Upholstered Furniture

Watch out for toxic flame retardant chemicals—they are commonly added to furniture and may be especially harmful to children.

Healthiest Furniture

  • No added flame retardant chemicals

  • No stain-guard or water-repellant finishes

  • Natural latex or low-VOC certified foam

  • FSC-certified wood frames

Do’s & Don’ts

  • Don’t buy upholstered furniture made with chemical flame retardants or stain-guard fabric coatings.

    These added chemicals are released from furniture into the air and can accumulate in dust. EWG’s studies have found much higher levels of flame retardants in young children compared to their mothers—likely because children frequently put their hands, toys and other objects in their mouths.

  • Choose furniture made with no added flame retardant chemicals.

    These chemicals are commonly added to furniture made of polyurethane foam and can damage the reproductive system and cause deficits in motor skills, learning, memory and behavior. Some are carcinogenic. Thanks to new fire safety standards in California, many furniture manufacturers now produce sofas and other upholstered furniture without added flame retardant chemicals—and they still meet flammability standards.

  • Look for the TB117-2013 label.

    It should read: “The upholstery materials in this product contain NO added flame retardant chemicals.” If it is unclear, ask the manufacturer’s customer service representatives whether chemical fire retardants were added to the product.

  • Avoid furniture with stain-guard and water-repellent treatments.

    These treatments often contain perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs, which have been linked to cancer, reproductive problems, birth defects, developmental delays and immune system suppression. To protect furniture from spills and pets, choose a washable cover instead.

  • Be aware that furniture made with plywood, particle board or composite wood frames typically use glues that can emit formaldehyde fumes.

    If you are unable to avoid composite wood, choose models that either have no added formaldehyde or are certified by the California Air Resources Board to emit low levels of the chemical.

  • Look for furniture with solid wood frames that are Forest Stewardship Council, or FSC, certified for responsibly managed forests.

    Natural latex foam cushions can be quite pricey but they are a good alternative to polyurethane foam, which is made from petroleum chemicals that emit volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, harmful chemicals that can cause respiratory irritation or other health problems.

Best Furniture Options

The best furniture options are made from materials like cotton, wool and latex foam; are organically produced, if possible; and are made from solid wood finished with certified low-VOC products. Look for the following certifications:

FSC certification

FSC requires that the wood used to make furniture comes from responsibly managed forests.

GOTS, the Global Organic Textile Standard

GOTS requires that at least 70 percent of upholstery materials are certified organic. This standard generally prohibits the use of harmful treatments like chemical flame retardants and PFCs, as well as numerous other hazardous substances.

GOLS, the Global Organic Latex Standard

GOLS certification requires low emission of VOCs and formaldehyde from foam, and bans the use of some chemical flame retardants, colorants and allergenic dyes.

Oeko-Tex Standard 100

Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certification requires low emission of VOCs and formaldehyde from foam, and bans the use of some chemical flame retardants, colorants and allergenic dyes.

Greenguard Gold

Greenguard Gold certification requires that the finished product meets low emission standards for VOCs, including formaldehyde.

If solid wood furniture is not an option

If solid wood furniture is not an option, look for the following standards to limit formaldehyde exposure from wood products:

California Phase 2 Compliant

The California Air Resources Board provides certification for particle board, plywood and composite wood products that meet California’s standard for low formaldehyde emissions.

NAF

Certification for particle board, plywood and composite wood products made with glues containing no added formaldehyde. NAF products are often marketed as “formaldehyde free.”

ULEF (Ultra-Low Emitting Formaldehyde)

Certification for particle board, plywood and composite wood products made without glues containing urea-formaldehyde and, which have formaldehyde levels that are consistently below what is required for Phase 2 compliance. Note that these products may still contain phenol-formaldehyde. Urea-formaldehyde glues are most concerning because they release formaldehyde throughout the life of the product, whereas phenol-formaldehyde glues emit 90 percent less formaldehyde.

TSCA Title VI compliant

By as early as 2018, pressed wood products in the U.S. that meet new federal standards mirroring California’s Phase 2 standards for low formaldehyde emissions will be labeled as TSCA Title VI compliant.

Certifications

  • FSC certification

  • Global Organic Textile Standard

  • Global Organic Latex Standard

  • Oeko-Tex Standard 100

  • Greenguard Gold

References

  1. Center for Environmental Health, Kicking Toxic Chemicals Out of the Office: An Easy Guide to Going Flame Retardant-Free. Available at www.ceh.org/office-furniture
  2. Center for Environmental Health. Residential Furniture Survey. Available at www.ceh.org/residential-furniture
  3. Center for Environmental Health, How Did Flame Retardants Get in Our Products? Available at www.ceh.org/campaigns/flame-retardants/
  4. Green Science Policy Institute, Flame Retardants in Furniture. 2012. Available at greensciencepolicy.org/topics/furniture/
  5. Alexandra Zissu, Toxic Chemicals in Our Couches. Natural Resources Defense Council, 2016. Available at www.nrdc.org/health/flame-retardants/toxic-couch.asp
  6. Veena Singla, Want to Avoid Toxic Couch Chemicals? Just Look for the New Label! Natural Resources Defense Council, 2015. Available at switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/vsingla/want_to_avoid_toxic_couch_chem.html

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