April 12, 2021

When most people think of toxins, they think of harsh chemicals found in their cleaning products or pollutants in the air outside. Have you ever considered, though, that there are likely high concentrations of toxins in your furniture?

That’s right. Most furniture, especially products bought from big box stores and major retailers, is loaded with toxins.

Read on to learn more about the most common types of furniture toxins, where they’re found, and what you can do to reduce your exposure.

Types of Furniture Toxins

You can find toxins in several different types of furniture, including sofas, mattresses, and bed frames. They’re also common in the coatings applied to wood furniture (stains, paints, sealants, etc.).

The following are some of the most well-known toxins found in furniture:


Acetaldehyde is often used in perfume production. It’s also found in rubber and polyester. The EPA considers it to be a probable human carcinogen.


Benzene is found in vehicle exhaust and coal emissions, but it’s also present in many detergents and dyes used on furniture. The EPA classifies benzene as a known human carcinogen.


A colorless chemical, formaldehyde is a preservative that’s often found in pressed-wood products, as well as adhesives, fabrics, and certain product coatings. Formaldehyde has been classified as a human carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency (or EPA).


Hexabromocyclododecane (or HBCD for short), is a toxic flame retardant. It has long-term effects on the reproductive system and can contribute to developmental and neurological issues.


Phthalates are endocrine disruptors that interrupt hormone production and regulation. They can affect hormone production in children, specifically, and may contribute to fertility problems in adults.


Perchloroethylene is also used in metal degreasing and dry cleaning. It may contribute to kidney dysfunction and neurological effects. It’s linked to certain types of cancer (including lymphoma and bladder cancer), too.

Vinyl Acetate

Vinyl Acetate is used to produce furniture materials like adhesive and polyvinyls, as well as the paints and lacquers applied to furniture. Long-term exposure is linked to severe respiratory issues.

What Is Off-Gassing?

How do these toxins get into our homes and impact our health? One of the primary mechanisms is known as off-gassing.

You know the “new car smell” that lingers in your car for a few weeks or so after you buy it?

Well, when you buy a new piece of furniture, like a couch or chair, you might also notice that it has a “new” smell. This smell comes from chemicals in the upholstery, paint, stain, glue, and other substances used to make it.

Over time, that “new” smell dissipates throughout your home and fades until you no longer notice it. This process is known as off-gassing.

Lots of furniture will off-gas, including couches, chairs, cabinets, tables, and mattresses. Off-gassing distributes chemicals (including potentially toxic ones) throughout your home and exposes you and your family to them.

Health Risks of Off-Gassing

Some people don’t notice any adverse effects from off-gassing and bringing new furniture into their homes. However, others experience severe symptoms and long-term health issues.

As was mentioned above, some toxins from furniture can contribute to chronic health problems like cancer, respiratory issues, behavioral issues, liver problems, and kidney problems.

It’s hard to say that furniture toxins, alone, contribute to these conditions because they’re so multifaceted. What is clearer, though, is that off-gassing and toxic furniture can cause short-term health issues. The following are some of the most noteworthy ones:

  • Headaches
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Wheezing
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of coordination
  • Red, itchy, or watery eyes

In healthy individuals, these symptoms might not last very long or be particularly severe. In those who have other health conditions, though, or who are particularly sensitive, they can last for a while and be serious intrusions.

How to Improve Indoor Air Quality

If you’re experiencing symptoms related to furniture off-gassing, you don’t have to throw out your brand new couch or dining room table. There are plenty of other steps you can take to improve indoor air quality and mitigate your symptoms, including the following:

  • Open the windows: Let your home air out; you may even want to point a fan toward the window to push more air (and toxins that are off-gassing from your furniture) outside
  • Use an air purifier: Look for one with a HEPA air filter that will help to catch toxins and keep the air in your home clean
  • Open furniture outside or in the garage: let it off-gas outside of your home for a day or so before bringing it in

Tips for Buying Non-Toxic Furniture

Are you looking to upgrade furniture and want to avoid the toxins mentioned above? If so, here are some tips to help you choose the best options:

Consider Cost-Effective Solutions

In general, non-toxic furniture is more expensive than other types of furniture. There are middle-ground items that are good for those with limited budgets.

Buy Used Furniture

Used furniture is often lower in toxins than brand new furniture. It’s already off-gassed in someone else’s home, so it won’t have as much of an impact on your home’s air quality.

Look for Natural Materials

Furniture made from materials like bamboo, rattan, and solid wood are good options. They’re less likely to contain toxic compounds, and there’s no off-gassing associated with them.

Read Labels, Check Websites

If you’re looking for a non-toxic sofa or non-toxic bed frame, do your homework to see what kinds of chemicals are used and which ones are avoided during the manufacturing process. Most non-toxic furniture companies are transparent and explain what they do and don’t use on their websites.

You don’t have to go out and replace all your furniture at once. However, slowly upgrading your home with non-toxic bedroom furniture or a non-toxic couch can have a positive impact on your indoor air quality and overall health.



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