Health & Wellness

Breathe Easy! The Truth About Couch Chemicals

Concerned about the chemical content of your new couch? Find out why you might not need to worry about couch chemicals as much as you thought.

What chemicals are in sofas?

Everyone wants to feel comfortable on their sofa. Sometimes that comfort comes from knowing exactly what chemicals may be inside the couch itself. Here are a few of the most notorious couch construction chemicals. Not all manufacturers utilize all of these chemicals, so be sure to check the details and descriptions when couch shopping!

  • Flame Retardants: These are often used to meet safety regulations. While effective, some can be questionable. Look for sofas labeled "TB117-2013" for a safer bet. This is a modern safety regulation that can allow sofas to pass a "smolder test" without requiring the use of flame retardants.
  • VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds): Found in adhesives and finishes, VOCs can contribute to indoor air pollution. Opt for sofas with low-VOC or water-based finishes for a breath of fresh air. The good news is that most manufacturers have already made the switch to these low-VOC options.
  • Formaldehyde: This is a common adhesive. If formaldehyde is a concern, choose sofas labeled "CARB Phase 2 Compliant" to ensure lower formaldehyde emissions.
  • PBDEs (Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers): Manufacturers are already phasing out these chemicals due to environmental concerns. Seek sofas that explicitly state they're PBDE-free.

When on the sofa hunt, keep an eye out for labels, opt for low-VOC options, and check for the use of flame retardants. Your ideal seating companion is out there, sans the chemical drama!

How do I know if my couch has PFAS?

PFAS, aka per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are more colloquially known as "forever chemicals." Research into the health effect of PFAS is still in early stages, but there is some evidence to suggest it may impact growth development, reproduction, thyroid function, the immune system, and liver. To avoid PFAS in your furniture, here's what you can do to be proactive. In the case of couches, these would be found in water resistant fabrics most typically.

  • Check the label: Look for labels like "PFAS-free" or "fluorine-free." Manufacturers proudly declare it when their sofas steer clear of PFAS.
  • Inquire with the seller: Don't hesitate to ask the salesperson. They're the keepers of insider info. A simple "Does this sofa contain PFAS?" works wonders.
  • Material matters: If the couch boasts water or stain-resistant properties, it might have PFAS. Seek alternatives like Crypton or nano-tech finishes for a PFAS-free zone.
  • Online sleuthing: Dive into reviews or check the brand's website for product specifications. Shoppers spill the beans, and brands spill the details.
  • To learn more: Our friends at Consumer Notice have a comprehensive info source that you can use to learn more about PFAS!

Wondering about PFAS in your sofa? Look for the labels, ask questions, explore materials, and do some online detective work.

Do all couches have formaldehyde?

We've all heard about formaldehyde in new furniture. It's a very common component that usually doesn't cause any significant harm to your health. But if you want to avoid formaldehyde in your couch, here's what you can do.

  • Check the label: Labels aren't just for show. A "CARB Phase 2 Compliant" tag is your best bet for lower formaldehyde risk.
  • Opt for natural materials: Couches crafted from solid wood or natural fibers tend to sidestep the formaldehyde fuss. Mother Nature's materials often come with fewer additives.
  • Ask about adhesives: Don't be shy—ask a salesperson about the glue used for the couch frame. Water-based adhesives are a common alternative, offering a strong bond without the formaldehyde.
  • Go vintage or air it out: Older couches might have already off-gassed their formaldehyde. If it's a new addition, let it bask in fresh air for a bit; ventilation works wonders.

Worried about formaldehyde? Scope out compliant labels, embrace natural materials, inquire about adhesives, or consider a vintage vibe.

How long does furniture off-gassing last?

Curious when your new couch will shed its "new furniture" smell? Off-gassing is a common, less-desirable aspect of getting a brand new couch delivered. So how long will it take for your new sofa to fully off-gas? Let's find out.

  • Material matters: Different materials, different timelines. Solid wood tends to be a fast off-gasser, while synthetic materials may take longer to shake off that "new" aroma.
  • Ventilation is key: Give your furniture some breathing space. Cracking a window or cranking up a fan helps speed up the off-gassing process by letting those odors make a swift exit.
  • Give it time: Patience is a virtue in the world of off-gassing. Generally, odors peak in the first few days but fully fade after a week or so.
  • Activated charcoal magic: Place a bowl of activated charcoal near the furniture. It's like a natural odor-absorbing hack, sucking up all those lingering off-gassing molecules.

The off-gassing journey varies, but good ventilation, time, and a touch of activated charcoal can help expedite the process. Soon enough, your furniture will be scent-free and ready for a lifetime of lounging.

How toxic is formaldehyde in furniture?

How much of a problem is formaldehyde in your furniture? Here's the real breakdown.

  • Amount matters: Formaldehyde isn't harmful in small doses. It's an abnormally high dose that makes it toxic. Furniture with low emissions pose minimal risk, which is what you can expect to find in most modern home furniture offerings.
  • Read the labels: If you want to play it safe and avoid formaldehyde completely, a "CARB Phase 2 Compliant" label is what you need to look for. It means your furniture meets strict emission standards.
  • Ventilation can help: When you first receive your new couch, place it near an open window. This will allow for good air flow while it off-gasses. While it's still safe to sit on your couch during the initial off-gassing period, you might feel more comfortable waiting until that "new sofa" smell dissipates.
  • Choose solid wood: Opting for furniture made from solid wood or low-emission materials reduces the chances of formaldehyde being a factor.

Formaldehyde in furniture isn't as big of a concern as you might think from reading various articles online. But there's nothing wrong with keeping an eye on the amount of formaldehyde used, seeking compliant labels, embracing ventilation, and choosing materials wisely.

Is my new couch making me sick?

a scared family being surrounded by chemicals

While it's rare for new furniture to directly make you sick, some people with special circumstances may be more sensitive to off-gassing or the type of materials used within their new couch. Here's what you can do to mitigate any ill effects your new furniture might have on you.

  • Sniff test for off-gassing: That fresh furniture smell is okay, but if it lingers as a strong, unpleasant odor, it could be more than just a scent. Persistent off-gassing might be a concern. Use window ventilation and fans to help speed up the off-gassing process.
  • Listen to your body: If headaches, dizziness, or respiratory issues pop up around the time your couch arrives, it's a cue to investigate. Your body might be reacting to something in your new seating arrangement. In most cases this will dissipate along with any off-gassing.
  • Consider material sensitivities: Everyone's different. Some might react to specific materials. Check if your couch contains allergens or irritants that could be causing health discomfort. You might be reacting to the makeup of the foam in the cushions, the use of down feathers, or dust mites. For people with sensitivities, look for CertiPUR-US foam or latex foam options. Also consider down alternatives like trillium.
  • Ventilate your space: Crack those windows open! Allowing fresh air to circulate helps disperse any potential indoor pollutants, giving you and your couch a breath of fresh air.

If you're feeling off after your new couch's arrival, pay attention to off-gassing, monitor symptoms, be aware of material sensitivities, and keep things airy. Your couch should be a source of comfort, not health concerns.

Should I avoid furniture with Prop 65 warning?

If you've shopped for furniture recently then you're all too familiar with the Prop 65 warning on nearly every single listing. But what exactly does the Prop 65 warning mean and is it a deal-breaker?

  • Understand Prop 65: Proposition 65 is a California-based label that warns about potential exposure to chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive harm. That sounds scary, but Prop 65 covers a large swathe of compounds and circumstances. For instance, Prop 65 warnings are required in every California parking garage, but that doesn't stop anyone from parking in them.
  • Check the specifics: Not all warnings are created equal. Some might be about materials deep within the furniture that you're unlikely to come into contact with. Others are about the fact that the furniture was built in the same facility where chemical compounds exist. Look for details to assess the actual risk. Chances are good that there's absolutely nothing to be worried about.
  • Evaluate your risk tolerance: Prop 65 covers a wide range of substances, and the risk can vary. Assess your own comfort level with potential exposure and whether the warning specifics align with your preferences.
  • Explore alternatives: If the warning gives you pause, consider furniture without Prop 65 notices. Many manufacturers offer products that meet stringent safety standards without the need for warnings. But almost every single item manufactured in California will end up requiring the Prop 65 label whether it's a legitimate concern to your health or not.

It's up to you to understand the proposition, check the specifics, evaluate your risk tolerance, and explore alternative options if needed. Your ideal furniture fit is out there, warnings or not.

Is couch foam toxic?

Curious if your couch foam is secretly toxic? Here's a look at what your couch cushions may (or may not) be hiding.

  • Check for certifications: Look for foams with CertiPUR-US or similar certifications. These labels assure that the foam meets specific health and environmental standards, keeping toxicity concerns at bay.
  • Opt for natural latex: If you're steering clear of synthetic materials, consider couches with natural latex foam. It's a plant-based alternative that tends to be less toxic than petroleum-based foams.
  • Ask about flame retardants: Some foams may be treated with flame retardants, which can be a concern. Seek sofas labeled "TB117-2013" for a safer flame retardant scenario.
  • Ventilation is your ally: New furniture may have that "new" smell. Proper ventilation helps disperse any odors and reduces the potential for indoor air pollution.

Worried about toxic couch foam? Look for certifications, consider natural latex, inquire about flame retardants, and embrace good ventilation. Your dream sofa can be both comfy and toxin-free.

A smiling man with short brown hair and a beard stands on a beach during sunset. He is wearing a black short-sleeved shirt with small white dots. The ocean and sandy shore are in the background, creating a warm and relaxed atmosphere.
Alex Back is the founder and CEO of Previously, he was the co-founder and COO of the popular furniture brand, Apt2B, which was acquired by a large US retail furniture chain in 2018. He worked to integrate Apt2B, one of the very first online furniture retailers on the Shopify platform, into the operations of the 100 year old larger business entity and was deeply immersed in the business operations of both online and brick and mortar retail for 4 years before leaving in 2023 to start Working in various parts of the furniture industry since 2004, he has 20 years experience in retail sales, e-commerce, marketing, operations, logistics and wholesale manufacturing and distribution. He has worked extensively with partners such as Costco, Bed Bath and Beyond and Amazon and his work has been highlighted in many publications such as Forbes, CNN and HGTV, among others. Alex is delighted to bring his experience and authority on couches and the furniture industry to this platform, along with many of his industry colleagues who are helping him keep the audience informed and engaged on a daily basis.
Alex Back CEO & Founder