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If you are in search of a new eco-friendly furniture item that will not bring unnecessary environmental toxins into your home and don’t know where to start, you have come to the right place! I encountered this problem myself when moving to a new apartment and it took me a lot of time to figure out what was important in terms of environmental toxins in furniture. In fact, I spent a few months without a sofa sitting on the floor to watch TV because it took me so long to do the research (and for the sofa to arrive)!
The first thing you might want to do whenever you are buying an item of new furniture is to google the type of furniture alongside the term environmental toxins. For example, if you search “mirror” and “environmental toxins” you will likely find search results letting you know that lead is a frequent component in mirrors. From here, you can know to search for a mirror that is “lead free” when you are shopping.
There are also several general questions that you can search for on product pages or email companies to find out when considering a a new furniture item’s eco friendly criteria. I have compiled a lists here of the five most important questions to ask about environmental toxins before buying new furniture. If you only ask these questions, and don’t do the other research I suggested above, you will still cover all of your bases and can rest assured the furniture you are buying is generally safe to have in your home (or as safe as possible with what is currently available).
Happy shopping, and I hope this helps!
5 Questions To Ask When Searching for Eco-Friendly Furniture
1. Does this contain any added flame retardant chemicals?
It is important to know that polyurethane foam which is used as the cushion material in most sofas and chairs can always be contaminated with flame retardant chemicals since often when furniture manufacturers import this foam it may not have added flame retardant but may be made at a facility where flame retardants are applied to other batches of foam for other manufacturers. For this reason most polyurethane foam is never completely flame-retardant free. However, this foam is the main component found in most upholstered furniture like sofas and chairs. The only real eco-friendly alternative to is latex, and latex sofas such as these ones made by Savvy Rest can be extremely expensive (although absolutely worth the investment if you have the money!).
For this reason, I think the best you can do right now is to ensure there are no flame retardant chemicals added to the foam. Companies will say “no flame retardant added” and the furniture item will have a tag on the bottom indicating that the item contains “no added flame retardant.” In the future with more consumer awareness of the dangers of these chemicals, this might improve to the point where third-party tested flame retardant free foam is developed for furniture making.
2. Is this item CARB-2 compliant?
This certification refers to the “California Air Resources Board’s Phase 2” standard for formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products such as MDF, plywood, and particleboard. Lots of furniture uses composite wood products even if you cannot see these components when looking at the item (e.g. sofas, wood furniture backings or drawer inserts). Without a CARB-2 certification, these composite wood products can end up off-gassing a substantial amount of formaldehyde into your home. Solid wood products actually off-gas formaldehyde naturally anyways, but composite wood products which use glues to bind wood pulp together can have significantly higher amounts of formaldehyde off-gassing and so this standard is important.
While you can cut down on this by letting the furniture item sit in a garage or – even better – outside in the the sun for a few weeks before bringing it into your home, and by getting an air filter to minimize the rest, you might prefer to ensure the item you are buying is CARB-2 compliant which will save you this hassle.
3. Is there a prop-65 warning for this item?
Prop 65 Warnings are legally required in the State of California. They list any potential cancer-causing chemicals or other chemicals that are bad for human health in products ranging from food to supplements to furniture. Sometimes these warnings can go too far and are put on things that are not necessarily dangerous to human health. Rice, for example, has naturally occurring arsenic and there is a prop-65 warning for items like this. However, it is always a good idea to ask if a furniture item has this warning so that you can consider investigating the issue further. Sometimes this could be altering you to lead in a mirror, for example. If you are unsure why the item you are looking at has this warning, you can ask the vendor or the manufacturer because they might be able to tell you exactly why the item you are looking at has this warning.
4. Where is this item made?
The country of manufacture of a product can tell you a lot. Furniture made in Vietnam might have a higher chance of containing environmental toxins than furniture made in Europe or the North America because of different regulatory standards. However, furniture made in Vietnam that comes with other guarantees of being low-toxin, such as the case with a lot of Article furniture, might still be safe and more affordable than furniture made elsewhere.
5. Where are the components made?
Sometimes a furniture item might say made in the U.S.A. but the components, such as wood composite boards, are made in China. If the product is certified CARB 2 compliant, you may not be worried about this. However, it is always good to consider this in case it brings up any red flags that you hadn’t considered previously.
How to Find Answers To These Questions
If you get answers to all of these questions you should have a pretty good idea about the eco-friendly criteria of the furniture item you are considering before buying. Sometimes you can find answers to these questions either in the item description or in the FAQ section of the furniture company. If you are looking at Wayfair or on Amazon, you will find an “Ask a Question” area where you can ask the manufacturer or an Amazon or Wayfair employee for these answers. You can also chat with, email, or phone the company to get further information. I prefer to use the chat function of a website or to email because these questions can be complex and it might take a little while for the person assisting you to find all of the answers.
What About Used Furniture?
If you are looking to buy used furniture items you are making a decision that will greatly benefit the environment because this item will not require new resources or energy used in its production to be brought into your home. However, you can still answer some of the above questions when buying used furniture by looking at any tags or writing on the furniture itself to try and determine the answer to some of these questions.
Sofas and other upholstered furniture, for example, will often have a tag at the bottom of the item (where the legs sit), so if you flip it over you should find it. This tag will often state whether or not flame retardant materials have been added to the sofa. You will be looking for California Technical Bulletin 117-2013, or TB117-2013, and a check mark on the box that says “contains no added flame retardants.” Please note that sofas that do contain added flame retardant chemicals are actually much worse to buy used because they release more flame retardant into your home the more worn down they become.
Furniture that is not upholstered but made of pure or composite wood, for example, might also have a sticker label somewhere in a hidden area that will detail the conditions of its manufacture. You might find a label that states it is CARB-2 compliant, and it might also state where it was made. If you cannot find any tags, if the furniture item is solid wood you can probably assume it is a good choice for your home. If it is some type of wood composite, then you might still want to consider this item because it will have had a lot of time since manufacture to off-gas any formaldehyde.
For furniture items that contain something other than just wood, wood composite, or polyurethane foam, you may have to do a little digging of your own. For example, metals which were popular in previous eras such as brass can contain high amounts of lead and so you may want to reconsider bringing these items into your home – especially if you have young children at home who are more likely to put their hands and mouths on them. Older mirrors and leaded crystal are other materials you may want to reconsider or avoid. And if there is an electronic component to the furniture item you may want to consider that things like cables and cords are often treated with flame retardant chemicals (which is still the case with new electronic furniture today!), and so you would want to make sure those components are well sealed and not degrading.