Friday, December 31, 2010

Fire retardant in furniture and green living

I received an email a while back asking me about washing upholstered furniture and curtains with soap to remove fire-retardant from them. (Soap as opposed to detergent. Detergent is what all of the stuff you buy in the store to clean yourself, your kids, your dishes, clothing, etc. is. Soap will remove fire-retardant, detergent will not.)

About the fire-retardant. That's a toughy. I was a paramedic and I know that most people that die in a fire die from smoke inhalation, not burns. In other words, they die from breathing in toxic fumes rather than the fire touching them. The offending fire-retardant chemicals are what keeps petroleum products from going up like charcoal lighter when the fabric is exposed to a flame. It is supposed to slow down ignition of the fabric. And since the FEMA website states that a house fire can become dangerously involved in only TWO minutes, and that a house can easily become fully involved in FIVE minutes, you want as much time as possible to get your family and yourself out of the house.

You probably can remove the retardant by washing the item in soap. You're going to either have to take the pillows to a commercial laundromat with a large-item front loading washer or do them one by one in the bathtub. You could also simply remove the covers, wash them, hang to dry and then put the pillows back into them - assuming they have a zipper construction in the back/side of them.

I would simply cover the offending pieces of furniture with a 100% cotton sheet. It will keep the "toxins" off of you, but yet, if some how they are exposed to flame, they won't go up like charcoal soaked in gas.

In fact, if you're worried about/allergic to the chemicals, instead of washing it out of all your furniture/curtains/clothing, I would be replacing my stuff with 100% natural materials. Natural materials are not as quick to ignite and they don't burn with a toxic smoke - though the carbon monoxide/dioxide will still kill you. Until I could afford to replace my belongings, I would simply cover my things with natural materials.

Do a YouTube search of house fires and see how quickly man-made items ignite. From the time of ignition on a house, you can have a house fully involved in less than 5 minutes. A house trailer can be up in 7 SECONDS. It's because of all the petro products used in them and they way buildings are constructed. This is why fire-retardation formulas were invented - to slow down the ignition and give people more time to get OUT of a burning house.

You can make your own fire-retardant. It's near the bottom of the linked post. 

Truth be told, you're probably going to have more problems from the materials that furniture is made from than the fire-retardant. If I recall correctly, foam has formaldehyde amongst other things in it. And formaldehyde is in carpet, furniture and other items. The borax and boric acid are at least naturally occurring minerals -as opposed to the myriad of petro-chemicals found in most of the items we have in our homes and there isn't a lot of it used to flame-retard clothing, bedding and upholstery.

All-in-all, if it were me, I wouldn't remove the fire-retardant, I would use cotton sheets or make cotton slip covers and use those to cover my furniture. (How to do that is available on the 'net.) The extra minute or two that the flame-retardant provides can be the difference between getting yourself and family out of a burning house or dying in it or suffering permanent lung and/or brain damage from toxic smoke.


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