When we hear the phrases “feel at home” or “make yourself at home,” we like to envision comfortable places, safe places, where our feet might incidentally make it onto a coffee table or, on a lazy Sunday afternoon, we might dose off for an hour or two on the couch. More or less, we all want home to be this way, which is why choosing the right furniture is important.

Unfortunately, comfort is not the only consideration for choosing home furnishings. Health has become a priority as well. Some materials in modern furniture are actually dangerous and release harmful toxins into those soothing spaces we’ve worked so hard to create. Specifically, for those homes with plastic and veneer furniture, it might be time to redecorate.

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Why Plastic and Veneer Can Be Harmful

Veneer — very common in cheap shelving units, cabinets and tables — is often laced with formaldehyde, a recognized carcinogen used in the glues that bind particleboard and the veneer laminates. When the materials heat up, they release damaging gases into the environment, and if that environment is a small room, well, that’s not a good thing.

Note: Formaldehyde is in a number of other household products like upholstery fabrics, cleaning products (make them yourself!) and cosmetics. Keep an eye out.

Toxic plastic is something that is already on most of our radars to some extent. We know to use alternatives for plastic water bottles and to avoid plastics #1, #3, #6 and #7. (Those numbers are located somewhere on all plastic stuff.) PVC, or the #3 recycling mark, has made it into a lot of home furnishings. Dioxin, found in the production, use and disposal of PVC, has been a known carcinogen since the 1990s.

Note: Be wary of other household items like shower curtains, windows, doors, wall covering, flooring, blinds and pretty much any plastic item.

Avoiding these components is actually quite difficult because most upholstery is treated with flame-resistant chemicals that contain formaldehyde and dangerous toxic plastic is so prolific (and prolifically ignored) that we are still using it to make food containers, let alone cushions and patio chairs.

What Are the Alternatives?

While veneer and plastic furniture seems irreplaceably stylish (note: the sarcasm), there are some viable and better options for furniture. Sure, it might take a few more minutes of thought, maybe even a little more money, but isn’t it worth it? Yes, it is. Here are some suggestions to help:

  • Buy real, solid wood stuff rather than furniture made of particleboard or plywood. There are formaldehyde-free glues for plywood, but it’ll require more searching.
  • Buy metal instead of plastic for furniture, glass instead of plastic for containers and items like windows and vases.
  • It’s difficult to find, but look for furniture that hasn’t been treated with flame-retardant chemicals. It’s better for the environment and us.

And, for those of us not financially stacked enough to replace our bedroom suite on a whim, here are some other tips to help make-do with the situations:

  • Check out yard sales for finding more expensive, solid wood-frame furniture. Invest a little money (or DIY) in having someone make new cushions with safe fabric. Or, use secondhand shops. Piece together a funky mix of new-to-you furnishings.
  • If you can’t afford to replace your cabinets, sofa, mattress and whatever else immediately, take steps to seal the toxins in. AFM Safe Seal will work on “wooden” stuff and mattress and couches can be covered to contain the fumes.
  • Houseplants can actually help with filtering the air in a home, so maybe it’s worth investing in a little greenery. Plants brighten up the place, are great listeners and make breathing healthier.
  • Use this very helpful chart for choosing the right furniture, covers and so on. It even reaches out to those of us still into beanbag chairs and inflatable furniture. And, use this alternatively helpful chart for a room-by-room breakdown of items to avoid and there replacements.

Let’s #CrushPlastic! Click the graphic below for more information.

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Image Source: Shangri-La Kuala Lumpur/Wikimedia

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