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Adhesives May Be Gripping Our Furniture And Our Health

building materials Mar 19, 2018

by Angela Cummings and Sophia Ruan Gushée


Furniture would fall apart without the use of adhesives or another method that holds the parts together.

Imagine trying to sit on a chair that’s not secured by adhesives and screws.

Are you picturing yourself on the floor with chair pieces around you? Me too.

While important, adhesives are often made from hazardous chemicals. These chemicals enter our bodies as we inhale their fumes and absorb them through our skin.

Chemicals in Adhesives & Health Effects and give us a peek into a large number of adhesives produced and used in everyday products.

“They [adhesives] may be classified in a variety of ways depending on their chemistries (e.g. epoxies, polyurethanes, polyimides), their form (e.g. paste, liquid, film, pellets, tape), their type (e.g. hot melt, reactive hot melt, thermosetting, pressure sensitive, contact, etc.), or their load carrying capability (structural, semi-structural, or non-structural).” (1)

Epoxies. Found on store shelves as epoxy or epoxy resin, epoxies contain hardeners and solvents. Solvents that are typically used are acetone, methyl ethyl ketone, toluene, xylene, glycol ethers, and alcohols. (2) Some epoxy resins contain BPA. (3) Chemicals found in epoxies may contribute to asthma, developmental disorders, cancer, and autoimmune disorders. (4)

Polyurethanes. Polyurethanes are used in everything from flexible foam in furniture to adhesives, sealants, and glues. (5) Two (of the many) chemicals found in polyurethanes include toluene diisocyanate (TDI) and methylenediphenyl diisocyanate (MDI).

MDI is also used as the binding agent for composite wood products—like particleboard, fiberboard and oriented strand board (OSB). (6) Examples of chemicals used to make TDI and MDI are chlorine, toluene, formaldehyde, benzene, and other chemicals that are all in the Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) family, and have been found to cause short-term and long-term health effects. (7)

Glues. Chemicals—like benzene (8) and formaldehyde (9)—are used to make glues. Formaldehyde is often an ingredient in the glues and adhesives used to create pressed wood (composite wood) products.  

These chemicals have been linked to leukemia, breast, lymphatic, and hematopoietic cancers. They may contribute to chromosome (cellular) damage and may affect the neurological and developmental systems. (10)

Adhesives. Phthalates and formaldehyde are often found in adhesives. These chemicals off-gas and contribute to poor indoor air quality. They may also contribute to liver and kidney damage, birth defects, allergies, asthma, and cancer.

Adhesives Used in Household Items

Adhesives can be found in glues that hold furniture parts together, bonding material for composite woods, and products with the gripping power to attach building materials—like flooring, trim, and wallpaper.

Epoxies, polyurethanes, glues, and adhesives can be found in standard mattresses, end tables, couch frames, and headboards.  

Adhesives are a key ingredient in composite wood, which is produced using a combination of adhesives and wood particles.

Furniture connected with wood dowels—like shelving and bed frames—typically have glue holding the dowel into place. Even furniture joints that are secured with screws sometimes have glue as well, for extra holding power.

It’s evident that adhesives play an important part in our lives, so how can we create a less-toxic home environment?

Options for Less Toxic Adhesives

1. Use safer glues and adhesives. Glues and adhesives are available as zero-VOC or low-VOC products, and some claim to be “nontoxic” altogether. Consider choosing glues and adhesives that have the least amount of VOCs and harmful chemicals in them. Healthy building or healthy product supply companies may be able to help you determine which are better options.

2. Skip the adhesives. Use screws, nails, or other fastening devices to secure parts of products. For example, opt for mattresses that have layers sewn together rather than glued together. (11)

3. Choose naturally strong products. Solid hardwood grips and screws fasten tightly and may not need additional adhesives to be used. Even more significantly, solid hardwood does not require the use of adhesives in the manufacturing of the wood, like composite wood products do.

4. Increase ventilation. If hazardous adhesives are required to be used, increase the amount of fresh air in your home. Open windows and doors to get a nice cross-breeze flowing to dilute the concentration of chemicals off-gassing in your home. 

In Summary

Adhesives play a big part in holding furniture and building materials together. They can be used to hold pieces, bond small particles, and add grip power to materials. They grip our furniture, and may also be gripping our health, potentially contributing to asthma and autoimmune disorders to cancer and cellular damage.

Consider using glues and adhesives that contain zero- or low-VOCs, or no adhesives at all. When possible, choose naturally strong products—like solid hardwood with screws or nails as fasteners.

During times where adhesives cannot be avoided, increase the ventilation in the house by opening windows and doors to let fresh air in and dilute the concentration of chemicals in the air.





(2) Electronic Library of Construction Occupational Safety & Health

(3) Bisphenol A

(4)(7)(10) A to Z of D-Toxing, Works Cited Part 2

(5) American Chemistry - Polyurethane

(6) American Chemistry - Dii

(8) ToxTown - Benzene

(9) ToxTown = Formaldehyde

(11) A to Z of D-Toxing, Works Cited Part 3 and 4

Deconstruct to reconstruct.

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