A Healthier Home: Furnishings and Decor to Reduce Indoor Air Pollution

Reduce indoor air pollution in your home by replacing furnishings and décor laden with toxic chemicals with safe, natural alternatives.

| May/June 2012

  • Ambient Bamboo's Strand Woven Tiger is FSC-certified and CARB-compliant at $4 a square foot.
    Photo Courtesy Ambient Bamboo
  • The GoodWeave-certified Cyprus rug from Company C is made of 100 percent wool with cotton backing and natural latex adhesive.
    Photo Courtesy Company C
  • Eco-Friendly Flooring's reclaimed Antique Red Oak starts at $4 a square foot.
    Photo Courtesy Mark Gillespie
  • The Hortencia coffee table is made from reclaimed old-growth wood and finished with a water-based stain.
    Photo Courtesy franczamudio1.etsy.com
  • FLOR carpet tiles are made with recycled fibers, and many are certified low-VOC by the Carpet and Rug Institute Green Label program. 100 percent recycled Parallel Reality in Pink, $5 a square foot.
    Photo Courtesy FLOR
  • Forbo's Marmoleum Click natural linoleum is available in 21 colors (Raspberry shown), starting at $7 a square foot.
    Photo Courtesy Forbo
  • The Bjorkudden table and Bertil chairs from IKEA are made of solid birch and meet EU emissions guidelines.
    Photo Courtesy Martin Johansson
  • This chair from Lee Industries features an FSC-certified wood frame, water-based finishes, PBDE-free soy-based cushions, recycled fiber pillow filling, and organic and natural fabrics.
    Photo Courtesy Lee Industries
  • The Menemsha side table from Martha's Vineyard Furniture is made of sustainably sourced solid Hevea wood. It's available in 30 zero-VOC paint colors.
    Photo Courtesy Martha's Vineyard Furniture
  • The Colin wing chair from Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams has a domestically and sustainably sourced wood frame and PBDE-free soy-based cushions. It's available in cotton, linen and hemp.
    Photo Courtesy Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams
  • Pottery Barn's eco-friendly Comfort collection features soy-based cushions, sustainably harvested wood and recycled steel springs. Available in a wide range of configurations including sofas, loveseats, sectionals and armchairs, each piece can be upholstered or slip-covered in untreated organic cotton canvas. Slip-covered 3-Piece Sectional with Wedge, starting at $2,999; potterybarn.com.
    Photo Courtesy Pottery Barn
  • This sturdy dining table has a recycled steel base and reclaimed chestnut top, and the chairs are handcrafted from solid FSC-certified wood. Room & Board products are CARB-compliant—ensuring safe indoor air quality. Soren chair, $399; Parsons table, $1,369.
    Photo Courtesy Room & Board
  • Upholstery pieces from Rowe and its other brands Clayton Marcus (pictured) and Robin Bruce include sustainably sourced wood and soy-based cushions that are free of brominated fire retardants. Upholstery options include untreated cotton and linen fabrics dyed at facilities certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). Montauk sofa, starting at $1,450; Benton chair, starting at $430; Talbot ottoman, starting at $430.
    Photo Courtesy Rowe
  • This classic chest of drawers from VivaTerra is made with reclaimed Douglas fir and finished with water-based stains and formaldehyde-free glues.
    Photo Courtesy VivaTerra
  • West Elm's Henry sofa is made with sustainably harvested solid wood frames and PBDE-free soy-based cushions. It's available in cotton and cotton-linen fabrics.
    Photo Courtesy West Elm

Building, renovating and decorating our homes involves making thousands of choices, and trying to choose healthy furnishings and décor can make the process even more complicated. Unfortunately, many home décor products are mass-produced with chemical-laden synthetic materials and little to no regard for the health threats they can pose. While in most cases safer alternatives exist, they can often be more expensive or more difficult to find, and even most furnishings designed with health and sustainability in mind are imperfect. But any shade of green—especially when it comes to indoor air quality and your health—is better than brown. Be informed. Start small. And make the best choices whenever you can.

One of the best ways to improve the health of our homes is to remove sources of indoor air pollution—but identifying them can be tricky. Toxic chemicals lurk in everything from shower curtains and sheets to couch cushions and the carpet beneath your feet. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warns that thousands of items, many of them common household products, furnishings and building materials, emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), chemicals that are released into the air at room temperature. Breathing these pollutants is linked to myriad health problems including sore eyes, burning in the nose and throat, headaches, fatigue, reproductive disorders, respiratory illnesses, heart disease, cancer and other serious long-term conditions. To help improve the quality of your indoor air and protect your family’s health, choose materials and products that release the fewest possible pollutants. Here are some guidelines to help you create a home that is beautiful, sustainable and safe.

Wood Furniture

Whenever possible, choose solid wood furniture over pressed wood products. Bookcases, dressers, cabinets and other seemingly “wood” furniture are often made from particleboard, plywood or medium-density fiberboard (MDF)—all of which outgas formaldehyde. According to the EPA, this colorless, pungent-smelling gas can cause eye, nose and throat irritation; wheezing and coughing; fatigue; skin rash; and severe allergic reactions. It has also been shown to cause cancer in animals and is classified as a human carcinogen by the World Health Organization.

Although solid wood furniture is often more expensive than pressed-wood products, it is also generally higher-quality and won’t need to be replaced in a few years. If you’re considering a wood piece, check carefully to make sure it is solid wood. Many manufacturers save on production by constructing the front from solid wood and the back, sides, shelves and drawer bottoms of particleboard or plywood. Also consider the finish on solid wood furniture. Ideally, you want furniture with low-VOC water-based or wax finishes. If your furniture has a standard finish, air it out before bringing it inside and ventilate the room once you do. You can also purchase unfinished wood pieces and apply your own nontoxic wood finish or paint.

Secondhand or antique furniture is another excellent option for health and sustainability. In the past, furniture was more often made from solid wood, so search for wood furniture at antique or secondhand stores, garage and estate sales, auctions and on Craigslist. Buying secondhand furniture made with pressed wood products is also safer than buying new, as formaldehyde emissions decrease as products age.

If you do buy new pressed wood products, ask about the formaldehyde content and only purchase low-emitting products. IKEA offers affordable solid and veneered wood furniture sourced from sustainably managed forests that meets or exceeds stringent emissions guidelines set by the European Union. In the United States, products certified by Greenguard and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) meet similar standards. And if you do buy or already own furniture you suspect may be emitting formaldehyde, don’t worry. AFM Safecoat makes several sealants specifically designed to reduce indoor air pollution.

6/7/2014 12:32:07 PM

I have discussed with the guys from http://www.theremodelersinc.com/ on ways to reduce indoor air pollution and they came with a lot of great ideas. I decided to install solid wood furniture because it releases the fewest possible pollutants, the salesperson where I bought the furniture assured me they have used only low-VOC water-based paint.

Anabell Jones
12/15/2013 8:51:24 AM

This design is equally perfect even for reducing the sound pollution in the room which is mostly caused by the unwanted echoes.

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