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For anyone with pets and/or kids or prone to spilling red wine, the phrase stain resistant might be music to your ears. What you won’t want to hear is that home products with mess-proof claims are often doused in polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), chemicals that are linked to various health issues, from weight gain to cancer. A recently released peer-reviewed study from the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists casts doubt on soil-repelling upholstery, meaning we might be living with harmful toxins for no good reason. 

Using droplets of coffee- and oil-based salad dressing, researchers tested six textiles with PFAS and three nontreated textiles only to find limited to no effectiveness in stain prevention under real-world conditions. When it came to greasy spills, some of the treated materials did show minimal improvement, but it really came down to which fabric types truly proved more impenetrable (polyester versus cotton, for example). The study also revealed that any repellency is short-lived anyway. In other words, a few months in, your new white sofa is no longer safe from the hazards of family pizza night, but the “forever chemicals” are there to stay. If you want to steer clear of stains but don’t want to bring PFAS into your home, these smart shopping moves can help you go toxin-free while keeping your furniture as fresh as day one.    

Pick the High Performers 

There are some brave souls who can live with light-colored upholstery without fear, but for everyone else, the shade and style you select will be your stain-saving superpower. When it came to water-based spills like coffee, the AATCC study showed that patterns and darker solids help mask the mess. Synthetic selections like polyester are also innately less absorbent. Wool, which contains lanolin, is also naturally repellent. 

Toss It in the Wash 

With the resurgence of trends like cottagecore and coastal grandma, there’s no shortage of chic slipcovered pieces on the market. But if the Nancy Meyers aesthetic isn’t your vibe, companies such as Levity and Ruggable offer a variety of styles, from postmodern floor coverings to mid-century dining chairs with machine washable components. Knowing you can slide off the covers on laundry day makes a glass of red wine on the sofa that much more indulgent. 

Have a Backup Plan 

For messes that don’t camouflage well, your best bet is to be armed with safe spot treatments for immediate action. Leanne Ford, for example, encourages her toddler to draw on (some of) the furniture in her home, but when it’s time for a clean slate, she swears by the powers of Magic Erasers. Another savvy toddler mom soldiered through the newborn phase with Nellie’s $9 Wow Stick. And for everything else, our editors put some of the best upholstery cleaners to the test to keep your space oops-proof and chemical-free forever—see our essential list here.