Are there any manufacturers of nontoxic, non-offgassing bathroom vanities? Are there any nontoxic glues for bathroom tiles?


Susan Davis

Answered by Susan Davis

Mountain View, CA

Spectrum Fine Homes, Inc.

January 21, 2010

Before looking at where to get a vanity that doesn’t off-gas volatile organic compounds (VOCs), you need to first look at why cabinets off-gas. The culprits are generally:

  • the materials used to make the cabinet box and
  • the finish or paint applied to the exposed surfaces.

Why cabinets off-gas

Cabinet boxes are most commonly made of plywood, MDF (medium-density fiberboard), particle-board or other pressed composite products. The adhesives used in the manufacturing of these sheet-goods often contain urea formaldehyde (UF), which is the VOC most people are concerned about when it comes to off-gassing into your indoor environment.

Here are some links to sites that explain why we should be concerned about the formaldehyde levels in our homes: 

Several manufacturers of the materials used in the construction of cabinetry are now using adhesives containing phenol formaldehyde (PF), which are much safer. (Organic matter, like wood, naturally contains phenol formaldehyde, and so any wood product will never be 100% formaldehyde-free.) Columbia Forest Products manufactures the sheet materials used in making cabinets. This company is the innovator of soy-based, formaldehyde free PureBond technology.

Where to get your vanity

My first recommendation is always to shop local. By supporting your local cabinetmaker, you are also supporting the local economy and lessening the carbon footprint of the ‘stuff’ you choose to put in your home. This is extremely important when you are thinking about holistic sustainability. Watch The Story of Stuff to get the holistic perspective.

You need to ask the supplier or manufacturer of the cabinets to tell you what materials they are using, and preferably show you documentation to assure that UF is not used.

If you are purchasing pre-manufactured cabinets, be sure to learn about the certifications the cabinet industry has put in place regarding manufacturing ‘green’ cabinets.  The Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association (KCMA) has created their Environmental Stewardship Program.  Check their website to find companies which hold this certification and links to their websites.

Recycling, reclaiming, reusing

You may also think about recycling, reclaiming, & reusing when you are remodeling your bathroom. Since formaldehyde off-gassing diminishes or stops after several years, the older pieces of cabinetry are safer. Some sources say it takes from five to seven years to reach safe levels. (

  • Many regions have salvage stores where you can purchase cabinets that have been removed from remodeling projects being ‘de-constructed’, and are available for purchase.
  • You’d be surprised at what you might find, and at incredible prices!
  • With a new countertop, you can give the vanity a new life – or you may find the countertop, too!

You might also think about using an antique dresser or other piece of furniture in place of a cabinet. A few years ago we remodeled a bathroom using a wonderful Chinese cabinet our clients had purchased while living in Hong Kong. We used copper vessel sinks on top of a glass countertop, so you could see the distressed wood through the surface. This vanity was stunning, and the focal point of the Master Bath.

About your choice for non-toxic glues for tile

With adhesives as well as for paints or finishes, you need to know what chemicals are in them, and how they might affect your health.

With all products used for building (and even for cleaning), you can use the internet to research the toxicity and the potential effects on your health and safety: enter the name of the product in Google, followed by MSDS.

  • Material Safety Data Sheets, required by law for all products, are a really helpful tool.
  • You can go to your local building supply store, write down the name of the products claiming ‘low VOC’ and then Google the MSDS, before making your choice.

I looked up tile adhesives and came up with a latex-based product called CERA CT012 High Performance Ceramic Tile Adhesive that seems pretty safe.  Click here to download the MSDS pdf where it lists Mineral Spirits as the ‘hazardous component’ with no health hazard when breathed. It does say to use in well-ventilated areas, and to ‘remove to fresh air’ if an individual is ‘affected’ during use.

Ventilation is extremely important

Remember while remodeling your bathroom, and after, when you’ve moved in, proper ventilation is extremely important. The effects of humidity on building materials can cause all sorts of problems from mold to increasing the amount of VOC off-gassing.

  • Every bathroom should have mechanical ventilation vented to the outside – even when there is an operable window.
  • Most people don’t open the window in the wintertime, and it’s very important to have fresh air coming in and humid air going out.

Consider installing ventilation with automatic humidistats or motion sensors, so it’s not up to the user to remember to turn the fan on or off. Most of these ventilation fans are super-quiet, too.


For more information:

Read Molly McCabe's Q&A "I would like a list of green kitchen cabinet manufacturers."

Also, read Cynthia Phakos's Q&A "Can you recommend affordable green kitchen cabinets, flooring, and countertops?"

Tagged In: formaldehyde plywood, reuse, safe glue, cabinets

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