Since I built my home to be non-toxic, furnishing it has become a dilemma for me. Many of my own pieces are worn from my children using them as jungle gyms, and the color scheme of my new house is very different than my old house. I could buy furniture from companies that use woods from sustainable or managed forests, but they use solvent based finishes. I am uncomfortable about bring home a furniture piece with this type of finish since I do not know the long term effect on my family’s health from the off gassing of the chemicals from the piece.
Buy it Green
Another option is to buy furniture from Furnature, who sells environmentally friendly upholstery or have pieces custom made but the cost would be very expensive. A couch from Furnature could easily cost more than $3000.00.
Buy it used to not break the bank. However, with precautions.
Over the last two years, I have become very resourceful in finding furniture that meets my nontoxic quest and my wallet.
My fondest memories as I was growing up were in a house that was built in the 1920s. It was full of antiques, including a beloved grandfather clock, glass knobs, and beautiful wood trim and doors. We moved to Florida in my teens and my parents’ taste in furniture changed to more contemporary to fit the Florida lifestyle.
As I become an adult, I liked pieces that were light in color vowing to never buy dark, boring old traditional furniture.
Not surprisingly, I built a house that echoes themes from my house that I grew up in. All of the sudden, old traditional furniture started to appeal to me and I started shopping at antiques stores. My first acquired antique was a 1920s drum table with a top shaped in the form of a flower petal with a green leather top.
Since my purchase of my unusual drum table, I have become a 1920’s through 1940’s vintage furniture shopper. The cost of vintage furniture is very reasonable. I shop at the local antique vendors and the local shows.
Why vintage furniture and antiques? What is greener than something that already exists versus something that has to be made such as new furniture? I love the workmanship of these pieces. My belief, which is not based on any study, is that due to the age of antiques and vintage furniture, most of the off gassing of chemicals has taken place.
Be Cautious about the Refinishing Process
Admittedly, I tend to shy away from recently touched up antiques or vintage furniture. Many dealers will refinish the pieces using the same solvent based nitrocellulose lacquer that they use on furniture today.
I prefer not to buy furniture with recent solvent based finishes. I have been told by the manufacturers of some of the products that once the product cures, the solvents in the chemicals have off-gassed. I was unable to obtain a general time period for curing because there are too many variables such as amount of the product that was used and drying conditions that cause different cure periods. However, even if a product cures rapidly, I tend to be more cautious and am skeptical of the long term effects of the off-gassing of some of the chemical in these finishes. I prefer to bring in my house only low emitting products.
However, if you really love the piece, put it somewhere it can off-gas for awhile like a basement or garage. Make sure the temperature and humidity conditions won’t harm the furniture.
For more information, Green Home Guide contains a nice piece on the different type of finishes. It is very informative and links you to eco-friendly finishes.
Ask before buying.
If the finishes concern you, ask what they used to refinish the product, the manufacturer of the refinishing product, and when did they refinish the piece. It is possible they could have used an environmentally friendly version of shellac, oil, or low VOC or water based lacquer. You can call the company who makes the product to find out how the emission of the chemicals in the product will affect your indoor air quality.
Realize that each person’s home is different and again, there are many variables that cause products to off-gas at different rates such as levels of humidity, amount of ventilation, and the composition of the product. In addition, each home has different furnishings which emit different levels of VOCs, and thus the indoor air quality is different for each house. For more information, on indoor air quality, read several of the articles on GreenGuard, which certified products to meet certain indoor air quality standards.
If you have chemical sensitivities, check with your doctor before you buy any piece of furniture.
Be proactive. Buy an eco-friendly refinishing product
Another suggestion if you are concerned about the finishes is to become friendly with some of the dealers and ask them if they find something that you like, to notify you before they repair it. It is worth asking if they would consider using a more environmentally friendly product for you or you can find a refinisher that will use these finishes. If you are unable to find someone to refinish the furniture in one of the eco-friendly finish, you might not mind a little nick or gouge in a piece of furniture because it gives it character.
Be sure to read my article on flame retardants in used couches and chairs. Another toxic concept that you must take into account when buying upholstered furniture
Next post in this series is …Addicted To Craig’s List….. .
- Volatile Organic Compounds: Harmful in Our Home. Learn to Choose Better.
- Handmade Eco-Furniture Made in our Backyards.
- Stroll Over To Ruby Lane, If Vintage is Your Game
- Craigslist, Ebay, and Garage Sale Addict: Part 2 of Being Eco Chic Used Furniture Lover
- The Eco Friendly Sleeper Couch. Shouldn’t Your Inlaws Sleep Better?