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EWG's Healthy Home Tips

Tip 4 - Avoid fire retardants

EWG's Healthy Home Tips: Tip 4 - Avoid fire retardants

Chemical fire retardants are common in consumer products. They are added to a wide variety of household items such as furniture, electronics, appliances and even baby products. While one class of fire retardants called PBDEs (for polybrominated diphenyl ethers) has been taken off the market due to toxicity concerns, it has been replaced with compounds such as TDCIPP (also known as “chlorinated tris”) and chemical mixtures such as Firemaster® 550. But this is not a victory, because these alternative chemicals are also linked to toxicity concerns such as cancer and endocrine disruption.

Until we get fire retardants out of consumer products, EWG suggests that you avoid contact with these toxic chemicals as best you can. It’s not possible to steer clear of them entirely, but fortunately you now have more fire retardant-free choices!

Using these tips you can learn:. 


Scientists have found that exposure to toxic fire retardant chemicals at critical points in development can damage the reproductive system and cause deficits in motor skills, learning, memory and behavior. Some are carcinogenic.

Fire retardants in everyday items such as furniture, computers, televisions and other electronics spread through the home and could expose children to amounts that exceed the Environmental Protection Agency’s health risk guidelines. EWG’s tests found much higher levels of both PBDEs and TDCIPP in young children than in their mothers – likely because children frequently put their hands, toys and other objects in their mouths. Fire retardants migrate out of products and can contaminate house dust, which accumulates on the floor where children play. Read our report on TDCIPP in mothers and their toddlers to learn more about children’s exposures.

Until toxic fire retardants are taken out of consumer products (including imports) and safer solutions are in place to meet flammability standards, American families – especially children – will continue to be needlessly exposed.


household products contain brominated fire retardants

Fire retardants are commonly added to furniture containing polyurethane foam, including couches and upholstered chairs, futons and carpet padding. They also turn up in children’s products such as car seats, changing table pads, portable crib mattresses, nap mats and nursing pillows.

Some TVs, remotes, cell phones and other electronics, as well as building materials, also contain chemical retardants, but these sources are much more difficult to avoid.

Foam products made before 2005 may be the most hazardous. Older foam items commonly contain PBDEs, highly toxic fire retardants that were taken off the U.S. market. But scientists are finding that newer substitutes such as TDCIPP may be just as harmful, so EWG recommends buying products made without fire retardants whenever possible. 


reduce your family’s in-home exposure

Fire retardants are nearly impossible to avoid completely, but if you take these simple precautions you can minimize your exposure:

  • Do your homework before you buy baby products. Although many baby products have been exempted from fire safety regulations that prompted companies to add chemical retardants, some manufacturers still use them. Find out before you buy and choose products that don’t contain any fire retardants.
  • If you’re buying a new couch, choose one made without fire retardants. New regulations make it much easier for furniture makers to market products that have not been saturated with fire retardants, but there’s no easy way to tell which is which. Contact the manufacturer to ask if its furniture contains these chemicals.
  • Planning to reupholster your couch? Replace the foam, too. If you’re planning to reupholster your couch, consider replacing the old foam. It likely contains fire retardants. Ask your upholstery shop to find retardant-free foam.
  • Inspect foam cushioning for damage. Make sure cushion covers are intact since exposed foam can allow fire retardant chemicals to escape more quickly. Items such as car seats and mattress pads should always be completely encased in protective fabric.
  • Use a vacuum cleaner fitted with a HEPA filter. These vacuums are more efficient at trapping small particles and will likely remove more contaminants and allergens from your home. High efficiency "HEPA-filter" air cleaners may also reduce contaminants bound to small particles.
  • Be careful removing old carpeting. The padding is typically made of scrap foam that contains fire retardants. Old carpet padding can break down by the time it’s exposed for replacement. Isolate the work area from the rest of your home.


Some parents worry that fire-retardant pajamas will expose their children to these chemicals. To our knowledge, children’s pajamas are not treated with chemical fire retardants. Still, as a precaution, you might want to choose snug-fitting pajamas made from natural fibers that are inherently fire resistant. And, of course, keep kids away from matches, candles and cigarettes.

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