Is your furniture killing you?
It’s not just building materials that pose risk. Upholstered furniture, like sofas, can also be hazardous because manufacturers douse them in chemicals to make them fire resistant. A recent study from Duke University shows more than half of U.S. couches contain toxic chemical flame retardants, which pollute indoor air.
“Those chemicals migrate and accumulate in the bodies of the people around them,” says Dr. Dick Jackson, chair of Environmental Health Sciences at UCLA. Unfortunately, these chemicals aren’t just dangerous, they’re also ineffective. “They’re intended to reduce fire hazards, [but] they’re not fireproof,” says Rich Pluciennick of highly rated Galaxy Upholstery in Berwyn, Ill. Experts recommend avoiding foam cushioning and buying furniture stuffed with polyester, wool or organic cotton fillings, which are unlikely to contain these chemicals.
Alan Cranson of highly rated Cranson Upholstery in Tempe, Ariz., says customers are becoming more educated. “We have customers inquiring about the foam used in our furniture,” Cranson says. “We offer eco-friendly fabrics for those who request it.”
Christopher Elmquist of highly rated Furniture Specialist in St. Paul, Minn., helped Angie’s List member TJ Bren from Shakopee, Minn., who had concerns. “We wanted a sofa that was free from formaldehyde and wouldn’t off-gas,” says Bren, who was happy he could work with Elmquist to custom-make a sofa using only fabrics and springs to avoid chemicals.