Burning Questions: An FAQ on Flame Retardants in Furniture

A flame from a burning candle

Whenever I scan the search engine subjects through which people now stumble over my blog, it becomes clear that the major thing everyone wants to know is whether they have a toxic sofa in their house and what in the blazes they are supposed to do about it.

So below I have compiled an FAQ based upon the research I did, the amazing investigation by the Chicago Tribune, and what’s happened since. If there are other burning questions on your mind, please let me know!

Q1: Is my sofa or upholstered chair full of toxic flame retardants?

I’m so sorry to have to be the one to break it to you, but the answer is yes.

While that sinks in, you can peruse the only caveats:

1) Your furniture is so groovy it dates back to the early ’70s (pre-1975, to be precise);

2) You bought this furniture from a local custom furniture supplier who never sells furniture in California and you specifically asked that supplier about whether the foam they used has any kind of flame retardant in it; or

3) You paid a small fortune for the sofa and bought it from a certified “green” supplier with whom you discussed this very issue. At length. With specificity. And, very likely, paid extra for the privilege of toxic-free-ness.

If, on the other hand, your furniture came from any national manufacturer (including Crate & Barrel, West Elm, Ikea, Overstock or basically anyone else that would sell a stick of furniture in California, at least some of the time), it has some kind of chemical flame retardant in it.

A stupid California rule, Technical Bulletin 117, requires flame retardant properties in upholstered and many other consumer products that results in these chemicals being part of any upholstered furniture sold basically anywhere, given the sheer size of California’s economy and influence on the national market. (In addition, the federal government requires cars to meet fire resistance standards which drive companies to include these chemicals in car upholstery, which is a topic for another day.)

Sadly, there is a lot of greenwashing on this point. Sofas sold as “green” because they have some soy foam in them instead of all polyurethane foam, or because they have certified hardwoods, almost all still have chemical flame retardants in them.

Also, furniture can have a label like the “Certipur” label, or a sticker or label that says it is “PBDE-free” or some such, and likely still has chemical flame retardants in it. (For example, when I called Crate & Barrel, they told me that the sofa I had in mind was “PBDE-free” but upon further questioning and after some considerable hold time, revealed that it did have “chlorinated phosphates” in it as a chemical flame retardant. That is probably, but not certainly, “chlorinated tris,” or TDCPP, which is discussed below.)

Q2: What kind of toxic chemical flame retardants does my sofa have in it?

Ah, you want to know what harmful chemicals are in your house? Sorry, that’s proprietary.

Basically, the furniture manufacturers and foam suppliers have refused to give this information in any usable form even to scientific researchers. For years. This meant that even crack scientists like Heather Stapleton had to become detectives, asking people in their circles to literally cut small sections of sofa out of their couches and mail them to them to be tested. They called these “couch biopsies,” which is kind of cute given the carcinogenic properties of many of these chemicals.

That’s one way Stapleton figured out, for example, that although Ikea and other furniture companies had been publicly bragging about being free of PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers, a particularly nasty and notorious type of flame retardant, that Ikea was using a type of chlorinated tris instead.

Chlorinated tris (one kind of these chemicals are also called TDCPP) made headlines back in the 1970s when it was actually banned from children’s pajamas after it showed up in children’s urine after only a few days wearing their chemical PJs and was shown to be a potent mutagen. Unfortunately, it was not banned for every use, and so furniture makers evidently thought it a brilliant turn to start sticking it into sofa cushions sometime around 2005, when PBDE’s fell under a public cloud of PR toxicity.

Now, there’s a new chemical fire sheriff in town, Firemaster 550, which researchers don’t know much about. And the chemical makers have also rumbled publicly about a chemical switcherooni with some other new kind chemical flame fixant, as reported by the Tribune series. In short, no one knows what, exactly, is in the millions of products in homes and on the market today, and the only way to really know for sure is to ask the company that sold you the sofa. And wait on hold. And insist on getting a specific answer.

If you do make a call about your furniture, please let me know what happened in the comments to this post, and I will track these and publish as complete a list as we can all come up with, working together.

Here’s one thought on what to ask: “Specifically what kind of chemical flame retardant is used on the fabric and/or foam of this furniture I own/am thinking of buying? I would like to know the name of the chemical in particular…. Yes, I’ll hold.”

Q3: What’s the harm of chemical flame retardants?

Here’s where, if my first-hand experience is any guide, the mind rebels. It’s really close to impossible to feel comfortable in mi casa ever again. Which is an outrageously unfair situation for all of us, for obvious reasons.

Basically, the harm from chemical flame retardants depends in part on what kind of chemical it is, of course. And since we mostly do not have that information, here’s what is reasonable to say:

1) Flame retardants suck. PBDEs, for example — the chemicals that are likely in any furniture produced before 2005 — are linked by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to “neurobehavioral” harms. As the EPA put it:

EPA is concerned that certain PBDE congeners are persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic to both humans and the environment.

About the others, here’s Stapleton again:

TDCPP is a suspected carcinogen and other “Tris” chemicals are known carcinogens (e.g., TCEP).

Some of our research has shown that TDCPP is just as potent a neurotoxicant as the pesticide chlorpyrifos. Chlorpyrifos had its indoor permit withdrawn by the EPA due to concerns about neurotoxicity.

And FireMaster 550 contains chemicals that may also be neurotoxicants and endocrine disruptors…we’re trying to evaluate this now.

2) Flame retardants don’t help save us in fires. Thanks to testing by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, we now know that chemical flame retardants don’t do anything to make a fire safer, but make it more toxic and dangerous by causing the release of harmful fumes when an item burns.

As Stapleton explained:

They are suppose to slow down the rate at which the product burns, but some tests shows that this only slows down the rate by maybe 2-3 seconds. In addition, by having flame retardants in the foam, you generate more smoke, soot and carbon monoxide when they burn, which is a concern because many people die of smoke inhalation during a fire. So one might actually argue that the presence of these chemicals in foam containing furniture increases fire hazards!

3) Flame retardants don’t stay put, but instead get into our bodies.  In fact, as Stapleton found in tests of indoor air which have been sadly confirmed, chemical flame retardants get into household dust, into the air we breathe, and thereby into our bloodstream.

They pose a particular risk to young children (and to pets), who are in the house for long periods of time, playing on the ground, and put everything into their mouths. In fact, one shocking 2011 study found that Mexican-American children in California had PBDE levels that were 7 times higher than that of their age counterparts living in Mexico.

Here’s the EPA again:

PBDEs are not chemically bound to plastics, foam, fabrics, or other products in which they are used, making them more likely to leach out of these products.

Q3: Where else are chemical flame retardants in my house and life?

Turns out, these delightful chemicals tend to be wherever foam is found, and then some. They are in your car seat and child’s car seat, are used to treat electronics like televisions and computers, and are in some other types of products with foam like bedding, rugs, strollers and nursing pillows.

While California suspended the rules with regard to bedding in 2010 and some “juvenile products” in March 2011, these items still may contain chemical flame retardants as this stunning 2012 study found was true of 85 percent of baby products, including co-sleepers and nursing pillows. Older items almost certainly are laden with chemical ick, to put it scientifically.

Adding insult to injury, I also must tell you that polyurethane foam is not very cool, in and of itself, given that it’s made with toluene and other suspect chemicals, as you can read about from informed sources in the comments here that recommend latex instead.

Q4: What can I do about this, now that the flame-retardant foam is no longer pulled over my eyes?

First, if you are not in the market for new furniture given these uncertain economic times, here are a few ideas:

  1. Open the windows and air out the room (and car) whenever you can;
  2. Wash your hands (and your child’s hands) frequently, and definitely before eating;
  3. Vacuum more often, using a vacuum with a HEPA filter, and move furniture to get the dust underneath;
  4. If upholstery is damaged or leaking, fix it promptly and re-establish a seal (use duct tape if you need to);
  5. Minimize polyurethane foam products (polyester foam is better, according to Stapleton);
  6. Don’t let children spend time unnecessarily in car seats (or in strollers, play pens or pack-and-plays with foam padding — look for an Oeko Tex certification on fabrics);
  7. As some innovative commenters have suggested, think about purchasing or making a sofa cover in a tightly-woven or allergenic fabric and use an upholstery stapler and thick fabric on the underbelly of the furniture (note: I have no proof whatsoever of whether this would work, but since dust is the medium here, it stands to reason that it might help).

Please note that no one really recommends re-upholstering items, as this will release far more dust from the furniture than merely keeping it around.

Second, from least invasive of your lifestyle to most, here are some thoughts about furniture options:

  1. Avoid buying products when you can that are labeled “flame retardant” or “Meets California Technical Bulletin 117″ or “Complies with TB 117″ or some such nonsense;
  2. Look for furniture from before 1975 or so (if you can stand the dust and dust mites!);
  3. Look for non-upholstered options when feasible, i.e. dining room chairs, or even wooden recliners with pillows you could design or have made to fit (as I did here through a seamstress on Etsy);
  4. Avoid adding suspect chemicals to new furniture by turning down optional stain-guard treatments;
  5. Make your own sofa using a daybed, as in the inventive comments to this post from SallyS, or use an organic mattress to build a new sofa, as outlined here;
  6. Check out the possible suppliers for flame-retardant free sofas in Sofa Saga Part Two and Part Four (as well as some additional suggestions and links in the comments from helpful readers).

Third, if you’re generally concerned about chemicals and furniture, you might also pause to consider the type of wood products you’re bringing into your home.

Furniture is just not made with the quality and care that it used to be, and even fairly expensive furniture, as well as the cheaper stuff, has plywood or medium-density fiberboard (MDF) in parts of it (like drawer bottoms and backs).

These pressed wood products off-gas for the life of the product, and can contain formaldehyde as well as toxic glues and solvents. If you can find solid wood items, that’s certainly best. I’ve found that Craigslist, Ebay, yard sales, flea markets, thrift stores and antiques stores are all good potential sources for these, and that even mainstream stores carry some items that are solid wood.

Fourth and last, the most important thing we all can do is to weigh in as the state of California considers where to go now on its inane flame retardant rule. Governor Edmund Brown has just asked state regulators to rewrite the standard following public pressure to change it. But make no mistake: getting a better rule will require a battle royale with the chemical industry, and its considerable bag of tricks.

There will be a public comment period, which I promise to monitor, so that we can all weigh in to say exactly how ticked off we are about this standard, which has introduced chemical poison into every home in America, and into the bodies of our children. Please stay tuned for that!

And if you do pick up the phone or email a furniture company about your own furniture, please do let us know what they say, so that everyone can learn from your valuable time on hold…

More resources on flame retardants and furniture:

134 thoughts on “Burning Questions: An FAQ on Flame Retardants in Furniture

  1. Hi Laura, thanks for you great work. I’m worried…we bought a graham glider chair from West Elm in August and it was in our bedroom for 3 weeks and had a powerful new furniture smell to it. West Elm told us it would go away after a week or so. It didn’t and we finally removed it and are trying to return it. My wife is pregnant and she was late 1st term/early 2nd term while the chair was in the room. My concern is if any harm was done to the developing fetus…or maybe I shouldn’t be losing sleep over this? The tag stated specifically that there were “no added chemicals sprayed on”. But I don’t know what the smell was and am assuming the foam had chemicals.

  2. Hello, I am hoping you might be able to help me. We bought an untreated, expensive 8×10′ wool rug for our living room where our 11 month old rolls around. Its great, but the little fibers shed and cause his skin to itch and also get into his eyes. It’s become a problem. So I am hoping to find an alternative that is maybe a bit softer, and doesn’t shed. I think a synthetic might be our only option, but I would love to find something that isn’t chemically treated, or the least toxic option. Any help would be much appreciated.

    • It’s difficult! Most rugs are treated in transit with insecticide and made with plastics. Look to cotton loops? Or hemp? I’ve found ones from West Elm that were the loopy shag kind that seem marginally better. Sorry there’s not good options!

  3. This is the latest from West Elm. I asked if they were still using fire retardants.

    Hello Keith,

    Thank you for contacting west elm.

    Product Safety is very important to us. We require all of our vendors to comply with Federal, State, and industry standards for product safety. As a result, we have ensured that all of our vendors for all products comply with the new California Technical Bulletin 117-2013. All furniture currently being manufactured is free of flame retardant chemicals and meets the new standard. At this time, some older product in our inventory may contain flame retardant chemicals as required by the previous flammability standard, but it is expected to be depleted by December 2014. As of January 2015 all products in our inventory will be free of flame retardant chemicals.

    If you have a question about whether your product was tested to the new standard, you can look at the compliance label affixed to the product. Product meeting CAL 117-2013 will contain the following verbiage:

    “This article meets the flammability requirements of California Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings, and Thermal Insulation Technical Bulletin 117-2013. Care should be exercised near open flame or with burning cigarettes.”

    At this time, all special order products are compliant with the new standard.

    If we may be of any further assistance, please contact us via email. Alternatively, you may contact our Customer Service Department directly at 1(866) 937-8356 from 7:00am to 11:00pm (CST), seven days a week.

    Kind regards,

    Timothy S
    west elm
    Customer Service

    • But good luck getting a couch without the chemicals from West Elm. We bought from West Elm just before the new law went into effect and were upset when we found out in January about the law change and that no one told us prior to purchase that we could wait a few weeks and get a couch without the chemicals.

      We were going to return our new sofa and wait to find something else when West Elm assured us we could re-order and they would deliver one without the chemical treatment. It was delivered today, April 12, 2015, with a manufacturing date of March 10, 2015 at 2:36pm on the tag right next to the Prop 65 warning label! Obviously they cannot deliver a chemical free couch. We have scheduled a return and I intend to go on a campaign against West Elm as they obviously cannot deliver on their promises. Again DO NOT BUY FROM WEST ELM, their products are chemical laden even when special ordered.

      Tony R
      Former West Elm customer

      • I bought the West elm graham glider in Aug 2015. It had a very strong new sofa order which they said would dissipate in a week or so. It never did and finally after 3 weeks I put it in the garage and called them to pick it up. What I’m very worried about is that my wife is pregnant and I’m hoping no harm was done to the developing fetus. She was late 1st term/early 2nd term during the time the chair was in the room. West Elm assured me that “no added chemicals” were used but I believe they are a sham of a company and don’t trust them. It was manufactured in China.

  4. Hi Laura,

    I’ve got a question I’m hoping you can answer. My 18 month old is currently sleeping on a baby mattress from Simmons made exclusively for Potterybarn Kids. The mattress is GreenGuard certified and CertiPUR-US. This is what it states on the website…

    – low emission VOC’s for indoor air quality
    – free from ozone-depleting CFC’s
    – made withou PBDE fire retardants
    – made without Mercury, lead and metals
    – made without formaldehyde
    – made without prohibited phthalate

    So is this this safe? Does it still have other toxic fire retardants? Should I just get an organic mattress? I’m torn because I feel some peace of mind but I’m still afraid that he is sleeping on a toxic mattress. I do however, have an organic mattress cover as well as organic sheets over it…does that help at all? Please advise!

    • HI Claudia,

      Certi-Pur is basically meaningless. What the label says is that one class of FRs — PBDEs — is not in it. But Firemaster and other types of flame retardants likely are, or it would say it was free of all chemical flame retardants. Naturepedic is the only company that makes “naturally” flame retardant mattresses, so that is what we have. They are expensive! The cover and sheets, I’m sure, help with exposure, but it’s impossible to say how much. Sorry I don’t have more reassuring news. Best, Laura

  5. Hi, thanks for your very helpful blog. I was on hold for ~2 hours with IKEA today and asked what chemical fire retardants are used to treat the foam in there sofas. The call was escalated to one of their call-center managers, who was only willing to say “our furniture is in compliance with the law, and we do not disclose the composition because this is proprietary information”. When I asked how to give feedback to the corporation to the tune of “I won’t buy your furniture unless you tell me what potentially harmful chemicals are used to make it”, he said he would pass it on. (Yeah right.) See this interesting article about a lawsuit settlement involving IKEA over fire retardants from late last year:
    https://laurasrules.org/2012/06/27/burning-questions-an-faq-on-flame-retardants-in-furniture/

    Thanks again,

    W

  6. I just found out that Ethan Allen treats all of their fabrics with FR. They claim to use the “safe ones”, but I was surprised to hear this since most fabrics are naturally resistant. And really upset since we have had a couch from them for 2 years. They also treat most of their rugs with FR. Where can you find un-treated area rugs?

    • I watched a show on HBO called Toxic Heat it was a documentary about the flame retardants used in commercial & residential stuff specifically upholstery fabrics and mattresses. I worked for Ethan Allen from 2000 to 2009. In 2006 I was diagnosed with Testicular Cancer had surgery and 17 sessions of thorasic (sp?) radiation. I still have nerve damage from the surgery.

      In short, one of the ladies in show called “toxic heat” mentioned a chemical in the retardants that was found to cause the type of Cancer that I had. I am trying to find the evidence to support this.

      Where did you get your information?

    • I just replaced all my living room furniture from Ethan Allen . Since then, I’ve acquired pneumonia and asthma. Whenever I lay on the coach my face gets red with a rash and I have trouble breathing. I just recently related this condition to my health, am I crazy? What’s in the fabric? Help

  7. We have our couch covered with some blankets that I wash periodically, do you think this reduces our FR exposure or is it wishful thinking on my part?

    • Unfortunately, the main vector for exposure is household dust, much of it on the floor from under the furniture. Still, blankets on top may reduce dust a bit. It’s free and can’t hurt, so…

  8. Hi! Laura,
    I didn’t even think about flame retardant until after I had my 2nd child in January 2014. Kinda wish I never came across the article because I seemed a lot less stressed with my first child. lol Now that I know I’m trying to eliminate it from the things I can afford right now. So I have two sofa’s that currently have flame retardant in the foam. I was thinking of just replacing the foam with HD36 Foam-High Quality from the foamfactory.com. This foam doesn’t contain flame retardant. It’s going to cost around $500 to replace 5 cushions. I can’t afford an organic sofa right now since we just purchased these 6 months ago. I contacted the maker of these sofa’s and I was told there is also flame retardant in the arm rests but not much since there isn’t much foam there compared to the seat cushions. It would cost too much to reupholster the arms rests plus pay for shipping my sofa somewhere to do it. I’m going to have to just deal with having flame retardant in the armrests since I can’t afford it right now. I haven’t even sat on my sofa’s the past 3 months and feel guilty when I see my 4 yr old get on them. My husband thinks I’m crazy. lol So is it a good idea to pay the $500 and go ahead and replace the foam in my sofa cushions until I can afford a complete nontoxic sofa? Thanks in advance for your assistance. Stacy

    • Hi Stacy!! Thanks for writing. If the replacement work will be offsite and done by others (who will, I hope wear proper equipment) it makes some sense to do it. If you have the replace the foam inside your house it would probably mean more exposure, not less. If it’s done offsite, lowering the amount of FRs in the piece would lower your family’s exposure, even without touching the armrests (which, as you note, probably don’t have much). So if that’s what you can afford and seems feasible… Also, you are not crazy. 🙂 Best, Laura

      • Thanks for replying so quickly! I will have to mail the sofa cushion covers to another state and they will fill them for me. I will probably have my husband take the foam out somewhere else other than our home. Then I will have to wash the covers before mailing. I recently moved to Colorado and I called several foam places here and was told all the foam they sell has to contain flame retardant by law. I’m hoping by replacing the seat foams it will ease my worries a little until I can get nontoxic sofas. Then I need to replace some mattresses…Grr!

  9. Hi! I was wondering what you can tell me about the fabrics that are used on sofas. If a manufacturer has told me that they have stopped using flame retardant foams does that mean that they could still be using them on their fabrics? Lazar Industries told me that although their foam is flame retardant free, their fabric is CA 117 compliant. I feel like finding an affordable chemical free sofa is next to impossible!

    • Many upholstery fabrics are inherently flame retardant, others have been treated. The new CA117-2014 does not mandate that the chemicals be removed from the foam or fabrics but says that they’re no longer needed. Most companies are switching to FR free foam but beware, there are other products in the furniture that may have an FR treatment on it (cambric, burlap, webbing, ticking).
      The only sure way to know that your furniture or cushions are truly FR free is to work with a shop that has experience in this area. Many companies know that their products are CA117 compliant only because their suppliers say that they are but few furniture companies have done the actual research to determine which products have the added chemicals, which products do not and which products meet the CA117 standard without any added chemicals.
      Sorry to say but for the next several years it’s going to be really tricky to know what you’re getting without asking lots of questions and doing lots of research.
      In addition to the FR chemicals, many people are sensitive to other products that are used in upholstered furniture (latex foam, poly foam, wool batting, different fabric contents etc). Some of our clients are trying to get the FR chemicals out of their homes, others have specific allergies or sensitivities to the natural or synthetic products that are used in the upholstery process.

      • Thanks Michael and Laura for all of the information, it shouldn’t be this hard to find a sofa without all of the chemicals!

  10. About 10 years ago I left a ca. 1970 sofa and love seat to be re-upholstered while on vacation, and the upholsterer took it upon himself to provide new cushions on the seat and back, saying that the old innards fell apart when he removed the old fabric. I guess it’s safe to assume that these cushions would similarly be treated with flame retardant? Can anyone advise where to send samples of cushions to be “biopsied”? I live in D.C., but of course I can mail material anywhere. Thank you!

    • Hi Andrea, It’s likely but not inevitable that the reupholstered cushions have FR foam in it. Most upholstery foam did (when I called a custom shop that does recreations of name brand sofas in VA, for example, a few years back, all of their supplies contained the chemicals, as they were made in CA by the same suppliers for much of the industry).

      I’ll look into the other question re the biopsy a bit and let you know.

      Best,
      Laura

  11. Hi! I was wondering what you could tell me about Halogen-Free flame retardants? I think that’s what my couch contains, although I’m not 100% sure. In the meantime, I’m on the hunt for a new couch. McCreary Modern (Room and Board sell their furniture), Crate and Barrel and Bernhardt all told me they no longer use flame retardants. Hopefully more retailers will follow suit and make their furniture without any unnecessary chemicals. Thanks for all of your information on this subject!

  12. We’re currently in the market for a new sofa and I’ve been holding back only because of the fire retardants used in the cushions. I was excited to hear about California’s nixing of the flame retardant requirement as of 2014 but I’m sure it hasn’t encouraged most companies to immediately jump on that. I emailed Pottery Barn twice asking specific questions about flame retardants in their sofas and they responded with the following:

    Thank you for contacting Pottery Barn.
    A product can meet flammability requirements through its construction, the type of materials it is made of or by topical chemical treatments.
    Pottery Barn does not use topical flame retardants on any product. In our products, we use fabrics that naturally meet flammability requirements.
    Our products meet the flammability requirements of the CPSC and are subject to the federally required test methods. These are tested by a third party lab approved by the CPSC.
    For more information on flammability regulations:
    http://www.cpsc.gov/businfo/ffa.html
    Additionally, our down-blend cushions provide luxurious comfort. This blend is normally encased in a duvet that surrounds the foam core center. Back cushions are typically a loose fill of fiber, feathers and down.
    Please know that Pottery Barn uses 1.8-density foam for its high resiliency and its ability to provide a soft, comfortable sofa.

    In your opinion, would this satisfy any questions about fire retardant being used in their sofas or not?

    • Hi there,

      That sounds very positive. I’d confirm by phone, though. I’d be surprised if PB has already changed up its whole line, though it should be soon, so it’s possible. The CPSC rules apply to mattresses and rugs, not sofas, as the link says. It was the CA rule that was the issue, and now that requirement has been withdrawn.
      Hope that helps!
      Laura

  13. Thanks for your blog. It helped a lot in our couch search. Today I called a local Crate and Barrel furniture store and a salesperson told me that many of their pieces are now available without fire retardants. I asked specifically about the “Margot” and the “Willow” sofas. When I search, “crate and barrel furniture without fire retardants”, I find no announcement from the company or others about the availability of non fire-retardant upholstery. The company’s silence might be because it does not want to draw attention to their being the source of household toxins and opening themselves to a more difficult position in litigation. I don’t know. Is finding upholstered furniture without fire-retardants really now as easy as just specifying “no fire-retardants”? It seems that way from my conversation with C&B.

      • Poly foam without flame retardant is available but most companies are not carrying it yet as they want to use up their current stock of product before they purchase new. The new law does not require that the flame retardant chemicals are not in the foam, it’s just that they are not required any more. Because of this, there is not much incentive other then customer demand for the manufacturers to make flame retardant free foam a priority. Many of the foam manufacturing companies may have contracts with the chemical companies and they may continue to use the chemicals until the public demand makes them change.
        We are carrying both our “old” poly foam that has the FR chemicals in it as well as a new FR free poly foam that doesn’t have the FR chemicals. We also offer a natural latex foam that is free of flame retardants. At this time, our FR foam is only available in limited densities. It is also more expensive then our foam with FR’s in it so we still have it as an option.

  14. Hi Laura,

    Forgive me, but the more I read, the more confused I become and I’ve been reading a lot on the Green Policy Institute’s website as of late. This FAQ regarding flame retardants in mattresses caught my eye… What’s your take on this? I’ve been killing myself trying to find an affordable, flame retardant-free twin and king mattress and then I read this…

    Is my mattress treated with flame retardants?
    If your mattress was made after 2007, it is unlikely that the foam inside contains flame retardants. According to the mattress industry, flame retardants are not used in foam in adult mattresses in the U.S. The federal mattress standard, called 16 CFR 1633, requires that the finished mattress meet a very severe and lengthy open flame ignition test. To meet this requirement, barrier materials such as fire-resistant fiber batting or boric acid treated cotton fiber are wrapped around the mattress foam, which do not present the same concerns as flame retardants.
    If your mattress was made before 2007, it may contain flame retardant chemicals in the foam. It is not a bad idea to consider replacing these older mattresses as your budget allows.
    http://greensciencepolicy.org/faq/

    On a positive note, Dania Furniture, a big manufacturer of furniture in the midwest, recently announced it would be offering flame retardant-free sofas and chairs!

    http://greensciencepolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/TB117-2013_ConsumerSheet_V12.pdf

      • Laura, you have no idea how happy this makes me. I’m sorry for being redundant, but this is life changing to me. This means I can now afford a new sofa if I don’t need to replace all of our mattresses. Please bear with me, just to clarify, so according to this and you trust this information, I need not worry about our mattresses, purchased in 2009 and 2010? I think I need to be pinched!

      • That’s right — the chemicals are actually strong enough for them to meet the CPSC standard, so manufacturers have had to do it in less toxic ways. Mattresses, of course, are still proprietary concoctions of plastics and petroleum plus boric acid, but flame retardants are not the main issue! Do the sofa, my dear.

  15. Hi again,

    I’m wondering what your take is on companies that claim their mattresses are naturally fire resistant.

    “We use a premium fabric made with naturally fire retardant inherent fibers” is the response I got when I questioned two companies about their mattresses. Upon further investigation, I found that one company uses JonesFiber that contains a boron/boric acid mix and the other company uses fabric woven with fiber glass fibers that they claim are inherently fire resistant. I’m not sure what to make of this. These were the two mattresses I was looking at:

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00F7S6FAY?ref_=pe_623860_70668520

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B003LLY7YU/ref=ox_sc_act_title_2?ie=UTF8&psc=1&smid=A8Y53OANBSBW0

    Also, I recently read on Mother Nature Network that Serta mattresses may be a safer option for those who can’t afford the pricier organic models. What do you think?

    http://www.serta.com/environmental-responsibility

    Thanks,

    Tina

    • I don’t really know, either. Fiberglass is connected with lung problems, certainly, but whether you would be exposed if it’s deep in the mattress is a question. I instinctively dislike “memory foam” because it’s a proprietary mix of who-knows-what. In general, mattresses cannot meet the FR standards set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission with spray-on or embeddded brominated or other chemicals, so boron or boric acid is common. Sorry I can’t be of more help!

      Laura

      • Thanks, Laura. Forgive me if this sounds like a stupid question, but are boron and boric acid just as dangerous as other fire retardants? I recall reading that aren’t as much of a concern but to be honest with you, I’ve read so much lately my head is spinning.

      • I’m no expert — here’s Wikipedia: Toxicology

        Based on mammalian median lethal dose (LD50) rating of 2,660 mg/kg body mass, boric acid is poisonous if taken internally or inhaled in large quantities. The Thirteenth Edition of the Merck Index indicates that the LD50 of boric acid is 5.14 g/kg for oral dosages given to rats, and that 5 to 20 g/kg has produced death in adult humans. For comparison’s sake, the LD50 of salt is reported to be 3.75 g/kg in rats according to the Merck Index.

        Long term exposure to boric acid may be of more concern, causing kidney damage and eventually kidney failure (see links below). Although it does not appear to be carcinogenic, studies in dogs have reported testicular atrophy after exposure to 32 mg/kg bw/day for 90 days. This level is far lower than the LD50.[7]

        According to boric acid IUCLID Dataset published by the European Commission, boric acid in high doses shows significant developmental toxicity and teratogenicity in rabbit, rat, and mouse fetuses as well as cardiovascular defects, skeletal variations, mild kidney lesions.[8] As a consequence, in August 2008, in the 30th ATP to EU directive 67/548/EEC, the EC decided to amend its classification as reprotoxic category 2 and to apply the risk phrases R60 (may impair fertility) and R61 (may cause harm to the unborn child).[9][10][11][12][13]

        At a recent European Diagnostics Manufacturing Association (EDMA) Meeting, several new additions to the Substance of Very High Concern (SVHC) candidate list in relation to the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals Regulations 2007 (REACH) were discussed. The registration and review completed as part of REACH has meant the current classification of Boric Acid CAS 10043-35-3 / 11113-50-1 as of 1 December 2010 will be listed as H360FD (May damage fertility. May damage the unborn child.)[14][15]

  16. Hi Tina
    We have a lower priced twin mattresses in non fire retardant foam
    with many options, thickness, types of covers.
    need to discuss shipping distance and density of foam
    happy to answer any questions

    michael

  17. Hello, I just came across your blog. Great information! Does anyone know about flame retardants used in britax roundabout 55 car seat covers? I have one that was manufactured in December 2010 and I just had to hand wash it due to a spill and as I was wringing it out I was wondering if flame retardants were getting all over my hands? And now that I have washed it, are the flame retardants more likely to have broken down and become air born? I am not sure how stable flame retardants are? Would love any info. Thank you!

    • I’m not sure about the answer to this — I would bet the good folks at the Green Science Policy Institute might. You could give them a call and ask — and please let me know if you do and what you learn! Thanks for the good question.

      • Hi Laura,

        Speaking of the Green Policy Institute, I recently read something, which I’ve pasted below, under their FAQs that has me a bit confused. According to the information on their website, mattresses produced after January 1, 20014, are unlikely to contain flame retardants. Can this be true? And if so, might this also be the case with twin-size mattresses? I am in the market for both a crib mattress and a twin mattress for our nursery and would be overjoyed if I didn’t need to spend three times as much $ on organic mattesses. (I’m not so concerned about the cost of a crib mattress, but the least expensive twin size that I could find is $700! Thoughts on this? As always, thank you for your time!!

        Q: Is my child’s mattress treated with flame retardants?
        A: Baby mattresses with a TB117 label are likely to contain flame retardant chemicals and should be avoided. Mattresses produced after January 1, 2014 without a TB117 label are less likely to contain the chemicals, but it is prudent to verify with the retailer to make sure. A report on crib/ infant mattresses from Clean & Healthy New York provides information on some manufacturers.
        http://greensciencepolicy.org/faq/

      • The law in California TB117 that required flame retardant chemical’s was changed/modified as of January 1, 2014. The new rules say that the chemicals are not required but it doesn’t say that they have to come out. With that in mind, most manufacturers are still working through their current stock of materials (raw or already manufactured pieces) before they change over. In addition, since the FR chemicals do not have to come out of the foams and paddings, some companies may be slow to change because it could affect the quality and integrity of their product. They may need to replace the FR chemicals with something else if the FR chemicals were a part of the recipe for their foam and paddings.
        We are not carrying a poly foam that is free of flame retardant chemicals and we are located in California (San Rafael, about 12 miles north of San Francisco) but we were not able to order this foam from any of our regular sources. They and their suppliers are still selling the stock that they have.
        Labeling needs to comply by January 1, 2015.
        The most dangerous chemicals that have been banned are not in the foam products any longer or at least not in the ones that we have been purchasing and selling for several years.
        As an alternative to poly foam and other synthetic paddings, we do offer a natural latex foam that is free of any added chemicals. It is much more expensive then poly foam and some people are sensitive to the natural latex.

  18. Recently took apart a pack n play & the foam was deteriorating into a fine, sticky dust. Is this dust toxic & if so, what is the best method of handling it?

    • Hi Peggy,

      I think that pack and play foam can contain flame retardants, so that would likely be the main concern. They are also made of vinyl (also known as PVC), and can be harmful if chewed on. I would chuck it! I used a travel crib, and a wooden fence to create a larger play area when needed. Sorry to have such bad news! Laura

  19. Hi Laura, thanks again for this awesome blog and for being so responsive and willing to share your knowledge. I can’t tell you how wonderful it feels to finally be able to find some real answers to all my questions. That said, I have a couple additional questions and I promise to leave you alone for awhile! I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on when mainstream furniture and mattress companies will begin manufacturing their products without flame retardants now that the CA law has changed? I’m also wondering if you know of any less-toxic brands of infant car seat/stroller travel systems? I’m expecting a little one in June and I’ve been having a hard time finding a list of safer baby products more current than HealthyStuff.org’s 2011 list.

    Thanks again,

    Tina

    • Hi Tina, No need to leave me alone! I love the great questions. I don’t have a sense of when manufacturing practices will shift — I would imagine, sadly, that it will be company by company depending on cost to make a change, and that some may not change at all without even more consumer pressure to do so. In terms of stroller-car seat systems, I’m afraid I hit a wall on that as well. The car seats are all bad, as you know, due to a different federal requirement in the U.S. So my approach was always to minimize the time in car seats — I didn’t want to use them for shopping, etc., even though it was a pain to move the baby at times. I used a ring sling in stores or a Moby wrap with good success. Sorry I can’t be of more help — and congratulations! Laura

      • I manage a Northern CA upholstery shop. We have been offering flame retardant free natural latex foam for many years and we are excited that CA has changed the standard for flame retardants. What we are finding is that the new law doesn’t require the flame retardants to come out of the foam, only that they are no longer required. That said, our suppliers are working through their current supplies before they will be able to offer us flame retardant free foam. It’s frustrating but from a business perspective, it makes sense.
        Be patient, the business world is going to move slower then the consumer on this subject. The good news is that the law has been modified and in the future, we will be able to get products without the unnecessary chemicals.

      • Hi Laura,

        You have been a great help! I’ve decided to give up the search for a flame-retardant free car seat (at least for now!). I’m moving on to mattresses. We are purchasing a Naturpedic organic mattress for baby. I would also Like to purchase one for our king bed, but just can’t afford the hefty price tag right now. I’ve been calling around to local Twin Cities mattress and furniture companies to see if they have any idea when they’ll begin carrying FR-free sofas and other items. The standard response is: “We don’t know.”

        I did have an interesting conversation with a gentleman at the Original Mattress Factory who claimed the fire retardants in his mattresses are nontoxic. He said they use a natural FR called “VitaSafe” that utilizes natural Viscose fiber made from dissolved wood pulp. Have you ever heard of such a thing?

      • Good news for California residents! We now have poly foam that is free of flame retardant chemicals!!!! The new standard (California Technical Bulletin 117-2013) no longer requires that the chemical’s be in the foam, only that it’s not necessary. Most manufacturers and suppliers are still working through their old stock but we have the new foam! The foam is a bit more expensive then what we were using before but a lot less expensive the natural latex. Refilling the cushions on your sofa or chair with FR free foam will cut down your exposure to the flame retardant chemicals that were required before Jan. 1, 2014.

  20. Thank you again for the informative, although disturbing, information on fire retardants. I’d like to know your thoughts on IKEA and The Futon Shop brands. I’ve read that The Futon Shop, for example, doesn’t use fire retardants in their bed and sofa mattresses.

    Thanks,

    Tina

    • As far as I’m aware, those two companies are still using some form of flame retardants. But I would welcome an update if you talk with them and get confirmation that things have changed. Just be aware that the scripts given to consumer call-in centers are generally misleading and vague. Thanks so much for your interest and questions — Laura

    • Hi,

      I actually work in the bedrooms department at an IKEA and thought you’d appreciate this information in case you are still wondering. Ikea sticks to salt based flame retardants in their products. Not sure about the sofas but I do know that they add a lot of wool into their products since wool is inherently flame retardant. Hope this helps!

  21. Since the latest NYT article on this subject Room and Board now has plans to remove flame retardants from furniture made January 2014. I recently ordered a couch and called to ask to have them hold production of this until early next year when these chemicals will no longer be used.

    • Did Room and Board provide a specific date in January? I’m moving and hope to have delivered a new R&B sofa in late January. The salesman in the DC showroom told me something similar yesterday. Thanks

  22. Pingback: Toxic Hot Seat on HBO tonight! | Laura's "Rules"

  23. Thanks for opening the conversation up about this! I am in the market to buy a new sofa that won’t break the bank, so I’ve been calling around. I called Ikea and Palliser; both use PBDE in their furniture. In the meantime, my old cotton ‘shabby chic’ couches seem better and better. 🙂 But it sure would be nice to find something new…

  24. There is a local furniture store near us, Endicott Furniture, that has removed all flame retardants from one of their lines. I would like to purchase a couple chairs from them. My husbands wants some leather chairs from another company and thinks that the FR wont go through leather. Any thought on leather furniture?

    • Hi Krista, Yes, Ross Endicott has commented here about their offerings. On leather, as I understand from Heather Stapleton, since the issue seems to be what leaks out in the form of dust from underneath the furniture, the fabric doesn’t change the level of flame retardants that eventually find their way into the air. Sorry for the sake of marital accord I don’t have better news! Good luck — Laura

  25. I wanted to thank you for your posts and being so willing to help everyone who posts questions in their comments, etc. I am about to get a rattan settee with polyester cushion to partially replace a 2002 polyurethane foam-filled couch. Certainly it will be smaller and less comfortable, but I have a five month old daughter who should be crawling soon. There are a ton more things that should get replaced, but it’s what we can handle for the time being. I find myself paralyzed by knowing that there is so much I don’t know and haven’t considered! But, again, thank you for finding and sharing the knowledge (no need for a response)

    • JP- just wondering where you found a cushion to fit the rattan settee? I have a rattan couch that I have been trying to find FR free cushions for, but nothing really fits. Thanks!

      • Hi Meg, I don’t have that source, but I’ve also found folks to make custom cushions for furniture through Etsy, the crafting marketplace, as well as through bulletin boards at local fabric shops. You might try those! Best of luck! Laura

  26. This blog has been such a wealth of information! I’m about a month out from having my second baby and wanted to get a new recliner without fireproofing thinking that was going to be an easy thing. Lots of research later, I now realize it’s basically impossible. My question now is it better to keep my 5+ years old recliner knowing that the foam is degrading, hence causing more toxic dust or buy a new one knowing it’s freshly treated with chemicals? I could air out a new one in the garage for about a month, but that’s it. Also, if I go new, is it better to buy a leather chair that is presumably less porous than fabric to trap the toxic foam inside? Any info helps.

    • Hi Kristi, Recliners are tough, because they are modern upholstered items that are bound to be filled with chemical-laden foam. Are you thinking of it as a baby rocker? If so, you might consider a rocking chair or glider. I took a used wooden one glider (yard sale, $10) and had a custom cushion made through Etsy (see https://laurasrules.org/2012/04/12/its-etsy-being-green/) — viola, FR-free! The cushion with the cute fabrics (plus extra to staple over the foot stool) was about $45. You can find these gliders on Craigslist where I am… In terms of leather options, the issue there is all the many harsh chemicals used in tanning and processing leather, plus the problem that cheaper or fakey leathers are often varnished with polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a poison plastic, or other plastics. Sorry there’s not a better answer, and good luck! All best — and congratulations on your second!! Laura

  27. Hi! We recently bought a couch from Macy’s that is a Jonathan Lewis couch. At the time, I didn’t know much about flame retardants, unfortunately/fortunately, I do now. They did tell me that “chemical TDCPP, which is probably what you are concerned about, has been removed from all foam we use since October of last year (2012).” They told me it has been replaced with aryl phosphate, not sure if that is better, but they were pretty open about it luckily. We do cover the couch with blankets (also to prevent little hands from making messes) and I sweep regularly (hardwood floors) and also plan to wash the blankets regularly.

    • Hi Jen! Thanks for writing. Yes, well, one of the issues is that they keep substituting chemicals and it’s difficult for research to keep up. Heather Stapleton and others who do the studies need time to analyze chemicals and see whether they pose a hazard. Because, as you now know, the U.S. allows any chemical to be sold first and studied later, we’re all in this pickle together! Those are all reasonable steps to take — and opening windows is another free idea that allows air to circulate, as well as washing hands before meals (which I always forget to do!). Appreciate your input, and please keep in touch! Laura

  28. Hi Laura, I read your blog with posts about toxic chemicals in sofas,etc.
    I’ve recently been looking at a new sectional (made by one of the lazyboy companies) to purchase, however I just found out I am early
    Pregnant.
    The sofa we currently have was owned by our landlords and has been in this home it’s whole 6-8 years. Now, I’m not a trusting so I question everything so I guess I question what the couch has been “exposed to” during it’s life. My family and I have used this couch for the past several months. There are no unusual odors with it and overall it looks fine. But for the reasons I explained, I’d like to replace it with a new sectional. My question to you; would you take your changes with not knowing the life of this sofa? Or replace it with something new? Isnt not knowing the origin as bad as knowingly exposing my family with a new set?
    Thank you, Jan M.

    • HI Jan, Thanks for writing and congratulations! If the sofa is 6 or so years old and a mass market brand type, it likely does have flame retardants in it, maybe even PBDE, though of course its not certain. Older sofas also tend to degrade more, so there may be more dust, depending on the materials and design. As to newer ones, they almost always do from the major manufacturers, as the post explains. So I think either way is the same, basically, unless you specifically set out to buy a new sectional without these chemicals in it. You may also be interested in my post on baby items — search for “at long last” and “Laura’s rules”. All best, Laura

  29. Here’s a question from a reader that was emailed:

    Hi Laura,
    I’ve been reading your blog regarding flame retardant chemicals used in baby products and sofas. It is so helpful and I wanted to thank you for talking about this subject and giving me some guidance. It is really hard to find good, true information out there.

    I was wondering if you knew anything about new chemicals that companies are now using to replace Tris or BFRs, etc. I have talked to two manufacturing companies who say that they no longer use Tris, but now use different chemicals. One uses HF-5 which they say is a halogen-free chemical and the other uses phosphorus ester. Have you heard anything about these replacement chemicals? I have done some google searches, but nothing has come up and I’m wondering if in 5 years or so they are going to discover that these new chemicals are not any better than what is being used now. It is so difficult to find products that don’t use any chemicals at all so I was hoping at least that these products would be somewhat safer. Do you have any thoughts on this? Do you think that these new chemicals are any safer or am I just picking the lesser of two evils? Any advice would be very helpful! Thanks for your time.

    And here’s an answer that another commenter got on a related question from expert Heather Stapleton:

    This statement: “foam fire retardant materials contain organic, halogen free, and PBDE free materials”, are likely organophosphate flame retardants, which we believe could be just as toxic as the PBDEs……they have not been sufficiently tested for health effects at all and I am concerned about their use in furniture and baby products,

    Let’s hope we can move away from flammability standards requiring these chemicals in foam in the first place…..

    best wishes,
    Heather Stapleton

  30. Hi Laura,

    I stumbled across your blog tonight when I was researching options for a sleeper sofa. I was completely ignorant about flame retardant materials in upholstered furniture (somehow I missed the 2012 mainstream coverage of last year’s study) but I was concerned about spray adhesives because of recent NYT coverage of severe nerve damage in North Carolina furniture factory workers from certain spray adhesives. Maddening doesn’t even begin to cover how I feel about everything I’m learning.

    But I have a specific furniture need and some questions, so here goes.

    I don’t want to inundate you with detail but even if the price were right, our need for quick delivery and a fairly minimal overall height rule out buying a sleeper sofa from the eco-friendly companies identified on your blog.

    One option that meets our size and timing specs is the Room and Board Mario convertible sofa (made in North Carolina; fabric made in Taiwan), which is listed as having a fabric content that is 100% polyester. A similar product is their Elke model (made in China), for which fabric content is not provided on the site. I called Room and Board and was told no flame retardants are added to either product “because the fibers are already flame retardant.” That seems to jibe with comments on your site about polyester, but it sounded too good to be true; Room and Board is supposed to call me back with more detail.

    My questions in the meantime for you and your readers (I tried searching your blog but did not find answers):

    1. Does polyester fabric mean flame retardants are unlikely to have been added?

    2. Does Prop 65 require disclosure/labeling for flame retardants?
    (On Room and Board certain products have Prop 65 disclosures but others do not; I’m trying to figure out whether that means that a product that does not have a Prop 65 disclosure does not contain flame retardants.)

    3. Am I asking the right questions? Should I be focused on the filling of the cushions instead or in addition? Is there anything else I’m missing?

    And lastly, THANKS!!

    • 100% polyester fabric is probably inherently flame retardant.
      The question you need to ask Room and Board is about the foam they are using. I don’t know what state you live in but most furniture companies and states comply with the California 117 rules requiring that the fillings/paddings in your upholstered furniture meet strict flame retardant standards. This means that the foam in the cushions and the padding on the frame has a flame retardant added to the foam during the manufacturing process. It is not sprayed on after it is made, the chemical is added to the stew that is eventually turned into foam.
      You will find that your average sales person working for one of these large companies has no idea what is really in their furniture. I have worked in the upholstered furniture industry in California for 25 years and I was in the dark for quite a while myself.
      California is moving to eliminate these chemicals by changing the requirements but the wheels are moving slowly and even once the law is changed, there will be a window of time (up to 24 months) where most companies will still be selling off their already manufactured foam before they have to eliminate the chemical from the product. There will be a new standard for flammability but hopefully it will not require dangerous chemicals.
      The fire fighter’s unions are pushing for the change in the law as the the fire fighters are being exposed to a toxic soup of chemicals when they enter a burning building (the products still burn, just more slowly) and it is the chemical lobby that wants to keep the flame retardant chemical’s in the foam.
      Scary!

      • Thanks, this is helpful. In the meantime I have 5 weeks to find something for two adults to sleep on that I’d want to keep owning thereafter. I’m really struggling with this. If the couch I’ve identified is just going to be in a rarely used playroom would that be okay, or is that too much exposure? I don’t have time to custom order a green option. Do I just borrow or buy an air mattress?? This is stressing me out.

      • Jessica,
        I don’t think there is a really good quick fix for you if you are trying to purchase a sofabed. Air mattresses are not awful, I’ve slept on them before and if you can purchase a topper for it, it might work as long as it’s not going to be your bed for the next year. I had one that I used several nights a year for guests before I sent it to my daughter’s college apartment. I had a memory foam topper on it. Only problem is that some people sleep hot and the plastic of the air mattress doesn’t breathe, the topper helped.
        Ikea sells a topper for 299. in a full size and you can order online (just looked). Looks like it is mostly latex and cotton. Don’t know if it has flame retardants.
        For the long term, if you are concerned about the flame retardants and think you would be purchasing something natural down the road then the air bed with a topper is a good short term solution until you have the time to select the sofa that you really want.
        If it’s short term house guests, give them your room and you can camp out on the air bed.

      • Hi Sarah and Jessica,

        This was such a great exchange! I apologize, Jessica, that it has taken me a while to get into the thread. We’ve also used air mattresses, and some these days have toppers built in, which make them surprisingly comfortable. The plastics are awful, obviously, and they are likely PVC, but as it’s a short term solution, well, sometimes we all just do the best we can.

        I did want to suggest another couple of options. First, we just found a decent futon on Craigslist with a thick seating cushion for $350. It’s just a cushion, and it’s probably (though not certainly) ok in terms of chemicals, as there is not really foam. We’ll add a down mattress topper for guests when it’s being used as a bed.

        But there are two more even better options:

        1) This is a very cool company sells DIY mattresses with buckwheat stuffing: http://openyoureyesbedding.wordpress.com/2011/11/18/lets-get-started-materials/ It does seem like a bit of a project, but the prices are incredibly reasonable. They start at $30, plus you have to buy the buckwheat. My thought was that when you are done with the mattress, you could use the buckwheat in a canvas sack (sewn at the top) for a beanbag for the playroom. Or prop the mattress on the wall with a cover for a makeshift kids sofa. The shop owner also makes one-of-a-kind options, so you could chat with her about the end use and see if she has another design that makes it better.

        2) For something that would actually be a decent piece of sustainable furniture and give a “zen” look to the playroom, you could check out Carolina Morning’s futon sofas: http://www.zafu.net/futon.html Bedding is here, and made of organic fabric and buckwheat stuffing: http://www.shop.bodyfriendlyfurniture.com/Bedding_c2.htm The futon is $650 and the bedding is $350, so it would set you back $1000, or the cost of a new (low-end) sleeper sofa.

        Hope that helps!

  31. I called to ask about our new couch and this is what’s inside:
    Phosphorus compound supresta ac073
    Brominated (non-PBDE) compounds Fire Master 600
    Chlorinated Compounds Gulbrandsen CP-2
    Melamine Cytec
    I am 8 months pregnant and just learning about all of this. It’s very upsetting.

    • Hi J.L., So sorry! It is upsetting, and I want to send you a virtual hug! Pregnancy is hard enough without all this trouble over upholstery. Firemaster 550 is a common substitute for other PBDE-type FR chemicals, and its effects are not clear, as it is not well studied. Heather Stapleton, the main researcher in this area, does not view it as safe. Please let me know how I can help!

  32. Hi Laura,
    Just wanted to add to my post from above. I did call Arm’s Reach about my mini cosleeper, after getting no reply by email. They said that the cosleeper itself does not contain any flame retardants. This doesn’t mean it does not contain stain treatments or other chemicals, but at least it has no FRs. To determine whether the mattress contains chemical flame retardants or not you have to check for a label on your mattress. I don’t have my mattress anymore since I replaced it, but I am about 100% certain that mine contained flame retardants. Like I said before I bought an organic wool and natural latex mattress made by Ecobaby which fit perfectly. But because the original mattress had wood slats sew into the bottom of the mattress for support (the bassinet part only has a flimsy bottom), you will need to add more support with the new mattress. I would suggest getting real wood cut to fit the bassinet. Possibly cut into 4 sections like the original mattress had, to make for easier storage and travel. I did ask about the “wood” boards in the mattress and was told they were either particle board or MDF (can’t remember which now). So basically full of chemicals like formaldehyde.

    I also wanted to mention that I have been looking into a new replacement cover for my infant carseat for baby #3. I want something that I can use in place of the existing cover and flame retardant treated foam underneath. There are a few resources for replacement covers, mostly on etsy. Be careful though because most are just covers to go over your existing cover. Although the prices were fairly reasonable on the covers I saw, each of the ones I found would not work for me. All of the sellers I found did not make them to fit my particular carseat. I found one that did make an organic cover for my carseat, but it wasn’t machine washable. That seemed pretty impractical to me.

    My point is I did find a resource that I have been really pleased with so far. Although they are a bit expensive, I figured I would pass the company name on to other readers concerned with flame retardants. The company is http://www.nolliecovers.com. The owner, Basia, has been wonderful to work with and answers my questions very quickly. She is limited in her organic cover choices, but she did give me 2 resources if I wanted to choose my own organic fabric. The covers are organic with wool and organic cotton filling. She said they are machine washable and thick enough to replace your current carseat cover, foam padding and all! You could also go with a nonorganic fabric, and still benefit from getting rid of the flame retardants in your carseat. I plan on purchasing mine soon and will let you know how the rest of the process goes.

  33. I manage an upholstery shop in the San Francisco Bay Area. In the State of California, all of our paddings and fillings must comply with the CA117 flammability laws. This applies to new furniture as well as reupholstered furniture. We work with a large number of clients who do not want the materials that have been treated with flame retardants in their furniture. Some of our clients have allergy or health concerns, others are just trying to do what is right for their home and family. We have developed a system of natural paddings that work for most clients. We have found that combining a variety of different products, from both organic and natural sources, we are able to satisfy our clients and still meet the CA117 standards.
    We work with each client on an individual basis. We ask that our clients take home samples of each of the products to make sure that they do not have any sensitivities to them. Some of my clients cannot tolerate wool, others cannot tolerate latex. Depending on ones concerns and budget, we are able to come up with a satisfactory solution without compromising comfort or style.
    The downside of the natural and organic product is not only are they much more expensive then the synthetic foams and polyester fiberfill, they require additional time to work with. Most of these products are not new to the furniture industry and are more like what was being used fifty plus years ago in upholstered furniture. The newer synthetic fillings are less expensive (although poly foam is a petroleum product and along with gasoline, has only increased in price in recent years) and easier to work with.
    That said, we are looking forward to the California Legislature revision of the CA117 law, while it will not change the flame retardants that are already in our furniture and our homes, it will make a difference for the future.

    • Just yesterday I purchased two items on Craig’s List, a couch and a chair, from the late 60s early 70s. Both a beautiful orange velvet, just the sort of color popular in those days. Anyway, this interesting Consumer Alert Tag is posted to the bottom of each “Keep your furniture and family safe from fires caused by careless smoking. Do not smoke when drowsy. Remove immediately any glowing ember or lighted cigarette which falls on furniture. Smoldering smoking materials can cause furniture fires” I THINK! this means the pieces are not fire retardant and are safe? My intent was to have them striped to the frame and built from scratch, but perhaps instead I can just buy latex foam for the seats, have it covered in 100% eco. hemp upholstery fabric and call it a day? My upholstery man is willing to work with me but seems clueless about what this Consumer Alert tag means. He also told me that ripping the chair (just the chair – not the sofa) down to the frame would cost me $950.00, that is on top of the latex foam I would supply. Upholstery man also said that foam is all over the back of this chair, so it is not just in the seat cushions. Can someone please advise? My husband thinks I have lost my mind over this, so money is important but if I am going to all this trouble I’d like to make sure the end product is non toxic or at least way, way, way better for our young family than our current TB117 IKEA sofa:) Thanks for any help you can provide.

  34. Hi Laura,

    I just discovered your blog while furniture-hunting for my first home (my husband’s and my first home purchase and the place we hope to raise a family). Thank you so much for sharing your research and your experiences. It is close to impossible to find any sort of comprehensive coverage on this issue, and I’m getting increasingly frustrated with the “eco-friendly” labels at so many furniture stores that mean virtually nothing when it comes to FRs. When I was at Crate & Barrel last week perusing their couches, the very helpful salesman couldn’t answer my questions about fire retardants, but assured me that since all Crate & Barrel products must be in compliance with California regulations, and since Crate & Barrel is conscious of sustainability issues (which, to their credit, they do appear to be when it comes to the use of woods), it was probably also “very safe” when it comes to FRs. At the time, this seemed logical to me, when I considered how (relatively) progressive California has been on eliminating BPA and in requiring warnings on other chemicals. …Until I read the NY Times article on Arlene Blum this morning and started reading about Technical Bulletin 117. Clearly, I have a lot more reading to do on this topic.

    Anyways, I had one question that I hadn’t seen addressed here and wanted to ask: has anyone had any experience in re-upholstering a pre-1975 couch with FR-free cushioning? Could this possibly be a middle road between paying $4000 for a couch that I don’t consider particularly stylish and living with a safe but tired old dusty Craigslist reject? Does anyone know if custom upholstery shops would offer FR-free cushioning, or let you source your own cushioning? If the estimates I’m seeing for a reupholstery job (in the 1000-1500 range) are accurate, then this could possibly be a more cost-effective option than a new FR-free couch, assuming upholsterers aren’t required by law to use FRs in their reupholstery jobs.

    Thanks for any thoughts on this question!

    • Hi Annalise! Welcome to the discussion. I don’t know whether re-upholstery places will be able to get the FR-free foam, and no one has shared research on this point thus far in the comments. It’s a great question, as this option does seem cost-effective. If you do ask around, please let us know what you find out! All best, Laura

    • Several emails later, Stylus brand furniture will not give me any specific information about the chemical in the foam in my new couch. The only bit of information I have gleaned from their correspondence in regards to my question, is that no, they don’t use chlorinated tris, but there is “a similar item” in the foam. Whoever wrote one of the emails claimed to not know when I questioned them for more specifics.

      • Hi Phyllis, Thanks for the information and so sorry to hear about their lack of transparency. There are several tris-like formulations of chemicals — a whole unhappy family of them — so that answer makes a kind of twisted sense. All best, Laura

  35. I contacted both and yes they do use fire retardants in EVERYTHING! They spray both the foam cushion and the fabric on upholstered items. And, just incase anyone was thinking of buying from crate and barrel, although they say their furniture is made on th US, the materials most likely come from China! They told me they have many overseas distributors but couldn’t tell me specifically because they “promised the distrubutors they wouldn’t reveal that information”.

  36. Great post! Thank you for the information! So, you did not order a non-toxic couch? For now we are using wicker sofas (that hopefully do not contain chemicals), but when my husband gets some free time he is going to build us a frame so we can have a local upholsterer upholster one for us using (hopefully) non-toxic foam (I am hoping there is some out there somewhere!!). I am very interested in a mattress article as well. We used organicgrace.com for our toddler’s mattress (a wool one). But with all of the talk of other chemicals I am hesitant to purchase a twin. Thank you for doing the legwork for us!

  37. Hello. Thank you for your informative post. I had a significant allergic reaction to a Pottery Barn sofa and found this site while researching the symptoms. I am very disappointed but am learning.

    Question:
    Until I can get rid of the sofa, do you think covering the body and cushions in aluminum foil (with the slipcovers on top) would help? Or do the chemicals in the foam still manage to seep through?

    Thank you!

    • Hi Melanie,

      I’m not sure aluminum foil would do much, given that it’s so thin. More importantly, I need to let you know that it may not be an allergic reaction, but a chemical sensitivity. I hate to say it, but one thing we know about chemical sensitivities is that continued exposure can make it worse, sometimes much worse, and can even lead to an overall condition for other chemicals. If you already have a reaction, I would not disregard it. It’s a sign from your body that your environment is making you sick, and ideally should be listened to.
      If you are really stuck, you could try a sheet from a dust mite allergy company, which have very small pores. But this may not help much, as it’s clear that chemicals in furniture do not stay put.
      Sorry for the bad news — best of luck! Laura

      • Hi, Laura. Thank you so much for your quick reply, honesty, and support. I’ve been struggling with the decision to get rid of the couch all week, especially since it was a generous gift and my first “real” sofa. My intuition says “get rid of it!”, but my social experience says otherwise.

        I’ve been “sensitive” to man-made chemicals since I was young, and it’s been an isolating experience. It’s so nice to receive positive confirmation.

        Thank you for your advocacy!

      • Hi Melanie,

        What a nice note! There are supports on the Web for people with chemical sensitivity — you might try “multiple chemical sensitivity” on google if you’re not already aware of them. I’m also quite sensitive to chemicals in cleaning products and food, so that somewhat explains my obsession! LOL.
        You could also, of course, sell it on Craigslist to get some money for a new one…
        Cheers,
        Laura

      • The biggest problem with the FR in all of the furniture is in the dust as it sifts out of your furniture. Some people have problem with the off-gassing but that could be as much from the chemical make up of the actual foam as the FR’s added to i. You may be having a reaction to the glue in the frame, the finish on the fabric on the slipcover or any combination of these.
        If you have a garage where you can leave the sofa for a good length of time then the off gassing may pass and you can live with the sofa.
        Machine washing the slipcover in your own detergent could help too.
        A new sofa is not likely going to have any deterioration where the dust from the foam is sifting in to your environment so your allergic reaction may be from other chemicals in the fabric and cushions. If there is any down or feathers in the cushions, you could be reacting to that too.

  38. Hi Laura –

    I came across your site in my research to decrease my family’s exposure to flame retardants. Your site is a really great resource – appreciate all the work you have done on this topic. As part of my tumble down the flame retardant rabbit hole, I came to the realization that the soy foam spray insulation we used when we recently remodeled contains FRs. We were trying to do the “green” thing, and soy foam insulation was touted as a Eco friendly option (hello green washing!).

    What are your thoughts on this? It is in the attic, with only sheet rock separating it from our living areas. From what I understand the FRs off gas and attach themselves to dust…question is can it get through sheetrock? I really wish I could have the stuff ripped out and replace it with good old fashioned fiberglass insulation. But I think that would create a lot of toxic dust.

    I think we need some consumer awareness around this product as well as spray foam insulation is increasingly used in homes.

    Regards,

    Beth

    • Hi Beth, Wow! I had no idea that FRs were in spray foam. Thanks so much for alerting readers. In terms of addressing it, I would guess that because it’s behind sheetrock, it’s probably best to just leave it be. But I frankly have no idea how much such foam contributes to household dust — maybe ask a contractor or green builder? Please let us know what more, if anything, you find out. Thanks so much for writing — all best, Laura

      • Hey Laura –

        I have been sleuthing around to learn more about FR in spray foam insulation. First, all spray insulation has it, including the “Eco” soy foam option. Second, it contains some nasty FRs, many of which have unknown impacts to human health(see link below to Arlene Blum’s article on this).

        http://www.ecobuildnetwork.org/the-build-well-forum/sarah/the-fire-retardant-dilemma-should-green-buildings-contain-toxic-fire-retardant-chemicals

        Third, per a researcher in the FR field, they have analyzed five spray foam samples and have found mostly TRIS in it. They also have found TRIS in household dust, but in could also be coming from other sources.

        Finally, In terms of volume, there is significantly more spray foam insulation in a house than in furniture, electronics and other household items. While it is mostly behind sheetrock, I have yet to find any studies that show Sheetrock to be an impenetrable barrier to gases. And keep in mind it can leak out through outlet covers, ductwork, etc.

        It is disappointing that many in the green building industry tout spray foam as the superior energy efficient option as it has a high R factor and it creates a tight seal. The fact that it is laden with toxic FRs is not widely known or openly disclosed.

        I will keep you posted on any new findings, as well as what we end up doing in our own home to mitigate it.

        Best,

        Beth

      • Beth, Great work — though how alarming! Yes, please do let me and other readers know how you address it. If you’d like to write a separate guest post on this, I’d also be grateful (or you can direct me to more information and I’ll write it with credit it to you)! How incredibly disappointing and sad. Cheers, Laura

      • Hi Laura –

        Happy to write a guest post on our journey with the FR insulation saga. Right now we are still in info gathering mode – unfortunately there is not much out there on FRs in insulation. Perhaps when I have a few more facts and some possible remediation/risk reduction ideas I can draft something.

        🙂

        Beth

      • That would be terrific, Beth. Whenever you feel ready — but don’t think you have to know everything, either. It sounds like you’re at the cutting edge on this one!

  39. Pingback: Regulation and Common Sense Often Don’t Mix « Civic Choices

  40. Anyone know anything about West Elm or Pottery Barn? I contacted them and both claimed they do not use flame retardants but both sell in California. How can that be? I’m suspicous.

    • Hi there, West Elm definitely uses them, as does Crate and Barrel. I described their responses to my pointed questions in a post — “Sofa Saga Part Two.” Representatives of the companies often just don’t know the right answer, or have been told the products are, for example, PBDE-free and the reps think that means that is flame retardant-free when really they are using tris or something else.

  41. Thanks for this helpful post. It’s really so depressing. I bought the rocking chair for my son’s nursery from Gaiam back in 2009, it was labeled on their site as “eco-friendly.” I was trying desperately to avoid all flame retardants, as I’d already suffered a miscarriage and was afraid of what else could happen. Of course, today I look and see that “eco-friendly” rocker meets California Rule 117. Lovely. And now I have another baby boy and he is sleeping in a pack and play in my room, while my husband and I try to save enough money to get our older son the Naturepedic twin mattress. This is so frustrating and upsetting. I think it’s additionally causing me some Postpartum Anxiety, because I’m trying to just do the best for my babies and family, but cannot afford expensive organic furniture, and there are just hidden toxins everywhere.

    Michelle

    • We wrapped our pack and play mattress in a Babesafe cover — after investigating options for a safer mattress. (Couldn’t find one.) It’s cheap compared to an organic mattress but does make some crinkly noise when the baby moves.

      • Do you know if you can still fold up the pack and play mattress to transport it with the Babesafe cover? Also, do those really work? I had researched them before, don’t know why I never bought one. And, what do you think about Naturepedic? I realize that I have the “waterproof” naturepedic mattress pad over the Naturepedic crib mattress in my son’s toddler bed. It says on their website that they are GreenGuard certified not to offgas, that there are no flame retardants, and no PVC – just food-grade plastic. Do you know if this is safe? Because the Babesafe cover says do not use a waterproof cotton pad. Does that even apply to the Naturepedic one?

        Thanks, sorry to bombard you with so many questions. It is so hard to be a mom, trying to do right by your children, with only modest income, and wanting to protect them when it seems no one else is looking out for them to keep these chemicals out of their tiny bodies!

      • Hi Michelle, I’ve never looked into the Babesafe cover… will check it out as well. We used Naturepedic mattresses and covers, which seemed fine. The Web iste (http://www.naturepedic.com/products/mattresses/classic_organic_crib_mattress.php) promises “non-toxic fire protection.” Non-toxic, by itself, actually doesn’t mean much, so I will drop the company a note or call them and ask what that means (or you can as you like — I’m traveling and won’t be able to follow up until next week).

    • Hi Michelle, It is depressing, I agree. But please do try not to let it add more difficulty to your already trying time — having a new baby is hard enough! In terms of the rocker, if it really bothers you, you could try selling it on Craigslist to get a little cash and look for a used wooden one as a replacement — thrift stores, Ebay or Craigslist may have one. Or post on your list serv for parents that you are ISO a non-upholstered rocking chair — there are good pine wooden ones with simple cushions (I found one for $10 at a yard sale and had a seamstress replace the cushion — I mailed the old, dirty cushion to her and she sent me back a polyester fill one with a new cotton fabric cover I’d picked out for $70 or so — you can even find a link to her shop on my post “It’s Etsy Being Green.” I stapled new matching fabric to the footrest as well with a heavy duty stapler borrowed from someone nice off my list serv). In terms of the pack and play, I used an expensive travel crib from Baby Bjorn which would only be worth thinking about if you travel a significant amount, as it works up until 2 years. If that’s not the right option for your family, what about asking the same seamstress to make a polyester or even organic wool pillow that would be thick enough and the right size to fit into the pack and play? You could go with simple natural fabric and filler. Of course, if you’re handy with a sewing machine (I’m not — LOL), you might even be able to pull this together yourself. Another idea is to check the bulletin board of your local fabric store or Craigslist — local seamstresses often post contact information there, and I once found a lovely local woman who did a bunch of pillows for Maya’s room to my specs. So that’s a few ideas, which I hope are helpful to you!
      For perspective, just know that the fact that you are trying and paying attention to these issues will already benefit your children, and that all of us struggle with compromises! (After my long post on toddler nutrition, Maya had 8 crackers for dinner last night because we attended a family memorial service and I needed her to be quiet. Hah! So much for my high and mighty post!) We all just do the best we can, and that will be enough.

      • Hi Laura,
        I have a couple of questions after reading this post and comments. I sort of assumed that polyester fiber fill would contain flame retardants since polyester is not flame resistant on its own, and anything stuffed with this filling falls under the CA bulletin that it must meet the flame retardant standards. If I buy polyester fiberfill on its own in a craftstore it will not contain flame retardants? Also, do you have a good resource for material that could be used to make pillows that does not contain stain resistant treatments or any other chemical additions? I am so weary of all conventional sources for anything really, and find it hard to believe what they tell me even when I call the company directly!

        I’m not sure if I am missing something on the pack-n-play discussion, but are people concerned with the mattresses that come with them or the actual pack-n-play itself having chemicals on it? Naturpedic does make a pack-n-play mattress that we use when we travel and it fits our pack n play perfectly.

        So along those same lines. I have used a cosleeper bassinet for my two kids but I replaced the mattress with an Ecobaby organic wool and natural latex mattress. They make many sized mattresses and they make one that fits my bassinet, and many other sizes, perfectly. Should I be concerned with the bassinet itself containing chemicals too? …..We are expecting baby #3 so I am already starting my crazy late night searches, in hopes of continuing to avoid as many horrible chemicals as we can without going crazy in the process!!

        Two resources I have used and like are http://www.goodnightroomnyc.com and http://www.organicandhealthy.com

        On a side note, from my experience it seems that alot of products that are advertised as eco-friendly are not necessarily non-toxic and safe. Unfortunately, even though something that is toxic is obviously not safe for the environment, most “green” companies seem to either overlook this fact or are ignorant to it.

        Thanks so much!! Meg

      • Hi Meg,

        I’ll do my best to give answers, but please know that I’ve been looking into these issues as a fairly demented hobby, and so am open to more information, always.

        First, on polyester, in my interview with Heather Stapleton, here’s what she said: “Most products that contain polyester filling do not need flame retardant chemicals to meet the California standard.” She did say “most” — not all — and obviously, we wouldn’t which a particular thing is without asking. I’m not sure why that they meet the test without chemicals, though, and think you make a good point.

        In terms of plain fiberfill, it should not need to comply with the standard, which is for furniture and certain other consumer goods. But it wouldn’t hurt to ask!

        The best source I’ve found for very pure and natural materials is an organic fabric company listed on my eco-stores sidebar: NearSea Naturals. Here’s a link to their stuffing and batting page: http://www.nearseanaturals.com/browse.php?category=40

        There are also some companies, like Naturepedic and Lifekind, that sell pillows and appear to be trustworthy re: organic materials.

        For Pack-and-plays, I think the issue is both all the plastics used, and what’s in the “mattress” which is likely to be plastics and the like. The Naturpedic mattress is what I used in Maya’s crib, and is great, in my view. So why not use it all the time?

        In terms of the cosleeper, its great that you replaced the mattress! Arms Reach cosleeper has been tested by the great WA toxics coalition and found to have high levels of chemicals, 5 different kinds of flame retardants: http://watoxics.org/publications/list-of-products-tested

        I’m not sure where they found the toxics — you might call them to ask if you are concerned about the cosleeper itself (and please let us know what you learn!)

        Thanks for the links. And you’re absolutely right that labels like “natural” and “eco-friendly” mean nothing. You have to look behind the label for everything, which is simply exhausting! But I’m glad to have company like you in this search. All best, Laura

    • You can’t really fold the pack and play mattress with the cover on. You can fold it in half but not quarters and can’t put it in the carrying bag. We bought a spare cover and have used it when traveling and using other people’s portable cribs. It’s not hard to put on/off but is an extra step. The plastic is quite thick, so I’m pretty comfortable that it reduces/eliminates physical contact with stuff in the mattress.

      Not using a mattress pad relates to the manufacturer’s theory that SIDS is caused by fungus in mattresses and bedding. http://www.stopsidsnow.com/FactsAboutCribDeathSIDS.html

      I, personally, don’t find this theory convincing but am happy to use the covers for my own purposes. We don’t use a mattress pad on our Naturpedic crib mattress– just a cotton sheet. The mattress is wipeable.

      By the way, Naturpedic has an “economy” line now –http://www.cleveland.com/business/index.ssf/2012/05/naturepedic_mattress_maker_dreams_up_new_lower-cost_line_called_lullaby_earth.html

      • Many synthetic paddings (fiberfill) are inherently flame resistant, others are not. They do not have an added FR. Bedding products in CA do not need to meet any FR standards, only battings used in upholstered products. There is a law that is “on the books” but no in affect that would spread similar 117 standards to bedding products but given the current efforts to change the CA117 laws, it will likely never go into affect.

    • C&B also has a “natural” line of furniture from Lee Industries. When you go to Lee’s website, you are whooed by how green and environmentally conscious they seem. You might even feel a little greener yourself just reading the long list of Eco-green goodies their furniture has. Natural Home and Garden magazine even featured Lee furniture in their May/June 2012 issue as a “green” decorating option.

      But buyer beware, Lee puts FRs in their eco-licious soy cushions. We bought a sofa from them in 2010 and was assured it did not contain any PBDEs (oh what i have learned since then!). True it
      does not have PBDEs – it contains TRIS instead!!! (humorous side note – this was another company I had to spend hours on the phone with to get a straight answer. The first rep I spoke with told me they put CA flammability 117 in their cushions. Um…huh? I informed her that CA 117 was a law not an actual FR – she then told me Lee customer service does not support calls from consumers, just dealers, so I should call my dealer for more info. Um…no thanks…supervisor please…).

      Bottom line is most furniture will have FRs of some sort in it. You
      will need to check…and double check that they are FR free.

  42. Hi Laura,

    I am so thankful for these posts. Just stumbling upon them after searching for resources regarding automotive car seat covers for a new car purchase. I was hoping to find some that are organic cotton, but, am having a difficult time. Any guidance in these pages would be appreciated. Thank you again! My husband and I will be moving in the not too distant future and will both benefit from your resource list for eco friendly furniture. Time to start the couch fund… As a holistic health coach, I am often having these difficult discussions with my clients as well. I hope you will be happy to have me send them in your direction for the help I have found here : )

    Warmly,
    Amanda Aller

    • Hi Amanda, Welcome to the blog, and of course I would love it if you sent folks my way!! I love your question, and will be happy to look into it and let you know what I find out. All best, Laura

    • Thanks so much for pointing to this! This article is stunning mostly because it shows that newer furniture — polyurethane foam and plastics — is not at all safer just because it is doused in chemical flame retardants. As CPSC testing shows (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/watchdog/flames/ct-met-flames-barriers-20120506,0,5658067.story) that the chemicals don’t slow fires down at all and likely make them more toxic — so we’ve all been sold a lie — that chemicals will counter-balance the solidified gasoline in our sofas.

      The truth is that newer furniture, pardon me for saying so, is junk. It’s pressboard instead of solid wood, toxic solvents and glues in lieu of joinery, and cheap foam instead of natural materials. This article just presents another reason to think twice about buying it — both because of the risk to firefighters and to your family, if they can’t get there in time.

  43. I’m also interested in mattresses, where we spend way more time than on our sofa. We have organic mattresses for our little ones (still in cribs) but not for the adults. The cost for queen sized organics is quite high, and I’ve had trouble finding even a conventional mattress that suits my back — ending up with (ugh) a foam mattress.

    • Hi there LJ and welcome! I’ll definitely plan on doing a post on mattresses soon — looks like I’ve got research to do! We have the same situation — organic mattresses for the crib, where my daughter refuses to sleep, and regular mattresses on the adult beds, where she sleeps every night! So I am curious myself…stay tuned. All best, Laura

  44. Laura,
    I have contacted a few companies to ask questions. Graco said they use phosphate ester in pack n plays and car seats (which I use). IKEA wouldn’t disclose what’s in my Poang cushions for my chairs. I contacted Serta because I’m trying to also find a mattress and they use boric acid. I contacted Room & Board to see what they use but they haven’t responded. I contacted some retailers to see if they would help me find flame retardant free furniture but only one seems genuinely helpful. I’m sitting on the floor now and scared of my sofa! I will be replacing everything!

    • Thanks so much for sharing this information, Jenny! I can’t say I’m surprised about Ikea, though it’s maddening (it’s probably tris, as Stapleton found). This fact sheet http://www.fluidcenter.com/pdf/PhosphateEsters.pdf indicates that “phosphate esters” include “tris” or TDCPP, just fyi, which is what was in my sofa that I tossed in the Curb Alert post. So I know how you feel! Please do let us know what you find out from the one more helpful retailer, and anything else you decide about replacing your furniture.

      • Laura, I also contacted Natura and their organic mattress use wool instead of chemical flame retardants but the rest of their mattresses use boric acid. I also am waiting to hear back from Sherwood mattresses to see about them.

        The local furniture retailer is a family owned business (Woodleys) and they called me instead of emailing me back. I was hoping a local CO might be more helpful in my search and hopefully that will be the cae. She was very sympathetic and was very interested in reading the Chicago Tribune series. She was going to call all her furniture reps to see what’s in the furniture and if I can get anything without any chemical flame retardants. She was super nice and said it would probably take her few weeks.

        I was disappointed in IKEA because I wanted to see if I could order a different cushion without any flame retardants but they said I couldn’t because of TB 117 even though I don’t live in CA. I might try calling them to continue bugging them to see why I can’t get one from outside of the US. I’m still irritated about that one!!

        Thanks Laura for all your research!

  45. Laura,

    Thanks for posting, depressing as it is. I have a somewhat unrelated question — I’m concerned about my mattresses. I definitely can’t afford an organic one at this point. I assume an old nonorganic one is better than a new one. Any suggestions for anything I could cover the mattress with that would help?

    Thanks!

    Eve

    • Hi Eve! I’m looking into this one given all the questions, but in the meantime, an organic mattress topper is definitely mentioned by a number of the experts as helping, or even an allergenic cover, which traps dust mites and therefore has a very dense fabric. Hope that’s useful! All best, Laura

      • We love our chemical free mattress from Lifekind. They are a bit pricey, but often run good sales. Also, we recently bought 2 non chemical cotton/wool mattresses from White Lotus Home who was running a 40% off promo (and free shipping!!!!). I recently learned that the “Eco” mattresses we purchased for our guest rooms from IKEA a few years ago spray FRs on their inner seal liners. Took me over three hours on the phone with IKEA customer service to get them to tell me my green mattress has FRs in it. Thanks IKEA!

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