Advice for an Allergy-Friendly, Non-Toxic Kitchen Renovation

in Healthy Home, Indoor Allergies
Published: May 2, 2012


So those old monstrosities are gone and it’s time for a fresh new look. But when choosing cabinets, it’s what’s inside that counts.

Most cabinets these days are made with cheap particle board cores, then covered with a thin wood or synthetic veneer. Trouble is, that particle board is usually held together with formaldehyde-laced adhesives, which can trigger asthma and are also known carcinogens.

So the best option for people with allergies and asthma are FSC-certified wood cabinets, or ones made from bamboo; but if your budget is tight and the big box store cabinets are your only option, look for ones that are formaldehyde-free.
If you do shell out for the all-natural bamboo or solid wood, make sure you also know what’s going on the outside. “I’ve had cabinet makers use sustainably harvested wood, then cover it with an oil-based varnish or lacquer,” says Freed.

“Make sure they finish the cabinets with a water-based, and preferably zero-VOC, product. Otherwise, those cabinets can off-gas for years.”


In the ’70s, plastic laminate counters were all the rage; unfortunately, most of them were a toxic soup of plastic, formaldehyde-impregnated resins and other hazardous glues. What’s taking their place is “solid surface” – a plastic-like product that, once cured, does not off-gas and is safe for people with chemical sensitivities. (The dust from cutting it can be irritating to the lungs, however, so people with respiratory disorders should steer clear during construction.)

Freed also recommends stainless steel counters, as well as natural surfaces such as marble or granite. Just beware that final layer, since stone is usually sealed with a chemical. “There are now zero-VOC cleaners and sealers for natural stone that are just amazing,” says Freed. “They’re so natural, in fact, that one sales guy drank it. To me that’s a pretty good sign.”

Freed’s favorite counter option is IceStone, which mixes pieces of recycled glass and concrete, and has the sparkly, reflective quality of terrazzo. “It’s gorgeous, it’s durable, and it’s all-natural, so it doesn’t off-gas at all,” says Freed. “And you can pick which colors of glass and cement you want so there is an infinite number of varieties.”

Next Page: An appliance that makes a big difference and the big finish