Avoiding Flame Retardants in the Home

Sources of Flame Retardants in the Home

Many household items in North America will likely contain flame retardants (FRs) unless stated otherwise. Especially those containing polyurethane foam. (Same goes for polyurethane pillows including nursing pillows).
Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE)

Dr Mercola says, "be especially careful with polyurethane foam products manufactured prior to 2005, such as upholstered furniture, mattresses and pillows, as these are most likely to contain PBDEs. If you have any of these in your home, inspect them carefully and replace ripped covers and/or any foam that appears to be breaking down. Also, avoid reupholstering furniture by yourself as the reupholstering process increases your risk of exposure" (source).

Flame Retardatants in Couches and Mattresses 

Now that California has changed its policy requiring flame retardants in furniture, it is a whole lot easier to find beds and furniture without these toxic chemicals. Even better, California law now requires a label indicating whether there are chemical flame retardants or not in the furniture. These new laws take effect January 2015.

Flame Retardants in Couches

A lot of the big companies are getting rid of flame retardants in their couches that are manufactured after January 2015. The big companies now are free of chemical flame retardants, including:

-Room and Board
-IKEA
-Crate and Barrel
-West Elm and Pottery Barn

Keep in mind that these companies use toxic foams, glues, fabric finishes and possibly particle boards. Companies selling green upholstered furniture generally do not use flame retardants. Always ask, but I have not found one that does. For a list of totally green, non-toxic sofa companies see my post on non-toxic furniture

A Common Question: Does IKEA use Flame Retardants?

This used to be a question that would result in a lot of run-around from the company. Now IKEA furniture (upholstered and mattresses) made after January 2015 and sold in the US and Canada does not contain flame retardants in the bedding and sofas. The stitch bond and zippers do contain chemical flame retardants.

Flame Retardants in Mattresses

With mattresses, some of the big companies are also moving away from toxic flame retardants - companies like Naturepedic, Sealy, Tuft and Needle, Casper and IKEA.


Sultan Heggedal via www.ikea.com
In both Canada and the US, IKEA's SULTAN HEGGEDAL (made of 85% natural latex with no polyurethane or FRs) is a fairly safe mattress. (The only chemical component is 15% synthetic latex). 

See my post on mattresses to source natural versions that do not contain synthetic materials or offgass harmful chemicals. There are 100% natural options for mattresses that can come fairly close to the IKEA price point on the SULTAN line. As of 2016/17 the name of this mattress has changed to MORGONGÅVA it contains 85% natural latex, 15% synthetic latex with no polyurethane or FRs. See my warning in Mattresses and Bedding about natural latex. 

Carpets

There are many companies making organic or natural fiber carpets, such as wool. And for rugs, some good options include cotton, rattan or jute. Carpets should explicitly state that they use all natural materials. I go over the greenest carpet companies in this post. Conventional types from big box stores contain a long list of chemicals including flame retardants. Many big box stores now carry carpets with the Green Label Plus certification which is not a low enough level for sensitive folks. Always ask about FRs, since these are not considered VOCs.


Be careful when removing old carpets as the FRs can become scattered as dust. Do not do this yourself if you are sensitive, and have all the dust cleared before reentering the room.

Curtains

It's hard to know which curtains contains FRs as they will not be labeled. I would assume that curtains from hardware stores and conventional stores do contain flame retardants as well as a formaldehyde finish. I have a post on window coverings with chemical-free options. 

Flame Retardants in Insulation

Rigid Foam insulation 

HBCD is typically used in polystyrenes, in concentrations of up to 1% in EPS, and up to 5% in XPS. TCPP is typically used in polyisocyanurate foams (up to 10%).  (source )

There is no EPS or XPS insulation without flame retardants on the market currently. (source)

John's Manville ENRGY 3 roof insulation does not contain TCPP.






Spray Foam Insulation

Almost all spray foams made in the US contain FRs according to Treehugger, usually TCPP (source)

Natural insulation options in my post on Insulation.


Retardants in Electronics

Apple phased out brominated flame retardants (BFRs) in 2008 but uses "safer" unspecified flame retarding chemicals. Motorola is BFR-free and Sony has phased it out of some products (source). How much these can leach out of electronics is not clear. With furniture, it is when the particles become dust bound that they become the biggest problem.


How to Clean up Flame Retardants in the Home


Flame retardants become mobile in dust as opposed to gas. So keeping a dust free home is of utmost importance. David Suzuki says, "household dust is now recognized as one of the most significant sources of childhood exposure to toxic substances."

HEPA vacuum is the best way to deal with the dust if you have conventional furniture, carpets and curtains. The Nilfisk brand is recommended by the experts. You can also add a HEPA filter (or even better, this one) to a Shop-Vac. (High-efficiency filter bags are also needed to catch all the fine dust.) 

Dust also contains phthalates, metals like lead, mercury and arsenic, and pesticides (Suzuki). The best way to remove particulates and (and VOCs, and mould) from the air is a HEPA air filter. The top brands are IQAir (which some people say has a plastic smell), AllerAir and AustinAir. A decent one that is a more affordable is this Honeywell. I have heard pretty good experiences with Honeywell considering the price.

I use the Vornado which has true HEPA and is very well priced. I have a post about that here.

19 comments:

  1. It's my understanding that Ikea has removed all flame retardants from their furniture as of January 2015, a result of changes to California's TB-117 flammability requirements. Have you investigated whether this is the case?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, yes this is the case. All their furniture manufactured after that date. I have updated the post.

      Delete
    2. Does this mean that the Polyurethane foam used in the couches also doesn't have flame retardants?

      Delete
  2. Thank you so much for making this post! I'm researching ALL of this stuff - which I'm sure you understand how confusing that can be! Your post is a huge help. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  3. What is the source of this claim that IKEA has removed FRs from its couches and mattresses? There appears to be no official news release or website info directly from IKEA itself. This leads me to believe it it simply hearsay.

    Do you have an official IKEA statement on the matter? I cannot find one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I did research this carefully. I did have a statement but I'd have to do some backtracking to find it now.

      Delete
  4. This is all SO helpful, thank you for taking the time to research and share it. Have you followed the new line of IKEA mattresses? The Heggedal is not available anymore. Do you know what's it new equivalent is? What's the most non-toxic (i.e. the lesser of evils) of what they offer now? Many thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the update! I'll look into it.

      Delete
    2. They changed the name to MORGONGÅVA - I need to email them to confirm no FRs and find out what is in the limited warranty. I don't recommend natural latex anymore, see my warning in the post about bedding. Perhaps adding synthetic latex to it helps, I'm not sure.

      Delete
  5. Holy cow, thanks! Yes, I did see your post about natural latex; what an odd issue. I'm also curious about the other "natural materials" mattress IKEA has. Via their mattress finder on the main mattress webpage, if you choose "natural materials" it lists only MORGONGÅVA. If you look at their 2017 buying guide, it also shows their MYRBACKA (which for all I know could mean they use cotton thread), which includes memory foam.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't see anything about the MYRBACKA that is natural/green.

      Delete
  6. Also, do you think synthetic latex falls into the "lesser of evils category?" As an aside, I would love to see a list showing a scale from good to bad materials toxicity-wise. e.g. what's worse, polyurethane or synthetic latex? Have anything like that?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Sarad, It gets a little complex to go through all the options. I will add something to the post on mattresses. Otherwise you can email me if you want to go through the options that might be best for you personally.

      Delete
    2. I'm looking for a less toxic mattress. How do you feel about an innerspring IKEA mattress? It is understanding that it now doesn't have FR. What about other chemicals added? I was planning on buying an innerspring and adding a natural latex topper. Thank you!

      Delete
    3. I did add the info to the beginning of the post here http://www.mychemicalfreehouse.net/2013/02/furniture-and-matresses.html

      Delete
  7. I am looking for a carpet pad that is flame retardant free. Any options? Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  8. I am looking for a carpet pad that is flame retardant free. Any options? Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  9. What about stuff made in Canada that doesn't specify?

    ReplyDelete