THE QUESTION

Hi Alexandra,

I have a question for you.  I am coming to you because I actually didn’t know who else to ask. I am about to have a baby and in March we got new furniture from Restoration Hardware.  It clearly has a toxic smell.  I try and avoid the room and keep the windows open but the smell has not gone away.  First I would like to know- what do you think the smell actually is?  Second, how dangerous is this to my bay in my belly?  Thirds, how would you get rid of it? (air purifier, etc.)  Obviously I will keep the baby (when born) out of the room, but I am freaking out that my new furniture is really hurting my baby.

Please Help!!

Thanks!

Carrie

THE ANSWER

Dear Carrie,

Thank you for taking the time to send me your question. What kind of furniture are you referring to? I can’t tell you what the smell is without smelling it myself, unfortunately. And even then I might not know. That said, your nose knows. Truly. If it doesn’t smell good, it likely isn’t good. And you’re right not to want your growing baby around a seemingly questionable unknown. There are all kinds of things that can be lurking in furniture that would be best avoided, including formaldehyde–a known carcinogen–in the glues binding particleboard.

You can avoid this by carefully shopping for furniture. Once you already have a stinky table/cabinet/whatever in your house, there is one way to seal in offgassing chemical emissions from new furniture that has porous surfaces: in The Complete Organic Pregnancy and Planet Home I recommend AFM Safecoat Safe Seal, a water-based low-gloss sealer. Call the company directly to describe what you’re contending with and they can advise you. They also sell a variety of paints, stains, and more.

Ventilation (open your windows!) and air purifiers also help. So can taking the furniture outside if you can (make sure you have it under somewhere in case of rain). And the strongest offgassing will diminish as time goes by. If it continues to bother you, you might want to cut your losses and seek something else.

Good luck!

Thanks,

Alexandra

Here’s a passage from Planet Home where I discuss Safe Seal:

Much new furniture is made of composite woods like particleboard and medium-density fiberboard, which are temptingly inexpensive but best not brought into the bedroom; these can off-gas formaldehyde.  Though the vapors from new furniture containing formaldehyde glue diminish over time, they remain in high concentrations in smaller and improperly ventilated rooms.  If you have reason to suspect the fumes in your home are too high, there are inexpensive kits available that have been used by the Sierra Club to test levels in FEMA trailers.  For less serious levels, there are also houseplants known to act as air filters.  If you have a piece of composite wood furniture you love and don’t want to part with, move it to a room in the house where you spend less time.  You can also seal in the emissions…[from] composite wood parts with a product proven to reduce formaldehyde emissions, such as AFM Safecoat Safe Seal.

For more on which houseplants to use, check this out.