'Forever Chemicals' Used in Furniture May Not Help Fabrics Resist Stains
Some furniture fabrics are coated with questionable PFAS compounds -- often called 'forever chemicals' -- to repel stains, but a new study suggests they may not even do the job they're supposed to.
The chemicals, widely believed to have a negative impact on human health, don't seem to keep furniture any more or less stain-resistant than untreated fabric, according to a new study.
“It was surprising that these harmful but supposedly indispensable chemicals had no practical benefit,” said lead author Jonas LaPier, a PhD candidate in civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University.
“It makes you wonder what other uses of PFAS are also unnecessary and could be easily eliminated from products without noticeable change in performance,” he said in a news release from the Green Science Policy Institute.
PFAS stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. These ubiquitous chemicals have been associated with cancer, obesity and more severe COVID-19 outcomes.
Only a small fraction of the thousands of PFAS have been tested for toxicity, the study noted. All are either extremely persistent in the environment or break down into persistent PFAS.
For the new study, investigators released droplets of coffee and oil-based salad dressing on indoor commercial furniture with six fabrics finished with PFAS and three that had no finish.
They found that for the water-based coffee stains, none of the PFAS-finished fabrics performed better than the unfinished fabrics.
Stains were minimal and easily removed from finished and unfinished fabrics alike, the authors said.
Fabric type -- whether it was polyester or cotton/nylon, patterned or not, or light vs. dark -- was the only factor that affected coffee stains.
Some PFAS-finished fabrics had minimal improvements over unfinished fabrics with the oil droplets.
The performance differences between fabric types were much larger than from PFAS finishes, the authors said.
Abrasion quickly did away with any repellency provided by the finishes, they said. That means the benefits would be lost as soon as the furniture gets worn with use.
“PFAS are a public health nightmare and should only be used when essential,” said Carol Kwiatkowski, study co-author and scientist at the Green Science Policy Institute.
“In the case of these fabrics, they aren't delivering the desired performance of stain repellency, and like lipstick or car wax, they get reapplied, which introduces more PFAS into the environment and increases the risk of human exposure. There's simply no justification for continuing to use them in furniture,” she said in the release.
Workers, consumers and communities located near production sites could also be exposed to PFAS from furniture as it's manufactured, used and disposed of, the authors said.
The American Home Furnishings Alliance, which represents furniture manufacturers, said it had no comment on the study at this time.
Betsy Phillips, director of environmental initiatives of the textile company Maharam, said the best way to prevent staining is to clean up spills promptly. "When prompt cleaning isn't possible, choosing a thicker, darker, patterned fabric will help mask any stains that may permeate. Beyond staining, omitting PFAS is simply better for our health,” she said in the release.
Study findings were published in the AATCC Journal of Research.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on PFAS.
SOURCE: Green Science Policy Institute, news release, April 4, 2023