3 Healthy Things to Look for When Shopping for a New Couch
Couches can have a surprisingly big effect on your health
Whether you’re settling down for a cozy night of Netflix with a glass of wine or you’re building a cushion fort with your kids, we all want our couches to be comfortable and made of healthy and safe materials. Couches are usually the largest piece of furniture in a living space and thus can have a big effect on how healthy our homes are. But couches can be loaded with flame retardants, forever chemicals, and VOCs, all of which can negatively impact your health. There’s already such a dizzying array of fabrics, styles, and other choices you already have to make when shopping for a couch, you shouldn’t have to also worry about harmful chemicals! That’s why we’re making it simple for you to find a healthy one. Whether you’re buying a couch online that gets delivered in a box or creating a custom designed one made just to your liking, we have a list of 3 things that you should look for in a healthy couch.
1. Chemical Flame Retardant Free
Chemical flame-retardants used to be added to the foam in sofas because they were thought to prevent fires. But it turns out they don’t really help stop fires, and the chemicals actually do more harm than good. Flame retardants are linked to negative health impacts like cancer, lowered brain function, and irregularities with the immune system. Basically some yucky unnecessary stuff. Even firefighters agree flame retardants are no good, so you definitely want a couch without any chemical flame retardants.
Couches made after 2015 have a label underneath the cushions that will let you know if they have added chemical flame retardants. These disclosure labels are required by law in California, but the label is commonly found even outside of California. Another way to find a flame retardant-free couch is to simply ask the retailer or manufacturer. Most big brands don’t use chemical flame retardants anymore, but it’s a good idea to double check. If they say something like, we don’t use bad flame retardants, then just steer clear, because there are none that have been proven safe and there is no reason for the addition of any chemical flame retardants to any upholstery furniture items.
If you’re buying a used couch, it’s not as easy to tell whether or not it contains flame retardants. If the couch was made before 2015, it more than likely contains chemical flame retardants. If the couch has a label under the cushions that says TB 117-2003, the only way to know is to ask the manufacturer, which could be kind of hard to do since they might not have information on older couch models. If you see a label that says TB 117 then the couch was made with flame retardants, which means you should keep looking. If you’re looking to reupholster a couch, make sure all of the foam and padding will be taken out and replaced with flame retardant free foam.
2. A Fabric Without Stain Resistant Treatment or Coating
Many furniture companies now advertise their stain-resistant fabric that will let you spill coffee, have kids eat spaghetti on a couch, and will resist muddy paw prints. But to achieve this magic, fabric companies have to treat or coat the fabric with a chemical that’s similar to Teflon. These chemicals are called highly fluorinated chemicals, some of which have been linked to kidney and testicular cancer, elevated cholesterol, decreased fertility, thyroid problems, and decreased immune response in children.
Over time, these chemicals come off the fabric and end up around your house. And these highly fluorinated chemicals never break down, never leave the environment, and can accumulate in your body for many years. Not good! While stain resistance is so tempting, we suggest getting an untreated fabric. Avoid fabric that has a description that includes words like “performance finish” or “stain repellent.” From a health perspective, even a synthetic fabric like polyester or acrylic that is inherently stain resistant and durable is a better option than one that is treated for stain resistance with forever chemicals. Textured or dark color fabric can also hide stains. If your heart is set on a light colored fabric and you, look for couches with washable covers.
3. Low VOCs
Your couch can greatly affect the air quality in your home! Furniture, including couches, can emit formaldehyde and other VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that negatively affect indoor air quality. VOCs can cause acute health problems like headaches, eye and throat irritation, dizziness and are associated with long term health effects like cancers and damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system. Look for couches with solid wood frames or engineered hardwood with zero or low VOC resins. Particleboard has much more glue which means higher VOC levels, so you should avoid particleboard when possible. Plus, particleboard is less strong than solid wood or engineered hardwood, so it won’t last as long.
Another way to know that the furniture you’re buying doesn’t off-gas is by looking for Greenguard or Greenguard Gold certified furniture, which limits the emissions of VOCs. CertiPUR-US is another standard that certifies that the foam used in the furniture meets VOC emissions limits, but doesn’t test the entire finished product. You can read more about other furniture certifications to help you determine what’s in your furniture.
With these 3 tips in mind, you should have a couch that is not only stylish, but also healthy. The good news is that many retailers in the furniture industry are moving in this direction, so there are lots of healthy options. Hope this list is helpful and that you find something super comfortable that is perfect for your space. Happy furniture shopping!
List of Brands With No Chemical Flame Retardants
These brands state they do not add flame retardants, compiled from our own research, CEH, and Green Science Policy Institute. For other retailers, make sure to ask about the specific couch you’re interested in.
AICO, American Furniture Manufacturing, American Seating Company, Article, Ashley Furniture, Best Home Furnishings, Bernhardt, Benchmade Modern, Bradington Young, Broyhill, Burrow, California Sofa, C.R. Laine, Century, Cisco Home, Coco-Mat, Comfort Design, Compendium, Corinthian, Craftmaster, CB2, Crate & Barrel, Dania, David Edward, Drexel Heritage, Dwell Studio, EcoBalanza, EcoSelect, Eco-Terric, Ekla Home, Endicott Home Furnishings, Eco-Luxury, EQ3, Fairfield Chair, Flexsteel Inds, Furniture, GreenSofas, Gus Design Group, Henredon, Hickory Chair, Hickory White, Highland House, Homeware, Hooker Case Goods, Hooker Upholstery, IKEA, Interior Define, Kevin Charles Fine Upholstery, Kincaid Furniture, Klaussner, Kristin Drohan Collection, Land of Nod, Lane, La-Z-Boy, Lee Industries, Lillian August, Maitland Smith, McCreary Modern, Michael Weiss, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, Monarch Sofas, MotionCraft, Mr. and Mrs. Howard for Sherrill Furniture, Pacific West Furniture, Palliser Furniture, Pearson, Plummers, Precedent, Restoration Hardware, Roger + Chris, Room & Board, Sam Moore, Scandinavian Designs, Sherrill Furniture, Soma Ergonomics, Southern Furniture, Southern Motion, Staples, Taylor King, Thom Filicia, Thomasville, The Futon Shop, United Furniture Industries, Vanguard Furniture, Viesso, Whittemore Sherrill Ltd.