5 ways your home decor can keep you healthy
JUST BREATHE: Alleviate allergies by making green choices for home decor. (Photo: tommerton2010/Flickr)
The biggest indoor pollution contributors in furniture are the glues, adhesives and finishes applied to the frames, legs and other wood pieces that make up a sofa or chair. Look for furniture that's made with low-VOC materials like shellac, beeswax or milk paint, and water-based glues.
Also, buy furniture made of solid hardwood and avoid anything with particleboard or MDF. Not only will you escape the off-gassing from these products, but you'll save money in the long run as solid hardwood products last longer and don't need to be replaced as often. Consider finding unfinished hardwood pieces that you can finish yourself using water-based, low-VOC finishes.
Stay away from the petrochemicals! Use natural fibers like cotton, linen, wool, silk or even bamboo or hemp-based fabrics. And make sure whatever fabric you choose has not been treated. If a label says "wrinkle resistant," "permanent press," "water repellant" or "stain repellant" it has more than likely been dipped in chemicals to give it that characteristic. But, be aware that a lot of natural fibers have been grown using pesticides. If at all possible, buy fabrics labelled "organic" — they have more than likely been grown free of pesticides.
There have been amazing advances in paint in the last few years. Nearly all the major paint retailers, like Sherwin-Williams and Benjamin Moore, offer zero-VOC coatings that cover perfectly, are durable and washable, and don't smell at all when applied. And they come in every color! I've used both Sherwin-Williams' Harmony and Benjamin Moore's Natura brands, and there is virtually no difference in performance from their other brands. And I no longer experience flare-ups of my severe asthma when I paint with these products.
Another alternative is milk paint, which is even better for people with chemical sensitivities. It's made of milk, clay, botanical ingredients, natural oils (like linseed), beeswax and mineral pigments. It gives a charming rustic finish, but comes in a limited color selection.
Ideally, if you have severe allergies and/or asthma, you should avoid wall-to-wall carpet altogether and go with a hard surface flooring/area rug combination. But the appeal and look of soft carpeting covering an entire room is hard to resist, so if wall-to-wall is your thing, consider going with all-natural wool. It's naturally flame-retardant and is a natural fiber. Wool does attract moths, and as a result some wool carpet is treated with chemicals to make them moth-resistant. Avoid these carpets.
Like furniture, the most important consideration for choosing healthy cabinetry is to avoid particleboard or MDF and go with solid hardwood. Although particleboard saves money up front, it's not nearly as durable as hardwood and you (or the next owner of your home) will just end up having to rip out and replace that cheap cabinetry in 10 or 15 years, which is hardly cost-effective (or green — most of what's ripped out usually ends up in landfills).