Ikea designs, manufactures and sells a wide variety of ready-to-build furniture, such as desks, dining sets, couches, bookcases and beds. To keep materials from deteriorating during storage and shipping, Ikea routinely treats furniture components and packaging with binding agents, flame retardants and other chemicals. While this may help preserve the life of the item, it can cause the finished product to emit an unpleasant odor.
Ikea routinely uses adhesives, lacquers, vinyl and synthetic fabrics to create sturdy, long-lasting furnishings. Once an item is assembled, the materials are exposed to environmental moisture, air and sunlight. These substances naturally cause the materials to degrade. As they break down, the compounds used in the manufacturing process begin to dissipate, leaving the fibers and fabrics of a given item and entering the surrounding environment. This process, known as "outgassing," produces a powerful, chemical-like aroma. While it is more common in new furnishings, outgassing can occur in products of any age.
Old Ikea Couch
Those lucky enough to inherit an Ikea couch should be pleased, as the company is known for its durable, yet eye-catching, pieces. However, in the past, Ikea regularly treated the wood frames, plywood and particleboard pieces with formaldehyde. As chemically-treated wood ages, it can release formaldehyde into the air, causing a noticeable stench. While formaldehyde rapidly disintegrates once it enters the atmosphere, exposure to the fumes can lead to headaches, watery eyes, itchy skin or irritation of the respiratory tract. If an older Ikea couch begins to smell, move the item into an open area for two to four weeks to give the chemicals time to decompose.
New Ikea Couch
Ikea has taken a number of steps to reduce outgassing and produce environmentally friendly furniture; nevertheless, a new Ikea couch can still produce powerful odors. While Ikea has reduced the amount of noxious chemicals it uses in its products, the cardboard boxes most items are stored in are routinely treated with binding agents to help the package retain its shape during shipping. Cushions and upholstery can absorb the chemicals from the packaging; consequently, a new sofa may release foul-smelling fumes for several weeks while the compounds disintegrate.
To reduce the effect of outgassing, treat the couch with a variety of odor-eating compounds, such as charcoal, coffee grounds or baking soda. Simply place a spoonful of the chosen material in the center of a coffee filter, seal the edges with adhesive tape and tuck the sachets between the couch cushions. The naturally absorbent materials readily take in the odors in the air around them, reducing the aroma in the process. Replace the sachets daily until the chemical scent is no longer discernible.
Lisa Parris is a writer and former features editor of "The Caldwell County News." Her work has also appeared in the "Journal of Comparative Parasitology," "The Monterey County Herald" and "The Richmond Daily News." In 2012, Parris was honored with awards from the Missouri Press Association for best feature story, best feature series and best humor series.