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Look for Safer Secondhand Furniture

Look for Safer Secondhand Furniture

January 3, 2013

Buying secondhand is a great way to save money and reduce your eco-impact (since you’re not using new resources) and make your furnishings more eco-friendly. It can also help protect your indoor air quality because older items will likely have already released most of their VOCs (chemicals associated with that “new smell”). Still, secondhand furniture can pose unique risks, so you should keep the following tips in mind when you’re scavenging for that perfect piece:

  • Avoid moldy smelling or mold-stained furniture. Mold spores are almost impossible to eliminate in upholstery.
  • Test paints on antique furniture for lead. Lead was used in paints up until 1978, so you should test anything older by purchasing a simple swipe kit from your local hardware store. Try to find lead-free furniture.
  • Clean furniture with a HEPA vacuum cleaner, or one that traps dust particles down to at least 0.1 micron in size (refer to the manufacturer for details like this).
  • Dust mites may be present in the upholstery. If possible, remove and wash covers in hot water. Stay away from anti-dust mite treatments containing tannic acid and benzyl benzoate—both are eye, skin, and respiratory irritants.
  • If the furniture is really dusty and hasn’t been covered with a protective drape, you may want to forgo it. Removable, washable slipcovers for sofas and chairs will cover unsightly stains, but don’t rely on them to block dust and mold.
  • Some dusty furniture can be rehabilitated if re-upholstered. Use organic cotton fabrics and fill (consider wool if you want a flame-retardant fill).

Happy hunting for safer secondhand & eco-friendly furnishings!