Why Buy Organic Furnishings?

Learn the basics of healthy furniture and home accessories

By Jan Soults Walker

Your home should be a place of health not harm, and choosing furnishings fabricated from natural materials can help you achieve that goal.

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Relaxing Contemporary Master Bedroom by Ines Hanl
Ines Hanl

What are organic furnishings?

You hear plenty in the media about avoiding harmful chemicals in foods, but did you know furnishings can contain toxic substances as well? Flame retardants (PBDEs) in fabrics, odors (or off-gassing) from volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in painted or stained finishes, formaldehyde in pressed wood and plywood, and BPAs in vinyl or phthalate-based PVC in artificial leather—to name just a few—all have the potential to make you sick.

Shopping for "organic" furnishings made of all-natural, chemical-free products can help you eliminate, or at least minimize, exposure to toxins in your own home. Plus, many organic furnishings manufacturers are also "green," meaning they use only sustainable, eco-friendly products. These retailers also often commit to using fair trade practices and products. (Read How to Choose Fair Trade Furnishings.)

How to shop for organic furnishings

Organic Fabric Pillows by PURE Inspired Design
PURE Inspired Design

While the USDA oversees the labeling of agricultural products, such as organic foods, no state or federal entity currently regulates organic furnishings. With a little research, you can determine if furnishings are organic—all natural and toxin-free. For example, you can buy home furnishings through retailers or manufacturers who are members of, or are recommended by, such organizations as the Organic Trade Association, the Sustainable Furnishings Council, or the Organic Consumers Association.

Search online for companies promoting organic furnishing products. As a general rule . . .

  • Avoid vinyl or artificial leather.
  • Avoid fabrics treated for stain resistance. 
  • Look for solid wood construction and low-VOC finishes.
  • Steer away from manufactured wood products that can off-gas harmful odors, such as plywood, particleboard, or other pressed-wood products.
  • For wood furniture, look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification on the label to ensure that only sustainable wood products were used. (Read more: The Beauty of Sustainable Wood Furniture.)
  • Consider metal and glass furnishings: They don't off-gas, so they're typically non-toxic.
  • Check labels for the word "organic" in fabric-related products such as upholstered furniture and mattresses. 

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