Buying new furniture can be a lengthy process, and a lot of thought goes into to purchasing the right pieces for your home. The comfort of the furniture, color, structure, the look and feel, the list of things to consider can get pretty long.
What can occasionally be forgotten about in the process are the long-term effects of owning a piece of furniture, especially from the health side. We are often more interested in how a piece looks now, and how it works for us today, over how it was manufactured or the origin of the materials. Those materials and manufacturing methods could affect your health, and it’s important to know what you are buying before you bring it home.
|This article was originally written for my 2012-2013 position at lifestyle and furniture retailer Haiku Designs. Go check them out here, they are great folks.|
Chemicals and off-gassing
Chemicals are used in furniture in a couple of ways. First, due to governmental regulations, mattresses and other furniture pieces need to meet flammability requirements. This keeps you safe in the case of fire, and prevents fire from starting in your mattress. Many companies will add synthetic chemical flame retardants to the mattresses to comply with that, and those chemical sprays and powders can be toxic over time.
Chemicals are also used in the foam that makes up the softer parts of the furniture. Memory foams and synthetic materials can release toxic petrochemicals into your home, a process known as “off-gassing”. Especially with mattresses, those chemicals are being released over many years as you sleep directly on them, and your body can absorb too much.
We think of these chemicals being released from soft furniture pieces and mattresses, but they can also be released from solid pieces such as tables and buffets. During manufacturing, hardwoods can have chemicals applied to them, from conditioning the wood to painting. Over time, in your home, the furniture can off-gas a range of chemicals, many of them known carcinogens.
Mold, microbes, and allergens
Synthetically manufactured materials also don’t often deal with allergens and microbes as well as natural products do. Mold and microbes are issues that can affect your furniture and your home. Even without chemical toxins, these issues can cause health concerns over time, sometimes to the point of discoloring or even destroying the furniture itself.
Synthetic and foam material mattresses, especially, don’t offer much protection against dust mites. Dust mites are one of the main causes of allergies and illnesses, and they can thrive in the dark, moist environments often found in synthetic mattresses and foam materials.
What can you do about it?
Luckily, there are safer, healthier choices to make when it comes to furniture.
- Natural and organic materials, such as wool, cotton, and pure natural latex, are anti-microbial. They have a unique, dry, porous structure that dust mites won’t thrive in, and they don’t use petrochemicals for flame retardant or construction.
- Look for furniture made with sustainable wood, like bamboo. Bamboo, for example, serves as a strong carbon sequester, releasing more oxygen back into the environment. In fact, bamboo will not warp or chip over time, and is more durable than solid oak.
- If available, look for “E-1” standards on the furniture you buy. The European Union’s furniture gas emission standards are very strict, including zero off-gassing of toxic emissions. Furniture meeting E-1 standards must also be manufactured in a way and with materials that are non-toxic and sustainably produced.
Your new furniture should definitely fit your home, be beautiful, and last for a long time. But just remember when you are considering new furniture what the long term effects of those choices might be. Choose healthier furniture, to keep you and your family healthy for years to come.