Got a green dilemma? Ask me! I'll be answering a new question each week.
Q: Any recommendations on how or where to find products—specifically rugs and upholstered furniture—that haven't been treated with stain-resistant chemicals or fire retardants? —Sheila Eldred
A growing body of research indicates that synthetic chemical finishes are unhealthier for us than the moisture, stains, wrinkles, or moths they're designed to deter.
Water and stain repellants such as Gore-Tex and Teflon-type coatings contain perfluorochemicals (PFCs), which have been linked to cancer and developmental/nervous system harm, and have been found in the blood of 96 percent of children tested by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Finishes and flame retardants can also contain formaldehyde, a probable human carcinogen that can also irritate your eyes, nose, and throat.
Along with being healthier, untreated natural materials simply smell and feel better. Finishes make fabrics less breathable and can provoke overheating and rashes.
Below are some places to look, and what to look for. But remember, you can always ask companies whether the item is free of synthetic chemical treatments and to see written manufacturer’s assurances that this is so.
All mattresses sold in the U.S. have to meet fire retardancy standards. This is a good thing in principle, because the polyurethane foam used in most mattresses is highly flammable. But it's a bad thing when the fire retardant chemicals are Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which readily enter our bodies and are linked to nervous system harm. PBDEs are being phased out, but there are worries about the replacement chemicals, too.
My mattress blog lists specific chemical-free mattresses and bedding sources. In general, I recommend a mattresses with an all-natural core (such as latex, horsehair, coconut coir, or cotton batting), amply wrapped with wool, and covered with untreated cotton or hemp. As always, organic is better for the environment. Good options are available at The Futon Shop, The Natural Bedstore, and Naturepedic.
As I once told another reader, that “new couch smell” is due to chemicals. As with mattresses, upholstered furniture must meet federal Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) and California fire retardancy standards. But following a Chicago Tribune series on health risks of fire retardant chemicals, the CPSC has begun taking steps to amend its standard with an eye to reducing their use.
In the meantime, if you want to avoid chemical fire retardants, choose wool instead of polyurethane foam fillings. A growing number of companies are also eschewing stain/water and moth repelling finishes.
Here are some of my favorites:
- Furnature’s pieces are naturally gorgeous and made with sustainable Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified wood frames and natural rubber and without synthetic fabrics or foam, PVC vinyl, or formaldehyde. Furnature also sells upholstery fabric, including untreated, prewashed cotton twill and organic cotton.
- Round-d’s cushion-free, one-piece couches, loveseats, and chairs also use FSC-certified, organic, and/or recycled materials.
- The Green Sage Store sells upholstery-weight hemp and hemp-organic-cotton blends that are undyed or colored with low-impact dyes.
- Bean Products makes sofas, loveseats, chairs, and mattress toppers with natural latex and organic cotton and hemp.
- Robert Cramer’s American-made RCGreen line includes pieces constructed with recycled steel, natural wood, soy or latex foam, and/or natural fabrics.
- Mitchell Gold and Bob Williams also use natural unfinished fabrics and soy and recycled materials in their comfy, oversized pieces.
- The Q Collection, a pioneer in chemical-free natural furnishings, has recently partnered with Twill Textiles to provide upholstery fabrics.
More natural furniture and mattress companies across the country can be found in the listings at Green People.
Rugs and Carpets
Earlier this year, I answered a reader's question about finding eco-friendly rugs. Check it out here and consider these green resources:
- Grown Green Rugs come in wool, sisal, jute and more, with natural latex backings.
- Nature’s Carpet makes unfinished natural rugs.
- Pottery Barn’s organic cotton bath rugs would feel equally nice underfoot in the bedroom.
- Earthweave chemical-free wool wall-to-wall carpets are sold and shipped by NonToxic.com, but require a local installer.