Study suggests PFAS treatments on furniture may be unnecessary
PFAS – the ‘forever chemicals’ – are often used to treat fabrics to give them stain or water-proof properties – but a new study suggests that this may not be necessary for indoor household furniture.
PFAS (per- and poly-fluorinated alkyl substances) are a group of over 10,000 synthetic substances. Exposure to certain PFAS has been linked to an array of health impacts, including increased risks of certain cancers, and reduced response to routine vaccinations. They are also known as the ‘forever chemicals’, due to their extreme persistence in the environment.
Since their introduction in the late 1940s, PFAS have been used in an increasingly wide range of consumer products and industrial applications, including furniture and fabrics where they are often used for stain proofing. This new study investigates the performance of furniture fabrics that have been treated with PFAS, compared to untreated fabrics.
Samples of three fabrics, some that had been treated with PFAS and some that were untreated, were tested with water-based coffee and oil-based salad dressing stains. They found that water-based stains were easily removed from both the treated and untreated fabrics.
For oil-based stains on fabrics that represented the normal wear and tear of household furniture, PFAS-treated and untreated fabrics performed equally. PFAS treatments outperformed untreated fabric only in ideal conditions – where the fabric has no abrasion, stains are gently set on the fabric, and are cleaned up quickly. However an author of the study pointed out that “those are pretty unusual conditions”.
The study found that the differences in performance between fabric types were much larger than the differences between untreated and treated fabrics. The authors conclude that the use of PFAS in indoor furniture could therefore be avoided by selecting different materials.
This study adds to the findings of a survey published by Scottish NGO Fidra in 2018, which found that stain-resistant finishes added to school uniforms provided little actual benefit when it came to washing or replacing the clothes.