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It’s really common not to think twice about furnishing our homes. In today’s world, it’s actually kind of easy to click the buy button and have furniture show up at your doorstep. So, I guess I’m here to tell you to pause, research, and before you make that easy purchase, to truly understand what materials you’re bringing into your home.
Once you learn more about indoor air quality, toxins lurking in woods and finishes, and the negative health consequences, you might want to rethink some of your purchasing strategies. Do your research!
Our goal as parents is to keep our children healthy, and a big part of that process is creating a home environment that is safe and free of dangerous toxins. I know that this can seem overwhelming. Yes, it can feel daunting, but there is so much power in having this knowledge. As much as possible, you want to buy baby items from companies that have an honest commitment to the health of our little ones — even if secondhand.
One way to do this is to find dedicated companies who make healthier products through product certification. One of the certifications to look for is the Greenguard certification on items like furniture, cribs, gliders, and other household items.
What is Greenguard?
Greenguard is a voluntary, third-party program that tests for over 10,000 chemicals and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in consumer products. The Greenguard program identifies products with lower chemical emissions and also gives manufacturers tools to legitimize and promote their efforts to be non-toxic, eco-friendly, and sustainable.
The Greenguard certification goal is to let consumers know that these items are made of non-toxic materials and do not create polluted indoor air. Its certification program gives customers like us valid assurances that the products we are buying are actually meant for indoor spaces and meet strict chemical emissions limits. Any product that has the Greenguard seal means that all claims the company makes about the product are true and housed under the Greenguard certification that proves their chemical emission results are based on empirical scientific data.
That means you’ll create healthier indoor air by picking Greenguard certified items that come into your home. Keep in mind the Greenguard program exists because there is a demand for safer, healthier products and manufacturers are listening to us!
The Importance of Greenguard Certification
You might not know that indoor air is two to five times more polluted than outside air. Airborne chemicals and particles come from building materials, furniture, poor ventilation, and mold in the atmosphere. Environmental pollutants sneak in even when you think your home is clean and safe for everyone. In recent years, indoor air quality has become a concern for parents who have babies and small children.
Think about your daily environment: the products that you use every day, like your couch or your cleaning solutions. These all can emit VOCs that negatively affect your family’s health.
VOCs are carbon-based chemicals that are highly unstable, such as formaldehyde, and those chemicals become vapors or gases that spread throughout your home. There are thousands of VOCs out there. Even the building materials from your home or the paint on your walls can off-gas dangerous VOCs each day. So, if you’re one of those people who claim they love the smell of a new car or fresh carpet, think again! Those are chemicals you’re breathing in. (Don’t feel bad — I used to love the smell of gasoline at the gas station.)
Now, obviously some things might be out of your control. Did you move into a new construction home? Congratulations and don’t stress! Open the windows and let your house breathe. The most important thing to remember is that you can create the best possible indoor air by being selective about the products and household items you buy (Greenguard Gold certification is usually a good starting point for most items except mattresses), opening the windows often, dusting and vacuuming regularly, and using a high-quality HEPA air filter.
The Two Different Types of Greenguard Certification
There are two types of certification that you will see listed on products, so it’s essential to understand what each type means.
- Greenguard Certification: The Greenguard certification means the product meets performance-based industry standards for low chemical emissions. These levels were based on the US EPA standards, and they have been the basis for the LEED credit for low-emitting furniture since 2002. This certification tests for a long list of chemical emissions, and they set standards that are safe for the health of indoor air. For example, such certification tests for formaldehyde levels at 0.05ppm (parts per million).
- Greenguard Gold Certification: The Greenguard Gold certification tests for an even longer list of chemicals and health-based standards. They also lower the VOC emission standards so that they are suitable for schools and babies’ bedrooms. That are means that the Greenguard Gold certified products emit even lower levels of chemicals than the original Greenguard certification. This is a great certification for baby and children’s products. For comparison, Greenguard Gold sets emission standards for formaldehyde to 0.0073 ppm. As you can tell, this offers even stricter certification criteria.
What Products Can Be Greenguard Certified?
Some people assume that just furniture receives this certification, but it is so much more. Products such as building materials, electronics, cleaning products, and medical devices can also receive certification. Right now there are over 200 manufacturers who participate in the program, and that means around 200,000 products receive the Greenguard certification.
How Do Companies Get Greenguard Certified?
To become Greenguard certified, products must meet field-validated and performance-based standards. It’s a customized process tailored to the specific product. An account manager is actually assigned to each product, and they develop a certification plan that fits the product’s type, use, and manufacturing process.
Once the company has an individualized certification plan, the manufacturing procedures, as well as sample products, are tested. It’s a controlled, scientific (and interesting) process. Testing takes place in a regulated, dynamic environmental chamber that’s temperature and humidity-controlled. Greenguard has over 100 chambers that range from the size of an oven up to a full-room size for a crib or large mattress. Once a product is placed in the chamber, it sits anywhere from one day to two weeks to detect and interpret chemical composition and emissions. The chemical analysts check for VOC emission concentration to determine the number of chemicals released over the testing period.
From start to finish, the Greenguard certification process takes anywhere from one to six months, depending on the complexity of the product. Now, once a product has the Greenguard seal, it must continue to be tested annually, which ensures they haven’t changed the quality of their manufacturing processes. It’s also useful on the company-side so they can improve or change a product each year while maintaining the certification.
What Does Greenguard Test For?
All products are tested to measure emitting chemicals coming from a product. So, that means Greenguard only tests for evaporating chemicals that off-gas at room temperature.
In general, GreenGUARD tests for:
- Total Volatile Organic Compounds
- Total Aldehydes
Greenguard Gold is stricter, so they look for other things, such as:
If you’re interested in a complete list of those chemicals being tested, you can find them here.
What Doesn’t Greenguard Test For?
As good as Greenguard is, it certainly does not test for everything: only emitting chemicals. And even then, it can’t test for every single chemical out there. So be warned that even with this seal of certification, it does NOT include some important elements that you’ll want to still look into.
Greenguard doesn’t test for:
- Phthalates (Note: only Greenguard Gold tests for phthalates)
Final Thoughts on Greenguard Certification
Before you buy furniture or other items for your baby’s nursery or other rooms in your home, look to see if the products are Greenguard certified. Not all products have this certification, but there are plenty out there. And while it’s not perfect, it certainly ensures a safer, healthier home for you and your family.
What Greenguard certified products have you purchased for your home or baby’s nursery? I’d love to know!