Is Your Furniture Polluting Your Home?

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 10 September 2019 09:16
Is Your Furniture Polluting Your Home? Shutterstock

Whenever you light a scented candle to unwind or ignite a gas stovetop to cook, you might be unwittingly contributing to indoor air pollution — a global epidemic that some allege has killed more people than HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined

Even more concerning are studies revealing that the very furniture you sit on is contributing to the air pollution inside your home. Read on to learn how this happens and what you can do to promote better indoor air quality.

More Time Indoors Means More Indoor Air Pollution

Although outdoor air pollution tends to receive more headlines, indoor air quality can be up to five times worse. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that nearly 75% of the average person’s chemical exposure is received within the home. 

It’s now estimated that Americans spend up to 90% of their lives indoors, which only compounds the bad news. As one in four Americans state they rarely spend any time outdoors, a sizable portion of the population is endangering their health and well-being simply by staying at home.

Formaldehyde in Furniture? Yes, and More

You may be surprised to learn how widespread pollution can be within your home. 

As they dry, traditional paints release unsafe chemical gases. Mattresses also contain toxic chemicals like boric acid and flame retardants. In one chilling study, a baby’s rocker produced seven times the amount of formaldehyde that the state of California considers safe. 

Many of your furnishings, ranging from your armoire to your recliner, emit poisonous chemicals and airborne volatile organic compounds (VOCs) due to a process known as “off-gassing.” Benzene, acetone, ethanol, and the aforementioned formaldehyde — which can cause nausea, eye irritation, burning sensations in the throat, and difficulty breathing — are just some of the many irritants found in the average American household. 

According to the American Lung Association, the same chemicals commonly found in furniture are ones that contribute to chronic lung disease and even lung cancer. Furthermore, consistent exposure to VOC emissions can affect the central nervous system, trigger allergies and asthma, aggravate pre-existing conditions, and cause heart disease

Some chemicals may take up to 6 months to fully dissipate.

How to Keep Your Air Fresh

If you begin to develop headaches or notice a strong industrial odor (likened to a “new car smell”) while you are inside a particular room, the odds are strong that airborne chemicals are present. Sometimes, however, the clues aren’t as acute. Take heed of the following advice in order to reduce your indoor air pollution and keep your home’s air as fresh and clean as possible.

Air Out the VOCs

You should be mindful to air out your home when painting walls, staining wood, or when introducing new furniture, carpeting, or curtains. Better yet, let new items air out in a garage, shed, or outdoor area when possible. Even dry cleaning ought to be hung outdoors or in a garage for a few hours to avoid bringing chemicals into the home. 

Every other day, throw open several windows and doors for five to ten minutes in order to create a cross-breeze that airs out your home. If you use a wood-burning stove or a fireplace, do this on a daily basis. Remember that outdoor air is often cleaner than indoor air.

Good Wood

Though buying used goods diminishes your risk of off-gassing exposure, be sure to avoid any furniture painted prior to 1978 (the year the U.S. banned lead paint) and anything made with particle board — also known as engineered wood or pressed wood — which may contain formaldehyde. Solid wood furniture might be more expensive, but it is safer and typically of higher quality

If you know you definitely want pressed wood products, there are options that have low or no formaldehyde. One widely available choice is the furniture at IKEA; the company has a practice of testing for formaldehyde and has banned its inclusion in any lacquers or paints used on their items.

Buy Better to Breathe Easier

Natural fiber or soy-based sofas, chairs, and cushions tend to be healthier choices, as are those labeled as being free of flame-retardant materials linked to cancer and developmental issues. Buying low-VOC mattresses can be particularly challenging. Avoid products that contain flame retardants, perfluorinated chemicals (e.g. “stain-resistant” chemicals like Teflon or Scotchguard), and polyurethane plasticizers. Memory foam and hybrids may have a long list of chemicals hidden on their tags, so be sure to check.

The Seal(s) of Approval

Many products now come certified with low-emissions or other indoor-air-quality notices; CertiPUR US, OEKO-Tex Standard 100, the Global Organic Textile Standard, and the Sustainable Furnishings Council are notable examples. Greenguard is another resource that has established extremely stringent standards for low chemical and particle emissions based on empirical, third-party scientific data. 

Keep Kids Safe

Kids’ furniture can be a unique challenge since many are made with cheaper products that release more VOCs, which are exponentially more dangerous to infants developing brains and bodies. Often, children’s rooms have the highest concentration of toxic chemicals of any room in the home! 

Look for labels that say “low VOC” or “zero-VOC.” Solid wood and/or wood with the Forest Stewardship Council certification have been responsibly harvested and meet certain strict requirements.

Dust off the Ducts

You may not need an air duct cleaning once a year, but you should have a professional team come and maintain your system at least that often. Regular maintenance keeps coils and blowers free of dirt and debris, which has the added benefit of increasing the efficiency of your heating and cooling.

If you don’t have a modern HVAC system, consider installing an efficient new system with HEPA filters, which pull 99.97% of particles, bacteria, and microbes out of your home’s air.

A Little Elbow Grease Goes a Long Way

Regular cleaning, including mopping, dusting, and vacuuming, will trap pollutants instead of allowing them to circulate. Simply buying a more efficient vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter or an air purifier with a carbon filter and a purifying fan can make a noticeable difference

Purchasing water-based, non-toxic stains and glues will reduce VOCs. Similarly, try cleaning products made with non-toxic ingredients, or you might even make your own natural cleaning products.

Go Green—Literally

Houseplants have a wonderful ability to absorb certain chemicals from indoor air. Try bringing home choices like chrysanthemums, peace lilies, snake plants and spider plants for a calming, cleansing presence. 

Be aware that while plants absorb harmful chemicals and produce oxygen, they release their own particulate matter (pollen), so use houseplants as a complement to other purification remedies. 

When it comes to indoor air pollution, awareness is key. Making conscientious choices as to the furniture and materials you introduce in your home is a smart way to have some control over what pollutants are circulating throughout your space.

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Kevin Burns

Kevin Burns is the President of Bob Jenson Air Conditioning in San Diego with over 29 years of experience in the HVAC Field. He has worked in every aspect of the industry and has trained dozens of people. He has a passion for doing what’s right for each home and customer and sets this standard for his entire team.

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