I also take a deep dive into furniture, starting with the specialty brands – those are mostly high-quality solid wood options with zero-VOC finishes.
Then on to simple and affordable furniture made of non-toxic materials like glass, hard plastic, metal, and seagrass.
This post was originally written for those highly sensitive to chemicals as well as those very sensitive to dust and mold.
This post contains affiliate links. Upon purchase, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Tables, Chairs, Bookcases and Storage
For non-toxic chairs, bookcases, benches, and storage units look for solid wood (with zero-VOC stains and varnishes), and zero or low-VOC adhesives.
Low odor woods are preferable for some sensitive people.
Avoid particleboard and MDF if you are sensitive to formaldehyde. HDF is another pressed wood product made with formaldehyde which can be found as the backing of many boocases and storage units. Plywood is not as high in offgassing as MDF or particleboard and can work for many sensitive people.
There are some formaldehyde-free engineered wood products like Purebond plywood (though some sensitive folks react to their soy glue).
Some types of furniture are more likely to have a veneer of real wood glued on to a lower quality wood. In some styles this is hard to avoid. Laminate or melamine furniture has particleboard inside.
Urban Natural – Uses either natural oils and a beeswax finish or a zero-VOC water-based catalyzed varnish finish. The glues vary by manufacturer. One brand uses a Cradle-to-Cradle certified (toxicity level yellow) glue.
Something simple – solid wood desks from Staples with an incredibly low VOC (maybe 0-VOC) finish came highly recommended by someone sensitive. It’s only $156, so a total deal. You could add some rolling metal drawers under it for desk storage.
Amazon has a good selection of solid wood-framed chairs.
West Elm also has nice solid wood chairs (dining room).
Simple non-toxic side tables can be found on Amazon. I like this little bamboo one with a clear coating on it.
Non-Toxic Vintage Furniture
Vintage or second hand wooden furniture might be safe and healthy if you are sure it hasn’t been refinished recently with conventional products, and it has not been exposed to chemical cleaning products, air fresheners, smoke, mold, pesticides, or other chemical substances.
With upholstered items, take extra care to make sure it wasn’t from a time frame when flame retardants were used and were toxic. The post on flame retardants goes into more detail.
Those with chemical and mold sensitivities are often on a budget so going with some second furniture or even free furniture is usually worth trying.
Solid Wood Amish Furniture
If you can’t find what you are looking for in the eco stores or in big box stores, try Amish furniture making companies. They build solid wood furniture. They often use linseed oil as a finish but unfinished can usually be requested.
Vermont Woods makes solid wood desks with a very low-VOC lacquer.
Uplift makes standing desks with solid wood and very low-VOC finishes.
Solid wood desks from specialty stores tend to be pricey.
A dedicated post on non-toxic desks (and desk chairs) can be found here!
On Amazon, you can find simple solid wood desks, like this sturdy solid wood sawhorse style desk.
You can also find glass and metal options (they change what they carry over time).
Green Cradle – This company makes 100% solid wood bedroom furniture, either unfinished or finished with linseed oil. They have dressers, chests, armoires, bookcases, nightstands and cribs.
Pacific Rim Woodworking – This company makes beds and dressers out of solid wood, Purebond (no added formaldehyde) plywood, and they have options for natural and 0-VOC finishes.
Romina Furniture – Makes furniture for the bedroom for babies, kids and teens. They use solid wood only, organic natural glues, and a variety of non-toxic finishes.
Baby Eco Trends – Makes furniture for babies and children. Solid wood, Amish made, with a choice of finishes.
Medley – Makes bedroom furniture out of solid wood and bamboo, with all-natural finishes. You can use code MyChemFreeHouse5 for 5% off.
Zin Home – Makes bedroom furniture, much of it out of reclaimed wood, and some with natural finishes. They were not able to tell me what all the finishes were, as the items are made overseas.
Vermont Woods – Solid wood bedroom furniture (some pieces have veneer), with very low-VOC lacquer.
TY Furniture – A focus on non-toxic furniture, this company uses solid woods, non-toxic natural oils and wax finishes with non-toxic glues.
Alternatives to Wooden Furniture
Solid wood furniture from specialty stores tends to be expensive. Here are some alternatives.
These would also suit those who don’t do well with the odor of wood or have severe allergies and reactions to mold, dust, and allergens.
Non-porous, low toxin furniture that can easily be wiped down with a variety of cleaning products is a huge advantage for many.
Many of these options are also less expensive which is well suited to those starting over after a moldy or toxic house.
Glass, Metal, Stone & Plastic Furniture
Metal is one of the safest materials. Metal may need to be washed down in order to remove factory oils, but otherwise most finishes don’t offgas.
Powder-coated metal is the safest painted look finish. Electroplated finishes are totally safe, along with metals that don’t require any finish like chrome and stainless steel. Metal finishes, even if they used a paint, usually cure quite quickly.
Other furniture items you can find in metal are cabinets, drawers, even a chest of drawers though there are some wood products in there, shelves, tables of all sizes, kitchen prep islands, desks, bed frames, TV stands and more.
I really like this coral console table storage unit.
It’s possible to find pieces that are pure glass, like this table from Amazon (pictured) which is surprisingly affordable for a glass product.
Hard Plastic Furniture
Hard plastics are generally safe and are tolerable for most people. Almost all furniture made of hard plastic will be a low or no offgassing plastic like polypropelene. Sometimes it needs a couple days to air out.
I have seen many of these mid-century style chairs in person and they were very inert. Some have metal legs if you want to avoid all wood.
Hard polypropylene, ABX and acrylic are all highly tolerable, low to no offgassing plastics. These polypropylene shelves/organizers pictured below could look cool (they come in metal as well).
Sterilite is a plastic that even the very chemically sensitive usually do well with (a mix of polypropylene and polyethylene). You can find drawers made of Sterilite.
Outdoor faux rattan is usually made of safer plastics (like polypropylene) that will work for most folks who are sensitive to chemicals.
Make sure it’s not made of PVC which I have come across (rarely) with outdoor wicker. The one pictured could even be used indoors in a beachy style home.
Marble and other stone can be made into tabletops. Marble is made with a resin used to fill in the fissures, and a sealer would also be applied to furniture. You will have to reseal it if it gets heavy use.
Faux marble is most often laminate (with particleboard) not ideal for the chemically sensitive. Though it could also be a safe hard plastic, or a less safe hard plastic (like cultured marble). It could also be engineered stone which is usually zero-VOC. Be sure to check out what it is made of.
This faux marble island is quartz, which is safe and zero-VOC (but like marble, not cheap).
Rattan, Seagrass, & Banana Leaf Furniture
You might also want to consider furniture made of natural fibers: rattan (a vine), banana leaves (the leaves from banana trees), seagrass (a reed) and bamboo (a grass).
The outdoor “rattan” is usually plastic woven in a wicker style, and works best for outdoor furniture. Real rattan and similar fibers can be used to make low toxin and even stylish indoor furniture.
The term “paper rope” is not a natural grass or reed, but rather paper mixed with glue and “sizing” chemical twisted together. It resembles rattan. If you are looking for real rattan, be sure to double-check.
Rattan can look stylish inside, despite being very simple:
Are Rattan, Banana Leaves and Seagrass Treated?
Many very sensitive folks do well with these fibers. Though it’s possible the plants were sprayed while they were growing or sprayed with pesticides in transit if they are coming from tropical countries as an import (source).
Rattan is a vine that is technically a wood product. Amazon carries a selection of natural rattan chairs, most of them $100 – $200. IKEA carries rattan chairs from $50 – $180.
You can also find rattan headboards (IKEA has one with a wire frame), trays, baskets, stools, coffee tables, storage pieces and even mirrors.
More bed frames in my post on mattresses and bedding.
Banana leaves or banana fiber are the leaves from Banana trees. You can find it made into stools or poufs.
IKEA has a banana fiber stool and so does Amazon.
The terms seagrass and water hyacinth are used interchangeably in the furniture industry.
The leaves and stems are made into furniture like this storage basket. You can also find seagrass coffee tables, rugs (more in my post on non-toxic rugs), and various types and styles of storage baskets.
Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist Practitioner with 8 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.
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