If Your Couch Is Older Than This, You Need to Replace It, New Study Says
New research says replacing this piece of furniture may benefit your health.
Considering how much time you've spent at home this past year, you may have done some redecorating, like adding a new coat of paint here or a new piece of art there. But bigger purchases, like furniture, tend to happen much less frequently. However, if you've had the same couch for years, a new study published in the journal Environment International says you may want to replace it for more reasons than it just being out-of-date. According to the research, if your couch is seven years old, you should replace it for the sake of your health. Read on to find out why you may need to go couch shopping, and for more on your home, beware that If Your House Smells Like This, You May Have a Bug Problem.
If your couch was made before 2014, it is likely filled with flame retardant chemicals.
According to the new study, which included researchers from University of California, Davis; Environmental Working Group; the California Department of Toxic Substances Control; and Green Science Policy Institute, couches made before 2014 are likely filled with added flame retardant material.
The use of flame retardant material in upholstered furniture became prevalent in 1975, when California set a furniture flammability regulation called TB117. It was also followed across the U.S., as manufacturers did not want to make one set of products for California and another set for the rest of the country. In order to meet the furniture flammability standard, manufacturers added large quantities of flame retardants to the foam of couches.
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Flame retardant chemicals are associated with many negative health issues.
As the researchers explain, you'll likely want to replace your couch if it filled with flame retardants, which contain a "large group of chemicals" that may be harmful to your health. Specifically, the study discussed three types of flame retardant chemicals: polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), chlorinated tris, and organophosphate, all of which are "associated with many adverse health effects."
PBDEs have been linked to thyroid disease in women, while chlorinated tris can cause cancer, per the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. And there's emerging evidence that organophosphate shows "associations with impaired learning, reproductive problems, asthma, allergy, and behavioral problems in children," according to the researchers.
"Additive flame retardants … migrate from products like furniture and can settle into house dust," the study authors explain. "Dust is a major exposure pathway for many, with exposures among children being a particular concern due to their proximity to the floor and increased hand-to-mouth activity."
And for more health issues to be aware of, If You Feel This at Night, You Need to Get Your Liver Checked, Doctors Say.
Flammability standards were changed in 2014, meaning flame retardants are no longer needed.
As of Jan. 1, 2014, California updated its furniture flammability standard to TB117-2013, allowing manufacturers to meet regulations without having to add flame retardants to furniture. And much like the previous regulation, furniture manufacturers across the country updated their practices for every state to follow the California standard.
For this new study, researchers recruited 33 households in Northern California who were willing to swap out their old coaches for flame retardant-free options—two-thirds replaced their entire couch, while the remaining third updated the couch's foam. Then, the researchers tested the dust in the home for chemicals.
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Homes that updated their couches in the study had significantly decreased exposure to these chemicals.
Researchers collected dust samples in the homes before the couches (and/or foam) were replaced and then again at six, 12, and 18 months after. They found that concentrations for the three different types of flame retardant chemicals were significant in people's homes before they replaced their furniture. Six months later, however, the researchers found that all but one of the measured flame retardant chemicals decreased in the homes.
"This study provides further evidence that the bans on flame retardants in upholstered furniture in California and other states help to reduce flame retardant levels in the home," Tasha Stoiber, PhD, one of the study's co-authors and a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, said in a statement. "Replacing a couch or sofa with furniture made without flame retardants makes a significant difference in people's everyday exposures to these chemicals." And for more things you may need to get out of your house, If You Have This Soap at Home, Stop Using It Immediately, FDA Says.