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Chemicals Used in IKEA Furniture (& chemicals that aren’t used)

Although chemicals and compounds add value to a product, sometimes they are a lot more trouble than they are worth. To prevent damages that excessive exposure to certain chemicals can cause to the environment and human health, IKEA undertakes proactive steps to control the chemical composition of their products. 

Here is a detailed guide on the chemicals used by IKEA and those that are banned from the manufacturing process of certain products. 


IKEA uses chemicals like toluene diamine, chlorine, formaldehyde, and noncarcinogenic dyeing agents. But the quantities are limited and regulated. IKEA avoid using chemicals in kid’s products and anything that would come into contact with food. IKEA bans flame retardant unless legally required to use them.

Chemicals in IKEA Textiles

Due to the proximity textile products have with the body, IKEA pays close attention to the type of materials used in the production and finishing of textiles. Thus, some of the materials that are banned in textile production could be used in other materials. 

Chemicals in IKEA Textiles

Chemicals Used in Textile Production

Textiles are produced such that the chemicals used do not have any adverse effect on the workers, suppliers, and consumers of the product. To this end, IKEA follows strict rules and limitations while using chemicals that could pose a health hazard. 

For instance, Toluene diamine, a chemical component in textile dye has a restriction on its usage. IKEA restricts its application to a maximum of 5.0 mg/kg because of its connection to skin and eye irritation and even permanent blindness.

Chlorine and chlorine compounds harm the environment, thus they aren’t used to bleach fabric, instead, IKEA restricts their usage to fiber-production of regenerated cellulose and bast fibers like lyocell, viscose, and modal.  

Only dyeing agents that are neither classified as carcinogenic nor allergenic are allowed to be used for textile finishing

Banned Textile Chemicals

IKEA has banned a couple of harmful chemicals over the years. This is usually because of their harmful effect on human health or the environment.

Chemical Function in textile productionReason for banException 
Formaldehyde (1991) Crease resistance 1. Increased risk of cancer. 2. Respiratory problems. 3. Skin irritation None
Chlorine (2005)Textile bleaching1. Respiratory problems. 2. Negatively affects the environment. Banned for bleaching textile but used in the fiber-production of bast fibers and regenerated cellulose. 
Carcinogenic or allergenic dyestuff (1994)Textile coloring1. Increased risk of cancer. 2. Reproduction and genetic abnormalities. None
Bromated flame retardants (1998)Inhibit combustion and the spread of fire. 1. Weakened immune and nervous system 2. Increased risk of cancer. 3. Reproductive and hormonal problems. 4. Abnormal brain function in children. Used in measured amounts when required by legislation. 
NYEO and APEO (2002)Textile cleaning 1. Negatively affects the environment. 2. Hormonal irregularities. None
PFAS (per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances) (2016)Increases fabric’s resistance to oil, grease, water, and stains1. Increased risk of some cancers. 2. Weakened immune system. 3. Increased cholesterol levels. 4. Reproductive challenges like decreased fertility and increased blood pressure in pregnant women. 5. Developmental and behavioral abnormalities in children. None

IKEA’s Use of Formaldehyde

IKEA restricts the usage of formaldehyde to specific items, due to concerns about its effect on human health.

formaldehyde

IKEA currently has a ban on the use of formaldehyde to produce textile products. However, the substance is used in making wood and wood-based products. 

Some Furniture Still Contains Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde serves a variety of functions in the manufacturing industry. It is used in manufacturing adhesives, glues, insulation materials, paper product coatings, crease-free fabrics, composite and engineered wood products

IKEA does not include formaldehyde in solid wood products, however, furniture made with engineered wood would most likely contain formaldehyde, which is used to bond particle boards.

Reactions to formaldehyde vary from one person to another.

Exposure to a high level of formaldehyde or constant exposure to the substance for a prolonged period could lead to a variety of health challenges. Some of which include: 

  • Skin rashes
  • Eye irritation
  • Nose irritation
  • Throat irritation
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Nose and throat cancers
  • Abnormalities in lung function

Children, elderly individuals, and people with asthma are more likely to react to formaldehyde. 

IKEA is working towards using as little formaldehyde as possible in its production process. To this end, it limits the usage of formaldehyde to 100 pm (unless instructed otherwise). 

The production technique and materials used to build furniture are also improved so that they do not require so much formaldehyde. 

If, however, furniture has been made with formaldehyde, it will likely smell for a few months or even years as a result of off-gassing.

Formaldehyde Banned in Textiles, Paints, & Lacquers

Due to its adverse effect on human health, IKEA doesn’t include formaldehyde in products that are likely to come in close contact with workers or consumers.  

Formaldehyde is used by textile manufacturers to make fabrics crease and wrinkle-free. IKEA used it for that purpose as well but in 1991, it banned the use of formaldehyde in textile products. 

The wood finishing process involves the use of a range of chemical products. To prevent wooden products from being coated with items containing any unwanted substance, IKEA closely monitors the composition of the finishing products used. 

One of the ingredients IKEA forbids in wood finishing products like paints and lacquers is formaldehyde.

IKEA Does Not Use Highly Fluorinated Chemicals

Highly fluorinated chemicals are also referred to as PFASs or PFCs. The substance is mostly used in the textile industry to increase a fabric’s resistance to oil, water, water, grease, and stain. 

Due to the heightened concern about the adverse effect highly fluorinated chemicals have on human health and the environment, IKEA started to phase out the substance in 2009, and by 2016, highly fluorinated chemicals were completely banned from IKEA textile products.

PFASs do not break down in the environment. Instead, they bioaccumulate (i.e., live) in wildlife and fish.

Another harmful quality of PFASs is that they move through soils and contaminate water sources. 

 I’ve highlighted the health implications of excessive exposure to PFASs in the banned textile chemicals section of this article. 

Flame-Retardants Used When Required by Law

Flame retardants are added to products to prevent fire from starting or to limit its spread. They are mostly used on electronic devices, building materials, furniture, and transportation products.

flame retardants

IKEA strives to exclude chemical flame retardants from its products. So, rather than add bromated or other forms of chemical flame retardant, IKEA uses materials with inherent flame retardant properties like wool. This way there isn’t a need to add toxic elements to the product.

In most cases, fire retardants are only used when required by national legislation. Whenever flame retardants are demanded by a country, IKEA opts for substances that are based on organic phosphorus and nitrogen. 

IKEA continuously invests in research and innovations that promote safe and climate-friendly products. It has developed a fireproofing solution that involves adding an interlinear that possesses fire-resistant properties. 

Here are the products that IKEA currently uses flame retardants on. 

  •  Electronics and electrical products that are sold globally. 
  • Mattresses and upholstered furniture that is sold in the UK and Ireland.
  • Mattresses and mattress sets sold in the US feature a fire barrier that’s made of rayon/polyester batting. 

Some countries also require flame retardants in products like tents and play tunnels. 

Heavy Metals in IKEA Products

Heavy metals are naturally occurring elements that have a higher density than water and prove toxic even at low concentrations. 

heavy metal

They are used in the production of items in various industries like manufacturing, pharmaceutical, agricultural, electrical, and dentistry industries. 

The most poisonous heavy metals that are used in the manufacturing industry include; mercury, cadmium, lead, arsenic, and chromium. 

Excessive exposure to these elements can lead to heavy metal poisoning. Some of the effects of exposure to heavy metals include:

  • Cancer
  • Abnormalities in metabolism
  • Kidney dysfunction
  • Liver dysfunction
  • Skin lesions
  • Abdominal issues
  • Gastrointestinal dysfunction
  • Nervous system disorders
  • Vascular damage
  • Weakened immune system
  • Birth defects

Most heavy metals are not biodegradable, so they move within the environment and contaminate the water, soil, and air. 

IKEA has a general ban on the use of cadmium, lead, and mercury. However, IKEA’s low-energy bulbs contain small amounts of mercury (less than 3 mg/bulb). 

Antimony is used as a flame retardant if it is integrated inside the fiber. But the use of antimony as a fire retardant is usually based on national legislation and is subject to approval from IKEA. 

IKEA only uses lead in copper-based alloys.

In 2009, IKEA banned the use of lead in fittings, and in 2010, lead was banned in the production of mirror backings. 

IKEA currently has a restriction on the use of the following heavy metals in textile, plastic, silicon, and rubber products.

Heavy MetalPermissible value
Antimony40mg/kg
Mercury0.02 mg/kg
Cobalt10 mg/kg
Cadmium0.1 mg/kg
Arsenic0.2 mg/kg
Lead0.2 mg/kg
Chromium3.0 mg/kg
Copper20 mg/kg
Nickle1.0 mg/kg

IKEA’s Use of Biocides

Biocides are chemical substances that are used to kill or prevent the activities of living organisms. They are generally categorized into four groups.

  • Preservatives
  • Disinfectants
  • Pest control
  • Other biocides

Examples of biocides are insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, and bactericides.

poison

The use of biocides is restricted by IKEA and they can only be added if necessary approval is given. 

IKEA prohibits the use of biocide, and dimethyl fumarate in its products. 

IKEA doesn’t put an absolute ban on the use of biocides that impart the properties of the final item. Some of the instances biocides are used with by IKEA include:

  • Biocides used for antibacterial treatments. 
  • The use of biocides to preserve wood that’s to be used on damp surfaces.
  • Biocides used to prevent mold during the transportation or storage of the final product. 
  • Biocides in impregnated mosquito nets.

IKEA strives for safer alternatives to biocides during the entire manufacturing process. 

For instance, cotton is grown organically, rather than the conventional method that involves the use of a series of biocides. 

If biocides are added to a product, it’s usually in controlled quantities. 

Here are some of the effects of excessive exposure to biocides:

  • Skin irritation
  • Eye irritation
  • Breathing and respiratory disorder
  • Cancer (people who are occupationally exposed to biocides have an increased risk of having thyroid cancer)

BPA Used Selectively

BPA (Bisphenol A) is a chemical that’s used to create polycarbonate, a hard, clear plastic that’s used to make plastic items like pitchers, baby bottles, food containers, water bottles, tableware, and storage containers. 

BPA

IKEA removed BPA from children’s (0-7 years) products in 2006. In 2011, BPA was banned in cash register receipts, and in 2012 IKEA removed Bisphenol from products that come in contact with food. 

If it is used on items that are heated or used to store food, water, especially hot food/beverages, toxic elements BPA could release toxic elements into the food/drink. 

BPA is used in the production of some coatings. But these coatings are used on products with minimal risk of consumer exposure. 

BPA’s Role in Furniture and Other Products

BPA is mostly added to increase the strength and flexibility of polymers. The most popular applications of Bisphenol A are polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. Epoxy coatings with BPA are used in producing the following:

  • Receipt paper
  • Lining for metal cans
  • Dental products like sealants and composites

The chemical increases plastic’s durability and impact resistance. 

A greater portion of the BPA used in previous years was targeted at creating polycarbonate. 

Apart from storage containers and food/water containers, Bisphenol is also used in manufacturing consumer goods like eyeglass lenses, CDs/DVDs, sporting goods, appliances, and shatterproof windows. 

Most manufacturers no longer use BPA in food and drink containers, especially baby bottles. 

Negative Health Effects of BPA

Most studies on this subject show that migration of BPA from containers to food or beverages is relatively low. However, there have been concerns about the effect BPA has on infant and fetal development.

In the 1930s, BPA was studied as a “hormonal replacement therapy” because it was found to be a xenoestrogen, meaning that it has estrogen-like properties. In large quantities, it can function as a synthetic estrogen, disrupting the hormonal system.  

Here are some of the health risks of constant exposure to BPA:

  • PCOS
  • Weakened immune system
  • Reproductive irregularities
  • Infertility
  • Increased risk of certain cancers (mainly breast and prostate cancer)

IKEA Aim to Use as Few Chemicals as Possible

IKEA strives to make its products safe and environmentally friendly. To prevent the excessive use of chemicals, IKEA utilizes raw materials and production techniques that wouldn’t require a lot of chemical influence. 

Whenever chemicals are used, especially strong chemicals, it’s usually when they are required e.g., when countries demand the use of fire retardants in certain products. 

Whenever IKEA approves the use of certain chemicals, it imposes instructions and restrictions on the quantity of substances that suppliers are allowed to use.

Whenever possible, IKEA adopts the most stringent national legal requirements regarding the use of certain chemicals and adopts it globally. A prime example is its adoption of the German E1 norm for the use of Formaldehyde. 

To ensure the compliance of manufacturers to chemical restrictions, IKEA performs risk assessments during production and tests by in-house laboratories as well as external third-party laboratories. 

IKEA’s List of Restricted Chemicals

IKEA’s chemical restriction is dependent on the base material. For instance, a substance might be restricted for usage on textiles products but it could be used for wood-based products. 

chemical restrictions

The goal is to use as few chemicals as possible in close contact items like utensils, food/kitchenware, textile items, and products targeted at children. 

I’ve discussed a few of IKEA’s restricted chemicals in this article. Here are some other substances that are restricted by IKEA. 

WoodTextile productsPolymerics including plastic, silicone, and rubberPaper and cardboard materialsPolyurethane foam
LindaneChlorinated hydrocarbon compoundsChlorofluorocarbons (CFC)Hydro chlorofluorocarbons (HCFC)Elemental chlorine Organotin compounds
Pentachlorophenol (PCP)Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbonsAlkylphenol ethoxylatesAzo dyes that may release carcinogenic arylamineChlorofluorocarbons (CFC)Hydro chlorofluorocarbons (HCFC)
Organotin compoundsPolyvinyl chloride (PVC)Hexavalent chromiumPrimary aromatic animesPhalates

Sources

https://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/PFAS_FactSheet.html

https://www.ikea.com/us/en/this-is-ikea/sustainable-everyday/100-committed-to-sustainable-cotton-pub7f285ad1

https://www.ikea.com/us/en/files/pdf/64/a7/64a7baf1/ikea_faq_chemicals_in_textiles.pdf

https://www.ikea.com/us/en/files/pdf/2a/0f/2a0f5e67/ikea_restricted_substance_list.pdf

https://www.ikea.com/kr/en/files/pdf/b7/68/b768ad00/chemicals_and_substances_en.pdf

https://www.epa.gov/pfas/our-current-understanding-human-health-and-environmental-risks-pfas

http://www.pvdatabase.org/pdf/IKEA2.pdf

https://www.ikea.com/us/en/files/pdf/41/81/41810e8b/ikea_faq_highly_fluorinated_chemicals.pdf

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4144270/

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