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You likely feel safest and most comfortable at home. You may strive to create a warm space filled with decor that expresses who you are and what makes you feel calm. But did you know that many home decor products can actually cause you harm?
Unfortunately, many home decor options, from throw pillows to chairs, contain chemicals and other substances that pose a danger to our health. Studies show that seemingly safe items in your home may actually be releasing polluting chemicals into the air, causing asthma, infections, and other health issues.
Not to worry – this guide helps you pick non-toxic home decor that fills your space with character, not chemicals.
Learning about the risks of various items in your home will not only help you make safe purchasing choices in the future but can also help you manage the risks of the home decorations you already have.
Toxins In Furniture
There are two main types of furniture that may contain toxins: couches and wooden furniture.
Most of the cushioned furniture in your home, including couches and soft chairs, have likely been treated with a fire retardant. While this may sound like a good idea (no one wants their living room to catch fire!), fire retardants can be extremely toxic.
Over time, flame retardant particles can build up in dust in your home, which you then unknowingly inhale. A 2017 study showed that breathing dust containing fire retardants can cause decreased fertility, endocrine system disruption, and diseases like diabetes and cancer.
What Can I Do?
Studies show that the best way to reduce flame retardant dust in your home is to get rid of your old couches. Many couches that are sold these days don’t use flame retardants. However, some do. Avoid artificial leathers and look for furniture with a TB 117-2013 label, a California standard that aims to make furniture safer.
But if a new couch isn’t an option for you (hello, new couches can be expensive!), vacuuming, filtering your air, and cleaning with a wet mop can make a big impact to reduce dust.
Wooden furniture that uses certain resin-based adhesives can emit a chemical called formaldehyde.
Formaldehyde is a colorless gas that can be “off-gassed” from your furniture into the air in your home. The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission’s report shows that breathing formaldehyde in the air can cause burning of the eyes, nausea, wheezing, rashes, and allergic reactions. It may also cause cancer.
What Can I Do?
When purchasing new wooden furniture, go for pieces that are not made of pressed wood, as this is the most common source of formaldehyde in furniture. If you do choose pressed wood furniture, make sure it is coated or laminated, as raw wood emits more formaldehyde.
To protect yourself from formaldehyde in the home:
- Make sure you have enough ventilation (open some windows!) and air filtration.
- Seal any pressed-wood furniture items you have. This reduces the amount that leaks into the air.
- Keep your pressed wood furniture away from heat sources, as this can increase the amount of formaldehyde released into the air.
Toxins In Fabric: Pillows & Blankets
While pillows and blankets may seem as safe and cozy as it gets, they are often made of synthetic fabrics that harm your health.
Many pillows and bedding contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a class of manmade chemicals used as a solvent in an alarming variety of consumer products. VOCs are emitted from bedding as a gas, which is then inhaled. Scarily enough, the concentrations of VOCs may be up to ten times higher indoors than outdoors.
VOCs cause a number of health concerns including developmental and reproductive problems, burning eyes, nose and throat, and respiratory problems. Some VOCs are carcinogenic, according to several recent studies. While these dangers mostly affect workers in manufacturing plants using these chemicals, exposure to VOCs over time can cause health problems.
What Can I Do?
One example of a common VOC is ethylene glycol, which is found in polyester, including polyester pillows. When choosing pillows, it’s important to pay attention to the fabrics. Cotton pillows are less likely to contain VOCs, while memory foam pillows contain VOCs like formaldehyde and polyurethane.
When you get a new pillow, blanket or mattress, give it some time to air out in a well-ventilated space. This will allow some of the VOC emissions to dissipate. It’s also worth keeping your home well ventilated.
Lastly, check new pillows for safety seals such as the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 or the GS Mark, which show the pillow has been tested for safety issues, such as VOC emissions, by expert research and testing facilities.
Toxins In Paint
If you’ve read this far, it may not come as a surprise that paint also contains dangerous VOCs that are emitted into the air you breathe, causing health problems.
Old wallpapers may also be toxic. Wallpaper may be made using polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a plastic material that is toxic. These wallpapers often contain phthalates as well, another toxic class of chemicals that are emitted into the air over time.
According to numerous studies, such as this 2016 study published in Environmental International, phthalates can cause a number of health problems, including reproductive problems and hormone disruption.
What Can I Do?
- Buy zero-VOC paints, which are produced by a number of paint brands.
- Keep your house at low humidity. A 2017 study found that high moisture content in a home increases the number of phthalates emitted into the air.
- Ensure you have proper ventilation.
- Consider buying nontoxic wallpaper – most wallpapers printed on paper, rather than PVC (vinyl) are safer.
So My Home Decor Is Toxic. What Can I Do Next?
First of all, don’t freak out – while your home decor may present health risks, these risks are generally low. However, if you’re furnishing a new home or redecorating, it’s worth keeping this guide in mind to help you make safe choices.
When buying new furniture:
- Find eco-conscious, nontoxic brands
- Make sure the products have been tested for compliance with safety standards, which are designed to protect consumers like you from harmful chemicals in products. Check for a safety label like a CE marking, a marking showing compliance with all EU safety regulations.
That said, there is no need to go out and buy all new home decor. Instead, there are plenty of steps you can take right now to manage the risk of toxic home decor.
When managing home decor risks at home:
- Clean your house: I know, I know, buying all new furniture sounds better! But dusting, mopping, and vacuuming every so often will help get rid of chemical-ridden dust particles.
- Invest in an air filter: Many air filters designed for the home can remove up to 99% of air pollution, including VOCs and other toxic gasses.
- Buy air-filtering potted plants: Not only will these plants brighten up your home, but they also help filter air pollution inside.
- Keep your windows open when you can. Environmental Protection Agency studies have shown that good ventilation is key to reducing air pollution in your home. Plus, it’s nice to get a little fresh air once in a while!
With these tips, you can breathe easier (literally!) knowing that your home decor isn’t hurting you.