a mom and a boy playing with toys on the living room floor from a top down view with the UL greenguard logo on the right side

Modern textiles and furniture are manufactured and treated using heavy-duty chemicals that may leave trace amounts on the final products, which, emitted over time, can pollute indoor environments. 

To avoid this, you can buy low-emission products like those with a GreenGuard certification.

Read on to learn more about GreenGuard certification, what it means for you, what tests it includes, and how to identify products that pass these rigorous testing methods. 

Why Should You Consider Buying GreenGuard-Certified Products?

Consider buying GreenGuard-certified products to ensure that your material has the lowest chemical emissions to protect the health and safety of you and your family. These products focus specifically on formaldehyde emissions which are particularly harmful to most people in indoor environments. 

What Is a GreenGuard Certification?

A GreenGuard certification is the highest certificate that products can receive to show they meet industry standards of low emissions. A GreenGuard-certified product undergoes rigorous testing to show that volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted from the product are lower than the limits set forth by scientific studies. 

Hazards of Volatile Organic Compounds

Volatile organic compounds are biological chemicals found in the air that originate from products such as furniture, textiles, upholstery, and other organic materials. GreenGuard certification ensures that VOC levels released from certified products are as low as possible.

Indoor environments are more susceptible to the accumulation of VOCs because there is less air to dilute them and less airflow overall. Therefore, indoor spaces with high concentrations of VOC emissions have an increased risk of contamination. 

But what risks are we talking about?

The following are known symptoms, diseases, and ailments that several peer-reviewed scientific and medical studies have proven to correlate with VOC inhalation:

  • Irritation of eyes, nose, throat
  • Nausea 
  • Cancer 
  • Headaches
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Asthma
  • Tremors
  • Central nervous system damage 
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
A woman reaching for an inhaler and clutching at her throat.

As you can see, VOCs are incredibly harmful, which is even riskier to children and any pets you might have. 

Because of their smaller bodies, they breathe in more air relative to their size, so the concentrations of VOCs in the air we breathe are more dangerous for children.

In other words, children breathe in a higher dose of pollutants than adults in the same environment. This makes children much more susceptible to health problems from poor indoor air quality, making GreenGuard certification even more essential for them.

How To Identify GreenGuard-Certified Products

Due to the risks associated with materials that emit higher levels of these compounds, there is a move towards manufacturing materials with lower and lower VOC levels. As a result, you can now find zero-VOC paints, textiles, and even building materials that you can use in your home or other projects. 

But how does one identify that the products they intend to use are safe?

GreenGuard-certified products are easily identifiable by the logo, as it has a circle with a “UL” above a leaf and the word GREENGUARD underneath. Still, you can search the official database to ensure that you’re getting a certified product and not one with a pirated logo stamped on it. 

A GreenGuard Gold certification label transposed to the left of a a plant's branch and leaves
Courtesy of Ardex

You can search for materials used in construction, textiles, and much more to check whether they are safe.

VOCs That GreenGuard Certification Tests For

To guarantee quality and ensure your safety, GreenGuard certification is not a one-time certification. Products are tested yearly to ensure that they meet the current standards of low chemical emissions. 

Here are two of the chemicals that GreenGuard Certification tests for:

  • Formaldehyde – this industrial chemical is highly toxic and has been known to cause severe respiratory tract and skin irritation. At high levels, inhaling its vapors can cause dizziness and suffocation. 
  • 4-Phenylcyclohexene – often found emitting from carpet backing, this is a chemical that doctors found to cause multiple chemical sensitivity, a syndrome described as severe allergies and toxicity from low-level exposure to chemicals. 

The total emission level allowed in GreenGuard certification is 500 μg/m3, which means the total quantity of volatile organic compounds. This figure is further reduced to 200 μg/m3 for a GreenGuard Gold Certification.

In the spirit of transparency, these are chemicals not included in GreenGuard certification tests:

  • Lead – lead poisoning is a severe disease, and exposure to lead should be limited. Prolonged exposure is proven to cause lower IQ levels, anemia, hyperactivity, hearing complications, growth development issues, and learning problems. The main routes of exposure are through ingesting or absorption through the skin.
  • Phthalates – recent studies have shown that children exposed to phthalates are at risk of developing reproductive problems, so it is crucial to screen for them. They’re included in plastics, but unfortunately, GreenGuard Certification does not test for them. 

What Is GreenGuard Gold?

If you have small children in your home, we suggest you go the extra mile and search for products certified as “GreenGuard Gold.” 

They have passed even more rigorous testing, meaning carbon emissions are lower than GreenGuard-certified products. This certification is meant for products used in daycares, preschools, and the healthcare sector. 

These are some of the chemicals that GreenGuard Gold certifications specifically test for:

  • Acetaldehyde
  • Carbon tetrachloride
  • Ethylbenzene
  • Styrene
  • Trichloroethylene
  • 1-Methyl-2-pyrrolidinone

Products That Need Certification

Given that practically everything we use in modern-day homes is manufactured at the industrial level, it’s understandable if you are overwhelmed. 

Here’s a list of the products that are usually tested:

  • Cleaning products
  • Medical equipment
  • Toys
  • Furniture
  • Upholstery
  • Furnishings, such as bedding and other textiles
  • Construction materials, such as paint
  • Electronics
A GreenGuard Gold certification label transposed above a photo of two smiling homeowners lounging on a mattress in a bedroom
Courtesy of Avocado

While the list above doesn’t include all the products that you and your family might be exposed to, checking these products for GreenGuard certification will help you reduce the number of pollutants in your home. 

Ultimately, using more GreenGuard-certified products will help you avoid the risk of exposure to harmful pollutants and the adverse reactions they may cause. You can also use organic cleaning products to limit exposure to those chemicals.

Environmental Benefits of GreenGuard Certification

When using GreenGuard-certified products, you can contribute to reducing the impact of industrialization on the environment. By reducing the pollutant levels in your indoor environment, you are ultimately reducing the pollutants in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Downsides of GreenGuard Certification

GreenGuard certification does not mean zero emissions, as manufacturers are still allowed up to 500 μg/m3 of VOCs. That means there is no way of knowing whether the emissions are at 20, 100, or 499. 

Some companies might use such certifications as a marketing tactic known as greenwashing. They deliberately convey the message that their products are eco-friendly and good for your overall health to attract consumers. But in reality, they might barely meet the minimum requirements for GreenGuard-certified products. 

To better judge the GreenGuard-certified products you are using, we recommend you not depend solely on the labels but take the time to do your own research. That means checking individual testing reports for the products and searching user reviews for suspicious effects.

Final Thoughts

A GreenGuard certification means the product has been tested for harmful VOC emissions. Buying GreenGuard-certified products ensures the indoor air quality of your home is as safe as possible. 

Choose these products when purchasing furniture, upholstery, and textiles to keep your family safe from the many side effects of prolonged exposure to harmful chemicals and biological agents. 

GreenGuard-certified products are imperfect and may still have low VOC levels or chemicals not included in GreenGuard’s tests. Regardless, GreenGuard-certified products are still better for everyone’s health and the environment. 


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