Non-toxic tips to know before you buy furniture

Thanks, KGW! The local news is letting Portlanders know that they can now buy upholstered furniture made without toxic flame retardant chemicals.

For decades, furniture-makers who use polyurethane foam padding have had little choice but to soak it in toxic flame retardant chemicals. Now, the law has changed—and it’s easier both to make and to identify furniture that is free of these chemicals linked to memory, learning, IQ, hormonal system and fertility problems.

And thanks to a strong united voice from consumers and you’ll find a tag like the one pictured here in far more furniture stores, including Macy’s.

FR label

If you’re in the market for new furniture, you can cut down on your hazardous chemical load by asking a few key questions. Ask your retailer:

  • Is it made with added flame retardants? If your retailer doesn’t know, you can share with them the label above!
  • Is it made with stain-resistant chemicals? Some stain-resistant fabrics contain a class of chemicals called PFCs—the same stuff used in Teflon pans. These chemicals are linked to problems with growth and development. And they don’t stay in your couch: PFC’s are regularly found in household dust, where you can breathe or ingest them. You can usually opt out of the stain-resistant additive.
  • Is it certified as low-VOC? Furniture that is certified for having fewer “volatile organic compounds” are a little harder to come by. But what you’ll get is furniture made with glue, adhesive and finish that is less toxic, may be less stinky, and better for workers and the planet. See certifications and what they mean for furniture here.
But what if I’m not buying new furniture?

It’s not a good idea for everyone to instantly abandon their couches. So what else you can do?

  • Be an advocate. Sign a petition to the Consumer Product Safety Commission asking for a ban on toxic flame retardants in children’s products and furniture. It’s great that stores are taking voluntary action—but shouldn’t all of products on the shelf be safe?
  • Be a vocal consumer. Check out the campaign for ways you can speak up and let retailers know that you are a shopper who values safe products.
  • Dust regularly, damp-mop, and wash your hands before eating. These are good habits regardless of what kind of furniture you have. Some tests of everyday household dust have shown as many as 60 different toxics that slough off our furnishings, drift in from outside, or are left over from cleaning and maintenance supplies. Controlling your exposure to dust is a healthy habit.
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