Meredith from Delaware asks:
I am having cushions custom-made for my window seat. What are the safest materials to use as cushion inserts? I have young children so I worry about toxins and the quality of my air.
You are right to be concerned. Conventional cushions, as well as upholstered furniture, mattresses and car seats, are usually filled with polyurethane foam and chemical flame retardants.
Polyurethane foam is a synthetic material made up of toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde, benzene, toluene and flame retardants. It is highly flammable and must be combined with chemical flame retardants so that it meets fire safety regulations. The flame retardants include toxic chemicals such as PBDEs, tris and a combination of chemicals called Firemaster 550 (which has not been tested for safety). Flame retardants have been linked to conditions such as thyroid problems, infertility, behavioral and learning problems and cancer. What’s worse is that the toxins in these flame retardants escape from polyurethane foam as a gas and have been found in household dust. And studies have found rising concentrations of flame retardants in human breast milk. What this means is that you are right to be concerned about your indoor air quality and your children’s health.
The solution is to choose natural materials for your cushions. Organic cotton is an obvious choice for the outer material. For the cushion insert, I would choose a natural latex foam core wrapped with layers of wool and/or organic cotton. You could also use all wool but this would give a less firm result. The best part about wool is that it is naturally flame resistant and water resistant and protects against mites and allergens.