How To De-Toxify Your Kids New Bedroom Furniture

Posted by Dani on March 18, 2013

We have been doing a little redecorating in the girl’s bedrooms. We have given them new queen beds, and have added some storage. IKEA is a great destination for teen bedroom solutions, and we bought two mattress foundations with storage (Sultan Alsarp) and a Besta shelving unit with doors.

You can’t beat the price and the clean modern look or sensible design. The problem is that most of this furniture is made from foil wrapped particleboard. When we built the bed in Olivia’s room, I just could not get over the smell. Off-gassing from the new mattress, foundation, and shelving unit was making the air in the room unbearable.

I happen to be a chemical engineer and the unfortunate result is that I see chemicals everywhere. People don’t often consider that when they smell an odour, they are actually inhaling and absorbing some kind of chemical compound. For this reason, I get really concerned about odours from furniture or building materials, which can have very toxic ingredients. When the rest of the family thinks, “hmmm, I smell paint,” I think “OMG all these volatile organic compounds are being sucked into my children’s lungs.” It’s a bit of a curse.

So I was very concerned about the odour in Olivia’s room. I have some longer-term changes in mind to help, but we needed a quick and easy solution in the interim. One thing I have done in the past is seal the exposed edges in particleboard furniture with non-toxic water based sealer. This is a very easy fix that doesn’t quite eliminate the problem, but reduces it significantly. We found out how significantly this past weekend.

After building Olivia’s bed and noticing the strong smell, we decided to seal the edges of Isabel’s bed before we assembled it. This way we were able to see the difference it would make because we could compare the two rooms, and we were amazed at the result. Although both girls have new mattresses, which also off-gas, the odour in Isabel’s room was significantly lower. This is good news for Isabel but bad news for my husband, who now has to take apart and then rebuild Olivia’s IKEA furniture so that we can seal it too. You can imagine how much he is looking forward to more IKEA furniture assembly.

The instructions for this are very simple: find a good, safe clear sealer and apply it to all the raw edges with a sponge brush. Two coats are best. Wipe down any drips with a rag. That’s it. This doesn’t eliminate the problem, but it does reduce it. You can also take other steps to help. Make sure the room is well ventilated, and consider getting an air purifier that removes VOCs. Formaldehyde and other resins used in particleboard can off-gas for a long time, and all these steps will help. Children are especially vulnerable, so you know your efforts will be well worth your time.



27 Responses to “How To De-Toxify Your Kids New Bedroom Furniture”

  1. Cathy says:

    Hi– Just came across your article as I’ve just assembled a couple of Ikea dressers and the smell from the particleboard used for the bottom of the drawers is quite strong and I was concerned. I have also just ordered a new bed for my child and would like to apply a sealer as you suggested. Can I buy this product at Home Depot? Do you recall the brand and name of the product you used? The only sealer I’ve purchased before is a grout sealer, which was also clear and claimed to have no VOCs but I’m not sure this is the kind of product you’re suggesting to use on particleboard. Thanks!

    • Dani says:

      Thanks for your comment. I know exactly what you’re talking about – the “new” smell when you unpack furniture with particleboard. Unfortunately, that smell is really you inhaling chemicals off-gassing from the resins and glues they use – yuck. All new furniture like this will off-gass for some time, even later at levels too low for your nose to pick up. What I did here was seal all the exposed edges with a water-based sealer to reduce the amount of gases that escape. While it doesn’t solve the whole problem, it made a big difference to the quality of the air in the room. I can’t recall the brand I used, but it was a water based polyurethane – the kind that you would use to seal wood furniture. I bought the one with the lowest VOCs. Hope that helps.

      • Vanessa says:

        I just bought a hemnes solid wood ikea bed frame in white. It’s off gassing like crazy and we’ve had it three days. I bought solid wood thinking that it wouldn’t smell but it must be the paint stain. My baby sleeps in our room so I’m freaking out right now. Is there anything I can do short of returning the bed to avoid us all breathing in the Vocs from the bed. I can’t believe it smells so bad and isn’t particle board. 🙁

        • Dani says:

          I hear you – I really hate the “new furniture” smell! Since it is solid wood, it must be the finish that is off gassing. The only thing you might do is seal it with a low VOC clear water-based sealer, which might be an improvement over whatever Ikea used. Good luck!

  2. Sally Messer says:

    Help! I have just purchased an Ikea mattress for my niece – how can I de-toxify it long term? The smell is SO bad 🙁

    • Dani says:

      I hear you! There is nothing worse than that persistent “new” smell. Unfortunately, I don’t think there is anything you can do to speed up the process. The smell is off-gassing from the man-made materials in the mattress, and will diminish over time. You could try a mattress cover made for dust mites, and see if that helps. Other than that, you’re going to have to keep the window open when you can to air out the room, and be patient! Let me know if you find anything else that helps. Good luck!

  3. Patti says:

    Dani, if I use a mattress cover that seals really well, what happens to the chemicals that the mattress is trying to off-gas? Do they get sealed up in there and then come out eventually when I remove the cover or will they actually go away somehow while sealed in there? Thanks for all of your helpful information!

    • Dani says:

      To be honest, I am not 100% sure. I think that the chemicals will off-gas regardless. The cover may offer some protection, depending on how well it seals. The off-gassing will decrease over time, so maybe the best thing you can do is make sure there is as much ventilation as possible especially at the beginning. Maybe you can open the window a bit every day? I think there are so many chemicals in our environment, that the best thing we can do is make improvements wherever we can. Every little bit helps! Thanks so much for visiting, Patti, and good luck!

  4. Tamara Romero says:

    Thank you for your post, I felt the same when we got my childrens ikea furniture, so much anxiety over the toxins it was putting in their air. To make matters worse, I asked my husband to spray paint the wood on their bed, thinking it would be safe once it was dry and we sealed it. We followed all the instructions carefully and waited over 24hrs for each coat to dry. But now a few weeks after it’s been in their room I’m noticing the paint is very easily chipped. I’m really concerned as I know this paint was toxic. I’m wondering if I can re-seal tj and it will be safe, or if the best option is to dispose of the bed? I would really hate to get rid of it, but I’m so anxious about them breathing harmful chemicals all night. Any suggestions?

    • Dani says:

      Sorry to hear about your situation! Dealing with paints can be complicated. Usually if paint is not adhering well, it’s because the surface needed some special prep, like sanding or priming. I’m not sure you can easily fix a paint chipping problem, since it’s the layer nearest the furniture that’s the issue. It may continue to cure over the next month and become more chip resistant. Usually paint companies have good customer service to help with these issues – it might be best to contact them. Good luck!

  5. Lauren says:

    Omg I wish I researched IKEA furniture before I shopped. I never in a million years expected this – my sofa is horrendously off gassing! I don’t even own a truck so in order to return it is have to spend another $150 to rent a UHaul! Any other suggestions how I can help speed up the off gassing or at least help clean the air? My apartment is teeny & the only window is in the bedroom (no chances of getting the sofa in there lol)

    • Dani says:

      Unfortunately, I think most modern furniture off gasses. I don’t think you can speed up the process. The best thing, if you’re forced to keep the couch, is to try to get fresh air into your apartment. You could try putting a fan right up to your bedroom window to draw in or push out air – I sometimes do that by putting a fan right up against the window mesh. You can see if changing the direction of the fan makes a difference – blowing out vs. blowing in. It’s a tricky one – good luck!

  6. Kimberly says:

    Thank you so much for this article. Our new PS 2012 chest of drawers has been off-gassing for 4 months now in my 6 year old’s room and Ikea won’t accept the return.

    I will try this.

    • Dani says:

      I think this is very typical of new furniture. I’ve used this trick before, and it can really help. I also like to keep my eyes peeled for “gently used” items that don’t have that “new” smell. There’s a lot of Ikea furniture available on sites like Craigslist! Good luck!

  7. Jo says:


    Thanks for this article. I am really really worried today, and wondering if you have any advice, given your background. We have just moved to India and today got deliery of a whole bunch of new furniture – dresser, chest of drawers, tables, and kids’ room stuff. While it is all mango wood furniture, backing and other insignificant parts are made with engineered wood.
    I am concerned both about the VOCs from the engineered wood bits, as well as those from the wood stains, paints, etc used on the furniture. Our unique (unfortunate) situation is that we live in a serviced apartment in a hotel, so I cannot stick the pieces outdoors to off-gas, nor can I air out the rooms (the windows don’t open beyond a crack, as in all hotels), nor do I have a spare bedroom that won’t be used at all.
    Any, any idea what I could do? The smells arent strong, but there is a little something, but moreover, I know that new furniture will release chemicals. REaly freaked out, especially because I have a 3 year-old!

    • Dani says:

      My apologies for only just seeing this comment now 🙁 I hope you have been able to resolve the issue in the last few months. If not, one suggestion I have is to get a high quality air purifier. I experienced a situation with environmental pollution once when I was pregnant, and we used a HEPA and carbon filter until it improved. It made a HUGE difference. Good luck and thanks for dropping by!

  8. Emily says:

    Hi, within the last 7 months I have habe bought an ikea matteress and bed, chest of drawers and wardrobe. All the while and since I first bought the item I have had problems breathing coughing and tightness of chest. I too can really notice the smell and am very sensitive to chemicals. Do you think that it’s possible it’s causing these problems, many thanks.

    • Dani says:

      Thanks for your comment. I have heard many cases where people have experienced health problems because of furniture off-gassing. It’s a complicated issue. Maybe you can try sleeping in another space for a few days to see if there’s a difference? You could also try sealing the furniture to see if that helps? Good luck and thanks for your visit!

  9. Lisa says:

    So, this isn’t about ikea furniture, but spray paint. I am looking to spray paint my son’s plastic car bed, but I’m so worried about all those chemicals. If I let it “cure” until that smell goes away, do you think that will be safe for him to sleep in?
    Also, is it the same or worse than the “just came from the factory” chemicals.

    • Dani says:

      I can’t really comment without knowing more about the type of paint. Generally, the paint will off-gas for some time depending on the formula. Maybe you could contact the manufacturer and see if they could recommend a safe amount of time? Good luck and thanks for dropping by!

  10. Lisa C says:

    I got some free boxes that I plan to use for vegetable planting. I am painting the wooden sides with an all purpose enamel and will line the box with 6 mil plastic sheeting; however, the bottom of the boxes are particle board. I was anticipating it rotting, but now my husband says it will make the soil toxic. Any thoughts on that?! Should I clear coat and hope for the best?

    • Dani says:

      I think the plastic sheeting will offer some protection, but I’m not sure the clear coat will help very much. How about lining the bottom with a layer of gravel or sand to keep the soil away? If you’re particle board does not contact the soil, that should stop any leaching. Good luck!

      • Lisa C says:

        Found out some great news! One of the boxes still had a packing slip on it, so I called the company. The particle board is European and they do not allow the disgusting chemical components used in so many things here. So the particle board is ONLY sawdust and glue, then heat pressed to hold shape. Amazing! Thank you very much for your response. I am still putting heavy duty landscape fabric under the boxes, so I’m hoping to be covered either way 🙂

  11. CRISTINA D says:

    So you only have to seal the “raw” edges?

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