Furnishings: Before you redecorate

When it’s time to redecorate your home, you can make choices to avoid toxics and create a healthy home. Three common toxics to avoid are PVC/vinyl, added flame retardants, and stain-guards.

Flooring

Carpet, wood laminate and vinyl flooring can release toxic pollution into air and household dust. Better choices are solid wood, natural linoleum, bamboo, cork, tile and stone.

  • Stain-guards, adhesives, foam backing and flame retardants can all be released from carpeting and carpet backing. If installing new carpet, look for low-emission certification.
  • If you can, choose area rugs or other alternatives instead of wall-to-wall carpeting.
  •  Skip the stain-resistant coating. These coatings may contain a class of chemicals that are toxic and can build up in the body.
  •  Carpet pads made from bits of foam are likely to contain toxic flame retardants that can be released into air and dust. Look for wool, latex and plant fiber alternatives without added flame retardants.
  • Ask for phthalate-free laminate and vinyl flooring. A class of chemicals called phthalates are used to make pliable plastic. Look for products that are phthalate-free and do not contain recycled vinyl.
  • Install flooring with low-VOC adhesive.

Window treatments

Drapes and curtains may be treated with stain-resistant or fire retardant chemicals that can break down and cause exposure. Some PVC mini-blinds are stabilized with lead, which can then be released into household dust. Plastic vinyl window shades may off-gas chemicals.

  •  When you buy new window coverings, choose natural fibers like cotton, linen, wool or hemp without the stain pre-treatment.
  •  Aluminum, wood and bamboo are better choices than vinyl for mini-blinds and window shades.

Cabinets and wood products

Composite wood, such as particle board and plywood, is bound together with glue that may release harmful fumes.  Choose products labeled “TSCA Title VI compliant.” Products that meet strong standards, put in place in 2019, will bear this label.

Treated wood

Before 2003, decks, fencing, benches and play structures were made from pressure-treated wood. The copper chromate arsenic (CCA) used to preserve the wood is toxic and can leach into soil and leave residue on the surface of the wood. CCA-treated wood is green when new and turns grey over time. Some treated wood has staple-sized slits in it. If your structure was made before 2003 and is not made of cedar, it is likely to be CCA-treated.

  •  If you have a treated wood structure, coat it twice a year with low-voc stain or sealant. Paint and other coatings are not recommended.
  •  Choose rot-resistant redwood or cedar for new outdoor structures.
  •  Choose wood-plastic composites using 100% recycled plastic (not PVC) for new outdoor structures.

PVC and Vinyl plastic

Products made with PVC (also known as vinyl) can contain plasticizers (phthalates) that are released to the air and especially toxic to young children. Vinyl can be found in flooring, window blinds, wall clings, shower curtains, mattress covers, gym mats, table covers, carpet backing, electrical cord insulation and more.

  •  If you can’t avoid new vinyl, you can let it air out for a few weeks outdoors before introducing it into your home.
  •  Choose PEVA and EVA plastic alternatives that do not contain toxic phthalates.
  •  Choose mattress covers and shower curtains made from tightly woven polyester or nylon. These are water-resistant materials that may be laundered.

Asbestos

Asbestos was banned in home construction beginning in 1990. However, older homes may have asbestos in insulation for wires, heating pipes and attics; ceiling or floor tiles; drywall, and “popcorn” ceilings. People are exposed to asbestos when it is unraveling, frayed or crumbling.

  •  If material may contain asbestos and is in good shape, leave it alone. Inspect it regularly to ensure it does not fray or crumble.
  •  Contact an asbestos professional for consultation before sanding, sawing, drilling or disturbing asbestos.

The way you maintain your home can make a big difference to your family’s health. Get a healthy homes checkup with our guide and tips.