How to Shop for Non-Toxic Furniture

Here's how to keep your household safer.

Room with green loveseat and plants

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Living an eco-friendly lifestyle is becoming more popular these days. Consumers are not only concerned with how their purchases impact the environment, but also how chemicals in household items such as furniture can affect their health. Manufacturers have recognized this demand and are making more accessible, stylish, and affordable non-toxic furniture than ever before.

If you've been thinking about giving your home a non-toxic furniture refresh but aren’t sure where to start—here’s what you need to know.

Look for Third-Party Certifications 

The easiest way to assure you're purchasing non-toxic furniture is to look for pieces with third-party certifications, such as OEKO-TEX, Greenguard, FSC, GOTS, and GOLS. These should be prominently noted on the label or product description. Anything with these credentials is non-toxic and meets stringent requirements. 

“It's important to have certifications such as OEKO-TEX and FSC because these are certifications that are issued by reputable, international third-party organizations that have the consumer's best interests in mind,” explains Billy Shaw, co-founder and CEO of 7th Avenue Co, which is a line of OEKO-TEX and FSC-certified modular sofas, sectionals, and chairs. 

But keep in mind that doesn’t necessarily mean that furniture without these certifications is toxic.

What Exactly Does Non-Toxic Mean?

Unlike third-party certifications, which have strict standards, the label "non-toxic" isn't regulated, so it doesn't necessarily mean a product meets a specific requirement. Dr. Hayley Goldbach, MD, board-certified dermatologist and Assistant Professor of Dermatology at Brown University (who advises families on this issue) tells me it's best to avoid furniture with flame retardants and PFAS, which are sometimes called forever chemicals. “These are commonly used in stain-proof fabric or performance fabrics.”

PFAS and PFOAS are also known as microplastics. “This group of chemicals is incredibly harmful to the human body and the environment. They also stay in the environment for a long period of time and don’t break down naturally,” explains Shaw.

But keep in mind that while many stain-resistant fabrics are toxic, it doesn't mean that all of them are. For example, 7th Avenue Co slipcovers are stain-resistant, but because they’re OEKO-TEX certified, they don’t contain flame retardants or other chemicals to be concerned about. 

But it’s not just upholstery that can be toxic. “Unlike other consumer goods, furniture is quite an involved category of product. This means that when looking at non-toxic furniture, you'd want to take a look at all aspects of the product from the fabrics, the wood, and even the type of glue that is used,” Shaw says.

If you're considering buying a piece of furniture and aren't sure what it's been made with, Goldbach suggests contacting the manufacturer or brand directly. 

How Furnishings Can Affect Air Quality

You know when you bring home that new desk or dresser and it has a smell that can take weeks to dissipate? It turns out that’s not a good thing. Those are chemicals or VOCs (volatile organic compounds) such as formaldehyde being released or off-gassed. According to Dr. Goldbach, these chemicals, which come from foam, cushions, or paint, can decrease indoor air quality.

Should All Your Furniture Be Non-Toxic?

While it is technically possible to furnish every room of the home entirely with non-toxic pieces—it would ultimately be very expensive. So if you are trying to reduce household toxins, it’s best to prioritize some items over others. 

“Mattresses should be the first priority as well as anything that you are spending a significant amount of time interacting with. Some common examples would be a bed frame, couch, or recliner.” 

It's also crucial to reduce toxins in nurseries and children's rooms. Not sure where to start? DaVinci has stylish yet affordable pieces, whereas Pottery Barn Kids has some higher-end options. Both these brands have a large selection of Greenguard Gold-certified furniture. 

How to Make Conventional Furniture Safer

Whenever you get new furniture or paint a room, consider keeping the windows open and running an air purifier to reduce the impact of VOCs and other chemicals.

If new, non-toxic furniture isn’t in your budget, Dr. Goldbach recommends buying used. “This not only allows you to get a nicer piece, but some off-gassing will have already taken place and thus it may be safer for your home.” 

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