Anyone familiar with wood furniture knows that it has many benefits ranging from long-lasting durability to beauty and more. However, what many don’t realize is that true wood furniture also comes with an array of health benefits.
Often, we don’t associate furniture with our health, but the link between health and the items we bring into our homes, including furniture, has received an increasing level of attention from both the scientific and medical communities. The idea that “furniture is furniture” is simply not accurate. Not only does wood furniture last long but as it turns out wood furniture may also help the protect the health of you and your family.
Chemical #1 Flame Retardants
No discussion of health consequences of selecting wood furniture over cheap pressboard or MDF furniture products can ignore flame retardants. Flame retardants in furniture are ubiquitous and sadly have been shown to be, at best, minimally effective.
What was effective, however, was a lobbying campaign to pass laws to place flame retardants into furniture in bedding. The campaign was so successful that now, most people simply take the presence of flame retardant chemicals as a given, despite the fact that flame retardant chemicals have been proven to be harmful to human health.
Yet, the chemicals remain due largely to the notion that they provide dramatic protection in the event of a fire. It is important to note that selecting wood furniture doesn’t necessarily eliminate flame retardant chemicals from the equation. Many all wood furniture manufactures still use flame retardant chemicals in the foam that goes into their cushions.
Eliminating flame retardant chemicals altogether can be difficult, but many believe that flame retardant chemicals are an unnecessary risk and should be avoided. That stated, when you opt for solid wood furniture, you are greatly reducing your exposure to flame retardants. For example, soft fabric couches verses couches made largely from wood, would generally have less flame retardant chemicals in them due to the simple fact that there is less soft material.
A Particular Concern for Children
A major problem with flame retardant chemicals found in non-wood furniture, such as soft couches and chairs is that they don’t stay contained. Studies have concluded that flame retardants, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers, can make their way into their surrounding environment, which is particularly problematic for young children and infants. Since young children and infants are spending much more time on the ground than adults and putting their hands and objects into their mouths, they tend to consume much higher levels of PBDEs than adults.
Chemical #2 PCE or Perflourinated Compounds
Unfortunately, PBDEs are not the only chemicals that can leech from cushions and into the environment and ultimately into our bodies. Stain resistant materials have been very popular in recent years due to their obvious benefits; however, these chemicals, such as PCE or perflourinated compounds, have been linked to illnesses including reproductive problems and even cancer.
Air quality is another reason to choose real wood furniture over other options. Real wood furniture isn’t slowly degrading and breaking down, which is exactly what is happening with foam and MDF furniture products.
The EPA or Environmental Protection Agency has pointed out that several PFCs used in manufacturing are environmental contaminants. This list consists of perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), perfluorohexanesulfonic acid (PFHxS), perfluoroheptanoic acid (PFHpA) and perfluorobutanesulfonic acid (PFBS).
Chemical #3 Formaldehyde
Indoor air quality is a complex environmental mixture and as such is not one-dimensional. Many factors contribute to having either good or bad air quality. Achieving good air quality can be difficult and involves taking several steps. One of the most important steps to take is to eliminate items and furniture that are degassing chemicals into the environment.
Many kinds of non-wood furniture can release formaldehyde, which is known to be toxic and can even cause cancer. It is important to note that formaldehyde can also be present in many types of glues and furniture finishes, which underscores why it is so important to opt for the highest quality wood furniture possible.
Chemical #4 Phthalates
Choosing furniture items made with phthalates, often found in flexible forms of furniture, poses a threat to reproductive health and can lower sperm quality in men. Phthalates are a known hormone disruptor and should be avoided. Again, selecting real wood furniture is an easy way to achieve this goal and reduce one’s phthalate exposure.
Issues with Medium-Density Fiberboard
In addition to an array of potential health risks most non-wood furniture is also a poor buy. The reason is that non-wood furniture isn’t built to last. Instead, non-wood furniture is low-quality, manufactured from very inexpensive materials, but represents a high profit margin for the companies that make such furniture.
Furniture found in big-box stores is usually made from medium-density fiberboard or MDF. MDF is not known for being rich in quality but is known for being a rich source of formaldehyde and other chemicals. This engineered wood product breaks down regular wood into fibers. Then those fibers are combined with wax and resin at a high temperature.
The time and money you invest in finding and then buying real wood furniture is time and money well spent. A large percentage of the items we bring into our homes, from non-stick cook wear laced with Teflon to harmful chemicals infused into our future, are making us sick. Many of these chemicals are known hormone disruptors and many can even lead to cancer. Children and infants are particularly vulnerable.
Selecting real wood furniture is an easy way for you to protect both your own health and the health of your family. In the future, many of the chemicals currently found in furniture and other household products will be eliminated either through increased consumer awareness of new legislation. Until that time, it is the responsibility of every consumer to protect their health and the health of their family.