Non-toxic healthy closet, storage, and organization systems should be made of materials that do not offgas VOCs or are extremely low in VOCs.
The following options can be considered for the chemically sensitive or those avoiding toxins for health reasons.
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Solid Wood Closets and Shelving
Most closet systems are made with engineered wood. Lundia USA is one company that makes beautiful solid wood closet systems.
The framing, drawers, and shelves are all solid pine. These are not just for bedroom closets – they make systems that work well for any kind of storage shelving area.
When using solid wood don’t forget to consider the wood glues used and the paint or finish.
Metal Shelving Organizer Systems
Metal closet systems are certainly the most inert material on the list as it has no natural or chemical offgassing at all.
Metal that is powder coated or coated with an epoxy paint is usually totally cured by the time it gets to you so there usually isn’t any offgassing of VOCs at all.
The type to avoid is metal racking that is coated in PVC vinyl.
For simple systems that are going to be safe and healthy for just about everyone, metal is often the way to go.
Many companies make safe metal closet systems that have framing, shelves, and pull-out baskets/drawers made of wire or mesh metal.
The brand pictured is Rubbermaid.
Walmart has a great selection of inert metal closet systems.
Similar metal systems include the Elfa system from The Container Store and IKEA systems like the JONAXEL.
Plastic Shelving Systems
There are a number of polypropylene-based shelving systems available at big retailers.
Polypropylene is one of the safest plastics, especially if you are not heating it up or eating off of it. It generally does not offgas VOCs and it doesn’t contain BPA or phthalates and so it is safe, at least for non-food usage.
If you want a simple closet system, plastic is not a bad way to go. The one pictured is around $100 on Amazon.
The Container Store also has a good selection of polypropylene drawer systems.
Plywood-Based Closets and Shelving
After solid wood, plywood is the next safest wood product to build a closet or shelving system out of.
Columbia Forest Products Purebond Plywood is made without any formaldehyde adhesives and some sensitive people prefer this type.
You could make the closet yourself, have a carpenter custom build one, or go with a company like Southern Stone Cabinets that uses Purebond Plywood as an option for their closets.
I also think that regular plywood made with phenol-formaldehyde is very fast to offgas to undetectable levels and that will also work for many people. It’s certainly far healthier than particleboard, HDF, or MDF which have higher levels of formaldehyde.
A lot of furniture plywood comes prefinished with a UV cured water-based polyurethane finish, which doesn’t have any offgassing. But if you wanted to finish it yourself, you can check out the posts on healthy sealers and healthy paints.
PS. Cedar blocks are a non-toxic moth repellant for closets
Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist Practitioner with 7 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.