When did they stop using horse hair in furniture?

by | Jan 26, 2021 | Furniture Cushions, Furniture FAQs, Furniture History | 14 comments

Horse hair is no longer used in furniture for the same reason that automobiles replaced horse drawn carts.

Something better came along to replace it.

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.

The bid specification materials were several decades old and included about 25 pages of specific construction requirements. One of these called for the use of horsehair.

My company submitted a bid for the sofas based on the use of more modern technologies, including polyurethane foam.

Our bid was promptly rejected based on the argument that we were not complying with the required specifications.

My company threatened to take the matter to court. During the preliminary stages of this action we 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 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 specifications that would generate more competition.

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

  • Horsehair has not been used in cushions for quite a while. Cushions with horsehair need to be “fluffed up” after each use.
  • An alternative cushion choice for more expensive furniture was feathers and down. These materials were also non-resilient and needed to be fluffed after each use, but they provided superior comfort.
  • Beginning in the 1950s, polyurethane foams began replacing horsehair in most furniture applications.
  • Down and feathers remained popular in high end seating for a few additional decades, 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 anybody in the U.S. still stuffing sofas with horsehair. Horsehair may still be used in a (very) few handmade sofas.

Know someone who might be interested in this post? Please like and share this post with them. If you have questions or comments please leave them below.

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. 

 

 

 

 Shopping for furniture can be complex and frustrating. Salespeople have limited knowledge & experience about the products they sell. If you’re looking for real answers before spending hundreds or thousands of dollars, check out our furniture buyer consulting.

14 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

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.