Are you considering getting medium density fiberboard (MDF) furniture for your home? MDF furniture offers many benefits compared to other wood options, which is probably why you are considering it. But it’s hard to ignore the safety discussions surrounding MDF. The last thing you need is to invest in incredible furniture that may affect your health.
The safety of MDF furniture depends on the concentration of chemicals used to bond the furniture. Urea-formaldehyde is one of the major concerns in MDF. In high concentrations, it’s known to cause respiratory diseases and aggravate asthma and allergies. Besides, it’s a known carcinogen.
Before you spend your hard-earned money on that MDF furniture you’ve been eyeing for a while, it’s crucial to weigh the pros and cons of getting this furniture. We’ve provided a detailed breakdown of why there are safety concerns surrounding this type of furniture and provided better alternatives. Let’s dive right in.
Is MDF Furniture Safe?
There’s a lot of debate about the safety of MDF. The main reason for these discussions is the bonding agent used to bond wood fibers together – urea-formaldehyde. This chemical is known to cause respiratory diseases, and it’s a carcinogen. What’s more, the fumes it releases aggravate existing respiratory conditions like asthma and allergies.
Nonetheless, people have different opinions concerning MDF safety. Some people believe that MDF furniture is safe for the home and others believe this type of furniture should be avoided. This then begs the question, “Who is right? Is MDF furniture any good, or should it be avoided?”
Arguments in Favor of MDF Furniture
Those in favor of using MDF furniture have several explanations for taking this stand. For starters, they believe that formaldehyde is only a concern if it’s used in high concentrations. According to them, this isn’t a concern in MDF because the gases it gives off are within the World Health Organization (WHO) limits.
So what is the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for formaldehyde anyway? In the US, it’s 0.1 parts per million (ppm) for all 30-minute periods at lifelong exposure (TWA). However, the limits are higher in Europe (0.07ppm) and California (0.05ppm). Researchers who support MDF furniture use report that MDF furniture only emits a fifth of the recommended formaldehyde limit.
Furthermore, they argue that manufacturers produce MDF furniture in controlled conditions and always ensure they stay within limits. Another argument in favor of MDF furniture is that there haven’t been any reports about cancer resulting from MDF dust since it started being used back in the mid-1960s.
Source: Construction News
Arguments Against MDF Furniture
On the other end of the spectrum, a group of people is completely against using MDF furniture. And like the first group, they have compelling arguments to support their stand. Interestingly, this group doesn’t debate the fact that MDF furniture is produced in controlled conditions. However, this “control” isn’t guaranteed once your furniture leaves the factory.
You see, there’s a high risk that the furniture will continue off-gassing fumes for the period you have it in your home. And this isn’t just because of the urea-formaldehyde used to bond the wood chips. MDF furniture is often finished with laminate, veneer, or spray paint to improve its aesthetic appeal.
Laminates are wood colored plastics that are bonded to the board using adhesives. Both the adhesive and plastics are synthetic materials. On the other hand, veneers are made of MDF, which can release formaldehyde for up to two years!
Should You Scrap MDF Furniture?
The jury is still out on what amount of formaldehyde is safe in your home. For this reason, experts recommend staying on the safe side. To do this, you have several options. These include:
- Avoiding MDF furniture if you can. A better alternative would be to go for wood furniture. Check the label on the furniture to ensure it is certified by the Forest Steward Council and that it uses green adhesives for the bonding process.
- If the furniture is MDF, ensure it’s safe. Check the labeling on the furniture to ensure that it’s within the Environmental Protection Agency limits or WHO limits.
Steps to Take If You Already Own MDF Furniture
If you’re like most people, you’ll probably want to avoid MDF furniture completely. After all, there’s no telling if the “safe limits” were adhered to during the manufacturing process. But it’s different if you already have this furniture in your house or you’ve paid, and you’re waiting for delivery.
The good news is, MDF furniture won’t off-gas indefinitely. In fact, if you’ve had your furniture for over two years, there’s a high chance the MDF has already stopped off-gassing. However, if you’ve been experiencing symptoms like headaches, sore throat, dry eyes, and phlegm and you suspect it’s your MDF furniture, you can be sure by asking yourself the following questions:
- Is the MDF furniture sealed, laminated or exposed? Sealing reduces off-gassing effects. If your furniture has exposed MDF, it may be the culprit of your symptoms.
- What bonding agent did the manufacturer use? If it’s urea-formaldehyde, it should explain your symptoms. However, some companies claim to use green adhesives.
- How long have you had the furniture? If you’ve had the furniture for more than two years, there’s little likelihood that it could be emitting gases.
- Did the manufacturer use other toxic chemicals like water-resistant chemicals and flame retardants? If so, this is another major concern.
How to Handle New MDF Furniture to Reduce Exposure to Fumes
If you’ve just bought MDF furniture, it can be a huge loss to scrap it. Fortunately, you don’t have to go through the hassle. There are several things you can do to reduce your exposure to dangerous fumes. These include:
- Storing the furniture outdoors: When MDF furniture is new, it releases a lot of fumes, which can cause respiratory diseases, among other health problems. Storing the furniture outside limits your exposure. Make sure you keep it there until you can no longer smell anything.
- Improve airflow in your house: If you don’t have enough room outside to keep your furniture, aeration is key. Keep the windows open to allow airflow, which helps eliminate the fumes.
- Apply sealants to exposed wood: If you notice exposed MDF, you can use some wood sealants to cover the area. Doing this reduces the amount of fumes released.
- Avoid sanding or cutting the furniture: Cutting or sanding MDF releases formaldehyde particles into the air, which only makes matters worse.
Advantages of MDF Furniture
MDF furniture is not all bad. There are a plethora of benefits that come with owning this type of furniture. Besides, MDF has been in use since the 1980s, and it has to be a good reason. If you’re thinking about getting MDF furniture, some of the benefits you stand to gain include:
MDF furniture is produced using waste wood. As a result, it costs way less compared to solid wood or plywood. Therefore, if you’re on a tight budget, this is the best option. However, MDF is not suitable for all types of furniture because it’s not the most durable.
It works for lightweight beds and chairs. You can also use it to fabricate shelves, tables, and wardrobes, which require some improvement. This said, you should know that the cost of MDF furniture may go up depending on the type of finishing materials you’d like used. For instance, it will cost less to finish the wood with spray paint compared to veneers or laminate.
The core material of MDF doesn’t have knots and splinters. Therefore, you can achieve a smooth finish effortlessly. If you were using wood, it would require multiple additional steps to get the look you desire. What’s more, MDF finishing can be done using different materials like laminate and veneers. This allows you to get an even smoother finish.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Because MDF is a homogenous material, it’s effortless to work with. As a result, it’s possible to achieve multiple shapes and designs. You can incorporate 3D patterns, perforated panels, and even decorations on your furniture, which isn’t possible with some materials.
Another great benefit of MDF is that it’s easy to install. In fact, in most cases, the furniture is assembled on site. All you have to do is to transport it, and you’re good to go. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys a hassle-free installation process (who doesn’t?), this is a great benefit.
It saves you the additional hassle of finding someone to install your furniture and saves you money that you’d otherwise spend on the installation process as well.
Resistant to Insects
MDF is also resistant to certain wood-friendly insects. This is made possible by the combination of chemicals used in manufacturing MDF furniture. When the insects come in close contact with these chemicals, they die. The chemicals also act as insect repellants. As a result, you don’t have to worry about damage from insect infestation.
Takes Any Color
Another good reason to consider investing in MDF furniture is the fact that it takes any color. Wood takes long tenure for the staining to kick in, especially for brighter colors, and it doesn’t always give the desired result unless a lot of paint is used. This isn’t the case with MDF. Therefore, if you’re considering colored furniture, MDF may be an excellent option.
Source: Civil Today
As we mentioned, MDF is derived from old wood, which would have been thrown away as waste in the environment. This recycling process makes MDF an eco-friendly option compared to wood. With wood, new trees would have to be cut down to get the raw materials required to produce furniture. For this reason, every time you invest in MDF, you decide to save the environment.
Disadvantages of MDF Furniture
As you know by now, MDF furniture is not without drawbacks. Top among the disadvantages of owning this furniture is the existence of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in MDF. Urea-formaldehyde is one of the dangerous chemicals used in MDF furniture. This chemical is used as a bonding agent and releases off-gassing fumes that have been linked to cancer and respiratory diseases.
However, VOCs are not the only thing you have to worry about if you’re thinking of investing in MDF furniture. Other disadvantages you’ll have to deal with include:
MDF Is Not Strong or Durable
If you’re like most people, you probably want furniture that can last a lot of years. Unfortunately, this isn’t something you can rely on MDF to provide. MDF may be resistant to termites and other insects, but it’s not durable or strong.
It’s not recommended for furniture pieces with drawers because the drawers can’t hold anything heavy. Furthermore, MDF is almost impossible to fix when it gets damaged because cutting or drilling into MDF can make the material come apart.
Screws in MDF furniture also tend to loosen over time, which can be a huge loss considering you can’t fix the furniture.
MDF is Not Water-Resistant
Another limitation of MDF furniture is that it’s not water-resistant. The MDF materials tend to soak up water over time and easily disintegrate if pressure is applied. This means you can’t use MDF furniture in kitchens, bathrooms, and other areas where there’s a lot of water.
MDF furniture is also not meant for outdoor use. When it rains, the furniture can easily get ruined, and it’s not practical to take the furniture in and out every day. And while you can use sealants and vanishes to make the furniture water-resistant, these wear out over time, thereby posing the same problem eventually.
Source: Architectural Digest
Safer Alternatives to MDF
You’ve learnt that the debate surrounding MDF safety isn’t conclusive. Still, you don’t want to take the risk and expose your family to dangerous fumes. If this is where you stand, there are safer alternatives to MDF that you should consider. These include:
For most people, solid wood is the obvious choice for furniture. Wood has been used in furniture production for many years, and it’s not hard to see why. This material comes with a plethora of benefits that are difficult to ignore. Here’s why you should consider going for wooden furniture.
It’s Made of Renewable Sources
One of the best things about wood is that it’s made of renewable sources that require little to no additional energy to produce. This isn’t the case with MDF. Because MDF is made of non-renewable resources, a lot of energy goes into the production of furniture.
It’s Easy to Repair
As you’ve learnt, one of the downsides of MDF is that you can’t repair it if you want to. Cutting or sanding the material releases off-gassing fumes that are dangerous to your health. Additionally, the fragile MDF comes apart when you drive a nail through it during a repair.
You won’t have this problem with wood. Even after years of having your furniture, you can cut, sand, or repair the wood without any challenges. What’s more, you can reuse wooden furniture for years. The fact that wood breaks down organically is also a benefit that shouldn’t be ignored.
Wood is among the most durable materials you can use to make your furniture. It has a natural strength that makes it resilient in different circumstances. It’s the type of furniture you won’t need to replace unless you want a change. It’s also the perfect option for signature furniture pieces you’d like to pass along to your kids. Yes, it’s that durable.
It’s More Intricate and Personal
Another benefit of wood is that it allows you to get more intricate and personal designs. Because most wood furniture designs are handmade, you have a lot of freedom regarding the designs you can get. With MDF, in most cases, the furniture goes through mass production, making it difficult to achieve these intricate and personal designs.
You Have a Say in the Type of Wood
When you pick solid wood for your furniture, you also have the freedom to pick the type of wood you need. As a result, there’s flexibility in deciding the durability, strength, and appearance of the final product. You won’t get this from MDF because the material is produced from waste wood.
Therefore, if you‘re in the market for durable, high-end furniture, solid wood is a sure bet because you’re assured you’ll get exactly what you need.
The Quality of Construction is Unbeatable
Wooden furniture is built to last a lifetime. And the best part is that there are no chemicals involved in the production process. Therefore, you never have to worry about exposing your family to off-gassing fumes, as is the case with MDF.
However, while wood is strong and durable, the quality of construction largely depends on the carpenter’s expertise. Therefore, to ensure you get a lot of life from your furniture, it’s crucial to hire someone who has exceptional expertise working with wood.
It’s Easy to Clean and Naturally Beautiful
You’ll also love that wood is effortless to clean. All you have to do is wipe it down with a wet piece of cloth, and it goes back to looking as good as new. Wood is also naturally beautiful. You don’t have to add veneers or laminates to improve the aesthetic appeal. It looks incredible immediately after the production is done.
The addition of paint and wood stain amplifies its beauty. It’s for this reason that wooden furniture stands out in any room you have it in. With MDF, a lot of processes go into beautifying the furniture. And the sad part is that each step requires dangerous bonding agents and chemicals that only put you and your family at risk.
The Furniture Can Fit Any Surrounding
Wooden furniture is also worth every dime of investment because you can place it anywhere. Unlike MDF, wood doesn’t soak up water then crumble under pressure. For this reason, you can have it in your kitchen, bathroom, and other areas where it may come into contact with water.
You can also use wooden furniture outdoors. And the best part is that you won’t have to take the furniture in when it rains or snows. As we mentioned, wood is strong, durable, and resistant. It can weather any storm and still look amazing. Now that’s worth paying for.
Source: Swiss Valley Furniture
Throughout the years, hardwood has been the go-to option for durable furniture. However, over time, carpenters and architects started favoring the use of bamboo for furniture and plywood. It’s considered a greener alternative to hardwood. You see, bamboo isn’t a tree. It’s a tall perennial grass that tends to be as hard as some oak trees.
Therefore, the use of bamboo doesn’t result in cutting down of trees as hardwood does. Manufacturers produce bamboo plywood by cutting small strips of bamboo and gluing them together under high pressure to make the material even stronger. But why should you consider bamboo plywood for your furniture? Let’s find out.
Looks Like Hardwood
If you love hardwood furniture, you may be skeptical about using bamboo plywood, especially now that you know bamboo isn’t actually a tree. But don’t worry. Unless you really know the different types of wood, it would be difficult to differentiate hardwood from bamboo plywood. They look very similar.
Bamboo plywood has a unique texture that lends every creation, including furniture a simple, yet elegant look. Besides, there’s no limitation in terms of the designs and colors you can achieve with bamboo plywood.
Bamboo plywood is also one of the most durable materials you can use for your furniture. In fact, it’s more durable than hardwood. This material also goes through treatment during the plywood creation process. The treatment makes bamboo plywood resistant to insects and dust, which further boosts its longevity.
You’ll also love the fact that bamboo plywood is water-resistant and resistant to scratches. Furthermore, it’s resistant to warping and can be refinished 2 to 3 times. As a result, it’s possible to keep bamboo plywood furniture for a lifetime in good condition.
Harder than Hardwood
Bamboo plywood is also harder than the average oak or maple plywood. Because bamboo already has a great density, it gives the ply additional strength. Strand woven bamboo made by fusing strips of bamboo and adhesives under high pressure is believed to be even stronger than maple, ebony, and oak.
Therefore, if you’re looking for a material you can use to make long- lasting furniture, bamboo plywood won’t disappoint. It’s perfect for all types of furniture designs.
Versatile to Work With
Bamboo plywood, unlike MDF, is also quite versatile. Apart from furniture, you can use it to make floors, cabinets, and even countertops, among other things. It’s easy to work with and can be easily changed into different designs to achieve the desired look.
And the best part? It lends each creation a touch of sophistication even though it’s natural. It may be just a grass, but it gives the strongest woods stiff competition.
Easy to Clean
Cleaning bamboo plywood furniture is a walk in the park, especially if you bought the materials from a reputable dealer. During the production process, bamboo is boiled in boric acid, which removes all insects present and sugar. Furthermore, bamboo plywood is dust resistant and immune to water spills.
Therefore, all you have to do is wipe your furniture down with a piece of wet cloth, and it will be as good as new. And if it gets scratches, you can refinish the furniture again to get it back to looking as good as new.
With all these benefits, you probably think it will cost a fortune to get bamboo plywood furniture. Bamboo plywood is way cheaper than most hardwood. Because it’s a grass that grows in large numbers and has a short harvesting period, it’s one of the cheapest materials on the market.
Bamboo plywood is also effortless to install, which is incredible if you plan to make the furniture yourself. Besides, the material is easy to handle, and you can work with it with minimal wastage and fuss.
Source: Bamboo Industry
Make the Right Choice
If you were concerned about the safety of MDF, you now know that it’s not the safest material to use for furniture. If the production isn’t done under controlled conditions to ensure safety limits are not exceeded, the furniture poses a risk to you and your family’s health due to the off-gassing fumes it produces. You can stay on the safe side by ensuring any MDF furniture you buy was produced using green adhesives or under controlled settings.
Alternatively, avoid MDF altogether and consider the safer alternatives we’ve provided. They give you more benefits compared to MDF, and you never have to worry about potential health risks. So weigh the pros and cons of each material and make the right choice. You’ll be glad you took the time to do so.