Redecorating our homes is always exciting; it feels so good to have every room looking fresh with brand new furniture! You know when that beautiful table or wardrobe that you’ve been wanting to purchase for a long time is finally delivered to your door? You open the box and that smell of brand new furniture gives you a sense of satisfaction. But wait a minute…should you be really breathing that air in?
If you bought wooden furniture that is made of anything other than solid wood, then the answer is… probably not. Much of the furniture available is made of composite wood such as particleboard, fibreboard, MDF and plywood where adhesive resins composed of formaldehyde are used as binding agents to keep the wood particles or sheets together. Formaldehyde is also present in paints, lacquers and coatings used to manufacture wood products.
Formaldehyde is a colourless and flammable volatile organic compound (VOC) with a very strong odour. It actually occurs naturally in trees and fruits, and is even produced in the human body, but in such small amounts that it’s not harmful. At the levels encountered in man-made products, it becomes a very toxic gas that can affect the health of your family significantly. Short-term exposure to formaldehyde can cause irritation to the eyes, nose and throat together with sneezing, coughing and nausea. It is described as a known human carcinogen by the World Health Organization (WHO) and has been associated with the development of childhood asthma.
Products made of materials containing formaldehyde include desks, wardrobes, kitchen cabinets, beds and even baby cribs! Fortunately, there are alternatives to these nasty products that are not only healthier but also kinder to the environment. Additionally, there are actions you can take in your home to reduce the levels of formaldehyde in the air that you breathe.
Change your furniture
The best way to reduce levels of formaldehyde significantly in your home is to avoid composite wood products altogether and change all your furniture to solid wood. This may prove a bit expensive at first but solid wood products are much more durable and can be easily passed on, upcycled or recycled when you don’t need them anymore, the wood could even be burned for heat at the end of the product’s life. This is not possible with composite wood panels since they would release very toxic gases, they cannot be recycled either for the same reason, and would need to be dumped in a landfill. When buying solid wood products make sure they are not painted or varnished with products containing formaldehyde.
Buy used furniture
If you really need to buy composite wood products try to look for used products, as these will already have released most of the gas. The concentration of formaldehyde is higher when they are new and decreases over time. This way you will also help extend the life of these products and avoid them being sent to landfill.
Buy furniture with lower gas emission
Pay attention to the gas-emission labels on composite wood products and try to select only products that contain no-added formaldehyde or are made of exterior-grade pressed wood. The latter contains phenol resins rather than urea-formaldehyde and will emit much less formaldehyde. But remember that even at low levels formaldehyde emissions can be dangerous.
Apply a protective layer onto existing furniture
You can also apply latex-based paints or formaldehyde-free varnishes onto your existing or new composite wood furniture to create a barrier and prevent gas release.
Ventilate your home
Ensure that you have adequate ventilation in your home by opening windows regularly to allow fresh air in and avoid the accumulation of this toxic gas. This is essential especially in new homes that are not as draughty as old homes, which would expel a higher quantity of these gases naturally.
Control temperature and humidity
Formaldehyde is released more easily at higher temperatures and higher levels of humidity so make sure your house is not too hot and damp. Keeping the temperature at around 20°C or slightly below, and relative humidity at around 30%, will reduce its release significantly.
Filter the air
You can filter the air in your home with an air purifier. There are products on the market that will help remove not only formaldehyde but also other types of pollutants.
Plants can also be good allies in purifying the air inside your home. A NASA study shows that house plants such as spider plant, gerbera daisy, ficus and others can help to remove a great amount of polluntants from the air, including formaldehyde.
Test the air in your home
If you want to make sure your house is healthy for you and your family, you can test the quality of the air with air quality tests or monitors that you can find online. This way you can verify if the measures you took worked and if the air you breathe is safe.
Choosing new furniture for your home is very exciting but in addition to aiming for a amazing looking space we need to pay attention to these nasty chemicals that are included in their manufacturing processes. We would always recommend going for solid natural wood as the safest and most sustainable option. Follow the tips above to make sure you create a healthy environment for your family and Green It Yourself… Now!