Q&A: Beanbag Chairs

  • July 21, 2011 9:10 am

THE QUESTION:

Dear Alexandra,

Can you recommend a beanbag (or beanbag-like thing) or a place to look for a beanbag? It’s for my son’s room. I’ve been looking online but don’t trust these sites selling “eco-friendly” bags made with recycled foam. That sounds bad, no? My gut says to steer clear of styrene, too. I wonder if you may be able to point me in some other good directions.

Thanks, R.

THE ANSWER:

Dear R.,

What an excellent gut you have. Trust it. There really is no telling what that foam is and what flame retardants might be in it. And I also wouldn’t willingly put styrene in my kid’s room. It can be hard to suss out what is in any given beanbag chair. The first thing to consider is the outside–I’d go for organic cotton here if you can. No stainproofing needed/wanted (those chemicals aren’t pretty, either; they’re the same thing that is in non-stick pans). But preferably something you can toss in the washing machine when it gets dirty.

The second thing to consider is the stuffing, which is what you were talking about re the foam and the styrene pellets. There are many eco-friendly ways to stuff a beanbag chair. The first thing that comes to mind is buckwheat hulls. I have a neckroll stuffed with this and the texture always reminds me of a beanbag. The second is actual beans, though this might be too heavy. There are other hull-like things that eco-futon stores tend to make pillows out of including kapok.

Next up is how to find an organic cotton cover filled with buckwheat hulls. Some people do make them (I just did a quick online search). Many people making conventional beanbags allow you to upgrade to choose organic cotton and buckwheat or natural latex for the filling–safe, safe, and safe. Ask what the certification on the organic cotton is. Or call a local futon store and see if they will make you one. If you cannot find something you want or like, you could make one yourself. That way you really control the filling and can use things like old t-shirts.

Or you could have someone make one for you. Sourcing organic cotton canvas and buckwheat hulls is pretty easy. If you don’t have a local seamstress (what’s the word for a male seamstress? tailor? I’m tired today!) near you, Etsy is a great way to go. I turned to Etsy for a similar project over the winter, and had a small organic sleeping bag made for my daughter.

I’m not comfortable recommending one store over another without further research, but here’s a good Mothering.com forum thread on the topic. And here’s a good place where you can buy wholesale organic buckwheat hulls.

If you’re reading this and do have a good product to suggest, please post in comments.

Hope this helps.

-Alexandra

Q & A: Taming Toxic Furniture

  • April 28, 2011 8:17 am

THE QUESTION

Hi Alexandra,

I have a question for you.  I am coming to you because I actually didn’t know who else to ask. I am about to have a baby and in March we got new furniture from Restoration Hardware.  It clearly has a toxic smell.  I try and avoid the room and keep the windows open but the smell has not gone away.  First I would like to know- what do you think the smell actually is?  Second, how dangerous is this to my bay in my belly?  Thirds, how would you get rid of it? (air purifier, etc.)  Obviously I will keep the baby (when born) out of the room, but I am freaking out that my new furniture is really hurting my baby.

Please Help!!

Thanks!

Carrie

THE ANSWER

Dear Carrie,

Thank you for taking the time to send me your question. What kind of furniture are you referring to? I can’t tell you what the smell is without smelling it myself, unfortunately. And even then I might not know. That said, your nose knows. Truly. If it doesn’t smell good, it likely isn’t good. And you’re right not to want your growing baby around a seemingly questionable unknown. There are all kinds of things that can be lurking in furniture that would be best avoided, including formaldehyde–a known carcinogen–in the glues binding particleboard.

You can avoid this by carefully shopping for furniture. Once you already have a stinky table/cabinet/whatever in your house, there is one way to seal in offgassing chemical emissions from new furniture that has porous surfaces: in The Complete Organic Pregnancy and Planet Home I recommend AFM Safecoat Safe Seal, a water-based low-gloss sealer. Call the company directly to describe what you’re contending with and they can advise you. They also sell a variety of paints, stains, and more.

Ventilation (open your windows!) and air purifiers also help. So can taking the furniture outside if you can (make sure you have it under somewhere in case of rain). And the strongest offgassing will diminish as time goes by. If it continues to bother you, you might want to cut your losses and seek something else.

Good luck!

Thanks,

Alexandra

Here’s a passage from Planet Home where I discuss Safe Seal:

Much new furniture is made of composite woods like particleboard and medium-density fiberboard, which are temptingly inexpensive but best not brought into the bedroom; these can off-gas formaldehyde.  Though the vapors from new furniture containing formaldehyde glue diminish over time, they remain in high concentrations in smaller and improperly ventilated rooms.  If you have reason to suspect the fumes in your home are too high, there are inexpensive kits available that have been used by the Sierra Club to test levels in FEMA trailers.  For less serious levels, there are also houseplants known to act as air filters.  If you have a piece of composite wood furniture you love and don’t want to part with, move it to a room in the house where you spend less time.  You can also seal in the emissions…[from] composite wood parts with a product proven to reduce formaldehyde emissions, such as AFM Safecoat Safe Seal.

For more on which houseplants to use, check this out.