Have you ever ripped open the packaging on a long-awaited new couch or coffee table only to be greeted by a pungent chemical smell? Then this installment of “Beat the Stink” is for you.
New furniture smell isn’t just an unpleasant byproduct of buying contemporary pieces for your home; it also indicates the presence of chemicals that could be harmful to your health.
So we interviewed everyone from furniture experts to toxicologists to find out the details you need to know about this potentially hazardous stench—including eliminating it—plus shopping tips on how to avoid furniture with a chemical smell in the first place.
What causes new furniture smell?
The curious chemical smell behind new furniture isn’t as mysterious as it might seem.
“The new furniture smell is most likely a collection of different volatile organic compounds, including formaldehyde,” says Matt Daigle, CEO and founder of sustainable home improvement site Rise.
“Formaldehyde is commonly used in dozens of household products, including paints, resins, sealants, etc.,” adds Daigle. “In addition, many companies rely on formaldehyde for several different purposes, like contributing a permanent-press quality to clothing, curtains, and other textiles used in furniture.”
Formaldehyde is also a common component in new furniture glues, adhesives, and coatings. That might not sound all that bad until you realize that cancer—and a slew of severe respiratory problems—are linked to formaldehyde and other VOCs.
Watch: How To Remove Weird Odors From Your New Home
Off-gassing your new furniture
So how can you go about safely getting rid of these chemical smells? One of the easiest methods to rid your new furniture of VOCs is with off-gassing.
“Heat, air, and time are the best ways to bring down that initial off-gassing odor,” says building biologist Corinne Segura, of My Chemical-Free House. “Set the piece aside in an area that’s as warm as possible and has good airflow. While this can be a spare room inside your house, you may choose to add extra airflow to that room.” This could be a fan in the window, for example.
Keep in mind that dry heat works best as humidity exposure can make VOCs smell even more potent. And by allowing your new furniture to off-gas outside of your main living space, you’ll be able to decrease your exposure to VOCs when they’re at their strongest.
How to remove the odor of new furniture
If your furniture still smells strong even after the off-gassing period, you might be able to use products like baking soda to give it a deep clean. Test this method out on a corner of your furniture first to ensure you don’t cause discoloration.
“Sprinkle baking soda all over your fabric couch, and let it sit for at least an hour to help absorb the smell,” suggests Chad Price, CEO of Life Grows Green. “Then vacuum away.”
Leaving a naturally absorbent product in the room is another technique to try.
“You can use distilled white vinegar to remove toxic chemicals from the air,” says David Clark, CEO of the home improvement site Basement Guides. “Leave a bowl of vinegar in the room where you placed the new furniture to remove any vaporized chemicals in the air. Try and stay out of the room until all of the odors are gone.”
Buy VOC-free furniture
Since there’s only so much you can do to remove the stench of VOCs from furniture, the best course of action for those wishing to avoid exposure to these toxic chemicals is simply to change your buying habits.
“When shopping for furniture, buyers should look for quality control certifications,” says Clark. “Products must undergo a thorough evaluation of their ingredients and manufacturing process. Some of these certifications have a minimum chemical criterion that prohibits the use of toxic chemicals. So look for products that have acquired these certifications for a safer home environment.”
Some companies like Wayfair specialize in nontoxic furniture. But even if you choose to buy from a company that uses VOCs, you might still have the option to request they don’t treat your furniture order.
“If you’re buying from major brands like La-Z-Boy, you can request that your furniture isn’t treated at the point of sale,” says Monica Kahio, a certified indoor air quality health and nutrition consultant. “Other companies that make their own furniture can also customize orders.
“The best thing is always to ask if the company offers an option not to treat the furniture with the fabric protection,” adds Kahio.
Last but not least: Consider buying used furniture. You’re guaranteed to find furniture that has long since lost its chemical smells by shopping at consignment stores. In addition, you’ll probably save some money by opting for used rather than brand stinkin’ new (literally) furnishings.