If you are in the market for a new sofa, bed, dining table, baby furniture or even new cabinets, you might want to do a bit of research to find out what's really in there. Like most consumer products, you get what you pay for. Inexpensive furniture, shelving and cabinetry will be constructed with pressed wood - a particle board, plywood or oriented strand board (OSB) with a thin veneer of real or faux wood or laminate. The problem lies in the adhesives used to bind the wood or wood bits together - which most likely contain formaldehydes. Formaldehyde is off-gassed from these pressed woods for years after the purchase and can greatly affect your health, especially in infants and elderly folks.
Solid hardwood, on the other hand, is a much better choice - just watch the finishes. Although most all solid hardwoods emit negligible natural VOC's, some stains and finishes contain high levels of VOC's (volatile organic compounds) which can off-gas unwanted fumes.
Furniture with cushions or soft seating, like loungers and sofas, are constructed of fabrics stuffed with foams or fibers. The first issue is the foams - they are usually made with synthetic and petro based products. Petro-based materials are often composed of numerous hazardous chemicals. Another issue with cushions are they most likely contain fire retardants. According to a July 2012 article by Chicago Tribune reporter, Michael Hawthorne, "some of the most widely used chemicals are linked to cancer, neurological deficits, developmental problems and impaired fertility." Fortunately the same article says the EPA recently announced it will conduct a broad investigation of flame retardants. Meanwhile, the Consumer Product Safety Commission urged lawmakers to grant special authority that could speed the removal of hazardous flame retardants from new upholstered furniture, including sofas that can contain up to 2 pounds of the chemicals in their foam cushions.
Furniture - some answers
Remember that phrase, you get what you pay for? Furniture, especially beds and mattresses may be the area you want to make that extra investment. For starters, do it for you and your family's health - priceless indeed. In addition, good constructed furniture made with solid hardwoods will outlast a particle board/veneer finished piece ten times over. While your mattress may not become a family heirloom, a nice piece of furniture certainly will hold it's value and can be used for generations. This saves money, resources, and prevents more unnecessary additions to the landfills.
If you have recently purchased shelving, furniture or cabinetry, look inside or underneath the piece to determine the construction. Particle board, plywood and oriented strand-board are pieces of wood that are glued together to make a board. Particle board is made of very small wood fibers, OSB contains larger pieces of wood and plywoods are thin slices of wood glued together to achieve a desired thickness. If it is indeed made with plywood, particle board or OSB, you can apply a coat of AFM's SafeSeal or HardSeal, sealing the material to prevent further out-gassing. Even if the furniture is laminated or painted, a coat of HardSeal can do the trick. If the furniture is over 5 years old, the out-gassing is pretty much over - don't worry about it.
If you recently purchased a sofa or chair - something with cushy seating (foams) and pretty fabric - it is probably treated with fire-retardants. Unfortunately, there is not much you can do to it to rid of the chemicals, short of replacing the foam. However, off-gassing is strongest at first, so if you can let your new stuff air out in the garage or outside for the first several weeks, you can help to minimize the problem.
What to look for in new furniture: