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How to be a Smart Shopper and Avoid Toxic Upholstered Furniture

How to be a Smart Shopper and Avoid Toxic Upholstered Furniture

How to Avoid Toxic Upholstered Furniture

Upholstered furniture has several issues you’re trying to avoid – formaldehyde, chemical flame retardants, and synthetic cushion off-gassing.

To get the healthiest upholstered furniture, you’ll need to understand three components – the frame, cushions, and California’s latest flammability standards.


Frame – Opt for solid wood:


A lot of lower cost furniture is made with plywood, particle board or MDF. These engineered wood products are manufactured using adhesives that release formaldehyde.

Formaldehyde is a substance you’d rather not have in your home. Learn more about the dangers of formaldehyde.

Instead of engineered wood products, look for a frame made from solid hardwood like ash, maple, poplar or oak. Pine is a softer wood and is less desirable. Investing in a solid wood frame means your furniture will last, and it’s healthier without the formaldehyde.

If it’s not practical to buy solid wood upholstered furniture, then check out the article for how to reduce formaldehyde.


Cushions – Your best bet is to choose 100% natural latex:


Your best bet is to choose furniture with 100% natural latex cushions.

Why? Because natural latex is long-lasting and mold, mildew, and dust-mite resistant. And, the cushions do not off-gas like synthetic latex or polyurethane foam cushions.

100% natural latex is also naturally flame resistant. What does this mean? It has never required chemical flame retardants to meet earlier or current flammability standards, so it’s always a safe option.


Cushions – How to find cushions untreated by chemical flame retardants:


If purchasing 100% natural latex isn’t practical, then look for cushions made without chemical flame retardants. Most cushions are made with polyurethane or soy foam. These cushions can emit hazardous compounds and may also be treated with harmful flame retardants.

So, how do you know if the cushions have been treated with flame retardants?

It’s a long story. Here are the highlights.

In 1975, California passed laws requiring upholstered furniture to withstand an open flame. As a result, manufacturers started using large amounts of toxic flame retardants to meet the standards.

Since California is such a large market, the manufacturers used the same standards for the other 49 states. Luckily, effective Jan 1, 2015, the law was changed to require only smolder resistance.

This changed everything! Now, many fabrics and materials can pass the new standards without the use of chemical flame retardants.

Here’s how to decode the new labels.

You need to check the labels carefully. Look for the new flammability label. 

As of January 1, 2015, the law requires all manufacturers to add the label. People in the other 49 states, as well as Canada, should start seeing these labels as well.

Since the only furniture built after January requires the label, you probably won’t find it on the majority of pieces you see in the stores. Look for labels with a check mark that the upholstery materials in the product “Contain No Added Flame Retardant Chemicals”. See the new label on the right.

To sum up, opt for 100% natural latex for long-lasting cushions without chemical flame retardants and nasty cushion off-gassing.

If natural latex is not practical, then look for furniture with the new flammability label that proves it has not been treated with flame retardants.


Buying New Furniture Not an Option?


Buying new furniture may not be an option for you. So, what can you do about flame retardants in your upholstered furniture?

You can replace your foam cushions with chemical flame retardant-free foam cushions. This will remove the bulk of the flame retardants from your furniture.

Here’s a list of places from the Green Science Policy Institute where you can get foam cushions without added flame retardants.

Cushion Works

Foam Order

House of Foam

Kay Chesterfield

Michael’s Custom Upholstery


Just Curious


How much of this was news to you? Some? or most of it?

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