When you purchase furniture, you may not be thinking of how it contributes to the indoor air quality of your home, but perhaps you should. Furniture & mattresses contribute to the quality of the air you breathe inside your home. Understanding we spend about ninety percent of our time indoors, it makes sense to start cleaning it up. And this is a real need for the average family because your indoor air can be anywhere from 2-5x more polluted than the air you breathe outside. You’re already starting to eat more organic food and use safer personal care products, now take a look at the how things like safer furniture & mattresses can support better health. You’ve trusted Mamavation to cover such topics as how to find out how safe the air quality is in your city, 10 toxins that can lower your child’s IQ, and which houseplants can clean up the off-gassing toxins inside your home, now join us as we explore toxic off-gassing in mattresses, formaldehyde in furniture and more.
Cleaning up the air in your home is important, so sign up here for our FREE eBook “The Ultimate Guide to Cleaning up Indoor Air in your Home” where we will go beyond furniture and mattresses. When you just want to Netflix binge toxin-free, it’s a bummer to think you just purchased that couch and its off-gassing toxins into the air inside your home. Here’s a new take on the fabrics that surround us daily and the toxins that permeate the air and environment around them. We all want to feel safe in our homes. Let us help you get a good nights sleep, or a Netflix binge, toxin-free. The conversation about big tickets items like furniture & mattresses are hard to have but we are having them.
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So What’s New in Flame Retardants?
Good news about California, i.e. the State that leads the United States in environmental laws. California no longer requires an open-flame test for upholstery components. And this is really good news because flame retardants are incredibly toxic! The Flammability Standard Requirements for Upholstered Furniture law, TB 117-2013, now requires upholstered items pass a ‘smolder test’. Previously, they had to pass an open flame test. This decision came after it was proven that using flame retardants in filler components does not deter upholstered items from burning. Companies can now pass for fire safety without use of flame retardants. Instead, they can rely on fabric barriers that can be more eco-friendly. This can be as simple as a tighter weave of the fabric. If companies use flame retardant additives in California, they must now be labeled.
So what does this mean? It means that companies can still use flame retardants, but don’t have to. Standards for flammability are no longer as strict. And since California’s law went into effect, many companies are now labeling their products. This makes it much easier to spot flame retardants. (Check here for a complete list of survey respondents.) Hopefully, this change will mean less phosphated, brominated, chlorinated or antimony flame retardants. In turn, this also means less risk of cancer, toxins, endocrine disruptors and risk of SIDS due to inhaling toxic chemicals.
And guess what? This was fully supported by firefighters. In fact, the movement to take flame retardants out of furniture was LEAD by firefighters. Over the years, firefighters have died from cancer after being exposed to the toxic chemicals found in furniture, mattresses, flooring, etc. In fact, cancer is the leading cause of death by off-duty firemen in the United States according to the International Association of Fire Fighters. About 60 percent of career firefighters die “with their boots off” which is how they refer to it in the industry. The chemicals companies fought this sea change HARD and brought in children that had been burned in fires to testify against the need to restrict flame retardants in furniture. That was a low blow. But it took one symbolic act to change everything. Hundreds of boots from dead firefighters who lost their lives to cancer were lined up on the steps of the Capitol building in Sacramento, California. After that, the message was clear–fire retardants are more harmful than useful.
Stain Resistant Fabrics Are Not Necessarily Safe
While stain-resistant perfluorinated (PFCs) fabrics have had some changes, there is no actual proof that they’re any better than they were before. A national program worked to eliminate toxic persistent chemicals in the environment by working with major companies to eliminate carcinogens in non-stick materials. They were mostly successful in creating change, but those companies opted to use a sister chemical instead of utilizing green chemistry to solve the problem. And this was problematic because that sister chemical is equally dangerous. When a company replaces one chemical with a sister chemical and that sister chemical is found to be just as bad if not worse, that is called a “regrettable substitution” and we’ve seen that several times in industries, like with BPA & BPS.
How do we know this is happening? The EPA invited eight companies to participate in the 2010/2015 PFOA Stewardship Program to eliminate perfluorooctanoic acid. Perfluorooctanoic acids are a known toxicant and carcinogen. They’ve been found in over 98 percent blood samples in kids under 12 in a 2007 study. Another study showed children have higher exposure to PFCs may have a higher chance of developing ADHD. Removing those specific chemicals didn’t fix the problem, however. A study has discovered PFESAs (chlorinated polyfluoroalkyl ether sulfonic acids) in natural waters that suggest toxicity is similar to what they’re replacing. Having a similar degredation rate in the environment also means these surfactants and repellents will persist in the environment – and our bodies – for a long time.
What To Look Out For When Buying Furniture and Mattresses
There are several things to look out for when purchasing furniture & mattresses. Here are some of the basics below:
- Phthalates in Furniture: Phthalates soften vinyl and are also linked to cancer and developmental issues. Phthalates are also linked to degraded sperm quality, so if you want children or grandkids one day, avoid phthalates. Certain types have been banned from children’s products. However, they are still present in other furniture items with vinyl.
- Flame Retardants in Mattresses & Furniture: Mattresses and other upholstered items may still contain flame retardants. By avoiding them, you’ll have less exposure to endocrine disruptors. You’ll also minimize chances of impaired neurological development, and won’t be breathing in toxic chemicals while you sleep. Hopefully having less of this kind of flame retardant will also help with firefighter cancer rates due to burning chemicals.
- PFCs or perfluorinated chemicals in Furniture & Mattresses: Stain-resistant fabrics are still a major risk. Even though companies have replaced chemicals with proven adverse effects, the replacements may be just as bad. Especially anything containing Teflon-like chemicals or Scotchguard is to be avoided like the plague.
- Plasticizers in Waterproofed pads and Mattresses: Mattresses & waterproofed pads with polyurethane often have to have plasticizers to make the hard plastic flexible. These plasticizers are linked to adverse health effects like asthma, cancer and early onset of puberty. Several were banned in 2008, but many are still used in today’s industry.
- Memory foam and memory foam hybrids – be careful with these. Mattresses with this combo have thicker sections of foam and off-gas at higher rates than mattresses with thinner layers. A “Biofoam” label simply means that it is made out of 20 percent soy. It does not refer to the other 80 percent’s materials. Greenwashing is crazy in the mattress industry FO SHO.
- Synthetic Latex: Natural rubber latex can have a severe allergic response, so if you have an allergy, avoid. Synthetic latex doesn’t but has harmful VOCs like styrene. This can give you headaches, respiratory issues and eye irritation.
Know Your Certifications
Different components of furniture and mattresses can be certified independently. Understanding certifications are key to knowing what kind of mattress you’re purchasing. The foam inside the mattress may be certified by one company, and the fabric can be certified by another. Here’s a quick breakdown.
CertiPUR is a certification program for foam in furniture and mattresses. The certification includes low VOC emissions. It also states that products are made without formaldehyde, heavy metals and phthalates regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. It must be remembered that funding for this certification comes from chemical and industrial companies. And that the ‘without’ means it just hits below a certain benchmark, not entirely free. Here’s the technical guide that gives the exact allowable amounts.
Standard 100 by OEKO-TEX
This is an international program that certifies textiles and finished products for non-use of certain flame retardants and allergens. It divides them into four classes based on skin contact (including one for children under 3). It also regulates VOCs from those products and disallows the use of certain chemicals.
GreenGuard certifies low VOC-emitting products, but tests for off-gassed chemicals like formaldehyde and other toxins with proved adverse effects. Products are searchable on the SPOT database. This requires them to meet VOC standards 7-14 days after installation. GreenGuard GOLD is the former Children and Schools, which has a stricter set of standards for VOC emissions. Only ½ of the allowed OEHHA Acute, 8-hour and Chronic Reference Exposure Levels for chemicals being off-gassed are permitted.
Both this and the Global Organic Latex Standard are high standards available for anyone seeking a lifestyle that’s as organic as possible. They ensure organic ingredients throughout the entire supply chain, from raw materials to finished product. 95 percent of the product must be organic, with the other 5 percent adhering to strict standards. This also includes avoiding polyurethane foam.
What Else To Look For
- Labels: The flame retardant label that has spread nationally from the California law is important to find. If it says Technical Bulletin 117 (without the 2013), then it still has added flame retardants present. If there is no label available (check under those cushions!), contact the manufacturer for details.
- Plant-based materials in foam: Soy foam, also called “Biofoam”, has the potential to hold less petrochemicals, but it depends on the amount of soy used in the foam padding. This is used as a green-washing tactic, so understand that when they use their marketing talking points. It’s not THAT great.
- Organic components: The fibers must be grown and handled in accordance with The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program to be organic. This doesn’t include all the ingredients of the mattress. However, without a GOTS certification, the NOP does not certify mattresses as organic. This means that any organics claims may be based on single components, such as the cotton fiber the fabric is made from.
- Wool padding: Wool is naturally a flame retardant, and creates long-lasting comfort.
When You Bring It Home
Regardless of the mattress you get, bear this in mind. You must air out all mattresses with synthetic fabrics or foam. This reduces the risk of VOC emissions while you sleep. Either keep the mattress off the bed a few more days to air out, or sleep in a different room with it out of the plastic. Remember, a lack of smell doesn’t mean it’s done off-gassing. Older mattresses can still release chemicals as flame retardants break down. This also includes brominated flame retardants, which were legal up until 2004 and 2008. Staying with your older mattress isn’t always the better bet.
Bad List: Mattresses and Furniture That Harm Your Health
These can contain harmful flame retardants that contaminate everything from the air and dust in our homes to the natural environment. They may emit excessive VOC chemicals and formaldehyde in pressed wood products. ‘Proprietary’ blends may still hide toxic ingredients. Flame retardants are often present well after initial off-gassing, because they are released when foam insides break down. They are not GreenGuard certified.
Better List: Mattresses and Furniture That Are Better For Your Health
All of these companies declared publicly that they are not using additional fire retardants in products containing foam that were manufactured after January 1, 2015. They use a low VOC -emitting fire barrier or fabric to pass flammability testing. Their products or components have certifications from Greenguard, OEKA-Tex Standard 100 certified, and CertiPUR (which still indicates a polyurethane mattress from the foam components). Avoid water and stain repellents for unknown contaminants and untested PFOA replacements.
Crate & Barrel
Room and Board
Best List: Mattresses and Furniture That Are Best For Your Health
These mattresses hold certifications from programs such as the OEKA-TEX Standard 100, Greenguard Gold, Global Organic Textile Standard and Global Organic Latex Standard. They contain no added flame retardants. They’re also extremely low or no VOC emitting, made out of certified organic products and plant material.
Additional Safe Bedding Sheets & Pillows
- The Green Farmer 300 Thread Count Organic Cotten Bed Sheets
- Organic 400 Thread Count Cotton Bed Sheets
- Magnolia Organics GOTS Certified Cotten Bed Sheets
- EnvioHome GOTS Certified Cotton Bed Sheets
- Organic GOTS Certified 800 Thread Count Bed Sheets
- Whisper Organic Fitted Sheet
- Organic Cotton Pillow
- Naturepedic Organic Cotton Pillow
- Organic Wool Toddler Pillow
- Naturepedic Low Fill Organic Pillow
For more tips and tricks on how to make your indoor air quality safer for your family, pick up a copy of Green Enough: Eat Better, Live Cleaner, Be Happier (All Without Driving Your Family Crazy!). Not only does this book cover the air quality inside your home, but also covers the hidden ingredients finding their way into your meals and safer personal care products allowing you to slay most of the foul-mouthed dragon chemicals impacting the health of your family.
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