Last Updated on July 2, 2022 by The Filtery Staff
Let me just get the bad news out of the way right off the bat: when it comes to non-toxic outdoor furniture, there isn’t really a perfect solution. We have yet to find an outdoor furniture brand that meets all of the criteria in terms of performance, aesthetics, durability, and material safety.
Most outdoor furniture brands are treated with toxic PFAS (“forever chemicals”) in order to make them resistant to the elements (rains, stains, etc.).
“Chemical-free” outdoor furniture that’s made from more natural materials like untreated cotton is pretty hard to come by… But even if it was easier to get your hands on one of those options, these materials are going to be at a higher risk of developing mold when they get wet, which is just a different concern when it comes to outdoor furniture.
At the end of the day, you’ll probably have to weigh all of the options and then make the decision that’s best for you, your family, and your priorities.
So in this article, we’re going to cover the different things to consider when shopping for non-toxic (or at least less toxic) outdoor furniture so that you can make the best informed decision for you and your home.
P.S. For indoor non-toxic furniture options, click here.
This article contains affiliate links, which means we may earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase.
Featured Image: IKEA
Pick Your Poisons (Or Priorities!)
Considering the fact that you may not be able to find the perfect solution, you may have to prioritize and decide what’s most important to you. So here are some of the main things to consider:
PFAS or No PFAS?
This is one of the biggest things to think about when it comes to outdoor furniture. PFAS, a.k.a. “forever chemicals” are almost always added to outdoor furniture (especially ones that contain fabrics) in order to make them weather-resistant.
You’ve probably heard about PFAS before; they’re what makes Teflon non-stick pans toxic. They’re linked to a host of very concerning health effects, from cancer and heart disease, to birth defects, and more. Not only that, but they’re “persistent” and “bioaccumulative,” meaning our bodies can’t metabolize them or break them down. They just build up over a long period of time (which is how they got their nickname “forever chemicals”).
A lot of outdoor brands (even those touted as “sustainable” or “eco-friendly”) use “performance fabrics” like Sunbrella for their cushions, umbrellas, and other outdoor products. And although Sunbrella does have a few things going for it in terms of sustainability initiatives (such as OEKO-TEX and GREENGUARD certifications), it’s not always PFAS-free. They do have some PFAS-free fabrics, but as of right now, it’s really difficult to determine whether or not the specific piece of Sunbrella furniture that you might get at Target or West Elm, for example, is made using the PFAS-free fabric or not.
As a rule of thumb, you should probably always assume that an outdoor furniture brand contains PFAS unless they say otherwise.
P.S. Scroll down to the bottom of this article to learn about how to water-proof your furniture or other outdoor items without toxic chemicals!
Engineered vs. Solid Wood
A lot of furniture (both indoor and outdoor) is made using engineered wood, which can also be called plywood, MDF, particleboard, fiberboard, and other things.
The problem with engineered wood is that it’s made by gluing a bunch of pieces together (like wood chips, sawdust, etc.) to make it look like real wood. That process requires a LOT of glues and adhesives, which are often high in formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can evaporate into your air and contribute to air pollution. Even though formaldehyde occurs naturally in wood and even in our own bodies, it can contribute to serious health effects at these high concentrations. That’s why we usually recommend choosing solid wood whenever you can.
Here’s where you’re going to have to start deciding what your priorities are. When it comes to furniture that’s outside, if I have to choose between getting a PFAS-free outdoor sofa that’s made using engineered wood versus a couch that uses solid wood but has cushions that are treated with PFAS, I personally think I’d rather go with the former.
Even though the product might have higher levels of formaldehyde than I’d prefer, the fact that the couch will be outside where there is plenty of airflow and where the formaldehyde will not be contributing to my indoor air pollution makes me feel at least okay about it (choosing the lesser of the evils!).
IKEA is a great example for this scenario. They use a lot of engineered wood, which is not ideal. However, they have actually had a ban on PFAS since 1991, which is great!
Synthetic vs. Natural Materials
The next thing to consider is what materials are used for your fabrics and cushions. Most outdoor furniture is made using a synthetic fabric combined with some sort of foam for the cushions.
Most of these synthetic materials are plastics, derived from petroleum, so they’re not exactly eco-friendly or non-toxic. However, some people may want to consider buying synthetic materials for their outdoor furniture because they may be more resistant to things like mold growth. Ultimately, it comes down to which types of materials you’re comparing. Cotton, for example, tends to be more vulnerable to mold, whereas hemp is naturally mold-resistant! That being said, it’s pretty hard to find furniture cushions made from hemp (unless you make your own…) Therefore, you might choose to get Olfein (a tightly-woven, mold-resistant synthetic) over cotton.
Just like with the engineered wood scenario, it may be better to choose a PFAS-free synthetic material over a set of outdoor cushions that are made with natural cotton but then treated with a PFAS finish.
When it comes to the cushions, you’ll find that a lot of brands use polyurethane foam, which again, is a petroleum derivative that’s not healthy. If you can manage, try and look for brands that use natural latex or kapok instead. But again, you’re going to have to prioritize…
The Best Brands for Non-Toxic (Or Less Toxic) Outdoor Furniture
Our Top Choice: Carolina Morning
Materials: Solid wood; organic cotton fabric (for the removable cushion covers); natural kapok cushion filling; non-toxic, whey-based finish
Even though Carolina Morning’s furniture is technically made for the indoors, we think they make for a great sustainable outdoor furniture option! This is mainly because their cushions can be easily removed and stored indoors so that none of the fabric/cushion part of the furniture gets wet in the rain. Plus, their simply designed wooden slats are easy to clean.
All of Carolina Morning’s furniture is made in the USA out of natural and organic materials like solid wood, organic cotton, and natural kapok. Many of their materials are locally sourced, too. This furniture has a modular design, which means it can be easily rearranged to fit spaces of different shapes and sizes. You can get their cushions in several different fun colors, too!
They carry a couch, loveseat, and table, along with a lot of different floor cushions and other accessories.
Materials: Solid & engineered wood, polyester, PU foam, nylon, and more
As mentioned above, IKEA’s furniture has pros and cons. They do use a lot of synthetics (like PU foam for their cushions, for example) as well as engineered wood. This is not ideal… However, IKEA’s furniture is PFAS-free, which is a big selling point.
Of course, IKEA is not only pretty affordable, but they have a wide range of options as well—two more selling points.
If you do decide to shop from IKEA’s outdoor furniture, you can check the product details and try to find the “least bad” options. You can even filter to find out the pieces that use solid wood.
To read more about IKEA, check out this article, where we break down their chemical safety regulations and the pros and cons of the company and materials as a whole. For indoor furniture, there are better options than IKEA. However, considering the slim pickings when it comes to outdoor furniture, IKEA is actually one of the best options.
Materials: Solid wood, polyester
PFAS-Free? Kinda (we recommend choosing their wood-only pieces for a completely PFAS-free choice)
Masaya & Co. makes absolutely beautiful furniture (for both inside and outside) that’s handcrafted out of sustainably-sourced solid wood. Each piece is made by hand in their Nicaragua workshop. They even grow their own teak on deforested cattle pastures as a part of their reforestation projects!
A lot of their furniture is PFAS-free; however, a few of their pieces use Sunbrella fabrics, which may be PFAS-free, but it’s not guaranteed.
Materials: Soy-based memory foam (with some synthetics), natural latex, solid wood, linseed oil finishes
PFAS-Free? Depends on the fabric
The Futon Shop has some pretty good options for outdoor furniture too, including cushions made from natural materials.
Pictured above is their folding foam bed, which is available in a soy-foam and/or natural latex option. (Depending on which type you choose, there may be some Certi-PUR certified synthetic memory foam as well.)
They offer a range of different fabric types, including Outdura, which is a performance fabric that’s similar to Sunbrella. You’ll have to ask whether the Outdura they use has any added PFAS or not, though. But the nice thing about The Futon Shop is that they offer a wide range of different fabrics and their customer service team is generally ready to help. So if you contact them and tell them your preferences for natural and/or PFAS-free fabrics, they may be able to make your outdoor cushions accordingly!
They also carry a collection of futon frames and chairs that can be used inside or outside. They’re made from natural and non-toxic materials like solid wood and natural linseed oil for the finish. They have loveseats, futons, and chaise lounges that come in a variety of sizes.
Materials: FSC-certified wood, polyester, PU foam, aluminum, acrylic, and more
PFAS-Free? Kinda; the “majority” of their products are not treated
Joybird is a pretty good option because in addition to being very functional and aesthetically forward, most of their outdoor furniture is not treated with PFAS. According to their website: “In an effort to eliminate harsh chemicals to our products, the majority of our materials aren’t treated to be stain-resistant unless otherwise stated. As such, we do not recommend the application of products such as Scotchgard on our furniture.”
Additionally, Joybird has some other eco-friendly initiatives, such as using FSC-certified solid wood and planting trees with each purchase. Like IKEA, however, they do use a lot of synthetic material too, though (such as PU foam).
Other Options for Sustainable Outdoor Furniture…
Here are some of the other brands we looked at. All of these brands have sustainability initiatives of various kinds, whether that’s the use of FSC-certified solid wood or recycled materials, third-party certifications like GREENGUARD, or something else.
However, none of these brands are clear about whether or not their outdoor furniture contains any PFAS. We’ve reached out to these brands and will update this article accordingly if and when we hear back from them!
All of the brands with *asterisks* use Sunbrella fabrics, which means they could be PFAS-free since Sunbrella does have a PFAS-free line, but you just can’t know for sure since they don’t specify…
Or… Go For An Organic Hammock Instead!
If it makes sense for you and your outdoor lounge area, you might want to go for natural and organic hammocks instead! Check out this article for our recommendations.
How to Properly Care for Your Outdoor Furniture
No matter what decision you make, properly caring for your furniture can make a big difference, both in the long-term durability as well as when it comes to mold and mildew resistance. So here are a couple of pointers:
Increase Water & Stain Resistance the Non-Toxic Way
There’s a reason most of the outdoor furniture on the market is treated with PFAS. Most people want their outdoor stuff to be weather resistant!
However, you do have safer options. Rawganique is a brand that is incredibly strict on material safety; all of its products are specifically made with the most chemically-sensitive people in mind. Rawganique carries two products made by Otter Wax that will help you waterproof your outdoor fabrics without toxic PFAS: a Heat Activated Liquid Fabric Dressing and a Waterproofing Solid Wax Bar.
Both of these products are made in the USA out of natural ingredients like beeswax and plant-based waxes and oils. They’re both completely free from things like PFAS, petroleum derivatives, and other potentially problematic chemicals.
The solid wax bar is a little bit easier to use and requires fewer steps in the application process; however, the liquid option is better for larger products (like furniture). You could even use these options on cushions you make yourself if you want to, as well as other outdoor products like tents, hammocks, shoes, and more.
Another really easy thing you could do is spray Force of Nature on your outdoor furniture as needed. This is a non-toxic spray that is registered with the EPA to kill 99.9% of germs, viruses, and bacteria, and it’s effective in preventing mold and mildew as well. It doesn’t have to be rinsed off, so you can spray it onto your upholstered furniture every other week or so as another preventative measure.
In addition to treating your outdoor fabrics and cushions with natural weather-proof finishes, proper storage can go along way, too!
To increase the life of your outdoor furniture and prevent mold without PFAS, store your cushions indoors when they’re not in use (even if that’s just in a shed or garage). At the very least, make sure to bring them in during periods of heavy rain and/or during the winter months.
As you can see, there aren’t too many perfect options when it comes to non-toxic outdoor furniture. Finding something that is all at once durable, PFAS-free, natural and/or organic, and comfortable isn’t easy. But hopefully this article has at least helped lay out your options and narrow things down so that you can make the best decision you possibly can!
All product images belong to respective brands.