Medium Density Fiberboard is an easy and affordable component for furniture. However, what makes it cheap – taking leftover scraps of wood and pressing them together with adhesives and laminates – is also a recipe for a health hazard.
Before you go shopping for bargain furniture, you should learn about some of the basics of MDF. Specifically, you’ll want to know whether it will be a safe option for your home.
We’ve got that covered. This article will introduce you to the topic and help you understand whether MDF furniture is safe and under which circumstances you should avoid it.
In This Article We'll Discuss
Is MDF Safe?
When it comes to MDF, the question has less to do with whether it’s safe, and more to do with when it’s not safe. It’s all a matter of how much gas seeps out from it and how high the concentrations of its toxic elements are.
Since MDF gives off fewer gases as it ages, older furniture and flooring in rooms with great air circulation are safer than new furniture in a room with stagnant air. A good rule of thumb, however, is that if you can smell furniture or cabinets made from MDF, you should get rid of them.
What is MDF?
MDF is made from wood scraps that are pressed together with adhesives under high temperatures. It’s stronger than particle board and is often made with a veneer that makes it look like solid board.
In addition, it resists warping and the chemicals used to make it repel termites. It’s also inexpensive, which makes it a popular alternative to wood.
However, the gases inside the chemicals that are used to make it – especially formaldehyde – also seep out of it and into the air. This gas can cause potential health problems.
What Are Some Alternatives to MDF?
Two popular alternatives are particleboard and plywood. In general, particleboard is cheaper but weaker, while plywood is stronger but more expensive. Unfortunately, both are made with the same adhesives that MDF is made from. So, unhealthy fumes are also a problem with both alternatives.
A new alternative is a kind of MDF that’s made from rice stalk waste. It doesn’t use resins containing formaldehyde. So, it’s much safer than wood MDF and should be price-competitive given that rice is a food staple.
Is MDF Sustainable and Environmentally Friendly?
MDF has a complicated relationship with the environment. We know that gas seeps out of it that contains formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen. But, what’s unhealthy for us in the short term isn’t necessarily bad for the environment in the long-term.
Since MDF is made from recycled wood scraps and fibers, it is considered eco-friendly. However, it’s difficult to recycle MDF, and it usually winds up in the landfill. There, as it breaks down, those same cancer-causing chemicals can seep into groundwater.
How Should You Handle MDF Furniture?
If you inhale a lot of MDF fumes, you aren’t going to feel the effects on the spot. But, if you inhale a lot of it in the short-term, you might get a bad headache. The formaldehyde in MDF is a known carcinogen, so you don’t want to breathe it in for a long time.
Most of the toxic fumes produced by MDF will go away with time. So, one way to manage the risks of new furniture is to store it outside for a few weeks or until you can no longer smell it. Another option is to place it in rooms with excellent air circulation.
What Should You Do if You Already Own MDF Furniture?
The good news is that MDF furniture becomes safer the older it gets. That’s because the chemicals associated with it dissipate over time. So, if you already own MDF furniture, it will be safer than brand new MDF furniture.
If you can smell fumes coming off your MDF furniture, you might want to move it into outside storage for a few weeks. Or, make sure the room it’s in has the best possible air circulation, so you can keep the fumes from building up. You can also turn your thermometer down a bit in winter.
Is MDF Safe When Painted?
It’s okay to paint MDF. Its ability to hold paint is one of its advantages over other types of affordable recycled wood products. Once you paint it, the paint soaks in and stays in place.
However, painting it won’t eliminate the formaldehyde that binds the wood fibers together. What it will do is seal that formaldehyde into the wood, causing it to leak out at a much slower rate.
Is MDF Banned in America?
Contrary to persistent rumors, MDF is not banned in the United States. People have talked about a ban going back to the mid-90s, but it’s never happened.
Health concerns linked to MDF are well known, however. And, a low-formaldehyde version of MDF is popular in the United States. In addition to concerns about furniture in your home, there are health risks associated with the manufacturing of MDF.
So, although it isn’t banned, there are protections in place for workers and consumers.
Since it contains formaldehyde, you’ll want to be careful when purchasing furniture made from MDF. While it carries some benefits such as resistance to warping and being a cheaper option, it can also cause health issues.
However, that doesn’t mean you should avoid it altogether. The longer you own MDF furniture or flooring, the safer it becomes. You can also use it safely by placing it in a room with great ventilation, which will keep the air free of MDF-related fumes.
If you feel better informed about the issues surrounding MDF furniture, feel free to leave a comment down below. You can also share this article on your social media networks. Information that helps keep you safe is worth sharing.