MDF has become the general title for any dry-process fiberboard, so you’ve probably heard of it before. You’ll hear about it again while you shop around for furniture. But, what does it really mean? Is it good for you or your home? In this article, I’ll tell you if MDF is safe for you and your family.
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When I describe what typically comprises MDF, or Medium Density Fiberboard, it may sound like an obvious toxic recipe. And yet, this board is widely used all over the world thanks to its economical price and easy installation. While various types of MDF have been developed to suit different needs, there is a basic list of “ingredients” for this recipe.
Typically, you’ll find wood fiber, urea-formaldehyde resin glue, water, and paraffin wax in it. This mixture is then shaped under high temperature and pressure into sheets or boards of different sizes. It’s as simple as that. MDF is meant to be an alternative to solid wood and plywood. There are other alternatives that are similar to MDF, but do have distinctive differences. Let’s talk about those.
The quick answer is yes. Most definitely. Just think of all the contact that furniture made of MDF has with chemicals throughout the production process. The wood chips or fibers are usually bonded with urea-formaldehyde. This strong substance is known to aggravate allergies, asthma, and cause other respiratory illnesses. It’s also a known human carcinogen.
Although manufacturers have taken measures to limit their employee’s exposure to formaldehyde in the process of production, there is little said about the continued off-gassing fumes of your furniture once it leaves the factory and enters your home. There is usually a finish on MDF furniture to make it look better and increase its strength and durability. The common finishes are laminates, veneers, or spray paint.
Laminates are basically wood-colored plastics that are adhered to the board. The plastics and adhesives are all synthetic. Veneers are made of MDF and are able to continue off-gassing for up to two years! Specifically, the resin binder, urea-formaldehyde. If you already have MDF furniture and are suspicious that it might be the cause of some irritating symptoms, such as a sore throat, phlegm, dry eyes, or headaches, here are some questions to ask yourself:
Not all furniture made with wood is made equal. It’s okay to be picky about what kind of wood your furniture is made out of. Before you buy that next piece of furniture, think of these hazards. Although it may be cheaper or easy to assemble, MDF also has some serious drawbacks. Here are just a few of those drawbacks:
As I’ve said before, these bad boys will be off-gassed into your home for months, even years, leaking many of the chemicals that were used in producing it. That possibly includes waxes, dyes, urea-formaldehyde, paraffin wax, water-resistant agents, insect-proof agents, and fire retardants.
MDF is clearly not the best choice for your health, the environment, and even for social responsibility (mass production outsourced from countries that practice child labor!). There are way more cons than pros.
Solid wood is the best alternative to any conventional fiberboard furniture materials. There are so many advantages of solid wood furniture, so let’s take a look at some of them:
When buying furniture, it’s important to choose natural materials that have not been chemically treated as well as natural finishes, such as beeswax or linseed oil. This way, you’ll dramatically reduce your exposure to toxic chemicals at home.
As MDF is full of potentially toxic chemicals, such as formaldehyde and VOCs, MDF furniture is not a safe choice. The best option is solid wood furniture with a natural finish. For more information about non-toxic furniture, check our articles about solid wood bed frames, futon frames, and non-toxic sofas.
My name is Kamila, and I'm passionate about researching non-toxic, organic products for the home. I believe it's so important to create a safe and healthy environment for our families, and I enjoy helping others do the same.