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How to Buy Low-Toxin Furniture

Hi, everyone! Until now, I've personally written all of the posts that have appeared on the Holistically Healthy Home website and haven't purposefully sought out any other contributors. That is, until I met Amanda Klecker of Healthy House on the Block, who knows many things about creating a healthier home that I still have yet to learn.  

Amanda is a certified home inspector, who teaches homeowners how to keep their homes hazard-free and safe.  She's also a building biology practitioner helping find solutions to reduce toxins at home and improve the indoor air quality.  Like me, Amanda believes that the home is our second skin, which can either promote a healthy body or further burden it with toxins.

While I am certainly aware that there are many toxins hiding in our furniture and off-gassing into our homes, this is a new frontier for me in my journey to making my home the oasis of natural health and healing that I want it to be. I am definitely not well-placed to provide authoritative information on this topic. So grateful that Amanda agreed to share from her wealth of knowledge with you! Here's what she has for us on the topic of buying healthier furniture... 



New furniture brings SO MANY toxins into our homes! Find out the toxins you need to avoid and the certifications you want before you buy new furniture. #healthyfurniture #toxin-freefurniture #healthyhomes


Furniture is such a huge part of our living spaces!  The focal point of most rooms is the furniture that we’ve placed in it.  The type of furniture you have or where you’ve place it can certainly change the whole look of your space at home.

Over the past several decades, furniture has gone from revolving around functionality to more of a design element.  With this change, furniture has started being manufactured with many more different materials and components than just solid wood, as it was years ago.

In fact, furniture can contain some pretty harsh chemicals, depending on what you’re purchasing for your home.  These chemicals can off gas indefinitely and affect the indoor air quality at home, as well as be absorbed into the skin of whoever comes in contact with the furniture. 



The good news is, with a little bit of online research, you can find furniture that is healthier for your space and brands that are aligned with creating a healthier home environment.  But you also need to know what to look for when you’re doing this research.  It’s important to know what materials are safest and which chemicals you should try your best to avoid.  

SOLID WOOD:  Solid wood furniture definitely gets the award for the safest choice when it comes to furniture.  That being said, you do have to watch out for wood furniture that uses stains, varnishes, or paints containing high levels of VOCs (volatile organic compounds).  These contaminants are both harmful to the endocrine system (hormone production) and the nervous system.

The great news is that many paints and stains are beginning to change their formula to low-VOC or VOC-free.  The bummer news is that often times, the paints and stains used on furniture are NOT these particular paints, unless they’ve noted it.

UPHOLSTERED FURNITURE:  This might be the most common type of furniture found in homes, and rightly so with it’s comfort and aesthetic appeal.  The biggest problems when it comes to these is both the surface of the fabric/upholstery itself and the foam inside of it.

PFCs (Perfluorochemicals): Often times, the entire surface area of upholstered furniture is coated with a spray containing PFCs.  These are intended to create a surface that resists stains and liquid absorption.  Unfortunately, these are highly toxic chemicals and the same chemicals that can be found in teflon-coated cookware.  

PFCs have been linked to an increased risk of cancer, as well as kidney and liver toxicity in humans when exposed over time.  An additional factor that comes into play with this chemical is that it doesn’t leave the body quickly.  In fact, after it is absorbed into the bloodstream, studies have found traces of the chemical in both urine and breastmilk long after the initial exposure has occurred.

Flame Retardants (PBDEs): And then there’s flame retardants.  Flame retardants are found in just about every piece of foam furniture that’s been sold in the past. Anything from mattresses to foam found in couches can have chemical flame retardants within it.

Often labeled as PBDE’s, flame retardants have been linked to many health issues, especially in children.  Many of the problems are related to the neurological system and developmental delays.  Research has also shown that PBDEs disrupt the production of certain hormones in some individuals, which can lead to fertility issues and weight problems, as well as problems with mental clarity.

Flame retardants are especially dangerous because not only are they toxic, but they off-gas at extremely high rates in warm, humid environments.  If you think about what our body contact does to the couch surface when we’re sitting on the cushions, we both warm the surface and our body naturally gives off moisture. 

Instead, opt for options such as organic wool, which is naturally flame retardant and generally safe to the human body.



MORE CHEMICALS TO WATCH FOR

Formaldehyde: Who would ever consider that they needed to worry about formaldehyde in our textiles?  The truth is that formaldehyde is used in many furniture and textile applications.  Formaldehyde is used primarily in strong adhesive glues, which hold together pressed woods, such as medium density fiberboard, particleboard, and plywood.  

Formaldehyde is also used in fabrics that are touted as “wrinkle free.”  These fabrics are often found in plush chairs and couches.  In order to create fibers that are resistant to wrinkling, formaldehyde is added.

Studies and research have shown that formaldehyde is a human carcinogen and certainly should be avoided.  Formaldehyde, again, doesn’t leave the body in a quick manner after entering the bloodstream through either skin or inhalation.  As it travels throughout the body, it affects the brain and neurological systems.

And just like flame retardants, formaldehyde off-gasses at a much higher rate when it is in a warm, humid environment.  Which means not only is it being absorbed into the skin, but it also can be inhaled as well.

VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds): Often found in stains, varnishes, and paints.  These chemicals are notorious for negatively affecting indoor air quality. VOCs never leave a piece of furniture and they continue to off gas over time.  In fact, some particular VOCs actually off gas more as they age.  As with other chemicals, a warm and humid environment means the VOCs will off gas at a much higher rate.

Benzene:  Found in dyes, waxes, and resins with in furniture fabrics and materials. It’s been linked to a higher risk of leukemia in children, as well as adverse reproductive effects in adults.  It’s also been studies as a contributor to multiple blood disorders.

Vinyl Acetate:  A component of polyvinyl and is found in strong adhesives, as well as paints. Because it’s used in so many paints, it can be really difficult to find out if this toxin is present.  Often times, manufacturers use different paints at different production times, and so it’s not always consistent through every piece they produce. Vinyl acetate has been shown to cause increased inflammation, especially in the digestive system and joints.  It’s also been linked to increased respiratory illness and irritation.

Finding furniture manufacturers that advertise the use of solid wood and zero VOC paint/stain will be your best bet in avoiding this toxin.

Phthalates:  Found in plastics and plastic components of furniture.  Phthalates are what make plastics flexible, moldable, and appear translucent.  They’ve been linked to hormone disruption, eventually leading to reproductive problems in both men and women.  It’s best to avoid plastic furniture all together if it can be helped. 



HEALTHY FURNITURE BUYING 

Solid Wood: Solid wood is your best bet when it comes to furniture.  Obviously you’re probably not in the market for a solid wood sofa (not even sure if that exists!?).  But, you could purchase a solid wood dining room set, or a solid wood table or dresser.  You get the picture.  It’s  important to buy solid wood where you can and avoid pressed woods.  Pressed woods are medium density fiberboard, particle board, or plywood.  

Knowing your furniture is solid wood, means you’re avoiding a lot of chemicals that are in glues and solvents holding other types of manufactured woods together.

Organic Wool:  Organic wool as a furniture component is not only one of the safest cushion fillings in my opinion, but it’s also naturally flame resistant.  You want to make sure that the furniture you’re looking at is ORGANIC wool, and not just advertising “wool.”  Organic wool will be harvested and treated without the use of chemicals, and is not woven with other synthetic materials.

Organic wool is naturally resistant to dust mites, mold, and mildew, which makes it a great option for filling in upholstered furniture.

Organic Cotton: Cotton is a great filler in furniture and is very breathable.  This means that moisture can’t get trapped inside the sofa or fibers.  It also means the furniture has the ability to air out and truly breathe, creating a healthier piece of furniture. 

Again, you’ll just want to make sure it’s 100% organic cotton, which ensures no chemicals were used in the harvesting process and there are no synthetic fabrics woven in with the cotton.

Natural Latex:  Natural latex rubber is processed in a very healthy and eco friendly way.  The use of harmful chemicals and petroleum are avoided in the process.  The great thing about natural latex is that it’s a natural repellent to dust mites and other allergens, which is great for a healthier home.  On top of that it is also resistant to mold and mildew.

Natural latex is 100% biodegradable, and considered one of the more eco-friendly options out there in terms of filling. 


Off-Gassing Time: 
No matter what you purchase, whether VOC-free or low-VOC, completely toxin free or low tox, you’ll still want to make sure that the furniture has ample time to off-gas before it comes into your home.  You can do this by allowing it to sit unboxed either in a room with open windows, outdoors, or in a garage space.  Ideally, you should let it sit for 24 - 48 hours.



THIRD PARTY CERTIFICATIONS

Third party certification are such a great tool to utilize when you’re shopping for new furniture.  But it can be really confusing to know what each certification tells you about your furniture.  Below are the typical third party certifications that furniture can earn, letting you know it’s level of synthetic or chemical materials.

GOTS CERTIFICATION (Global Organic Textile Standard):  This is thought of as the toughest criteria to meet when it comes to creating a safe product. It requires at least 70% of the furniture’s upholstery materials are certified organic.  In general, it can ensure the furniture does not contain chemical flame retardants and PFCs, as well as several other hazardous materials.  

GREENGUARD:  A specific certification that identifies and certifies products that have low chemical emissions.

GREENGUARD GOLD: A step up from the standard Greenguard Certification. This one goes beyond assessing just the chemical emissions, but also evaluates health criteria. Products that meet these standards emit less than 360 VOCs.

GOLS (Global Organic Latex Standard):  This certification requires low VOC emission and low amounts of formaldehyde in foam. It prohibits the use of some chemical flame retardants, synthetic colorants and allergenic dyes.

OEKO-TEX STANDARD 100: This certification requires the furniture foam has low emissions of VOCs and formaldehyde.  It also bans the use of most chemical flame retardants and synthetic colorants with allergic dyes.

GREENSEAL: Greenseal uses a scientific method to measure certain criteria that they’ve set in place for over 33 different standards.  They ensure these products are in compliance with their green standards.

CRADLE TO CRADLE: A non profit organization that works to certify the health effects of the construction materials.  This certification examines the ability for the materials to be recycled and re-purposed as well as the social fairness in the construction process.

New furniture brings SO MANY toxins into our homes! Find out the toxins you need to avoid and the certifications you want before you buy new furniture. #healthyfurniture #toxin-freefurniture #healthyhomes

Comments (3)

Reply

Rachel Raba

Oct 30, 2019 11:31 AM CDT

Hi, Chris! Many apologies for missing Amanda's response to your question and not approving it in a timely fashion. Please see the list that Amanda provided above.

Reply

Amanda @ Healthy House on the Block

Jul 08, 2019 07:18 AM CDT

Hi Chris! I'm not sure what type of furniture you're looking for, but here are some great, trustworthy brands that follow a lot of healthier guidelines and have third party certifications: Ciscso Brothers, Viesso, UrbanGreen, White Lotus Home, Eco Balanza, Lee Industries and for kids' furniture: Davinci. Hope that is what what you're looking for!

Reply

Chris

Jun 14, 2019 09:08 AM CDT

Could you provide a top 5 list of example/representative companies that meet some of these criteria that you might recommend? And at least one more economic choice?

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