Last Updated on May 20, 2022 by The Filtery Staff
But many people have questions about one specific furniture company: the iconic Swedish brand with the giant blue building and the maze inside… IKEA!
So in this article, we’re diving into the materials commonly used in IKEA’s furniture as well as their banned & restricted substances list to answer your most commonly asked questions about whether or not IKEA’s furniture is non-toxic.
Let’s get to it.
This article contains affiliate links, which means we may earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase. As always, we only make recommendations that are genuine and meet our standards.
Are the Materials in IKEA’s Furniture Toxic?
I wish I could give you a straightforward “yes” or “no” answer to whether or not IKEA’s furniture is non-toxic… But like so many other things in life, it’s unfortunately not that simple.
In short: IKEA does have some pretty good policies in place that restrict or ban certain toxic substances (including some of the worst ones, like PFAS). However, there is definitely room for improvement, too. The company lacks transparency in certain areas (like with their paints and finishes, for example), they don’t have any third-party certifications holding them accountable to their standards, they use a lot of engineered wood, and their list of restricted substances has some holes in it.
So let’s look at IKEA’s policies on some of the most concerning and commonly used toxins so that you can make the best decision for you and your family.
A Look at IKEA’s Banned or Restricted Substances List
First, here are some of the chemicals that are on IKEA’s banned list:
- Some heavy metals like lead and cadmium
- Some specific phthalates are banned and some are not (see below)
- Polyvinylchloride (PVC; “also includes usage as printing binders and in coatings”)
- Recycled plastic that contains brominated flame retardants
- Chlorine (for bleaching paper products; you can read more about chlorine-free bleaching methods here)
- Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH; you can read more about this here)
- Fumigation “(gassing of products/containers with the purpose of eliminating insects, vermin or larvae or other harmful organisms) with hazardous chemical products, is not allowed.”
Here are some of the chemicals on IKEA’s restricted list (a.k.a. not totally banned):
- Phthalates. Not all phthalates are banned, however, those that are banned include phthalates that are in category 1A or 1B on the E.U.’s CMR (carcinogenic, mutagenic, or toxic for reproduction) list, those that qualify as a SVHC (the E.U.’s Substances of Very High Concern), and those phthalates that are listed on the State of California “Proposition 65” list.
- Flame retardants* (more on this below)
- Formaldehyde (more on this below)
- Wood preservatives*
- Radioactive materials
- Azodyes (restricted to those “that may release carcinogenic arylamines”)
Just like with basically anything, there is always the risk of contamination, so IKEA also has “contamination limits” for most of these substances. For example, most heavy metals are “not allowed to be used,” but your products may still contain them in small amounts due to the way materials are sourced. Therefore, IKEA has contamination limits in place.
It Depends on the Material
If you dig into IKEA’s literature, you’ll also notice that their policies on substance bans and restrictions vary by material as well. For example, although the company has general policies, the specific rules for textiles and wood may be slightly different.
There are other exceptions to the rule, too. You’ll notice that some of the substances listed above have an *asterisk* next to them. These are materials that are not allowed to be used “without approval by IKEA.”
While we don’t really like seeing things loopholes like this because it leaves too much room for a lack of transparency, it’s also understandable that IKEA would need to have room for some loopholes considering they sell to a global market. Their policy on flame retardants, for example, is that they are banned except in localities where they are still required by law…
Does IKEA Furniture Have Flame Retardants?
IKEA’s policy on flame retardants is that they “are only allowed to be used with approval from IKEA.” But what does that mean?
Unfortunately, in certain parts of the world, flame retardants are still required by law (despite the fact that they don’t actually work to slow fires, but we won’t get into that right now!). So basically, the only time IKEA is allowed to include flame retardants in their products is when it’s required by legislation in the market in which the piece of furniture will be sold.
And even in those cases, the worst flame retardants are still prohibited. Brominated flame retardants, for example, have been 100% banned by IKEA since 1998.
In the U.S., many states have been slowly phasing out flame retardants over the past decade. Then in 2020, a California law went into effect which banned ALL flame retardants in children’s products, mattresses, and upholstered furniture at levels above 1,000 parts per million. Considering that most companies want to be able to sell their products to California residents, this ban was a sort of de facto ban for the entire United States. So if you’re buying a new mattress or piece of upholstered furniture in the U.S. after 2020, you’re probably safe when it comes to flame retardants!
Does IKEA Furniture Have PFAS?
Nope! All PFAS have been banned from IKEA’s products since 1991.
They also have “contamination limits” on two of the “worst” PFAS (PFOS and PFOA). This essentially means that your furniture may still contain low levels of PFAS from the manufacturing process. (Unfortunately, this is the case for a lot of different products and is largely unavoidable until PFAS are more tightly regulated.)
As a reminder: PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), also known as “forever chemicals” are the man-made chemicals that make things water- and stain-resistant and non-stick (think: Teflon). They are associated with a handful of serious health effects and they cannot be broken down by our bodies or ecosystems. PFAS are a really big problem when it comes to furniture and fabrics, so we’re glad to see that IKEA has pretty strong restrictions on them.
What Was The IKEA Formaldehyde Scandal All About?
Now let’s talk about formaldehyde.
Back in the 1980s and 90s, IKEA was the subject of a very public scandal having to do with the use of formaldehyde in their products.
Although the scandal did negatively impact IKEA’s reputation in the short term, it’s not like they were alone in this problem. It’s actually extremely common for furniture companies (especially those manufacturing wooden furniture) to use a lot of high-formaldehyde glues and adhesives in their products.
We’ve talked about this before in our various guides to wooden furniture, like bed frames and dining tables. As a quick reminder, formaldehyde is a naturally-occurring substance that exists in our bodies and environments in small amounts. The problem with formaldehyde is that at higher levels, it’s associated with things like skin problems and cancer.
Does IKEA Furniture Still Have Formaldehyde?
Obviously, the IKEA formaldehyde scandal was a long time ago, so what is IKEA’s formaldehyde policy nowadays?
No furniture is 100% formaldehyde-free since formaldehyde occurs naturally in small amounts. The real question we want to ask is whether or not IKEA uses any additional formaldehyde (and if so, how much?) in their products. This would mostly be in the form of glues and adhesives, specifically in furniture made from wood.
IKEA uses MDF in a lot of its products, which is concerning. MDF stands for “medium-density fiberboard” and it’s the most commonly used term used for engineered wood. Other terms you might see include particleboard, plywood, chipboard, and others. MDF is where most of the formaldehyde comes from when it comes to toxic furniture.
Although IKEA does use a lot of particleboard, they say they have been and continue to work toward lowering the amount of formaldehyde in their products. They basically go with a policy of “as little formaldehyde as possible.” And while that sounds nice, that’s way too subjective and vague for us…
We’d like to see more transparency when it comes to exactly how much formaldehyde is used in their “wood” products. We’d also like to see them use more solid wood instead of MDF. (They do currently use some solid wood; you just have to check the product details before buying.)
It’s also worth noting that although IKEA does use formaldehyde-containing glues, they have forbidden formaldehyde in paint and lacquer used on IKEA products.
Does IKEA Furniture Have a Prop 65 Warning?
Whether or not IKEA’s furniture will come with a California Prop 65 warning depends on a couple of factors. First, where the furniture was manufactured and/or sold (i.e. pieces of furniture that have zero chance of being sold to a California resident will probably not come with a Prop 65 label).
Second, it depends on what kind of materials were used in the making of that specific piece of furniture and whether or not those materials are on the Prop 65 list. For example, any phthalates that are on the Prop 65 list are banned by IKEA’s internal chemical usage policies, so you’re not likely to see a Prop 65 on any IKEA products for that reason. However, the Prop 65 list includes a lot of different substances and usage limits, so there may be other substances that IKEA products contain which require they add a Prop 65 label.
In short: whether or not your IKEA furniture comes with a CA Prop 65 label will likely vary depending on the individual piece of furniture, and will also depend on where you buy it.
What About Third-Party Certifications?
Although they have their pros and cons, third-party certifications can help hold companies accountable and provide a certain level of assurance to consumers when it comes to safety and sustainability.
Labels like OEKO-TEX, GREENGUARD, and MADE SAFE, for example, indicate that certain toxic chemicals are not used in production and/or are at least not left in the final product. Other eco-friendly certifications like Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) indicate that products have been made in a way that’s minimally harmful to the environment.
Unfortunately, most of IKEA’s products do not come with these types of certifications. Some of their wooden products are made with FSC-certified wood; however, that certification has also been suspended in the past when IKEA was caught sourcing from old-growth forests.
Why Does My New IKEA Furniture Smell?
It’s not uncommon for new furniture to have a strong smell to it when you first take it out of the box. Conventional furniture that’s laden with harsh chemicals is likely to smell strong because of things like glues, adhesives, dyes, and finishes. Many of these types of materials are volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which means they can evaporate into the air at room temperature. You can read more about this here.
However, even less toxic furniture may have a smell to it as well (although it’s probably not going to be nearly as strong), and it’s worth keeping in mind that new furniture smells don’t automatically mean “bad.” It just depends!
Many people believe that furniture and other products go through a period of “off-gassing,” where they essentially “get rid” of those VOCs when exposed to fresh air. Although there is some truth to this idea, and many products do go through a phase of off-gassing, it’s a bit of a myth that products “finish” off-gassing. On the contrary, many products (like PU foam cushions, for example) actually off-gas more as they get older and the material starts to break down and release into the environment.
Are IKEA Cribs Non-Toxic?
If you’re a parent outfitting your nursery, you might be wondering: Is IKEA baby furniture safe?
Considering that IKEA has a relatively strict list of restricted or banned substances, your crib is likely to be free from some of the “worst” toxic chemicals like PFAS and flame retardants. (If you’re purchasing in the U.S. As mentioned above, some places in the world still legally require flame retardants, and since IKEA sells its products all over the world, it’s important to consider the location in which you’re shopping.)
However, you’re not totally in the clear when it comes to IKEA cribs, either; there are some other things to consider:
- Some of IKEA’s cribs use fiberboard, which can contain high levels of formaldehyde and other VOCs. The Sniglar crib seems to be the best option since it’s made almost entirely from solid beechwood.
- These cribs also contain materials like “Stain,” “Clear acrylic lacquer,” and “Acrylic paint.” These paints and finishes tend to include some pretty harsh chemicals, and as a consumer, it’s practically impossible to know what’s actually in the ones used by IKEA in their cribs or other products. Here again we’d recommend going with the Sniglar crib since it’s unfinished and does not have any of these types of materials listed in the Product Details section.
- IKEA’s crib mattresses are made using a variety of synthetic, petroleum-derived materials like polyurethane foam, polypropylene, polyester, nylon, and viscose. Especially considering that your baby’s face and skin are up close and personal with the mattress, you may prefer to go with a natural and/or organic crib mattress. So if you do decide to use an IKEA crib, you can always choose a non-toxic brand for the mattress!
Here are a couple of non-toxic brands we recommend for natural and organic cribs and crib mattresses that are even safer than IKEA when it comes to the materials used:
- Savvy Rest (Their crib converts to a toddler bed and lasts up to age 5 and they have two different kinds of organic crib mattresses: Dunlop and Talalay). You can use the code THEFILTERY20 for 20% off your purchase.
- Green Cradle (their cribs are made from solid wood and zero VOC finishes and their crib mattresses use organic latex, cotton, and wool).
Summary of IKEA’s Furniture Safety (Pros & Cons)
- No PFAS
- Only use flame retardants where required by law (not in the U.S. according to 2020 California law)
- Being based in Sweden, IKEA has to adhere to E.U. chemical safety restrictions, which are some of the strictest in the world
- List of banned and restricted substances is more robust than other ‘conventional’ furniture brands
- More affordable than other non-toxic furniture companies
- Uses a lot of engineered wood, which can contain high levels of formaldehyde
- Lack of transparency when it comes to certain things, such as the ingredients in paints and finishes
- Still uses a lot of synthetic, petroleum-derived materials (plastics, PU foams, etc.)
- Level of toxicity depends on the specific product you’re buying, requiring more knowledge and research from the individual consumer
- Has no third-party certifications to verify claims
So, Which Furniture Brands Are Safest?
Here are some related guides to non-toxic furniture that might be worth checking out as you figure out what the best decision is for you and your family:
- The Best Non-Toxic Sofas & Couches
- The Best Non-Toxic Bed Frames & Mattresses
- Our Picks for Non-Toxic Dressers
- The Complete Guide to Non-Toxic Bedroom Furniture
- Non-Toxic Office Furniture: Desks and Chairs
- These Are the Best Natural Wood Kitchen & Dining Room Tables
More FAQs About IKEA’s Furniture
Does IKEA Have Any GREENGUARD Certified Furniture?
No, none of IKEA’s furniture is GREENGUARD certified, nor does it come with any other third-party certifications that are focused on material safety.
Does IKEA Furniture Cause Cancer?
While no one can really say that furniture definitively causes cancer, a lot of furniture brands do use materials that are known or suspected carcinogens. One of those materials is formaldehyde, which is very commonly found in engineered wood (also known as fiberboard, plywood, plywood, MDF, etc.), which is used in a LOT of IKEA’s furniture. IKEA’s heavy use of engineered wood is one of the things that is most concerning to us in our evaluation.
Does IKEA Furniture Contain Phthalates?
IKEA’s products are not completely phthalate-free, but they have banned some types of phthalates that have been deemed the “worst” by regulators. Those that are listed on the E.U.’s Substances of Very High Concern (SVHC) list, those that are in category 1A or 1B on the E.U.’s CMR list (substances that are classified as carcinogenic, mutagenic, or toxic for reproduction), and those that are on California’s Prop 65 list, and are banned.
Are IKEA Sofas Chemical Free?
Although IKEA’s furniture cannot be considered 100% non-toxic due to their use of engineered wood along with mystery paints, finishes, and lacquers, they do NOT contain some of the “worst” chemicals such as PFAS and flame retardants. (The exception to this is where flame retardants are still required by law.)
Considering its accessibility, IKEA is definitely not the worst choice when it comes to furniture. The company has several great chemical safety initiatives, including a relatively robust banned/restricted substances list. However, it’s not perfect: IKEA does use a lot of engineered wood (which can contain high levels of formaldehyde), it’s unclear what’s actually in their paints and finishes, and they lack third-party accountability.
If you want to find out more, check out this Retailer Report Card from Mind the Store & Toxic Free Future.
And for more non-toxic furniture recommendations, check out this article!
All image credits to IKEA.