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Readers often ask if IKEA furniture is non-toxic.  As is often the case when searching for non-toxic products, the answer is not a simple yes or no.  In general, IKEA is a good first place to start when looking for affordable items with lower levels of toxicity because the company has long been committed to using materials that are better for people and the environment.  Safer Chemicals Healthy Families recently gave IKEA an A- rating for tackling toxic chemicals in consumer products.  It received the fourth highest score out of 40 of the largest retailers.  Yet, it’s important to look at individual items to determine if the level of toxins is low enough to meet your particular needs.

IKEA has a sophisticated chemical policy with a list of substances that they ban or limit.  This is much more restrictive than government standards. Here is a summary of the list:

  • no BPA in anything, not even the cash register receipts
  • no brominated flame retardants. “We never add any chemical flame retardants to our products if not required to do so by national legislation. To avoid adding chemical flame retardants, we strive to use materials with inherent flame retardant properties instead, such as natural wool.”
  • no PVC
  • no phthalates in children’s products and food containers
  • formaldehyde is “substantially reduced”. Note that it is reduced and not eliminated, which means that it is necessary to look for materials that could be sources of formaldehyde such as polyurethane foam, particleboard and plywood.
  • no fluorinated (water-repellant) chemicals in shower curtains, umbrellas and ponchos
  • no chrome in leather
  • no “CMR” substances—may cause cancer, mutation or are toxic to reproduction.
  • ban on lead, cadmium and mercury content
  • ban on the use of azodyes in textiles and leather

If you are someone who doesn’t have the time or interest in researching each item, IKEA may be a better choice than traditional furniture retailers who don’t restrict chemicals beyond government standard and aren’t as transparent about their materials.  For those who do want to take the extra steps of knowing exactly what is in each item, let’s take a look at some examples.

Bed Frames

Unfortunately, as I went through some of the bed frames I have recommended in the past, I realized that some solid wood components have been replaced with veneered wood.  Veneered wood refers to a thin slice of wood glued onto a core which is usually wood, particleboard or MDF.  There are no longer any bed frame options that are all solid wood.  There are bed frame options on the market that are entirely non-toxic, but they tend to be considerably more expensive than those offered by IKEA.

Here are the best options available from IKEA:

Tarva, Neiden, and Gjorahave frames made with solid, untreated pine, galvanized steel support, and veneered slats for the bed base that are attached with 100% polyester.  The slats could off-gas low levels of VOCs.  As an extra safeguard, you could apply a non-toxic sealer such as AFM Safecoat Safe Seal to lock in any emissions.

Leirvik and Kopardal have powder coated steel frames and veneer slats for the bed base that are attached with 100% polyester. Powder coated steel is a hard finish that will not off-gas.  It is, however, made with toxic substances and could contain carcinogens.  These are more of danger when applying the coating but do not pose harm in a finished product.  I would not eat off of a powder coated steel product but in this application it should be safe.  As an extra safeguard, you could apply a non-toxic sealer such as AFM Safecoat Safe Seal to the slats to lock in any off-gassing.

Hemnes has a frame made with solid pine but it is stained with a low VOC stain.  Like the above models, it has veneered slats for the bed base.  Thought the stain is low VOC, it will have emissions and will off-gas more than the above models.

I would not recommend any of the other IKEA bed frames because they contain materials such as polyurethane foam, particleboard, or ABS plastic.

Mattresses

All of IKEA’s mattresses, with the exception of Mausund contain polyurethane foam and synthetic fibers.  Because IKEA does not use brominated flame retardants and actively seeks safer fire retardant chemicals, these mattresses might be safer than other traditional retail brands, but it is not non-toxic enough for me to recommend.  Even the Mausund, which is described as a natural latex mattress is made with 15% synthetic latex, which is rubber made from petroleum.

Couches

All of IKEA’s couches contain polyurethane foam and some have frames made with particleboard or plywood. For the same reasons I would not recommend IKEA’s mattresses, I would not recommend their couches.

If there is interest I will look at other categories of IKEA products in future posts.

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