The Hidden Toxins That Could Be Lurking in Your Furniture

We live in a toxic world. Toxins are prevalent in house-cleaning products, cookware, building materials, self-care products, and water quality, among others. However, did it ever occur to you that many of these toxins could also be lurking within your furniture? Many common chemicals found in furniture have been associated with decreased IQ levels, hormone disruption, developmental problems, and even cancer.

Let’s explore a few common chemicals to look out for that are often found in conventional furniture, in addition to some of their adverse health effects . . .

Flame Retardants

Furniture and other items treated with flame-retardants most commonly include anything that contains something called polyurethane foam. New research reveals that children living in homes with sofas that contain furniture with flame retardants have traces of potentially harmful toxins in their urine or blood. Specifically found was a phthalate urine concentration up to fifteen times higher than normal. Another study by UC Berkeley and Duke University researchers found that 85% of U.S. couches contained toxic flame retardant chemical, 41% contained chlorinated Tris (or TDCPP), and 17% contained the banned chemical pentaBDE.

Flame retardants tend to migrate out of furniture pieces and into dust, which is then often inhaled. PentaBDE has been banned in Europe since 2004, and has been linked to hormone disruption, lowered IQ levels in humans, and decreased fertility. In animal studies, they have been shown to cause developmental and neurological disorders, in addition to thyroid and reproductive disorders. TDCPP has been shown to be neurotoxic, an endocrine disruptor, and a reproductive toxicant in animal studies as well.


Formaldehyde, a colorless chemical with a strong odor, is commonly found in pressed-wood products, glues, plywood, and product coatings. Animal studies performed in the 1980s showed that exposure to formaldehyde could cause cancer in rats, and in 1987 the EPA classified it as a human carcinogen. Since then, some human studies have suggested that formaldehyde exposure has been linked to certain types of cancer.


Benzene is often used as a solvent for waxes, plastics, and resins, all of which are common in furniture manufacturing. The EPA has also classified benzene as a known human carcinogen. Furthermore, the DHHS (Department of Health and Human Services) has also determined that benzene causes cancer in humans. Rates of leukemia, for example, have been found to be higher in studies involving workers who were exposed to high levels of benzene. 

Vinyl Acetate

Vinyl acetate is a chemical most commonly used in creating lacquers, polyvinyl, and paints. While it’s technically not classified as a carcinogen, animal studies have found that it induces olfactory degeneration. It primarily affects the respiratory system, often causing coughing and inflammation.


Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)

Perfluorooctanoic acid is a chemical most commonly used in leathers and upholstering to make them stain-resistant and waterproof. Studies have found that this synthetic chemical is linked to liver damage, as well as an increased prevalence of other liver issues, (notably non-alcoholic fatty liver disease), in addition to kidney toxicity, altered puberty, retarded mammary gland development, and cancer. Perhaps most alarming is that PFOAs have a half-life of 3.8 years, which means it takes about 7.6 years for it to leave the body.



Acetaldehyde, a chemical you may recognize from that “new furniture” smell, is classified as a probable human carcinogen. Like formaldehyde, it targets the upper respiratory mucosa. Acute inhalation in animal studies resulted in a depressed respiratory state and elevated blood pressure. Furthermore, data from animal studies suggest that acetaldehyde may be a potential developmental toxin. In one study, a high incidence of embryonic resorptions was observed in mice injected with acetaldehyde, and rats who were exposed to acetaldehyde by injection experienced skeletal malformations, reduced birth weight, and increased postnatal mortality.

These are just a few of the most common chemicals found in conventional furniture. So, what can you do to protect yourself and your family? Consider purchasing non-toxic, organic furniture pieces. While it might be on the more expensive side, it’s an investment in your health. I can attest to that as I recently moved to a new apartment, with a goal of furnishing it with non-toxic pieces! I discovered the Futon Shop when searching for a living room couch, and their mission immediately resonated with me. I also was impressed with many of their certifications, including USDA Certified Organic Cotton and GOLS Certified Organic Latex, among several others.

The couch I ended up with was the Daisy Organic Natural Sectional Sofa. Not only is it incredibly comfortable, but it’s made me more at ease in knowing that it’s a chemical-free piece. Remember that healthy living not only encompasses lifestyle practices, but also the environment in which you live.



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Jacqueline Genova, CHN

Jacqueline Genova, CHN

Jacqueline Genova, a certified holistic nutritionist, is passionate about wellness. She resorted to holistic approaches for healing to reverse some of her own health problems, and to help her mom battle cancer. She is a graduate of Babson College where she researched and wrote a thesis that supports a more integrative treatment approach, and is a strong advocate of incorporating complementary therapies into conventional treatment methods. As she discovered the healing powers of food as medicine, both through her own experience as well as in her research, she developed a desire to share what she learned with others. So, she started WellnStrong. She believes in a holistic approach to wellness that addresses the root causes of illness, not just the suppression of symptoms.