|Amelia Jones

Toxic Off-Gassing: What’s the Big Stink?

toxic off-gassing: what’s the big stink?

Bringing new furniture into a room can enhance, alter, or contrast with the ambiance of our spaces. But while we pick up on the improved ~vibe~ of a room, we often don’t recognize the unseen things furniture can bring in - namely, chemicals.

What is Off-Gassing?

Off-gassing is a process in which manufactured products (furniture, flooring, paints, etc.) release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other chemicals into the air. When products are made with synthetic materials, adhesives, or finishes, they will almost always off-gas to a certain degree. This process doesn’t just happen during an unboxing moment - I’m sure we can all remember the smell from the first time we unpacked a mattress - but continues to occur throughout the lifetime of the product. The chemicals being off-gassed from our furniture, carpets, and mattresses are pretty ugly: formaldehyde, benzene, and toluene to name a few. These chemicals can either be carcinogenic by themself, or can react with other compounds in the air to form carcinogens in our home - yikes!

As awareness of off-gassing is increasing among consumers, so is demand for non-toxic, healthier living spaces. A recent study revealed that 80-90% of furniture products made with pressed wood products and synthetic materials release VOCs, including formaldehyde, which is commonly used as a preservative (yes, the same formaldehyde holding together that ill-fated centipede in a jar from 6th grade science class). Recognizing the need for a healthier and more sustainable option for people and the planet, we carefully select materials that ensure you can rest easy, knowing your home's air quality is improved.

Human Health Risks

  • Immediate Symptoms: The most common consequences of having products off-gas in your home include headaches, fatigue, dizziness and nausea.
  • Allergic Reactions: Another immediate risk of VOCs is allergic reactions, especially issues like skin irritation due to direct contact with furniture. For individuals who are more sensitive to VOCs or that have preexisting conditions, asthma attacks can also occur.
  • Chronic Health Effects: Extended exposure to VOCs can cause damage to our respiratory systems, resulting in irritation of the throat, lungs, and nasal passages. Furthermore, VOCs have been linked to more serious health issues like liver and kidney damage, as well as cancer.
  • Indoor Air Quality: Off-gassing significantly lowers indoor air quality, contributing to what is known as "sick building syndrome." Poor air quality can affect productivity and comfort in both residential and commercial spaces.

Environmental Consequences

  • Outdoor Air Pollution: The release of VOCs contributes to the formation of ground-level ozone and smog, which are harmful to the environment and human health. These pollutants don’t only cause problems for humans, but also damage crops, forests, and bodies of water.
  • Chemical Accumulation: Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) from off-gassing can accumulate in the environment, entering the food chain and posing risks to wildlife and ecosystems.

What Can I Do?

At Retroloop, we prioritize your health and the health of the planet by offering better options than what the vast majority of our industry settles for. Our products are made from natural, sustainably sourced materials with no toxic flame retardants, no added formaldehyde, zero-VOC finishes and adhesives. Here’s how we make sure our furniture is safe for your home:

  • Natural Materials: We use natural materials like wood, wool, coconut fibers, natural tree latex, and non-toxic fabrics that are inherently low in VOCs.
  • Non-Toxic Finishes: Our products do not contain any formaldehyde, and our finishes are zero-VOC, protecting your indoor air quality and keeping you a good steward of the planet.
  • Certifications and Standards: Our materials are all certified by third parties that confirm the safety and quality of our products. These include OEKO-TEX® STANDARD 100, Responsible Wool Standard (RWS), Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), CertiPUR-US®, and Global Recycled Standard (GRS). Learn more about our certifications here.

Other Ways to Improve Your Home/Office Air Quality

  • Ventilate Your Space: Opening your windows, improving air circulation, and using air purifiers with proper filters can help reduce the concentration of VOCs in your home or office. 
  • Clean Cleaning: When dusting or vacuuming your space, use a HEPA filter to remove particles that may carry VOCs. Additionally, make sure that the cleaning products you are using are non-toxic - seems like that would be a given, but it can be a real shock to read cleaning product labels! There are many natural products out there, and tons of DIY cleaners that you can get witchy with on a Sunday afternoon.
  • Adopt a Baby: A plant baby, that is. Studies show that having plants in your home can improve air quality by reducing indoor pollutants (like VOCs) by 10-20%. Plants and soil work together to absorb VOCs through their leaves and roots, process the compounds, and break them down through microbial action in the soil.

For more information on our materials, please contact us at hi@shopretroloop.com. If we find that there are ways in which we could do better in our sourcing practices, we are always open to learning and will continue to grow with the needs of our planet and our customers.