Healthy Kids Tip: Furniture & Flooring
Find out what health threats from furniture and flooring may be posed to kids, and how to choose safer furnishings for your home or classroom
Formaldehyde, toxic flame retardants (PBDEs), stain-resistant PFC chemicals, PVC and other substances of concern are commonly found in furniture, textiles and carpets.
Formaldehyde is used in resins and adhesives that make up pressed wood (plywood and particle board), flooring, coatings for fabrics and carpet, and some paints and varnishes. These resins can emit fumes for at least five years after a product is manufactured. These fumes can trigger headaches and asthma; repeat exposure over time has been linked to cancer, neurological and reproductive disorders.
Toxic Flame Retardants
PBDEs are a class of toxic chemicals used as flame retardants. Though there are safer alternatives (such as natural fibers), PBDEs are used to make fire-resistant furniture foam, carpet padding, back coatings for draperies and upholstery, plastics, computers, televisions, building materials and electrical appliances. Studies suggest than 80% of PBDE exposure is from house dust. PBDEs persist in the environment and accumulate in the food chain (in fish and meat). PBDE exposure is linked to liver, thyroid, and neuro-developmental disease.
PFC Stain-Resistant Coating
Stain, grease and water-resistant coatings for upholstery, carpet and clothing often contain a class of chemicals called PFCs. Studies have linked these chemicals to cancer, reproductive harm and developmental defects. People are exposed to PFCs in home air and dust. The persistent chemicals last in the environment, accumulate in the food chain (fish and meat) and stay in the human body for years.
Tips for Reducing Exposure:
1. Avoid wall-to-wall carpets that trap toxic residue, dust, dirt and other asthma triggers.
2. Limit use of pressed wood products (plywood, fiberboard and particle board) in flooring, paneling, furniture and cabinets. Choose solid wood furniture, or pressed wood made without urea-formaldehyde resins (UF). Choose used furniture; formaldehyde resins "set" after about five years and stop releasing toxic fumes.
3. Keep upholstery in good repair; don't allow exposed foam in toys, cushions, pillows or furniture.
4. Use a microfiber cloth or wet cloth to keep dust down, and vacuum often.
5. Avoid new vinyl PVC flooring (sometimes mistakenly called linoleum) that can release toxic fumes.
6. Use open windows and fans regularly to circulate air in the house and remove pollutants.
7. Use a rough mat at the door, or take shoes off in the house to keep from tracking dirt and pollutants inside.
8. Clean area rugs with green cleaners certified by Green Seal, EcoLogo or Design for the Environment.
9. Choose furnishings made without stain-resistant coatings and made with natural fibers (cotton, hemp, and wool) that are naturally fire-resistant and contain fewer chemicals.
Safer Furnishing Resources:Good To Be Green
building products directory: Find flooring, paint, furnishings and more.Greenspec
directory to green building products, renovation, and informational articles.Greenguard
non-profit industry-independent guide to "low-emitting" products -- from electronics to flooring and bedding -- that don't release toxic chemical into the air.Good guide
carpet shampoo and floor care product recommendationsSearch for certified wood products
at the forest certification resource center.