How Toxic is Your Couch?

When I bought my couch a few years ago, I sat on every couch in the store. I felt the difference between a deep seat and a shallow one, a tufted back and a cushion back, a twill and a velour. I learned about the wood frame and the springs and how the cushions were wrapped. I learned about the many upholstery and finish options. I did a lot of hands-on ďresearchĒ (known as lounging on couches) before I chose my beloved, perfect, couch: a triple cushion tight back version with rounded sides and a modern style.

Oh, how I loved my couch. Today, itís fair to say, the bloom is off the rose.

Because today, a team of scientists from Duke and UC Berkeley told me whatís actually inside those cushions I so carefully examined when I bought the pretty thing. Despite the clean lines, the comfortable seat depth, the perfect color, it turns out that whatís inside those cushions is not so pretty.

Itís called chlorinated Tris, and itís a carcinogenic flame retardant chemical. Someone poured a cancer-causing chemical in my couch, and no one said a word about it!

A while back, after learning that hazardous chemicals are added to furniture and other household products without being labeled, I took one of the perfectly firm cushions off my couch, unzipped its perfectly seamed upholstery, and used scissors to cut a small piece of foam from the inside. I wrapped it in tin foil, sealed it in a pair of Ziploc bags, and mailed it to a team of scientists collecting foam samples for a study.

That lipstick-size piece of foam became one of 102 couch samples gathered from around the country and tested for the presence of flame retardant chemicals. As reported today, the researchers found that 85% of the samples contain toxic or untested flame retardants, and 41% of the samples, including mine, contain chlorinated Tris, the same cancer-causing chemical that was banned from childrenís sleepwear in 1977. Todayís study shows for the first time the extent to which toxic flame retardant chemicals have penetrated the furniture market. In my case, itís laboratory proof that Iíve got a chemical that is recognized as hazardous by the World Health Organization, the National Cancer Institute, the National Research Council, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission ó In. My. Couch.

Chlorinated Tris is added to all these couches under the guise of protecting my family from fires, and to meet the requirements of California Technical Bulletin 117, the furniture flammability standard that drives the use of flame retardant chemicals nationwide. But it doesnít make us safer. Indeed, when flame retardant chemicals do burn in a fire, they can create more soot and smoke, making fires even more dangerous.

Chlorinate Tris doesnít stay in the couch, either. Research shows that the chemical migrates out of furniture and into house dust, where itís inhaled and ingested. Especially by babies and toddlers, who are on the floor and put their hands and toys in their mouths. And also especially by cats, who groom themselves by licking their fur. (I write this as my new kitties sit next to me on my blasted couch, happily grooming themselves.)

Chlorinated Tris is just one of several unlabeled toxic, persistent, problematic, altogether inappropriate chemicals found in the vast majority of the couch samples tested.

According to the Green Science Policy Institute, the science advocacy organization founded by toxic crusader Arlene Blum, flame retardant chemicals cross the placenta, meaning that babies are born with the chemicals in their bodies. Consequently, children can have three times the levels of retardant chemicals in their bodies compared to their mothers.

Apparently, I can help reduce the levels of the chlorinated Tris in my household through careful hand washing and vacuuming which, quite honestly, makes me want to heave my Hepa-filter vacuum out the window. Not that I donít like a well-vacuumed home. But every time someone tells me that I am personally responsible for cleaning up a lucrative industryís mess that has gotten into my home and threatens my children (and my kitties!), the more it sounds like nails on a chalk board.

So, letís put the vacuum aside, and fix the federal law that allows the sale and use of hazardous and untested chemicals. Tell the Senate to pass The Safe Chemicals Act now!

Posted by Molly Rauch at

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Photo: Molly Rauch


Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra4 years ago

Thank you Moms Clean Air Force, for Sharing this!

Richard T.
Richard T5 years ago


Dale Overall

Too many toxins, chemicals and other things wafting through the air. One of my friends wants me to get a couch so that he can relax while visiting watching TV. I filled the space with old wooden tables and natural old woods, birch bark, shells, fascinating tiny sparkling geodes and a plethora of plants. Cozy pillows for the cat that owns me or the neighbour's two visiting cats abound. Don't really need a couch.

Lin M
Lin M5 years ago

Some times I'd rather sit on the floor but probably some thing wrong in that too. You just can not buy anything safe anymore.

Lauryn Slotnick
Lauryn S5 years ago

Before buying a couch earlier this year for the first time, I searched EVERYWHERE for flame-retardant free couches, and came up with nothing. Considering that it would be VERY easy to make wool-stufffed or wool-wrapped organic cotton couches, without the need for chemical flame retardants to meet flame retardancy requirements, as wool is naturally flame retardant, I have no idea why there aren't such products on the market. It's fairly easy to find futon mattresses that are wool-stuffed or wool-wrapped around organic cotton, without chemical flame retardants, and we do have a futon with a futon mattress like this that I was previously using as a bed; but now that we had room for a "real" couch, my boyfriend wanted a "real," cushioned, sectional couch, and I literally couldn't find any options not using polyurthane foam and therefore requiring chemical flame retardants. I wish I knew how to make furniture so that I could start making my own wool-stuffed or wrapped chemical-flame-retardant-free couches!!

Jennifer C.
Past Member 5 years ago


Marie W.
Marie W5 years ago

We should not have disgusting chemicals in everything we eat, wear, sit on, drink, drive...

Heidi Aubrey
Heidi Aubrey5 years ago

I signed the petition and am now more aware of my furniture. Thankfully, I have no small children. I would be fuming angry If I did. I would have written to the maker and demanded an explanation for why it wasn't labeled.

Stella Gamboni
Stella Gamboni5 years ago

The most dangerous thing about a couch is not getting off it.

Vera Yuno
Vera Yuno5 years ago

Bollocks. All gibberish. Most of the articules are good but some of them are totally stupid, in my humble opinion