Furniture Buying Guide
What To Look For and What To Avoid When Selecting Furniture?
- Improve your indoor air environment with clean furniture. Indoor air pollution from conventional furnishings is a serious public health problem according to the State of CA, the EPA, and the American Lung Association. Ask the right questions.
- Look for furniture that is sourced American and Made in the USA.
What Should Furniture Be Manufactured From?
- 100% Solid Wood Everywhere.
- No plywood, particle board, MDF, veneers, engineered woods or other composite wood products allowed anywhere in our furniture, because they can pollute indoor air quality, including with high levels of formaldehyde (a human carcinogen).
What Should My Furniture Be Finished With?
- 100% VOC-Free oil finish that is food safe and chemical free for peace of mind.
- The natural finish should be hand rubbed onto the wood to protect the wood from moisture.
- The finish should be Prop 65 laboratory tested to make sure its lead-free, Cadmium-free and Phthalate-free.
- No chemical finishes, varnishes, polyurethanes, or stains allowed. The color you see on the finished product is the natural color of the wood and not a toxic, chemical stain used to disguise low-grade wood shavings to make them look like walnut or cherry.
Furniture Should Have High Environmental Standards
- Sustainably-grown wood from ethically managed US forests.
- Buying American helps reduce pollution from overseas shipping, including millions of barrels of oil and the resulting release of CO2.
- Built by hand by American craftsman using time-honored techniques like mortise and tenon joinery.
- Use 100% solid wood constructions from solid Red Oak, Brown Maple, Hard Maple, Cherry and Walnut Woods.
How to make healthy environment in my home?
Studies have repeatedly shown that fewer chemicals inside of the home mean better health for the families that reside there.
- For example, exposure to household chemicals in the womb and early childhood have been tied to increasing rates of autism. (Hertz-Piciotti et al., Epidemiology 2009).
- Studies have found that exposure to common solvents in the home from varnishes, paints and glues is associated with childhood leukemia. (Freedman, Stewart et al., Household Solvent Exposures and Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 91 No.4).
As the EPA will attest, sick building syndrome account for 40% of illnesses, so chemicals are now a daily burden on human health and a recognized cause of disease. Worse still, the EPA makes clear that most of our exposure to harmful chemicals actually occurs in our very own homes, and not from outside pollutants, such that the dangers from home furniture are now MORE serious than that from TOBACCO SMOKE.
Solid Wood Means NO Engineered or Composite Woods Anywhere.
Solid wood furniture sealed with linseed oil constitutes a fundamental step to decreasing chemical content in the home, and thus, diminishing the known health harms associated with exposures to carcinogens, allergens, developmental and reproductive toxins from everyday home furnishings we unknowingly bring into our houses. With this in mind, we do not permit any toxic chemicals in any of our products.
- No particle board, flakeboard, plywood, MDF, or any other composite or engineered wood products are used in any of our furnishings, including our cribs. Only 100% solid Oak, Brown Maple, Hard Maple, Walnut or Cherry hardwoods. We do not permit the use of any such engineered or composite woods ANYWHERE, including NOT in the bottoms, drawers and backs of furniture, where MDF and particle boards are typically hidden.
- Just because a piece of furniture says its is made from wood or wooden, doesn't mean its 100% solid wood, or even contains any solid wood whatsoever. Composite and engineered woods often called wooden or wood, and these man-made materials are toxic, and pollute indoor environments with chemicals, including known carcinogens, allergens, developmental and reproductive toxins.
- Likewise, we do not permit plywood veneers, as we think its unethical and unhealthy to glue wood peelings together with toxic chemicals, stick them onto a core of already extremely toxic MDF or particle board, and call this "wood" or "wooden" furniture. Plywood veneers are thin slices of wood peeled from a log, which are then used to disguise the low-grade, formaldehyde-based, wood scrap/dust boards used underneath. The wood you see on the surface of our furniture is the same solid wood that appears throughout, ensuring durability and stability from end-to-end.
Engineered or Composite Woods Are Toxic.
Engineered or composite woods are made from sawmill waste leftover from making solid wood lumber and fine furnishings such as our own. This is a low-end, low-value product. This wood waste was once discarded or used as mulch; however, big corporations found a way to profit from this wood waste, combining the dust/scraps with formaldehyde-based adhesives and other chemicals, plus heat, to cook up an artificial "wood" product. Wood dust and chemicals are obviously cheaper than solid premium lumber, and allow makers to simulate a wood look at a fraction of the cost. What is the harm then?
- These half-dust/half-chemical man-made substitutes, however, are laden with harmful substances that pose a serious threat to human health and development, so much so that even the Environmental Protection Agency cautions that off-gassing of chemicals, including volatile organic substances ("VOCs"), from common, everyday home furniture constitute a major human health risk, polluting the air in homes, and increasing the rates of asthma, allergies and other serious health problems.
- According to the EPA, one of the greatest sources for indoor pollution comes from “furniture made of certain pressed wood products.” Indeed, the EPA states that furnishings are one of the few sources of indoor air pollution that “release pollutants more or less continuously" from the time they are put in our homes. Because people spend “approximately 90 percent of their time indoors” the EPA has concluded that “the risks to health may be greater due to exposure to air pollution indoors than outdoors.”
- The EPA has even warned that tobacco smoke poses a more intermittent health risk than everyday furnishings.
- Unfortunately, as the EPA correctly points out, the people most susceptible to the affects of indoor air pollution are those who tend to “be exposed to indoor pollutants for the longest periods of time,” namely “the young, the elderly and chronically ill."
Non-Toxic Means Nothing.
The chemicals used in engineered wood products are NOT NON-TOXIC. Virtually every product manufactured today, especially for babies and children, will proudly identify itself as “non-toxic.” Ask any retail store person about their furniture, cribs, mattresses etc., and you will likely get the same answer, its all non-toxic of course, even while, in fact, being made from known cancer-causing agents under the law.
The chemicals used in engineered woods, for example, are, in fact, extremely TOXIC, containing VOCs that are known carcinogens, allergens and developmental/reproductive toxins according to both state and federal law, including per the CERCLA ACT, the National Toxicology Program and California Proposition 65 Law. These chemicals turn into invisible vapors that we unknowingly breath in as we sit, sleep or play in our homes.
- One of the most common and toxic chemicals used in engineered woods is Formaldehyde, a known Carcinogen according to the IARC, a known human respiratory toxin and Hazardous Air Pollutant per the EPA, and a carcinogen under California Proposition 65, not to mention an Asthmagen.
- Studies have shown that formaldehyde in dwellings is associated with the development of childhood asthma, reproductive problems in women, and respiratory and skin problems, among other serious reported ailments, such as recurrent nosebleeds and fainting.
- According to federal scientists from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the Formaldehyde found in trailers used during Hurricane Katrina, which were blamed for seriously sickening countless evacuees, came from processed wood products, namely particleboard and plywood.
- Studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service found several dozen other VOCs off gassing from engineered woods, including Benzene (a carcinogen and developmental toxin by law, linked to leukemia in children), and Toluene (a carcinogen, developmental, and female reproductive toxin by law).
The presence of such dangerous chemicals in engineered woods disproves the "Non-Toxic" claims made by furniture manufacturers, which includes 99% of crib manufacturers, all of whom rely on engineered woods and chemical finishes made with formaldehyde, benzene, toluene and other VOCs and carcinogens.
What Sorts of Toxic Engineered or Composite Woods Are Used in Conventional Furniture?
- Particle Board, also known as flake board, is used as the structure in furniture, shelving and cabinetry -- this unattractive looking product is made from wood savings and saw dust mixed with synthetic formaldehyde resins, fire retardant chemicals, insect pesticide treatments, water-resistance treatments, waxes, and wetting/release agents. High heat cures the formaldehyde cocktail into a hard surface, but it will never be as hard or desirable as solid wood.
- This inexpensive artificial-wood is not only unattractive, it is also prone to warping and discoloration, not to mention a favored medium for mold. Moreover, when particle board is damaged, it loses its structural integrity and appearance; unlike solid wood which can be sanded down, and resealed, so its beauty and function remains intact, allowing it to be passed on through the generations.
- Plywood Paneling/Veneer is used to simulate a wood surface on the exterior of furniture and cabinets. Plywood is comprised of thin slices of wood that have been literally peeled from a log and then glued to other "peelings" through the application of carcinogenic formaldehyde-based glues and chemical patches -- all of which are then cooked up with a hot press. These cooked formaldehyde peelings are then bent into various shapes through the application of other chemicals and water, not to mention treated with toxic varnishes, finishes, stains and paints. Their purpose is to be glued to the surface of furniture to disguise other engineered woods, thus, confusing consumers by giving off the appearance of real solid wood. The problem is, of course, that these wood substitutes cannot exist without poisonous man-made chemicals, which then off-gas toxins into our environment -- this is markedly different from real, untreated, solid wood.
- MDF or Medium Density Fiberboard is used for drawer fronts, furniture tops and backs, cabinets, laminate flooring, molding and doors. The waste fibers used to make MDF are basically pulp, meaning fibers that have been chemically separated from wood splinters, and digested in a soup of other chemicals, including petroleum chemicals, disinfectants, bleachers etc., creating the consistency of a "dung cake," before being bound with a considerable amount of formaldehyde. The dung-cake hardens into a flat surface through the application of chemicals, high heat and extreme pressure. According to the EPA, MDF “is generally recognized as being the highest formaldehyde-emitting pressed wood product."
Engineered/Composite Woods Are Not Eco-Friendly.
Furniture made from engineered and composite woods, such as particle board, mdf and plywood often come with claims that they are environmentally-friendly, because they use the waste to make something new. The problem is not that they are cleaning up waste, its that they are mixing waste with toxic chemicals and polluting the environment and harming human health.
- Energy Intensive: Production of engineered woods is energy-intensive, consuming large amounts of electricity, water and requiring heavy machinery, including flake processors, boiling vats, gluing machines, dryers, hot pressers, shapers and surface processors, so the manufacturing process is hardly environmentally friendly or carbon-neutral
- Industrial Pollution: Manufacturing of engineered woods use toxic chemicals that create waste water, toxic air emissions and have a history of polluting adjoining air and water supplies, not to mention the homes they end up in, acording to the EPA. The chemicals used, including formaldehyde, are also toxic to workers, and there are ample studies documenting serious occupational health problems, including nasal and other cancers, serious breathing problems, and deaths, such as from sudden onset of fatal occupational asthma, from simply working in engineered wood plants. And this is from what we know.
- Engineered woods made in China are subjected to further chemical treatments and waste agents that we don't know about yet, and are likely to be considered unacceptable by U.S. health and safety standards. In fact, engineered woods manufactured in China have been found to have even more carcinogenic fumes than the ones made in the U.S.. Paints on furniture were found to contain lead, and now toxic carcinogenic cadmium.
Using ONLY solid woods in all our furnishings means no Formaldehyde, Benzene, Toluene or other harmful man-made chemicals to worry about, and thus a healthier indoor environment to sleep and live in.
Look For Furniture Made In USA
- Most furniture pieces today, including cribs, are manufactured in China and elsewhere in Asia, such as Vietnam, even when we are talking about brand-name US or European Companies. Ask about where the product is built, and as the salesman thumbs through the manual, he will inevitably find the Asian connection. Products made in China and elsewhere in Asia are almost always not subject to regular third-party oversight, or government regulation, so they may not be up to our health and safety standards, for example using waste water to clean products.
- As we’ve also seen with the lead paint recalls, and now see with the rising use of carcinogenic cadmium and other toxic heavy metals, the chemicals and paints used in Asia may be far below U.S. health and safety standards. It often takes years for regulators or watch dog organizations to catch on to what horrible ingredients Asian manufacturers have begun actually hiding in their furnishings, and years more to get the materials out after testing and legislation (only for Asian manufacturers to replace them with other similarly, toxic agents like Cadmium).
- Asian labor is also not in any sense fair wage or unexploited, working preposterously long hours, and receiving dollars a day as wages, while often times being forced to sleep at factory barracks with such costs deducted from their already meager paychecks. Such unacceptable working conditions hardly lead to quality craftsmanship. Recent recalls of cribs for safety reasons have involved Chinese manufacturing defects that lead to numerous injuries and even deaths of children. Even cribs made in Canada & Europe still use the same toxic compressed woods and harmful chemical/paint finishes to save material and labor costs, skimping on more expensive, premium full hardwoods and the trained labor force skilled in true woodworking techniques.
- Chinese workers in furniture factories for prominent and popular American companies are exposed to unhealthy levels of carcinogenic chemicals like benzene, toluene, xylene and other carcinogens used in common varnishes and paints applied to furniture. Among the serious health effects, exposure to such carcinogens damage Chinese workers bone marrow, leaving them with too few white blood cells, known as myelodysplastic anemia, a disease that progresses to fatal leukemia. The toxins are inhaled, for example, by Chinese workers as they paint and varnish furniture with a brush, or even from the fumes of spray-painted furniture elsewhere in the factory, since Chinese workers may not have access to spray booths and other protections like U.S. workers.
- When faced with these facts, American manufacturers claim surprise, even though they supposedly have oversight over the furniture production process over 6000 miles away in far-away China. The question is how can a corporation have oversight over furniture production and yet not know that workers aren't given protective equipment for 26 years, and don't even have paint spray booths to limit transfer of fumes? Instead the corporations insist that Chinese workers are safe because they work with "water-based paints and varnishes on its furniture" so there is no smell. As industrial scientists point out to them, however, water-based paints and varnishes still have carcinogenic solvents in them, including benzene. (See one such story in Salt Lake Tribune, http://extras.sltrib.com/china/printstory4.htm).
- In addition, no matter how much you hear the terms eco-friendly or green used in relations to advertising campaigns for furnishings, there is nothing environmentally-friendly about goods manufactured in China and shipped over to the U.S. Chinese factories, for one, produce more pollution, leading to more global warming, than factories in the U.S., due to their overwhelming reliance on toxic coal for energy generation. It only takes 5 -10 days for pollution from China to reach the West Coast of the United States. (G. Tyler Miller, et al., Living in the Environment: Principles, Connections and Solutions (2008)). Moreover, shipping furniture from China to the U.S. consumes several hundreds of thousands of gallons of bunker fuel, a non-renewable petroleum resource that is the dirtiest grade of fuel possible, releasing not only CO2, but also mercury, sulphur oxide and a host of other dangerous air pollutants that contribute to climate change and global warming. One container ship filled with furniture emits as much pollution as at least 50 MILLION CARS.
Make Sure The Wood In Your Furnishings Are Sustainably Grown.
- The woods we use are sustainably grown and gathered from protected forests in the U.S. – so the materials are genuinely environmentally friendly. A tree is cut down, and another one planted in its place. It is popular these days for companies to advertise that a piece of furniture is eco-friendly, but that doesn’t make it healthy or even eco-friendly for that matter! Wood that is made from or coated with toxic chemicals is not friendly to your or your child’s environment – and formaldehyde, benzene, toluene and other similar chemicals are hardly eco-friendly when they are disposed of and pollute our air and water, not to mention off-gas and pollute the air in our homes. What is eco-friendly exactly about incentivizing the production and disposal of toxic chemicals harmful to the environment and reliant on non-renewable petroleum?
- It is also in vogue to call man-made woods sustainable. Some manufacturers, for example, tout that their MDF or Particle Board is sustainable because they use post-industrial recycled wood waste -- however, what they neglect to mention is that these fibers (1) are still produced through an energy-intensive process reliant on petroleum, which create waste and pollution and contributes to global warming, and (2) are chemically treated, including with formaldehyde adhesives, fire retardants and binders etc., which are petroleum based, toxic, and pollute the air and water.
- Formaldehyde-Free Isn't Enough: Note that products that claim to be "green" due to their removal of urea-formaldehyde adhesives, actually may replace the formaldehyde with other toxic chemical binders such as isocyanates, for example Methylene-Diphenyl-Diisocynate. Such chemicals according to the EPA, are "tumorigenic" and have been insufficiently assessed for their safety. The Centers for Disease Control, say such isocynates are responsible for "death from severe asthma...persistant or recurring eye irritation, nasal congestion, dry or sore throat, cold-like symptoms, cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, or chest tightness" and are "powerful irritants to the mucous membranes of the eyes and gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts." The California Office of Environmental Health Assessment reports that the chemical increases the prevalence of asthma in females, and chronic bronchitis in both males and females following exposure to LOW LEVELS, and can cause death from Asthma. Other replacements for urea-formaldehyde include phenolic compounds that still use formaldehyde in them, and soy based adhesives that still contain VOCs such as acetone
Avoid Toxic Finishes, Waxes, Stains, Varnishes or Paints.
- The only finish we recommend on any of furniture is Linseed Oil – otherwise known as flaxseed oil -- which is extracted without the use of any chemical solvents or heavy metal driers, and is petroleum-free, chemical-free, and has Zero VOC. The finish, like the furniture, should be American-made. It should be food safe in the honest sense of the term.
- The natural oil finish creates a protective sheen that is natural, beautiful and durable, becoming only more so with age, and hand rubbed onto each piece with at least three coats, which are allowed to air dry before being reapplied over several days. The added labor is well worth it when you see the finished product, and know that it is free of the toxic varnishes, polyurethanes, metal paints, and chemical stains that are used on nearly every piece of furniture sold today.
- Do Not permit conventional finishes on any of our furniture, including so-called water-based finishes, because the contain toxic chemicals unfit for human health, including carcinogens. Water-based means nothing. Water-based finishes still contain known carcinogens such as benzene, which studies have linked to Leukemia in children and adults. According to the EPA chemicals applied to indoor furnishings flood homes with known carcinogens, allergens, reproductive & developmental toxins, and avoiding such chemicals can only help, not harm, human health.
- Avoid Varnishes, polyurethane finishes, paints (which still often contain carcinogens and VOCs even when labeled VOC FREE, and contain both carcinogens and other toxins when labled LOW VOC), sealants (even so-called water-based ones), and stains (also including water based stains) are ALL comprised of chemicals that are indeed classified as toxic under the Superfund Act, California Proposition 65, and numerous other state and federal laws. So-called water-based finishes, for example, contain chemicals such as N-Methylpyrrolidone, a carcinogen and mutagen, Benzene, a notorious carcinogen; and water based stains meant to simulate the look Walnut, for another example, contain Carbon Black, a pigment found to cause lung tumors when inhaled
- Strictly avoid Formaldehyde, Benzene, Toluene, Methyl Ethyl Ketoxime, and countless other carcinogens and mutagens are routinely present in finishes applied to wood and engineered wood. The MSDS sheets don't lie. Calling chemicals that under federal and state law are classified as carcinogens, air pollutants, reproductive and developmental toxins, NON-TOXIC is simply unconscionable
- The color you see on furniture should the natural color of the wood species shining through. Walnut being darker, and oak more honey-hued, for example -- it should not be a chemical stain applied to dye a cheaper grade of wood or engineered wood like Birch or Baltic Birch plywood to look like real solid wood. Stains are profoundly toxic, and they indeed off-gas, whether water-based or oil based.
Your Bedroom May Be More Toxic Than The Street Outside Your Window.
New furniture carries with it the highest chemical pollution levels. This is even more concerning for a baby's room as its often newly decorated - new crib, new nursery furniture, new mattress, new bedding, new paints, new carpet, new draperies, new toys -- a baby’s room will often be the MOST toxic room in the home.
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