San Francisco Department of the Environment

How can I avoid flame retardant chemicals?

Flame Retardant Chemicals are found in a wide variety of products:

  • Upholstered Furniture
  • Electronics
  • Baby Products
  • Building Insulation
  • Carpet Padding
  • Vehicles

In your home, they can emit from upholstered furniture in the form of dust, or they can get on your hands when you use plastic electronic items such as your remote control. Flame retardants chemicals aren’t good for your health, and they haven’t proven to be very effective at preventing fires either. Avoid ingesting flame retardant chemicals with these solutions:

Everyday Actions

  • Dust, vacuum, and mop your home often.
  • Wash your hands often, especially before eating.
  • Don’t eat while using electronics such as a TV remote or computer key board.
  • Cover up holes or reupholster old furniture, pillows or pads if foam cushions are exposed.

Improvements and Replacements

Understand why flame retardant chemicals are used.

Since the 1970s, flame retardant chemicals have been incorporated into furniture, carpet padding, insulation, electronics and other products. At that time, in-home smoking was more prevalent, and electronics would often overheat. Flame retardant chemicals are added to products as an outdated method to meet government fire safety rules. 

While these chemicals do little, if anything, to slow or prevent fire, studies show they are accumulating in humans and the environment. These chemicals may disrupt brain development and thyroid hormones; affect learning, memory and attention; reduce IQ; reduce sperm quality; disrupt thyroid function; and mimic estrogen.

Luckily, policy changes are leading to a reduction in the use of flame retardants.

Fire safety regulations for upholstered home furniture have changed to encourage other manufacturing methods which do not use these chemicals. Because of this change, and in response to consumer health concerns, many manufacturers have promised to stop adding flame retardant chemicals to polyurethane foam used in their products. In fact, flame retardant chemicals in furniture and certain children's products have been banned in San Francisco since 2019 and in California since 2020. Several other states are following suit as well.

What should I be looking for when I shop?

Although any new upholstered furniture sold in California is required to be free of flame retardant chemicals, it’s helpful to know what to look for when buying furniture second-hand, or when buying furniture in another state. You can check for the label below, usually under the couch cushion or under the seat of the chair, to verify that the item does not contain flame retardant chemicals.

If you are purchasing a children's product, it is more difficult to tell whether it contains flame retardant chemicals, as no labeling about these chemicals is required. Like furniture, new children’s products sold in California must be flame retardant-free, but if you are buying something second-hand or in another state, it’s a good idea to check with the manufacturer to see when they stopped using these chemicals in their products.

Related Content

San Francisco's Flame Retardant Chemical Ordinance
Tips for Healthy Homes

Additional Resources

Natural Resources Defense Council's explaining flame retardants
Chicago Tribune's "Playing with Fire" series on how and why flame retardants are used
Green Science Policy Institute's background on flame retardants
Environmental Health Perspectives' summary of widespread exposure to flame retardants


Breathe Easy - Choose Flame Retardant-Free Furniture

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