material when reupholstering valuable antique furniture that was originally made with horsehair.

Horse hair is no longer used to make new sofas or chairs.

Polyurethane foam and polyester fiber are far less expensive materials and are superior in many ways for both padding and cushions.

White horsehair currently sells for $350 – $400 per pound.

Dark horsehair sells for about $100/lb. less.

In comparison, a pound of polyester fiber can be purchased at Walmart for about $5 or in bulk for $0.75

Polyurethane foam can be found at Amazon for less than $10 per pound or in bulk for less than $2.

Horsehair sofa

The last time I encountered a sofa built with horsehair was in 1985.

At that time, I was representing a furniture manufacturer submitting a bid on a contract to supply 20 sofas for the U.S. Army in Europe.

The materials listed in the bid specifications were several decades old and included about 25 pages of specific construction requirements.

One of these called for the use of horsehair.

The company I represented submitted a bid for the sofas based on the use of more modern materials, including polyurethane foam and polyester fiber.

Our bid was promptly rejected, based on the argument that it did not comply with the required specifications.

My company threatened to take the matter of horsehair vs. modern materials to court.

During the preliminary stages of this action, I learned that there was a single company that had been supplying these sofas to the army for over 50 years.

They had no competition because no competitor was willing to make sofas using such antiquated specifications.

Nobody had bothered to challenge the specifications previously.

This was because the quantities were never large enough to make it worthwhile to actually take legal action.

In the end, the case never made it to court.

The GSA (General Services Administration) reached a compromise with us.

After this bid, they would retire the specification and future procurements would use more modern materials that would generate more competition.

Horsehair stuffing was never a perfect padding material, although it clumped less than cotton batting.

Horsehair has not been used in cushions or padding for quite a while, except for repairing or reupholstering antique seating.

Less expensive hog’s hair is often substituted for horsehair when repairing older sofas and chairs.

Beginning in the 1950s, polyurethane foams and polyester fibers began replacing horsehair and other non-resilient materials in most furniture applications. 

Cotton batting (far less expensive than horsehair) is still used as a stuffing material in some higher priced upholstered furniture.

Cushions stuffed with down and feathers are still available for some high end traditional style furniture. But the high cost and the inconvenience of constant cushion fluffing has reduced its popularity.

Small amounts of down and feathers are still popular when used in combination with coil springs (spring down cushion construction.)

But only a very small percentage of cushions are still made exclusively with feathers and down.

It is almost impossible to find manufacturers who will work with horsehair.

Some small custom upholstery shops with highly experienced upholsterers, will repair expensive antique sofas with horsehair.

Horsehair may still be used in a (very) few handmade traditional style sofas.

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Jeff Frank

Jeff Frank

Furniture Consultant

Jeff Frank is a 45 year  furniture industry veteran. He created this blog to provide detailed facts, inside information & advice for furniture shoppers. 

 

 

 

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15 Comments

  1. Kimberly Palumbo

    I scored a couch stuffed with horse hair in a thrift shop and absolutely love it. I wish I could determine the age. I originally thought 1960s but perhaps it’s older? Do you know where I can find more details?

    Reply
    • Jeff Frank

      If you can find the brand or the name of the furniture maker, there are several ways to research this. Without one of those, it is going to be very difficult.

  2. Nancy mitchell

    Can horse hair be used as a base if thick foam is applied on top. This is a very old family piece that I would like to keep as original as possible

    Reply
    • Jeff Frank

      You need to take it to a local custom upholsterer or reupholsterer for an opinion on what can be done for this piece.

    • Linda dever

      Can you help me figure out these chairs approximate age and value I can’t find the pattern on the back anywhere some say it’s a trolobite snake or scarab??is there a place to send photos..the seats are made with horsehair..

    • Jeff Frank

      Linda,
      Check with one of the auction houses that specializes in antique furniture.

      One is LiveAuctioneers,com, but there are others as well.

      Jeff

  3. Ellie

    What is the best substitution for horsehair in upholstery? Is the plastic horsehair just as good?

    Reply
    • Jeff Frank

      Foam and polyester fiber have replaced horsehair.

  4. Bonnie Lynn

    Thank you so much for explaining the term horsehair. When I was about 8 my grandmothers sofa was firm but kind of scratchy. My mother said it was made of horsehair.
    Recently reading a book about women living outside army camps in Ireland, it said that the women would hang petticoats or crinolines outside their homes. This led me to wonder if couches and petticoats were really made of horsehair or was this something I had not known. Loved your post. Finally I have an answer from an expert. Very interesting and informative.

    Reply
  5. Wanda

    Hi Jeff
    Hope you get this. I reupholstered an antique chair that was in the cottage my family purchased 20 years ago. I think it has an unusual style and I’m wondering if you know the style and roughly what year they were manufactured. In what country. How do I send you a photo?

    Reply
    • Jeff Frank

      Sorry, this is not within my field of expertise. If I were searching for this type of information I would consult auction houses specializing in antique furniture.

  6. Carol Grimes

    I have an antique horsehair sofa we reupholstered removing the horse hair. It is a sofa bed by lifting the front and pull forward. Then put the pillows in place. Do you have any kind of value. Also have the matching chair.

    Reply
    • Jeff Frank

      Your best way of getting a value is to contact one of the auction houses that specializes in antique furniture.

  7. celine

    I am Upholsterer and I still use Horse hair stuffing in chairs, I also work with foams. My chairs done 10 years ago out of horse hair and coil springs are largely more sturdy and comfortable than chairs made with foams last summer that keep in place the shape of my bottom during hours after use (I am only 105lbs)…and I do not speak about the ecologic and organic content of foam.

    Reply
  8. Chris

    Hi, I have an oak “bench” and I (probably) need to replace the secondary padding on top of the springs; I suspect horsehair. Can you compare and contrast “Clumping” of horsehair with polyester fiber? I don’t think I will be hanging the value of the “bench” by replacing the horsehair with polyester fiber; I am much more concerned with longevity. I know foam decays and turns to dust over time. I also believe that horsehair has a very long lifespan. I know nothing of polyester fiber.

    Please advise.

    Reply

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