The Health Concerns about Flame Retardants in Furniture

In recent years, there's been a lot of bad press about flame retardants in household furniture- loveseats, chairs, couches, ottomans, etc. Several reports claim that these chemicals can make us sick. Manufacturers started using flame retardant chemicals in their furniture pieces in the 70's. Read on to understand more.

In recent years, there's been a lot of bad press about the flame retardants in household furniture- loveseats, chairs, couches, ottomans, etc.

Several reports claim that these chemicals can make us sick.

In the 1970s, manufacturers started using flame retardant chemicals in their furniture pieces. This move was to curb the large number of deaths from fires started when people fell asleep while holding lit cigarettes. 

How did they end up in our stuff?

Most pieces of upholstered furniture contain polyurethane foam. This byproduct of petroleum is naturally flammable. In 1976, the State of California set a flammability standard called the Technical Bulletin 117 (TB117), which required all upholstered furniture to contain flame retardants.

Since California is such a large market, the whole of the US soon adopted TB117 as the de facto standard for upholstered furniture.

However, like many chemicals used in consumer products, they're not safe and don't do their job (help prevent fires).

Do they help prevent deaths from a fire?


Flame retardants only slow the rate at which fires spread, to reduce deaths due to house fires. Some studies comparing how effective these flame retardants are at slowing a fire show that there's no difference in reality. Untreated furniture burns at the same rate as treated pieces.

If you think that flame retardant chemicals are applied to the fabric covering your furniture, you're wrong. They coat the polyurethane foam inside the cushions.

Flame retardants can ruin your health

The National Institute of Health states that there's increasing evidence that links exposure to flame retardant chemicals to some severe health issues, such as:

  • Cancer
  • Impacts on the immune system
  • Reproductive toxicity
  • Hormone and thyroid disruption
  • Adverse effects on fetal and child development
  • Neurologic dysfunction

Other studies have linked exposures to weight gain, reduced sperm counts, obesity, and neurodevelopmental issues like reduced attention, motor coordination, and cognition.

Between 1970 and 2004, levels of some of the most widely used flame retardants have doubled in the blood of adults every two to five years. Numerous studies have proved that children have higher levels in their bodies than adults because of playing on the floor and sticking their hands in their mouths.

Even sitting on your sofa exposes you to flame retardants, since the chemicals are not tightly bound to the surfaces. They fall off onto the surrounding area, float in the air, and accumulate in house dust. 


Safer, flame-retardant-free options

The ineffective California standard made way for something much better as of January 1, 2014.

This new standard (TB117-2013) does not require the use of chemical flame retardants, allowing for more logical methods of reducing fire hazards.

Many fabrics can resist or slow fire naturally due to their materials and weave. Thus you can enjoy upholstered furniture that's flame retardant-free and still protects you from a fire. The revised law requires furniture manufacturers to state on the label that they use such fabrics.

If you're using upholstered furniture that has flame retardants, here are some tips on reducing your exposure:

  • Use the wet dusting technique under and around your furniture regularly. Wet dusting traps dust that contains flame retardant molecules instead of spreading it.
  • Wash your hands before every meal and restrict eating on the furniture. Touching couches can expose you to small amounts of flame retardants. Children are more prone to touching food or sticking fingers in their mouths after touching the furniture.
  • If the foam inside your sofa is dry and crumbling, swap it with untreated polyurethane. As the foam gets old and the materials degrade, it releases more chemicals. 

If you're on the hunt for safer, flame-retardant-free upholstered furniture, check out these brands:

Avoiding flame retardants in our furniture might seem impossible, but this updated flammability standard makes it easier to find safer, less toxic furniture to relax on.

*These companies don't use flame retardants in their upholstered furniture, but may also contain other controversial chemicals. 

With love,

​The Sole Toscana Beauty Team