You finally found the perfect couch for your living room and the dining room table you’ve been eyeing is finally in stock. But before you start enjoying your new furniture, it’s important to be aware of the toxins that may be hiding inside.
Many pieces of furniture are made with synthetic materials that can release harmful chemicals into the air, known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These toxins can cause a range of health problems, from headaches and nausea to more serious respiratory issues. Additionally, some furniture is treated with flame retardants, which have been linked to cancer and other serious health conditions.
Read on to learn more about common chemicals that a variety of furniture pieces, homewares and parts of your house are treated with, and what you can do to lessen their effects on you and your loved ones.
Vinyl Acetate is a chemical found in many different products, including polyvinyls, paints and adhesives. It causes issues with the respiratory system, with coughing and inflammation being common symptoms. It hasn’t been classified by the United States EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) or IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) as carcinogenic, despite some studies finding an increased incidence rate of nasal cavity tumours when rats were exposed via inhalation – which could hint at its potential danger if inhaled.
Acetaldehyde is a chemical synonymous with “new car smell” or “new furniture smell”. It is used in the production of rubber, polyester resins, perfumes and tanning agents. The EPA has classified acetaldehyde as a “probable human carcinogen,” and it’s been linked to cancer in animals through various studies. The side effects that you might experience as listed by the EPA include irritation of the eye, respiratory tract or skin.
Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA)
The EPA has been attempting to regulate Perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA for short since 2015 because of its negative effect as it accumulates in the environment and possible effects on human health. It is known for its stain resistant and waterproofing qualities in products such as upholstery, carpet and leather. The half-life for PFOA in the human body is 3.8 years (meaning it takes double this time to leave your system once it enters), which causes liver toxicity, kidney damage and developmental effects.
Formaldehyde is a toxic chemical that is found in pressed-wood products, glues and adhesives as well as plywood, product coatings and fabrics. The National Cancer Institute in the United States says that exposure to formaldehyde can lead to a number of side effects including: watery eyes, burning sensations in your nose, eyes and throat, as well as coughing, nausea and wheezing. If you are exposed for long periods this can potentially result in cancer due to formaldehyde being classified as a human carcinogen by the EPA.
Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers
Polybrominated diphenyl ethers are additional flame retardants that have been found in a variety of common products, including fabrics, foams and plastics. They often leech out of these products into the atmosphere as they aren’t chemically tied to them, polluting the air you breathe in your house. One concern with these neuro-toxin containing chemicals is their adverse effect on brain function and behaviour patterns.
But with all these toxins, how can you make sure they won’t impact you or your family?
There are a few simple solutions to prevent or diminish the effects these materials may have in your home.
Baking soda is a great way to minimise the impacts of VOCs. Sprinkling baking soda over carpets or furniture can help deodorise the fabric and trap in the harmful gasses. Work the baking soda in with a soft-bristled brush, let it sit for a few hours, and then vacuum it up.
The use of charcoal filters has been found to improve air quality and reduce the number of VOCs in the air because of the absorbent nature of charcoal. Just remember to change the charcoal filter out often to ensure its effectiveness.
Along the same lines, investing in a high-quality PCO cleaner, air filter or purifier is a popular way to take small particles and VOCs out of the air inside your home. PCO cleaners use UV light to transform gas-based pollutants into non-harmful products but don’t get rid of particles like air filters do.
When shopping for new furniture, look for items made with all-natural materials like wood or cotton. You can also ask about the use of toxins and flame retardants during the manufacturing process. By taking these precautions, you can help to ensure that your new furniture is not putting your health at risk.
By Sarah Panther