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Label Education: Furniture

Laying out what certifications to look for

Home isn't home without comfortable furniture. When it's time to find something new, we usually focus on what feels and looks good, and of course the price. But did you know that furniture can contain, and leak, various chemicals like flame retardants that aren't so good for us into your home? The good news is that there are more and more healthy options! You can read our article on choosing a healthy new couch.


When you get to considering individual pieces advertised as being "green" or "healthy," you'll probably come across various labels and certifications. Decoding them can be a bit of a maze. We've gathered all the important ones here so that you know what they mean and how to use them to find that perfect piece that you'll love.

Before you launch in, here's the quick dirty on the three general things to look out for: flame retardants, VOCs (volatile organic compounds, like formaldehyde) that leak into the air from various materials and contribute to poor air quality, and stain-resistance and waterproofing treatments.

1) Flame retardants

Thanks to a California flammability standard, TB 117-2013, furniture is commonly labeled with a tag containing the language below, which makes it easy to find pieces without chemical flame retardants. These still meet safety standards for flammability, so it's a win-win. There are also older tags that say TB 117 only, no year, and with no language on flame retardants. These are likely to contain flame retardants, so be sure to look for the TB 117-2013 tags, which always have the language below! Look for these tags under the cushions or on the bottom of the couch.

2) VOCs

These are generally found in synthetic materials, so there are two easy things you can do: 1) choose natural fillers like cotton, wool, or natural latex (this allows you to sidestep flame retardants too), and 2) choose solid wood over manufactured because the glues in things like particleboard and plywood are common sources of VOC emissions. If these aren't options for you, check out the certifications below to find the lowest-emitting synthetic products.

3) Stain-resistance and waterproofing treatments

These are pretty common, but can contain some not so good chemicals. It's worth asking retailers if they have any products that don't use them. If you find something that is untreated but are worried about cleaning stains, consider going with a darker or patterned material or getting a washable cover. The GOTS and Oeko-Tex certifications (details below) don't allow the use of these treatments (learn more about these PFAS chemicals).

Good luck. It might take a bit of time to find the perfect piece, but it's well worth it—for your comfort, your health, and the planet!

a) Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)

What is it? Certifies the processing, manufacturing, packaging, labelling, trading, and distribution of textiles, mattresses, and furniture components made from at least 70% certified organic natural fibers. There are two label grades: 1) "organic," over 95% organic fibers, and 2) "made with X% organic materials," 70-95% organic content. Read details on standards and search the product database (select Retailing or Mail Order).

Furniture Components Certified: upholstery fabrics, fiber-based fills, natural latex foam

Environmental Health: Many toxic chemical restrictions, including any chemicals linked with cancer, reproductive problems, genetic defects, or organ damage, or harm to the environment. This is a way to avoid upholstery treated with chemicals of concern including PFAS (stain resistance treatments) and flame retardants.

b) Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS)

What is it? Certifies latex foam and foam-based products containing at least 95% organic latex, with chemical restrictions for both the latex and non-latex parts. Read details on the standard.

Furniture Components Certified: natural latex foam, entire pieces of furniture

Environmental Health: Emissions of total and specific VOCs are restricted. Use of certain toxic flame retardants and other chemicals are banned. Cotton fills and coverings must be certified by GOTS (see above) or Organic Content Standard-100 (see below). Synthetic latex and other synthetic foams are not permitted. Synthetic fabrics and fibers are permitted in interiors of products.

c) Oeko-Tex Standard 100

What is it? Certifies that textiles, mattresses, and furniture components do not contain or release certain harmful chemicals. Read details on chemical standards and search the product database.

Furniture Components Certified: upholstery fabrics, fabric-based fills, foam fills (natural and synthetic)

Environmental Health: Many toxic chemical restrictions, including limits on emissions of total and specific VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Synthetic foams are allowed as long as they meet the chemical restrictions.

d) GREENGUARD and GREENGUARD Gold

What is it? Restricts emissions of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) from a wide range of consumer and commercial products. There are two labels: 1) GREENGUARD and 2) GREENGUARD Gold (previously called Greenguard Children & Schools Certification). Search the product database and read more details on the standard.

Furniture Components Certified: entire pieces of furniture, fabrics and glues used in furniture

Environmental Health: Emissions of total and specific VOCs are restricted. Read details on the emissions limits. GREENGUARD Gold has stricter restrictions.

e) CertiPUR-US

What is it? Certifies that polyurethane foam in furniture and mattresses meet standards for chemical ingredients, emissions of VOCs, and durability. Read about the chemical restrictions and view a list of companies selling products containing certified foam (including but not limited to furniture).

Furniture Components Certified: polyurethane foam

Environmental Health: Requires that polyurethane foam be made without heavy metals and without certain types of phthalates and flame retardants. (This does not mean the products are completely free of potentially harmful phthalates or flame retardants.) Emissions of total and specific VOCs are restricted.

f) Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard

What is it? Product standard which provides designers and manufacturers with sustainability and social criteria across five quality categories (material health, material reutilization, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness), awarded at five levels. Also has requirements for continually improving what products are made of and how they are made. Range of certified products including clothing, home textiles, building supplies, furniture, and cleaners. Search the product database.

Furniture Components Certified: upholstery textiles, office furniture

Environmental Health: Chemicals that accumulate in the environment or can lead to irreversible negative health effects are banned. View the banned list of chemicals.

g) California Phase 2 Compliant, California 93120 Compliant for Formaldehyde

What is it? California Air Resources Board's standard for restricted formaldehyde emissions from composite (manufactured) wood products. Right now the standard is only being implemented in California, but labeled products can be found outside of CA as well. EPA is planning to implement a similar national standard at the end of 2018. Read details from CARB and EPA.

Furniture Components Certified: entire pieces of furniture, hardwood plywood, particleboard, medium density fiberboard

Environmental Health: Sets strict emissions restrictions for formaldehyde. There are additional provisions for no-added formaldehyde (NAF) and ultra-low emitting formaldehyde (ULEF), which may also be stated on products or product packaging.

h) Organic Content Standard

What is it? Assures presence and amount of organic content. OCS 100 is for products that contains 95% or more organic material. OCS blended is for products that contain 5% minimum of organic material blended with conventional or synthetic raw materials. View a list of companies certified to the organic standard.

Furniture components certified: upholstery fabrics, fiber-based fills like cotton, wool, hemp, and linen

Environmental Health: Verifies that final products contain the stated amount of organic material. Chemicals added to raw materials during manufacturing (dyes, finishes, etc.) are not addressed.

i) USDA Certified Organic

What is it? USDA seal verifies that agricultural products are grown and processed per organic standards. "Certified organic" means at least 95% of the ingredients are organic. "Made with organic" means 70-94% of ingredients are organic. Only "certified organic" products can bear the seal.

Furniture components certified: upholstery fabrics, fiber-based fills like cotton, wool, hemp, and linen

Environmental Health: Fiber materials must be grown and processed per USDA Organic standards for food, without use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. GOTS and GOLS (see above) both meet USDA Organic standards. Note that USDA Organic does not address toxic chemicals that may be found in the non-organic components.

Bamboo dishes — you've probably seen them as a healthy and eco-friendly looking alternative to plastic bowls and plates. Maybe you've thought about investing in bamboo dishware for their hulk-like unbreakable properties. Or maybe you love them for their fabulous colors and modern style. With all of these amazing characteristics, it does seem almost too good to be true… right? If you're wondering how bamboo dishware really measures up against all the above claims, we've got you covered. We'll let you in on the secret: when it comes to bamboo, looking at what materials are used in combination with the bamboo really matters. Here's why!

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Roundups

Non-Toxic Kids' Dinnerware

Alternatives to plastic dishes for your growing kiddos

We know getting kids to eat at meal times can be a challenge, and that a lot of kid-friendly dinnerware is made from melamine. Why is it so hard to find a fun kid dinnerware that isn't made from harmful materials?! We shouldn't have to compromise health for functionality, which is why we rounded up our top 9 melamine free children's dinnerware! These plates, dishes, and utensils are all durable enough to withstand a temper tantrum but are made from safe materials like silicone, stainless steel, or tempered glass. Your kids will love the fun shapes and colors, and you'll love how sturdy they are!

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Food

Why It's Not a Good Idea to Use Melamine Dishes for Kids

Plus, non-toxic alternatives that will withstand mealtime mayhem

Let's face it... babies, toddlers, and even school-aged kids can be rambunctious at meal times. We'll try anything to make mealtimes go a little more smoothly, including brightly colored bowls and plates with a fun kid-friendly design. But before your next dinnerware purchase, it's good to check what those dishes are made of. Some kids dishes are made from melamine, a material that has potential harmful health effects. Fortunately there are some good alternatives that are non-toxic, kid friendly, and super cute too! If you're just looking for alternatives to melamine, check out our roundup of Non-Toxic Kids' Dishware.

What is Melamine?

Melamine is a chemical compound that, when combined with formaldehyde, makes a hard plastic that can be shaped into tableware. We know that melamine in large quantities is toxic; remember when it was used as a filler in baby formula in 2008, that led to 6 deaths and 50,000 hospitalizations in China? Eating off of melamine dishes won't kill or cause acute poisoning in the same way, but research has shown that small amounts of it does leach into foods (1). And new research is showing that low dose exposure to melamine is neurotoxic and changes how hormones work in the body (2). Kids can be especially vulnerable since their bodies and brains are rapidly changing and developing.

How Do I Know if a Dish Has Melamine?

Melamine dishware is generally very smooth and durable. It feels and looks harder than plastic, but is also lighter than a ceramic plate. Melamine can easily be made into many different colors and patterns, so it's no wonder it's used a lot in kids dishware. It's also used as a binder in bamboo dishware and is commonly found in colored bamboo dishware. Many times the word melamine will be in the product description or details.

What Do I Use Instead Melamine?

If you're looking for a dish that can withstand erratic eating habits and the occasional drop, we like kids' dishware made with the following materials:

  • Silicone: a great choice as long as it is 100% food grade without plastic fillers. Silicone is heat stable, durable, and comes in fun colors and designs. It is however hard to recycle, so only purchase what you need and pass the dishes on when you're done using them.
  • Stainless steel dishes: these can't be microwaved, but are great for serving food in after items have been reheated or for snacks. There are also great stainless steel lunchboxes and food containers.
  • Tempered glass: a great sturdy option for kids. It's hard to break and we have found that the loud noise it makes when dropped helps toddlers learn that throwing dishes isn't a good idea.
  • Bamboo dishware (with a caveat): unfortunately a lot of bamboo dishware is made with melamine as a binder. But there are some bamboo options that are safe. Read more about bamboo dishes or check out our Non-Toxic Kids' Dishware roundup.
  • Enameled dishes: not only do these have a hip retro look, but they are also plastic and melamine free!

If you're looking for melamine free, plastic free, non-toxic baby dishes, check out our Non-Toxic Kids' Dishware roundup for some great options made with these safer materials.


References

  1. Wu, Chia-Fang, et al. "A crossover study of noodle soup consumption in melamine bowls and total melamine excretion in urine." JAMA internal medicine 173.4 (2013): 317-319.
  2. Bolden, Ashley L., Johanna R. Rochester, and Carol F. Kwiatkowski. "Melamine, beyond the kidney: A ubiquitous endocrine disruptor and neurotoxicant?." Toxicology letters 280 (2017): 181-189.

When it comes to fragrance, we always say that the safest option is to look for products that are completely fragrance free. Choosing to go fragrance-free is a great way to avoid chemicals that may be harmful to your health. Plus, does everything we own really need to smell like cotton candy?! In case you haven't heard why fragrance is so problematic, we break it down below.

What's Actually in Fragrance?

One of the big problems with fragrance is that there are so many different chemicals that can be added to a product. According to the International Fragrance Association's Transparency List, there are approximately 3,000 fragrance ingredients that can be used in consumer goods worldwide (1). And since the FDA does not require approval before a chemical goes onto the market, it's impossible to say that all of these fragrance ingredients are safe to use. The chemical that's making your house smell like clean laundry or a cinnamon apple might also secretly be toxic.

Even though there are a lot of untested chemicals, we do know that some fragrance ingredients are definitely harmful to human health. Many fragrance ingredients can be allergens that cause headaches, runny noses, sneezing, or coughing (2). Allergens are probably the reason you have to stand two feet away from that one coworker who wears a super strong perfume.

Phthalates are widely used in as a solvent or fixative in perfume, shampoo, lotion, and nail polish even though they're endocrine disrupting chemicals. Fragrance found in candles has been shown to contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like formaldehyde and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), both of which can cause short-term health effects like irritation, and long-term health effects like cancer (3, 4).

To make matters worse, companies don't even have to tell you all the ingredients they use in their fragrance! Trade secret laws keep companies from disclosing proprietary fragrance blends, but that means we don't actually know what's in our products. There could be 10 ingredients that go into the "fragrance" listed on your body lotion, or there could be 500! And if we don't know what all of these ingredients are, how do we adequately protect our health?

When in Doubt, Go With Fragrance Free

Like we mentioned before, the best bet is to purchase products that are free from all fragrance. Only look for labels that say "contains no added fragrance"... some products labeled as "unscented" may still contain fragrance as a way to hide ingredients that naturally have an unpleasant smell (2). If you really can't live without a fragranced product, go for something that only uses essential oils (although they have their own pros and cons as well).


References
  1. https://ifrafragrance.org/initiatives/transparency/ifra-transparency-list
  2. https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetic-ingredients/fragrances-cosmetics
  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304389414010243
  4. https://toxtown.nlm.nih.gov/chemicals-and-contaminants/polycyclic-aromatic-hydrocarbons-pahs
Life

Mardi Gras Beads Don't Belong in Your Mouth (or your kids')

Don't let these harmful chemicals ruin your celebration

Every year, over one million parade goers will fill the streets of New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday as it's also known in the Christian calendar, is a day of feasting before the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras is known for many things like parades, masks, costumes, and music. But for most people a central part of Mardi Gras is collecting and wearing beads, also known as throws. While collecting throws can be a fun way to celebrate, there is growing concern about the health hazards of the beads and the environmental cost of the beads.

The vast majority of beads that are handed out during Mardi Gras originate from China. Back in the day, the beads were made of glass, but now they are made of plastic. It's estimated that China manufactures 25 million pounds of beads for Mardi Gras alone (1). Despite government regulations to keep hazardous chemicals like lead in children's products to under 100ppm, over two thirds of these beads did not meet the concentration requirement (2). Researchers at the Ecology Center, who tested Mardi Gras beads, estimate that a single year's inventory of Mardi Gras beads may contain up to 900,000 pounds of hazardous flame retardants and 10,000 pounds of lead. Based on the composition of the chemicals found in the plastic beads, the researchers concluded that plastic from electronic waste was likely being recycled into producing Mardi Gras beads (2).

While exposure to lead and flame retardants is harmful to everyone's health, it's particularly dangerous for children. Even though Mardi Gras beads are not a children's product, many children collect and wear them during the parade and often put them in their mouths to chew on. Children also play with them and residues may end up on their hands, which is another way they could be potentially eating these toxic substances. It is recommended to limit the interaction your little ones have with Mardi Gras bead to prevent exposure to these toxic substances. If you have a toddler or baby who is teething, don't let them chew on the beads. And for older children, let them wear them for a short while and then consider donating them to be reused. And for everyone who touches the beads, make sure to wash hands before snacking or eating.

Aside from the health effects, there are also harmful environmental effects from Mardi Gras beads. The plastic beads end up in landfills or down storm drains, and contribute to the problem of plastic waste in our environment. In 2018, the city of New Orleans found 93,000 pounds of Mardi Gras beads in just 5 city blocks that had washed down into storm drains (4). The toxic substances, like lead and flame retardants, then leach from the beads and end up in the waterways, eventually draining into the Gulf of Mexico. These substances accumulate in fish, and in turn, put seafood lovers at risk for lead poisoning (3).

However, all this bad news doesn't mean that your kids (or you for that matter) can't accessorize with beads and have fun this Mardi Gras! A handful of companies are aware of the adverse impacts of traditional beads and have created more sustainable options. ArcGNO collects and reuses the same Mardi Gras beads each year while Atlas Beads creates handmade Mardi Gras beads from paper. Both are much better options than single use beads! Many krewes are recognizing the problem that Mardi Gras beads pose and are coming up with creative and reusable throws, such as aprons, cooking spoons, hats, and t-shirts. Some are even handing out local food items such as red beans, jambalaya mix, and coffee beans. It's great to see such creative alternatives to plastic Mardi Gras beads!

References
  1. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/toxic-truth-mardi-gras-beads-180962431/
  2. https://www.ecocenter.org/healthy-stuff/reports/ho...
  3. https://setac.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/etc.2641
  4. https://www.npr.org/2018/01/26/580933914/new-orleans-finds-93-000-pounds-of-mardi-gras-beads-in-storm-drains
Roundups

9 Non-Toxic Teethers

Your baby will love chewing on these safe materials!

We're all guilty of just letting our teething baby chew anything they can get their hands on. What's the harm as long as it's not a choking hazard? A little dirt is good right? Turns out, there are some common household items that you definitely don't want your kids to chew on because they contain toxic chemicals or substances like lead and flame retardants. Having a safe teether made of silicone or wood is your best bet for your baby's health. Check out our 9 favorite options that will give your little one some relief and will also make for some cute photos!


9 Non-Toxic Teethers

a) Bonbino Teething Rings

b) Itzy Ritzy Cactus Teether

c) Loulou lollipop Llama Teether

d) Chewbeads Elephant Teether

e) Caaocho Sola the Goat

f) Bumkins Gameboy Teether

g) Maple Landmark Ring Teether

h) Oli and Carol Kendall the Kale

i) Kleynimals Toy Keys

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Family

5 Everyday Objects You Shouldn't Let Your Teething Baby Play With

And why we recommend always having a safe teether on hand

We're all guilty of just letting our teething baby chew anything they can get their hands on. What's the harm as long as it's not a choking hazard? A little dirt is good right? Turns out, there are some common household items that you definitely don't want your kids to chew on because they contain toxic chemicals or substances like lead and flame retardants. We recommend always having a safe teether on hand, whether you're at home or on the go. Even though common everyday items may look harmless, there can be unsafe substances that your little one can ingest if they're chewing on them.

Wondering what household items could be harmful to chew on? Here are some common items that you shouldn't let your little one chew on, even though it's so tempting to let them gnaw.

1. Keys

Keys are always in our purses or pockets and babies are fascinated with them. Sometimes they're the perfect distraction to avoiding a meltdown in the grocery story line. But it's actually not a good idea to let your little ones chew on keys or even play with them. The metals used to make keys vary greatly, but many brass keys can contain up to 2.5% lead (1,2). Even keys that don't look like brass might be plated in another metal, which can wear off over time. Not all keys contain lead, but it's impossible to know for sure which ones do and don't. So pick one of our safe teethers, including these Kleynimal Stainless Steel Keys, and make sure to pack it for your next grocery run.

2. Remote Controls

Remotes have colorful buttons and fit perfectly in little hands, so it's no wonder you always see babies chewing on the ends. But remotes contain batteries, which are not safe anywhere near your child's mouth. Additionally, household electronics like remotes contain flame retardants, which can come off into mouths and on hands. Try to limit contact with remotes and definitely don't let them become toys! We like to keep them out of reach on a shelf.

3. Cell Phones

It seems like all babies become obsessed with cell phones... probably because they see us constantly looking at them! But is it safe to let your baby chew or mouth your phone? Definitely not. Cell phones are covered in germs, including some pretty nasty pathogens like E. Coli (3). They also contain a lot of chemicals and substances, like batteries, heavy metals, flame retardants, and plasticizers, which are all toxic. Plus, if your baby is teething or has teeth, they could chip the phone and little pieces could come off that can be a choking hazard. Because of all these hazards, teething babies and cell phones are not a good match. But if your child is old enough to play games on your phone, wash their (and your!) hands after they use it, especially before snacks and meals.

4. Jewelry

Jewelry is sparkly, shiny, and colorful, which basically just screams "please put me in your mouth!" to babies. Unfortunately, metal jewelry can contain toxic heavy metals like lead and cadmium while plastic jewelry can contain bisphenols or plasticizers. Lead is a dangerous neurotoxin at any dose, and cadmium can cause kidney, bone, and lung damage. Brass is also a common component in jewelry, which can contain up to 3% lead. And just because it's expensive doesn't mean it's safer; jewelry at all sorts of price points have been found to contain these heavy metals. Research has found that the amount of heavy metals that get ingested while chewing or mouthing jewelry can be dangerous (4). Even jewelry that seems completely harmless, like Mardi Gras beads, has been found to contain toxic substances. So let jewelry be just something nice to look at and let kids chew on a set of silicone teething beads instead.

5. Sunglasses

Sunglasses come in all sorts of sizes and shapes nowadays, but most sunglasses are made of a polycarbonate plastic that contains BPA. While it may not be a big exposure risk for adults who wear them, letting your little one chew on them or suck the ends is not the best idea. BPA is a hormone disruptor and kids are especially vulnerable as they are in a sensitive growth period. Yet another reason to always pack a safe teether in your bag if your little one is an especially mouthy one!

References
  1. https://cchp.ucsf.edu/sites/g/files/tkssra181/f/leadinkeysen011804.pdf
  2. Kondrashov, Vladislav, et al. "Assessment of lead exposure risk in locksmiths." International journal of environmental research and public health 2.1 (2005): 164-169.
  3. Pal, Shekhar, et al. "Mobile phones: Reservoirs for the transmission of nosocomial pathogens." Advanced biomedical research 4 (2015).
  4. Weidenhamer, Jeffrey D., et al. "Bioavailability of cadmium in inexpensive jewelry." Environmental health perspectives 119.7 (2011): 1029-1033.
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