That bed frame you so dearly love sometimes comes with a hidden cost: exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These organic chemicals evaporate at room temperature, releasing potentially harmful gasses that mess with indoor air quality, impacting our health.
VOCs are found in common everyday products, and, unfortunately, in many accessible-priced home furniture. This is one of the things that “green and organic furniture” makers try to rally against—by building furniture from natural solid wood and protecting it with an organic finish instead of tinted lacquer or paint so that your precious pieces are free from VOCs.
But things get a little confusing, especially if you look around online and come across conflicting information that downplays the actual risks associated with the VOCs in mass-produced furniture. In this article, we’ll explore more about the potential harm caused by VOCs so you can make an informed decision when investing in home furniture.
Is furniture with VOC really dangerous to the human body?
The relationship between furniture VOCs and human health is complex, with both sides of the coin to consider. While some VOCs emitted from furniture can be harmful, especially in high concentrations or with prolonged exposure, the human body can also tolerate certain levels of them.
The potential dangers of VOCs:
- Short-term effects: Exposure to high levels of certain VOCs, like formaldehyde, benzene, and toluene, can cause immediate irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat, along with headaches, dizziness, and nausea.
- Long-term effects: Chronic exposure to VOCs has been linked to more serious health problems, including respiratory issues, cancer, and damage to the liver and kidneys.
The human body's tolerance:
- Concentration matters: The level of VOCs emitted from furniture and the amount of time spent around it plays a crucial role in determining the potential health risks. Lower concentrations and shorter durations may not pose significant harm.
- Individual sensitivity: People vary in their sensitivity to VOCs. Some may experience more serious effects at lower exposure levels than others.
So, is furniture with VOCs really dangerous?
It depends on several factors, including the specific VOCs present, their concentration levels, the duration of exposure, and individual sensitivity. While the potential for harm exists, especially with higher exposure to certain VOCs, it's important to remember that:
- Modern regulations: Many countries have implemented regulations to limit VOC emissions from furniture. Choosing furniture that complies with these regulations can significantly reduce the risk.
- Low-VOC and VOC-free options: More manufacturers are offering furniture made with low-VOC or VOC-free materials, providing safer alternatives.
- Ventilation and time: Proper ventilation and allowing new furniture to off-gas for a while can help reduce VOC concentrations in your home.
Common VOCs found in furniture
Now, where do VOCs lurk in furniture? You can find them in building materials. Budget-friendly furniture is often constructed with composite wood products such as particleboard, plywood, and medium-density fiberboard (MDF). These materials are essentially made of wood fibers of wood or paper bonded with adhesives that often contain formaldehyde, a major VOC.
VOCs can also be found in surface finishes like paint, varnish, stain, and lacquer. Upholstered furniture, especially the building materials for the cushion, may also contain harmful chemicals that get released eventually over time.
Formaldehyde: This notorious VOC tops the list. Exposure to formaldehyde can cause nose, throat, and eye irritation, along with other symptoms like headache, dizziness, and nausea. In high concentrations levels of formaldehyde or long-term exposure, it can potentially lead to respiratory problems and an increased risk of cancer.
Benzene: This VOC can be found in glues, paints, and finishes used on furniture. Benzene off-gas may cause drowsiness, dizziness, headaches, and confusion. Long-term exposure can be even more concerning, potentially damaging the bone marrow and increasing the risk of leukemia.
Toluene: This VOC lurks in paints, adhesives, and even some types of upholstery fabrics. Toluene exposure can cause dizziness, headaches, and fatigue. In high doses or over extended periods, it can harm the liver and kidneys.
Xylene: Another furniture resident, xylene is present in paints, varnishes, and lacquers. Exposure to xylene can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat, along with causing headaches and dizziness. Similar to toluene, long-term exposure can negatively impact the liver and kidneys.
Other VOCs: The list doesn't end there. Additional VOCs like styrene, ethylbenzene, and acetaldehyde can also be found in furniture, emitting various health concerns ranging from respiratory irritation to potential neurological effects.
Remember, the health effects of VOCs depend on the type of VOC, the level of exposure, and individual sensitivity. However, taking precautions is always wise, and the most effective approach when it comes to VOCs from furniture—avoid them in the first place.
Go for natural solid wood pieces that are made by local furniture makers. More often than not, you may have to invest more in authentic wood pieces, but you may find them more worthwhile for your health.
Here are more tips for reducing your exposure to VOCs from furniture:
- Choose furniture made with solid wood or natural materials like bamboo or rattan.
- Opt for furniture with low-VOC or no-VOC certifications.
- Ventilate your home well, especially after bringing in new furniture.
- Consider using air purifiers with activated carbon filters to help remove VOCs from the air.
By making informed choices and taking proactive steps, you can create a healthier and more comfortable environment in your home, free from the unseen threat of VOCs lurking in your furniture.