Who among us doesn’t have a favourite chair to lounge in at home? I know I do. Mine is a comfy red armchair that came from my mom and dad’s house, and my great aunt’s before that. It’s sturdy and elegant and just the place I like to sit with my coffee each morning.
It’s hard to believe that something as simple as a stuffed chair or couch could be rife with environmental issues. Here’s the problem: Since the late 1980’s the foam and fabric in furniture has been treated with flame retardants, which is a great concept except that they’re highly toxic and have been linked to liver and thyroid problems. Flame retardants build up in our fatty tissue and stay there forever. Even Environment Canada considers them toxic but the government has only phased out two of the tree most worrisome ones.
So what can you do about your existing furniture or what if you’re shopping for new?
If the foam in your existing furniture is showing wear then consider having it replaced with eco-friendly foam (soy-based foam is becoming more common). Worn out foam creates nasty dust that you don’t want to be breathing. It’s good to be in the habit of dusting and vacuuming often too (note to self). If you’re having furniture reupholstered choose natural fabrics (they don’t need to be treated) or inquire if your fabric of choice has been treated.
If you want something brand new there are eco-friendly options available. IKEA is a good choice since they banned the flame retardants in question in 2000. La-Z-Boy has a new line of environmentally conscious furniture that has soy-based cushions and fabrics made from recycled water bottles (although they don’t say how the fabric is treated). DeBoer’s everGreen line is healthy choice with eco-friendly fabric like wool, organic cotton, hemp, flax, and linen and natural latex foam cushions. If these don’t appeal to you ask for foam and fabric options when you’re buying new, so you can avoid the worst flame retardants. (The polybrominated family, also know as PBDE, is what you want to steer clear of).
There are many more ways to green your furniture. Before you buy anything brand new think about other options. My favourite way to revive tired furniture is to have it slip covered or reupholstered (and re-stuffed if necessary). That avoids the chain reaction of having something end up in the landfill. I also love secondhand furniture. If it’s solidly constructed (and the old stuff usually is) and has great lines then it’s worthwhile to have a piece refurbished. Check kijiji or local second hand stores for bargain finds and then put your money into buying just the fabric you want.
One more thing you need to know, stain guard fabric treatments do not offer peace of mind. They’re formaldehyde or Teflon-based so highly toxic and prone to off-gassing. To avoid stain guards (and hopefully stains too) try to keep food and drink away from your furniture and treat spills and splotches immediately.