Why has upholstered furniture been treated with flame retardants?
TB117 required furniture filling materials to pass a small open flame test, and flame retardants were added to polyurethane foam fillings in order to comply with the test requirements. TB117 did not account for the role of cover fabrics (where ignition usually occurs) or for the interaction between fabrics and filling materials. TB117 also did not address the leading cause of furniture fires: smoldering ignition sources like cigarettes. TB117 has been updated and replaced by TB117-2013, a “smolder standard” which stops cigarette fires where they start, on the fabric. The new standard provides increased fire safety without the use of flame retardants.
What are the health concerns associated with flame retardants in furniture?
Is there scientific research to back up the information about health problems?
How do I know if my old couch or other furniture contains flame retardants?
Unfortunately, even if furniture does not have a TB117 label, it may still contain flame retardants if it contains polyurethane foam. In our 2012 study of 100 couches, all but one of the couches purchased in California contained flame retardants and 81% of couches purchased in other states contained flame retardants.
As of January 1, 2015, furniture manufactured for sale in California must meet the updated standard Technical Bulletin 117-2013. This new flammability label includes a check box declaring whether the furniture contains, or does not contain, added flame retardants. The following furniture components are included under this declaration: cover fabrics, barrier materials, resilient filling materials, and decking materials. Though this label is not required outside of California, furniture with the TB117-2013 label may be available in other states. Consumers should inform the retailer that they want to purchase furniture without added flame retardants.
A 2016 analysis found that use of flame retardants in furniture has declined in recent years, thanks in part to the new TB 117-2013 and labeling requirements in California.
Please see our post, “Does my furniture contain flame retardants?” for more information.
Since there are no laws that require manufacturers to disclose specific chemical contents to consumers, the only way to know for sure is to have the materials analyzed in a lab. This kind of testing is not readily available for the average consumer.
How can I buy furniture without flame retardants?
Our handout, Furniture Without Added Flame Retardants, lists some options for buying furniture without added flame retardants. You can also avoid products that contain polyurethane foam: cotton, down, wool, and polyester fillings usually do not contain flame retardants. Wooden and wicker furniture without any filling are other options. You can learn more on our Consumer Page.
In California, you can also refer to the San Francisco Department of the Environment’s list of retailers that offer furniture without flame retardants.
Can I get my product with foam tested?
Testing for all types of flame retardants is not readily available to consumers as far as we know.
What can I do to reduce my family’s exposure to flame retardants?
To reduce household exposures, it is important to keep household dust levels down. Flame retardant chemicals migrate out of products and settle into household dust, where they can enter our bodies by hand-to-mouth contact. You can decrease exposure to some toxics by washing hands frequently and by reducing house dust through wet mopping, dusting with a damp cloth, and vacuuming with a HEPA filter. View our flier: How to Reduce Toxics in Your Home. Visit our Consumer Resources page to learn more.
Do slipcovers help prevent flame retardants from leaving the foam?
You may be able to reduce household exposures by keeping dust levels down, through wet-mopping, or by vacuuming with a HEPA filter. Frequent hand washing can also reduce exposures.
You can download our flier, How to Reduce Toxics in Your Home or visit our Consumer Page to learn more. The Environmental Protection Agency also recently published a fact sheet on how to reduce kids’ exposures to flame retardants.
Is my adult mattress treated with flame retardants?
According to the mattress industry, flame retardants are not generally intentionally used in foam fillings in adult mattresses in the U.S. However, we are aware of mattress samples that were found to contain flame retardants. No comprehensive analysis has been done to evaluate use of flame retardants in U.S. mattresses, but researchers at Duke University reported in 2016 that they detected flame retardants in 22 out of 71 mattress foam samples tested.
Required for mattresses manufactured since July 1, 2007, the federal mattress flammability standard (16 CFR Part 1633) involves a severe and lengthy open flame test. To meet this requirement, inherently fire-resistant barrier materials such as fiber batting or cotton fiber treated with boric acid are often wrapped around the mattress. You can learn more in this 2007 Chicago Tribune article. If your mattress is not wrapped with a fire barrier material, or you are considering buying a mattress without an exterior fire barrier, ask the manufacturer or retailer whether added flame retardant chemicals have been used.
If you are buying a new mattress, speak with the retailer or manufacturer and ask them about the chemicals used in the mattress. Ask for a clear answer to a question like “does the mattress contain added flame retardant chemicals?” Answers like “meets all safety requirements” do not provide sufficient information.
Is my child’s mattress treated with flame retardants?
Crib mattresses with a TB117 label are likely to contain flame retardant chemicals and should be avoided. However, mattresses produced after January 1, 2014 will not have such a label and are unlikely to contain the chemicals.You should verify with the retailer or manufacturer to make sure. A report on crib/infant mattresses from Clean & Healthy New York provides information on some manufacturers.
You can look for crib mattresses made without flame retardants. For more information on flame retardants in children’s products, read here.
You may wish to avoid other chemicals of concern, like water- or stain-repellants or antimicrobials, when purchasing a new child mattress or nap mat. Learn more about these classes of chemicals at SixClasses.org.
What other children’s products contain flame retardants?
Is my carpet or carpet cushion treated with flame retardants?
Bonded polyurethane carpet cushion or padding, which currently makes up over 85% of carpet cushion produced in the United States, usually contains flame retardants. This cushion has historically been made from the same foam that is used in upholstered furniture. Flame retardant levels in bonded polyurethane carpet cushion may decrease since the new TB117-2013 standard for furniture has allowed foam makers to decrease production of foam that contains flame retardants. One solution to avoid flame retardants in carpet cushion is to use a fiber or felt pad under carpeting rather than bonded foam.
Consumers can look for very low VOC carpeting.
Please note, carpets are often treated with fluorinated stain repellent chemicals, and certain carpet care and treatment products may also contain highly fluorinated chemicals. To learn more about fluorinated chemicals visit our Highly Fluorinated Chemicals page. You can also read more at Pharos.
Do children’s pajamas/clothing contain flame retardants?
This is our understanding of flame retardants and children’s sleepwear in the U.S.:
Sleepwear for children under 9 months of age, and pajamas that are tight fitting for any age do not need to contain added flame retardants as they don’t need to meet the federal standard. When buying children’s pajamas, look for a sewn-in label with language like, “garment should fit snugly,” “is not flame resistant,” or “loose fitting garment is more likely to catch fire.” This label indicates that the fabric was probably not treated with flame retardants. Items labeled “not intended for use as sleepwear” are also unlikely to contain flame retardants. Be sure to follow the instructions – it is very important for children’s sleepwear to fit snugly.
Cotton or other natural fabrics are sometimes treated with flame retardants. Common chemicals used for this are phosphate-based, like tetrakis hydromethyl phosphonium chloride (THPC or Proban or Securest).
Avoid items that have labels with care instructions telling you how to maintain the garment’s flame resistance.
Where can I find out more about flame retardant chemicals?
Will the flame retardants have completely dissipated from a very old couch?
Do polystyrene beads contain flame retardants?
An alternative, natural filling option for bean bags might be buckwheat hulls.
Do bedding accessories contain flame retardants?
Egg crate mattress toppers are usually uncovered and may contain flame retardants.
Here are three safe, flame retardant-free alternatives:
– no topper
– add an extra polyester mattress pad for added cushioning
– a natural wool pad
Do yoga mats contain flame retardants?
Is polyester safe in consumer products?
I have a great certification method, brand, or product with no added flame retardants or other harmful chemicals--can you endorse it, or share on your website?
Green Science Policy Institute provides information to the public as a service. The content of our website, publications, and correspondence should not be considered advice or endorsement and is for informational purposes only. As a scientific institute, we strive for accuracy; however, occasional errors are unavoidable. Green Science Policy Institute is not responsible for decisions made based on information we provide.