The Dangers of Cheap Furniture and Why Reclaimed Wood Furniture Is a Healthier Choice for Your Home

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Reclaimed wood furniture is safer than modern day wood composites that can leach chemicals in your home.
Reclaimed wood furniture is safer than modern day wood composites that can leach chemicals in your home. | Image Source: McLeod Sculpture

Pine, cherry, oak, maple — these are words that come to mind when I think of wood. Never have I been in the Outback, cooling my feet in a clear stream and thought, “What a beautiful grove of MDF!” In fact, I’ve started to suspect any material with a name long enough to be made into an acronym. But consumers that demand low costs have become accustomed to low-quality wood composites like medium density fiberboard — MDF, for short — and particleboard, a Frankenstein of scrap wood chips that are fused together with adhesives to create a new material.

Buying new furniture made from composites depletes our forests and encourages a throw-away mentality that leaves our landfills overflowing, but perhaps worst of all, the resins and adhesives used to reconstitute wood fiber into composite boards can off-gas toxic chemicals into your home throughout their lifespan.

Salvaged Wood Materials Let You Breathe Easier

Many mass-market manufacturers like Ikea work largely with particleboard and MDF. This keeps costs low and makes their furniture wildly popular around the world, but the convenience comes at the expense of customers’ health. The resins used to reconstitute wood fiber into MDF and wood flakes into particleboard release toxic gasses throughout the furniture’s lifespan. The urea formaldehyde contained in the MDF becomes free formaldehyde in the air.1 The airborne formaldehyde is a suspected human carcinogen and has been known to cause eye and throat irritation, as well as nasal carcinomas in animal studies. The development of airborne formaldehyde from the urea formaldehyde resins used to make MDF have been reported in clinical studies as incontrovertible. This has caused serious concern for environmental and health-conscious consumers but has received shockingly little regulatory attention thus far, leaving the burden of choice to consumers.

Besides the health hazards that come from composite boards off-gassing in your home, composite woods are also inferior quality. They look and feel unnatural — particleboard has to be coated in paints and other synthetic finishes to even be usable as furniture.2 In contrast, salvaged woods were often cut from old-growth trees and offer great structural integrity as well as beautiful and unique texture and coloration.

Choose Reclaimed Wood Furniture and Let Living Forests Do Their Job  

Eighteen million acres of forest are estimated to be lost each year to deforestation — that’s enough trees to cover the entire country of Panama.3 The lumber industry and mass-produced discount furniture industries have taken a cavalier attitude towards our natural resources, encouraging a throw-away culture that doesn’t value well-made products. National Geographic has referred to it as a “forest holocaust,” with 80% of the world’s natural forests having fallen prey to deforestation.4

Deforestation is a known aggravating factor in climate change. In fact, deforestation has been reported to account for 6 – 12% of annual global carbon dioxide emissions. Living trees siphon carbon dioxide from the air and, in turn, breathe life-giving oxygen. This exchange between plants and animals is vital to life on Earth — as the former turns carbon dioxide into oxygen, the latter provides the complimentary service of converting oxygen into carbon dioxide. Removing these vital carbon sinks disrupts this delicate symbiotic balance, allowing carbon dioxide to be released into the atmosphere.

In addition to the climate concerns surrounding logging, the milling process to get virgin wood ready for sale is a heavy environmental polluter. Cutting, transporting, and milling wood requires a high quantity of fossil fuels, and the resins used to conglomerate the wood chips only contribute to ongoing environmental damage throughout the furniture’s lifespan.

Set the Tone for your Life with the Materials Around You

In his collection of essays on architecture and interior design titled Atmospheres, Swiss architect Peter Zumthor says that the objects we choose to surround ourselves with are as much a part of our lives, our home, and our space as the architecture of our domestic spaces. They create the sense of home. Speaking at the Wendlinghausen Castle in Germany, he spoke about how the nature of the castle’s architecture was deeply rooted in its landscape and use of local materials. The inner beauty of the interior materials contributes to the overall experience of beauty that a person feels in its presence.5

The local woods used in the castle impart a feeling of solidity and wholeness to the environment. By choosing salvaged hardwoods, you can give your home a similar contextual richness.

Salvaged woods come with their own history, and the varied qualities in reclaimed wood furniture seem to contain quiet stories sealed in their surfaces. A damaged and reconstituted wood that off-gasses resin is a wounded injury, but a healed wood has inner and outer beauty. Salvaging lumber invokes a vibrant energy in the wood and brings a positive feeling into your home.

Additionally, the variety of grain, sheen, and wood tone found in salvaged woods can’t be bought at Home Depot. The wide range of unusual woods and unique patterns of wear offer gorgeous striation and one-of-a-kind finishes — my favorite part of owning a piece of reclaimed wood furniture is the character it develops as it wears and ages over time. These woods offer architectural charisma to elevate the style of your home.

For Health and Happiness, Choose Salvaged Woods

Buying furniture, like any interior design decision you make for your home, is a choice that sets the tone of your home, and by extension, your life. A piece of reclaimed wood furniture imparts its own energy into your home, brings architectural elegance to your space, and helps to heal the Earth rather than harm it. Perhaps most importantly, by choosing salvaged woods over composite woods or mass-manufactured furniture, you’ll be making a choice that keeps your family healthy and happy in your home for years to come.

Artisans like the McLeods are bringing the craft back into furniture craftsmanship, creating elegant furniture with its own history from salvaged woods. If you are interested to learn more about reclaimed wood furniture, or want to get design ideas for your home, contact the McLeods today.


  1. Kim, Sumin, and Hyun-Joong Kim. “Comparison of Standard Methods and Gas Chromatography Method in Determination of Formaldehyde Emission from MDF Bonded with Formaldehyde-based Resins.” Science Direct. 2005. Accessed November 27, 2015.
  2. “Furniture Construction Issues Relative to VOC Off-Gassing from Composite Wood Furniture.” MAS Certified Green. Accessed November 13, 2015.
  3. Bradford, By. “Deforestation: Facts, Causes & Effects.” LiveScience. March 4, 2015. Accessed November 27, 2015.
  4. “7 Striking Examples of Deforestation from NASA.” MNN. Accessed November 27, 2015.
  5. Zumthor, Peter. Atmospheres: Architectural Environments, Surrounding Objects. Basel: Birkhäuser, 2006.

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