Buying a new sofa for the living room, den or play area should be something to look forward to, but this fairly common purchase is actually more complicated and problematic than you can imagine. When looking for a new sofa, your checklist probably includes size, shape, color and fabric…and, of course, should you wait for the annual sale? I am currently looking for a new sofa to replace the one that was used as a scratching post for the two little kittens we babysat for a few months, and the first thing on my checklist is whether the polyurethane foam inside the sofa is treated with toxic flame retardant chemicals and next, whether the upholstery fabric is chemically treated for water and soil resistance. What a bummer. How can you tell?
You can’t, easily. Standards set for flammability in upholstered furniture were promoted by the chemical industry and do not, in fact, deliver any real protection. What they do, instead, is create a risk for exposure to highly toxic chemicals in people’s homes across the country. Labels that say the furniture meets California’s flammability standards (the highest chemical requirements) should be avoided. The truth behind flammability standards were investigated by the Chicago Tribune in this award-winning series.
Unfortunately, most foam used in upholstered furniture is saturated with these brominated or chlorinated flame retardant chemicals and when the foam begins to break down, these chemicals become part of the dust in your home. At this point, they can be ingested or inhaled, especially by young children. Exposure to these chemicals is associated with a number of significant health risks. Read more about the risks here and here. The chemical treatment for fabrics is also worrisome for families who have small children.
It is important to be informed about exactly what chemicals are used in and on the furniture you are buying. Try to find sofas and other soft furniture made with naturally flame retardant materials, such as wool or cotton that meet the
flammability standard. Amazing!