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Why is my new piece of furniture emitting a nasty odor?

There’s nothing more frustrating than conquering the headache of assembling new furniture to find that the headache doesn’t end, thanks to the nasty odor of off-gassed chemicals.  And off-gassing, by the way, is the natural evaporation of a type of indoor-air-quality-compromising pollutant that you may be already familiar with: volatile organic compounds (VOCs).  You may be most familiar with the VOCs in the context of paints, stains and carpets, but they can exist in a variety of chemical-treated products.

The reports that you’ve been reading about off-gassing are correct. In many cases, the offending products are indeed made in China and swathed in formaldehyde, although this isn’t always the case. China often takes the blame because so much is made there and quality control is often lacking, but when it comes down to it, the manufacture of off-gassing furniture knows no geographic boundaries. And formaldehyde is a common culprit because it’s used to cure particleboard, pressed-wood and plywood, all manufactured composite woods. In reality, any stinky smorgasbords of chemicals can off-gas.

When folks are afflicted by the side-effects-headaches, dizziness, respiratory problems, nausea, skin irritation, shortness of breath, etc.-of chemically treated furniture; it’s a standard practice to place them outdoors to allow them to “breathe”. If inside, then open windows for proper ventilation, run air purifiers, and place bowls of baking soda, white vinegar, and activated charcoal in and around your new furniture.  Also, look into the Bad Air Sponge, a great, inexpensive product used to conquer unsavory odors.

Here are a few things to keep in mind before making a furniture purchase:

  • Avoid furniture made from formaldehyde-treated composite woods and opt for “real” (preferably sustainable) wood furniture. In this day and age, this may prove to be difficult, so always consider going the vintage/secondhand route.
  • Ensure that any paints, stains and finishes used on the furniture are low or no-VOC.
  • If shopping for upholstered furniture, make sure it's not treated with toxic flame retardants (PDBEs) or are marketed as being “stain-resistant.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.