Buying a safer sofa: NRDC survey of major furniture stores

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In the past few weeks, the rumble about toxic flame retardant chemicals in our furniture has grown to a roar. Major healthcare systems announced they would no longer purchase products containing these chemicals that threaten patient and employee health, while U.S. Senator Schumer (D-NY) introduced a federal bill that would go a step further and ban toxic flame retardants from furniture nationwide.

Recent changes in California now also mean that it’s now possible to make fire-safe furniture without the use of flame retardants, harmful chemicals that are linked to cancer, hyperactivity, and reduced intelligent quotient (IQ) levels.

Together, these actions have sent a signal loud and clear to companies that sell furniture—it’s time to remove these hazardous and unnecessary chemicals from their stores.

But are companies listening?

NRDC conducted a survey of 16 major U.S. furniture stores to find out.  The results can help consumers identify where they can purchase safer, healthier furniture for their homes1.

Photo credit: Flickr@selenamarie

So how does your favorite furniture store stack up? Here’s what we learned:

  • We can seat you now! The Futon Shop and Crate&Barrel are leading the pack, and have flame retardant free products available for purchase now.
  • Your seat will be ready soon.  La-Z-Boy will have flame retardant free furniture available later this year. Williams-Sonoma (Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn Kids, West Elm), IKEA, and Interline (Scandinavian Designs, Dania, Plummers) will have flame retardant free furniture available starting in 2015.
  • Wait to be seated. Ethan Allen and Wal-Mart have committed to phasing flame retardants out of their furniture, but aren’t sure when the products will be available.
  • Dragging our seat. Pier 1, Restoration Hardware and Target have not yet addressed flame retardant chemicals in their furniture products.
  • Mystery seat. Like the mystery meat at the school cafeteria, it’s unclear what’s in here. Despite multiple attempts to contact them, American Signature, Cost Plus, Macy’s, Rooms-to-Go and Sears did not respond to our requests for information.

Below is a detailed chart1 of the survey results- click on the chart to see a larger version, and you can find the full report here with references.

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It’s good news for consumers that some stores already have flame retardant free products available, but it’s still hard to tell which products don’t contain the chemicals. That’s why NRDC co-sponsored California legislation that would require furniture labels to declare whether or not the product contains added flame retardant chemicals. The bill has already passed the legislature and is waiting for Governor Brown’s signature. If it becomes law, furniture with the new labels would be available in California in early-mid 2015.

But the fact that toxic flame retardants lurk in our living room furniture is a symptom of the larger issues with our broken system of chemical regulation. It’s critical that consumers are armed with knowledge to protect themselves, but we can’t entirely shop our way out of this problem. We need meaningful reform to the nation’s chemical laws so that toxic products aren’t allowed on store shelves in the first place.

Learn more about our Take out Toxics campaign.

1NRDC has not independently assessed the practices of the companies cited here and this report of survey results is not meant to be an endorsement of any company. NRDC’s goal is to document major furniture retailers' statements about whether they are requesting flame retardant-free products from suppliers and how they are communicating to their customers about flame retardant-free products.

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