Musings from the floor: My experience with an off-gassing couch

Heather Chandler
January 3, 2013

couchThis morning, the furniture store came to pick up my new, super sexy, contemporary, sectional sofa, leaving me with an empty living room.

The couch arrived less than three weeks ago, wrapped in a lovely, pewter-colored, velvety fabric with a cool rounded “bump out” feature on one end that took place of one arm. I started planning for this sofa about a year ago when I decided that the sofa I bought on craigslist for $50 seven years ago had long been showing its age, with cat clawed arms and stained cushions. I was also feeling the need for an upgrade in style. I wanted to replace the overstuffed comfy set with something sleeker and more contemporary. I kept an eye on craigslist, prepared to pay somewhat more than my last couch for something updated. I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted and after months of plowing through craigslist posts, decided that it was time to step up and purchase a new sofa. It was only the second piece of new furniture I have purchased in my lifetime (not counting my mattress). So you can imagine how excited I was.

I started looking around and finally settled on a couch at a locally owned furniture store nearby. I was familiar with issues of formaldehyde off-gassing from plywood used in cheaply made furniture, so I made a point to clarify with the sales rep (twice) that this couch featured a solid wood frame and no plywood. “Yes, solid wood.” I left feeling comfortable that while I’d spent more than I wanted to, I’d purchased a quality product that would last for years and be healthy and safe in my home.

The couch arrived a week before Christmas and within a couple of days I started to notice that my eyes and throat were burning when I sat on it for any length of time. I thought maybe it was just an initial off gassing, since it was brand new and that it would quickly pass. Simultaneously, I started noticing that I felt a bit spacey and even seemed to have trouble jumbling my words just a bit. I wanted to dismiss it as unrelated.

While I hoped the smell would quickly pass, I started researching online. Reading from others’ experiences, it seemed likely that I was reacting to either formaldehyde in a plywood or some other chemical VOCs from the foam, the flame retardants, glues or dyes in the fabric. I wanted it to all work out and reasoned that it couldn’t off gas for long, right? Aside from this, I was embarrassed. I felt like I should have known better.

Five days in, I called the company I bought the couch from to ask them about the smell. I was referred to the owner who assured me that he’d never received a complaint like that about the sofa and that they “sold a lot of them.” He was sure that it would go away and that I was probably more sensitive than most people. I asked him about the frame and he confirmed that there was plywood in the frame. I was frustrated that I’d been given incorrect information from the salesperson, but I decided to give it a little more time. I figured two weeks was a good benchmark. If in two weeks time, the smell was still as strong I would need to consider alternatives to keeping the couch.

In the meantime, I opened the windows to flush out the air every couple of days and borrowed an air purifier from a friend, hoping that would do the trick. Unfortunately, it didn’t. Each time that I sat on the couch for any length of time, I’d have the same reaction – red, burning eyes and throat. Whenever I walked into the living room, either first thing in the morning or when I’d come home I’d be overcome by what seemed like a noxious cloud.

I continued to research online and read things like “the chemicals found on couches are associated with neurological and reproductive problems, as well as cancer” and that according to a recent 2012 study that found that “chemicals made up roughly 10 percent of the weight of the entire cushion” on some couches.  An article from the San Francisco Chronicle was helpful and alerted me to other possible chemicals in upholstered furniture including “Ethylene oxide, used in polyurethane foam and adhesives, a probable carcinogen that can also cause brain and nerve malfunctions.” Maybe my spaciness was not so unrelated after all.

I read further. “Hydrazine, a chemical used in textile dyes, is a probable carcinogen with a range of adverse health effects, and vinyl chloride, used in the making of some furniture, is a carcinogen that can cause liver damage with chronic exposure.” I also read that even for those without immediate violent reactions, there can be long-term effects, such as respiratory and heart ailments and cancer.

I’d read enough to be scared and take seriously the potential impact that my new couch might be having on my body. But what were my options. I’d spent a lot of money on this couch and had no reason to believe I’d be able to get my money back.

I consulted some friends and local experts including Lora Winslow, founder of the Naked Truth Project–a nonprofit that serves as a resource for nontoxic living and educating people about the links between human health and what we  put on our bodies, in our bodies and in our homes–and Amanda Sears, Associate Director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center. Lora explained that toxins in the body accumulate and we never know what the exact tipping point is when the body says, “Enough” and responds by developing acute sensitivity to all chemicals.

Amanda and I talked about the prevalence and health risks associated with flame retardants, the usage of which has grown significantly over the past 30 years.  I found two recent studies which identified the flame retardant, “Tris,” a suspected human carcinogen (banned for use in baby pajamas in the 1970s), as the most prevalent compound in couches tested (found in 41 – 52 % of them). Concentrations of the flame retardant chemicals in couches averaged 4 to 5 percent by weight, but some couches had over 11 percent. According to one of the studies, there are at least six different mixtures being used as flame retardants in furniture today. And the scientist went on to say that we know less about the health effects of these flame retardants than we do about previously-banned retardants. I’ll repeat that because it’s a lot of info to digest – we are using large amounts of chemicals in couches today that were banned for use in children’s clothing 40 years ago. Further, other chemicals that are being used have not even been fully tested to determine their effects on humans, adult or children.

**Important side note: flame retardants do not stay in the cushions. Over time, they break down and off-gas into the air, settling as dust on flat surfaces or the floor, providing one of the major routes of exposure to people

What scares me the most about all of this is that no one seems to have concrete evidence of the long term effects of exposure like this. But given what we do know, there’s good reason to be take it all very seriously.

I called the company I purchased the couch from and made arrangements for them to return the couch (minus a $100 restocking fee.)

Last night, I went to visit some of the local retailers that sell greener furniture options to see what I could learn. The owner of Endicott Home (known for its condo sized line of furniture and soon to be known for switching over their entire line of furniture to flame retardant-free cushions), suggested that my reaction was most likely not to the flame retardants, because they tend to not have a smell. He said I was likely reacting to formaldehyde in cheap plywood or chemical fabric treatments. He went on to explain that the effects of flame retardants in our furniture takes a bit more time as they break down from usage, get into the air and settle as dust on our floors and furniture. From here, our kids crawl on them or we touch them and they make their way into our bodies.

So where does this leave us?

We are all making the best decisions we can with the resources and information that we have available. I paid a significant amount for my couch (on sale) and it still made me sick. A better made, healthier alternative may cost twice as much, an amount that just doesn’t work for many budgets.

I’m beginning the search for my new couch a second time. I’m a bit more educated this time around and still hopeful that I will be able to find a couch that meets both my aesthetic desires as well as my environmental health ones. Having had a personal experience like this, I have renewed sympathies for those who suffer from chemical sensitivities. We may all be on a path towards the same if we don’t take serious steps to demand better from our furniture manufacturers – and quickly.

Some tips I learned along my brief journey:

  • However tempting it is to buy that stylish, lower cost model, your health and the health of your family are not worth the risk.
  • Buy used furniture if you can find it.
  • Trust yourself – if you can smell chemicals and it’s affecting your eyes/throat, get rid of it. It’s likely doing nasty things to your body. This is a tough one, I know. No one wants to be “that person.” But our health is much more important.
  • Buy upholstered furniture in the summer months when you can have windows open regularly.
  • Purchase a floor model that has likely done a bit of it’s off gassing or ask the company to store the piece unwrapped in their warehouse for a couple of months. Even so, if you are buying a cheaply made model or a model that has been treated with flame retardants (most models today are) it is likely to off-gas and emit toxins over time.
  • Dust your home (with a wet rag) and vacuum with a HEPA filter to remove flame retardant dust from your home on a regular basis.
  • Do whatever you can to avoid buying furniture made with cheap plywood. Most furniture today includes plywood – the difference is where it comes from and what it’s made of. If it’s a greener option, the manufactures website will tell you that. If it doesn’t, it’s safe to assume it’s not the good kind.

Greener furniture options

Important things to look for:

Non-toxic, water based glues used to assemble the frame and the cushions

Natural fiber cushions or soy-based foam alternatives (30% soy foam appears to be the highest readily available option today with remaining foam being polyurethane, a petroleum product which has shown to be problematic itself).

Solid hardwood frames and plywood made without formaldehyde. Ideally, they are FSC or SFI certified wood products, made in the USA with water based adhesives

Water-based stains and low VOC sealers and finishes

No flame retardants (this is harder to find. See Endicott Furniture)


Local retailers:

EcoHome Studio – stocks two lines of eco-friendly furniture including Lazar’s Earth Designs
Endicott Home
– recently transitioned their entire line of furniture models that use no flame retardants. In addition, the plywoods used in their models are made in the US with water based, non-toxic glues.
Cabot House – carries Century Furniture brand
Simply Home in Falmouth – carries the Lee Industries “Natural Lee” line of furniture.
Young’s Furniture in South Portland – A large portion of their products have been produced with eco-friendly
elements and sustainable materials

National Retailers carrying greener furniture lines:

Crate & Barrel
Pottery Barn



Heather Chandler

Heather Chandler

Heather Chandler is owner & publisher of The SunriseGuide.

Tags: , , , ,

43 Responses to “Musings from the floor: My experience with an off-gassing couch”

  1. David Donovan January 5, 2013 at 2:22 pm #

    Very well written and informative.

    • Jacqueline August 26, 2014 at 6:46 pm #

      I just leased a Fiat 500e. I was very excited about the no emissions and no gas advantages of the electric Fiat. Unfortunately, the interior is completely toxic and is off-gassing. I don’t know if this material will change or continue to be this way. The dealer assured me it would go away but, I’m concerned because my skin, inside my ears and eyes burn and developed redness on my face.
      I’m sad to report an electric car which is supposed to be great for the environment is not so great for my health.
      Please share if you know the plastic in the car will stop off-gassing or if you have any suggestions.

      • Ann January 19, 2015 at 4:51 am #

        I also am having issues with my new 2015 Nissan Leaf. I love the car but it has continued to offgass a very strong smell even after 3 and a half months and 8000 miles. My eyes, throat and lungs burn when I drive in it and especially at night. I also feel burning below my ribs almost like a nausea. Today we used an ozone machine in it and then had it steam cleaned and wiped down. So far we are not noticing a difference and still having the burning symptoms. We are wondering if we got a lemon or if they all off gas this bad and when does it stop?! And I thought I was making a healthier choice for the environment but it doesn’t appear to be the case for our health. Not sure what to do. We are going to talk to the dealership. Anyone else experiencing this?

      • David June 25, 2015 at 3:34 am #

        I have similar effects from my 2015 00e, but I think in my case it is from the electro magnetic field of the car. I tested it and it is quite high, especially with the a.c. on moderately high. Do you have any discomfort when the car is not turned on or moving? I’m curious if the situation has improved – hopefully it has : )

        • David June 25, 2015 at 3:36 am #

          Dear moderator, I hope you can edit my previous message to say “500e” instead of “00e” Thanks!

  2. Susy January 7, 2013 at 9:11 pm #

    Thanks Heather. I have been investigating buying a new couch for a little while and was learned that not only can unhealthy couches make families unhealthy, but they can cause illness in pets, some of whom (mine included) spend a large majority of their time on our couches, and when not there, are traveling and eating at floor level around our homes. Some researchers are linking the significant uptick in hyperthyroidism in cats to chemicals used in flame retardants and couch materials. I have investigated chemical-free couches and talked to Furnature in Watertown, MA who’ve seen a huge increase in popularity of their furniture despite the $6,000 for starters price tag. Still not sure what I’m going to do, but good of you to spread the word.

    • Lora Winslow January 8, 2013 at 3:57 pm #

      Thank you Susy for raising this incredibly important point. Animals are much smaller than us, so their threshold for chemicals is significantly lower. The effects of these chemicals on animals is often overlooked, so we appreciate you mentioning it.

      On a related note, it is equally important to take caution when there are babies and small children in the house. Similar to pets, children spend a lot of time on the floor and on the couch, put things in their mouths, and have a much smaller body mass than adults. They are extremely vulnerable to these types of chemicals.

  3. Paula March 9, 2013 at 4:26 am #

    Thank you for sharing your story.
    I am sitting on my new (3 week old) couch, crying, reading your blog. I happened upon this blog because I am trying to figure out what to do.
    My new couch was delivered 3 weeks ago while I was at work. I was so excited because this is the first brand new piece of furniture we’ve purchased in 18 years! (We have 5 boys, now grown. :) Like you, I purchased my last couch from Craigslist. I walked in the door after work, that day, sat down on the couch, and was overcome by a chemical smell. My husband, sons, and mother couldn’t smell it.
    My sister and best friend came over to see my new couch and I asked them if they could smell it. My friend, who sold furniture many years ago, said she could only faintly smell it. She told me it’s probably off-gassing and is possibly formaldehyde. I’d never heard of off-gassing. The chemical smell wasn’t bothering anyone but me.
    Two days later, my throat was so sore and raw, I couldn’t breathe through my nose, and I felt awful. I went to the doctor and wound up on meds. I told the doctor that I think the chemical smell from the couch is making me sick, and he agreed it was possible.
    Later that day, I called Ashley Furniture, where I purchased the couch. The person I spoke to told me I had to leave a voicemail for the district manager. The warehouse (not the district manager) finally called me back 3 days later asking when they could schedule a pick up for the couch. I asked again about the chemical and the girl said they don’t put chemicals on their furniture. She stated again that they would come get the couch, and order me a new one, which would take several weeks. I told her I had to think about what to do.
    I decided to go to the store and talk with the manager to see if I could find out what chemical is on my couch, and see if he had any suggestions. He was actually nice and listened to me. He stated they don’t “treat” their furniture but that there are many different manufacturers used in producing the furniture and each manufacturer uses different chemicals. He went on to say that there was no way to know which manufacturer made what component of the couch and what chemical they used. He suggested opening the windows and airing out the couch. It is a Pottery Barn style couch, with deep, thick foam cushions and cotton duck fabric. I do not know anything about the wood frame. I asked the manager what alternatives he could offer me, if in a few weeks or months I still can’t tolerate the couch. He offered me a store credit. It wasn’t feasible to open the windows at that time. The weather is supposed to be a little warmer this weekend so I will try airing the house, but I’m not confident this is going to solve the problem. I also cannot spray the couch with anything, or burn candles or incense, as I am sensitive to those odors, as well.
    At this point, I made baking soda sachets and placed them around the cushions. I also covered the couch with blankets, but the smell is still coming through. To make things worse, I sleep on the couch at night, (long story :). The medication has run its course, and this week I am feeling very dizzy and nauseas. When not at home, it takes awhile, but I do start to feel better. Mondays I feel worse after being exposed for two days over the weekend. Sitting here, on the couch, this evening, I am so dizzy and upset and I’ve only been home a few hours.
    I could have them come and take the couch, but I’m not sure if I should ask them to store it for a few months until it finishes off-gassing, if I should buy a different couch, or press to get my money back. I’m worried that if I buy a different couch, it could have the same issues. I do not believe this store sells “green” furniture. This couch was a substantial purchase for me and I can’t afford to let the couch go, but I can’t keep something that is making me this sick. I still love the style of this couch but at this point, the couch I thought I was going to love, I am starting to hate.
    I’m sorry this is so long, but I was so surprised to find someone who had the same issue. Thank You

    • Barnaby August 14, 2013 at 11:35 pm #

      You just described the exact sofa and chair I purchased at Ashley Furniture 2 weeks ago, the toxic smell is unbearable. I complained and they are sending me a new chair to try out to see if I got what they think is a “bad batch of foam” that didn’t “cure right” in the manufacturing process. I can’t sit on the furniture without my throat constricting and burning, my nose aching, my lungs burning, a headache, and a foul taste on my tongue. I paid nearly $2,000 for this furniture. I love the looks, the comfort, the style, it’s just unbearable to have in my house, it is literally making me sick.

      • Barnaby August 14, 2013 at 11:38 pm #

        I should also add, I have even tried leaving the chair outside in the fresh air to try to help get rid of the smell. It’s like poking a dragon with a stick, it seems to intensify the effect.

        • Pinewater July 11, 2015 at 9:52 pm #

          UV light (such as that from direct sunlight) or abrupt (large) temperature changes can increase or activate new off-gassing.

    • Janel June 19, 2014 at 7:10 am #

      I’m so sorry to hear about your issues with the new couch. I had similar issues with a new high end sterns and foster mattress my husband and I purchased last fall. Same as you, I had dizzy headed feeling, sore throat and even worse, my eyes burned and the lids itched and swelled up like you wouldn’t believe! I went to the er the morning after sleeping on it and they told me it was an allergic reaction. Having been to a Halloween party the night before, I figured it must have been something in someone’s costume that I brushed up against. However, my problem did not go away, I worsened to the point that the ye dr diagnosed blepharitis in my eyes. It wasn’t until one night I slept on the couch because I didn’t want to disturb my husband with a restless night I was having and noticed somewhat of an improvement the next day. We tried airing out the set in fresh air several times and covering with enclosed plastic casings to no avail. Ended up selling it as the store was uncooperative about a refund. I lost 300. But it was such a relief to get rid of the source of my torment. Of course it was Aaron painful eye opener to the risks of chemicals in furniture and we are on a very tight budget so a very stressful situation in many ways, but you can’t put a price on your health. You only get one body in this life! Oh yes you might try taking colostrum by Symbiotics to boost your immune system or try charcoal felt under the cushions..the kind the military uses to combat chemicals in warfare. That was my next move, but ultimately I decided to get rid of the mattresss as I would always feel as if I was doing something harmful to my body by sleeping on it every night. The company I found is called Nirvana Safe Haven and a lovely woman named Daliyah was very helpful with info. Maybe she can assist you…I forget the web address but number us 1-800-968-9355. Best wishes!

    • Stephanie July 26, 2014 at 12:42 pm #

      I am having the same experience with my new furniture. I have a headache, my head feels like it’s in a vise, and I’m nauseous. I had no idea that I was sensitive to chemicals. I’ve never had an allergy or a reaction to anything in my environment. I will have to return the sofa – 20% restocking fee plus delivery charge. I feel I have no choice. Now I’m concerned that I won’t ever be able to buy new furniture.

  4. Scott August 10, 2013 at 8:55 pm #

    We purchased a Pottery Barn sectional and love seat, and I have been miserable. My eyes water and burn, my throat hurts, and I feel nauseous. I called PB, and the woman was very nice and said they would give us our money back. We will probably be sending it back in the next 2 weeks.

  5. suzan gifford October 21, 2013 at 9:40 pm #

    i just bought my ashley furniture, I’ve only had it one week and it smells awful.. i love this furniture its so comfortable but im not sure if i can handle this smell.. im going to air out my house every day possible to see if it helps.. I’m like you ive waited 14 years for furniture and its pretty sad you cant buy something that won’t kill you. im so hoping this goes away.

  6. Chris December 20, 2013 at 6:14 pm #

    We are having this exact same issue with a new couch we just purchased from a discount furniture store. I found your blog post when doing a google search. Do you know of any companies outside of Main that offer Greener furniture options?

  7. Heather January 31, 2014 at 1:50 pm #

    Thanks for your post. There are a few national retailers listed in the resource list above. You may also want to go to the websites for some of the manufacturers listing: Lazar’s Earth Designs, Century Furniture, and Lee Industries “Natural Lee” line. The sites should be able to give you a list of local stores.

  8. Marti mast February 22, 2014 at 9:41 am #

    We bought our couch and chair from Rooms to Go several weeks ago. I have been short of breath..nose running and coughing ever since. The smell makes my eyes water.

  9. tessa March 18, 2014 at 10:29 am #

    Bought a kivik couch from Ikea. The smell is still overpowering. I have burning eyes, nausea and I even fainted upon sitting on it for 30 minutes. My dogs will not go near it.
    Thanks Ikea, they are picking it up and returning my money.

  10. Elizabeth April 28, 2014 at 9:45 pm #

    I have been smelling a gassy smell on and off for over a year, I thought it was our condo we lived in or the expressway that we are closely located to. We moved and the smell has reappeared, so I decided to investigate and it is the sofa! I am so angry after reading this article. I emailed Sklar Peppler to see if they will return it. Thank you for the information.

  11. gloria May 5, 2014 at 11:15 pm #

    We have our 4th new recliner since June of 2013. The first two smelled so strongly of chemicals that the nationally branded chain took them back. Chair #3 arrived in the wrong fabric, so never came into our home. Chair #4 has been in our home for less than 2 weeks, and it grows more offensive with each day. None of the smelly chairs seemed to give off any offensive odors in the store, but began to off gas as soon as they were brought into our home. I’m sure it’s warmer and more enclosed in our house than in the store or warehouse, which is a catalyst for the off gassing. I have the same issues with burning eyes, stuffy sinuses, etc, as previous posters have listed. I actually can smell the chair on my clothes and body after sitting in it for a short time. I even smell the chemicals on my pillow when I wake at night. I am entirely frustrated and disgusted with the whole matter. The store has had a large chunk of my money for 11 plus months, and I still don’t have an acceptable recliner. We will call again tomorrow to schedule another pick up, and take the refund that was offered to us earlier.

  12. Tania May 16, 2014 at 8:33 pm #

    I see a lot of post saying Ashley Furniture, I’ve recently purchases a living room set from them as well. And like all of you, it has this awful smell that won’t go away! However I haven’t had any physical reactions to the smell (burning eyes, throat, headache, etc.) But now I’m very concerned about what the long term affects are going to be from this toxic furniture!

  13. Lois June 20, 2014 at 3:46 pm #

    I will be 86 next week and my Wonderful son bought me a great Recliner…It was delivered a few days ago and proved to be quite comfortable and looks real nice in my living room…After sitting in it a little while I felt a little Dizzy but felt maybe it was I wasnt used to sitting with my legs elevated for any length of time…Well the feelingg has not gotten any better but when I told my Family about it they said it was all in my head because I had looked it up on the computer…I have to pride myself with excelent health being my old age but since I got the chair I must say I am feeling very weak…Things I always did easily now have become a chore…I also got a sore throat and my eyes burned…I dont know what to do now…I dont want my son to feel bad about buying the chair for me as he has always been very good to me,but I feel keeping this chair is making me sick…I just wish the family would understand..What a shame we cant even enjoy anything new now a days…Crazy World…Oh for the Good Old days…

    • Jerri July 14, 2014 at 7:19 pm #

      Don’t worry, you’re son will understand in the end, since you’re obviously very grateful for the gesture and think it looks and feels nice. Of course, you’re not crazy (it’s not all in your head). Like you said, the world is crazy.

      Just see if it can be returned. If not, see if your son or another relative could just take it to their house “to see if you get better”. And when you get better (after airing out the house), you can let them know that there’s no way you can have it in your house, even though you appreciate it.

      Your health is too important! You’ve got to get it out of your house ASAP!

  14. Bernie August 25, 2014 at 12:26 am #

    I, too, purchased leather furniture several months ago and have been having the same issues. I have aired the room nearly continually and I’ve had a fan in the room, and I still can’t sit on it w/o feeling an irritation in breathing and in my eyes. I even waited to order it until after the flame retardants used in cushions was no longer required. It even stated on the order form that no flame retardant chemicals were to be used. I love the sofa but I don’t know if it’s ever going to get better. The furniture was made by Comfort Design. Beautiful, expensive, but I can’t sit on it.

  15. Suzanne September 21, 2014 at 2:25 pm #

    I am so thankful to have found this blog! We purchased our couch and loveseat set off of Craigslist almost a year ago. It was practically brand new and we got a great deal on it. It too, is Ashley brand furniture. A little over 3 months ago I developed an itchy rash on my calves. At first, I thought it was bug bites or something like that. Of course, I freaked out and turned the house upside down for any signs of bed bugs or something that would explain the rash. I found absolutely nothing. It clearly looks like contact dermatitis, but I couldn’t account for contact with anything new, so it was a mystery. Went to the doctor twice, was given cortisone cream and was put on a prednisone taper. Nothing helped. I also had several other symptoms consistent with an allergic reaction, i.e. throat constricted a little, headache, feeling “out of it” and just an overall fatigue. Then, it occurred to me that the rash was developing on areas of my body that touched my couch! I did a little experiment to see if it made a difference when I wore pants instead of shorts, long sleeves instead of short sleeves, etc. Sure enough, my experiment worked and proved I am allergic to my couch.

    Has anyone else had the rash I have been experiencing? It’s kind of scary to think about being so sensitive to these chemicals because there are so many of them used in everyday items and we don’t even think about it.

    I’m just happy that I’m not losing my mind and this is a real, proven problem. Now, I just have to find something I’m not allergic too and I can actually afford.

  16. Deboraqh October 12, 2014 at 1:51 am #

    I have recently come to discover that my entire house is permeated by off-gassing from an air mattress replacement two years ago. When I received it, inflated and went of vacation. Upon returning I reassembled the bed. During the time I was on vacation, I had my bedroom painted.

    I noticed that after this point in time, I started to notice a smell in my home. I called the sewer department and they checked out the lines and said there were no leaks. I have my plumbing come into my home and he said no sewer smell and that I would know it when I smelled it — it will badly stink of sewer.

    I continued to sleep in the bedroom for 14 months. Waking up not fully rested and slowing losing my ability to think. In November of 2013 I had surgery which required me to sleep in another room. By this time I was only sleeping 4 hours a night. I went to my doctor who adjusted the thyroid medication saying too high dose can cause brain fog. The dose reduction continued over 7 months with physically feeling better but the brain fog remained.

    Two weeks ago I took an hour nap in the air mattress bedroom and when I woke up I had a bad headache. After that happened, I kept thinking it has to be an environmental issue. I decided to sleep at my sister’s house for two consecutive nights to see if there was any difference. I noticed when I woke up my head was clearer and I slept 7 hours. Also her house smelled clean, like outside air, and when I came home each morning my house smelled like it had been shuttered for 10 years.

    When I took my nap the air mattress bed seemed to sag in the hip area and I decided to find out why. This meant disassembling the bed entirely. When I upzipped the air mattress cover, which holds the two air chambers and edging forms, a terrible smell was emitted.

    I called the manufacturer and they said it was off-gassing smell and to air out all the components for 2 days outside when it is sunny, breezy and low humidity. I am in the process of doing this. I was told when I put the bed together to place non-fragrant dryer sheets in between the mattress cover and the air chambers and that the dryer sheets will absorb the smell.

    I have been leaving windows and patio door open during the day which is helping a little.. but what about the fabric on my furniture and the lined drapes throughout the house? What about the clothing in the closets and drawers? I kept telling my sister that my pajamas in the dresser always seemed bad when I pulled one out that I had just washed the previous weekend.

    My question is – how do I detox the rest of my house and possessions which have been permeated by this smell?

  17. Chainey November 27, 2014 at 6:46 am #

    Thank you so much for taking the time to write such an informative post!

    We had our new chaise lounge delivered yesterday and the off-gassing coming from the seat cushions is more than incredible. I had to leave the whole house open over night last night to try and keep the smell as minimal as possible, which didn’t work, and woke this morning woke up with my glands swollen, all chocked up and my face aching from the swelling. I put the cushions outside in the sun in hope they would air out. By mid afternoon nothing had changed so I called the store, and after several calls back and forth was told “that lounge is one of our best sellers and I am gobsmacked that it smells so much, we have never had any complaints”. I insisted they come and smell for themselves. They have arranged to come mid morning tomorrow but after reading everything I have tonight I will be calling them first thing in the morning for them to come and pick it and get a refund. I’m sure I will have a fight on my hands but I will NOT have this furniture in my house for another 24 hours, its toxic and dangerous! I cant believe these people sleep at night knowing they sell furniture that can have such detrimental effects on peoples health. Come to think of it… what about the people who make the furniture, can you imagine the smell and toxicity in those places!!!

  18. SofaSmellsHorrible December 5, 2014 at 4:47 pm #

    Bought 2 Ashley McAdams – Brown Reclining Sofas from Pilgrim Furniture. They were delivered on 12/1/2014. The smell is unbearable. My upper respiratory tract is irritated and burns. I’m not looking forward to arguing with the wife about returning these. I hope to find a better alternative.

  19. Mike January 2, 2015 at 7:13 am #

    Hi, all,
    I recently had the same problem with VOCs from my new mattress off-gassing! I am a professional chemist with some experience in this area, so I came up with some tips to help you guys, feel free to share or add your own tips.


    Your best bet is exposure to UV light and the biggest source of that is the sun. If you’re home 24/7 you could just lay your mattress or furniture in the backyard and let it bake. If that’s not possible due to weather / dirt issues, sunlight through the garage door window is the next best. Many of these long-chain aldehydes, ethers, and volatile long-chain polycarbons break down in UV light into harmless carbon dioxide, water vapor, and/or methane. If you live in a dark area with no sun, the next best idea is to buy an industrial grade UV lamp (don’t look into these with your eyes) and shine it on your mattress at night for 2 or 3 hours to break down the gases, but not too long because UV will also harm the fibers in your furniture.

    Best idea is a portable heater, blower, fan for rapid short-term heating of the volatile chemicals in the garage. Be sure to crack open a side door to let in some air to vent out the chemicals. This can consume a lot of electricity, and it’s also time consuming to move the fan, blower manually to cover the entire surface area. One idea that worked for me is I bought a heated mattress pad and just laid it out on my garage floor. Then I placed the mattress on top of it, upside down, and let it just heat it overnight on the highest setting. After 2 nights of this I could hardly smell anymore fumes from my mattress.

    Mike T from Corona, CA

  20. Mike January 2, 2015 at 7:22 am #

    Just to clarify the above. The heating method doesn’t actually break down any chemicals, it just accelerates the off-gassing so the gas dissipates quicker.

    You could actually go full-blast and run both the heater and the UV/sunlight for maximum efficiency.

    Your efficiency will depend on the type of chemicals involved, but most VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are low boiling point liquids, kind of like rubbing alcohol, or butane, where it will evaporate very slowly if it’s cold (below the boiling point) and rapidly when it’s hot (above the boiling point). Kind of like if you leave a glass of wine out too long the alcohol will evaporate away.

    For furniture that have a natural liquid barrier (like a faux leather sofa) you could actually use a rag soaked in diluted rubbing alcohol or vodka and try to wipe away the smell if it’s coming from the surface. If it’s coming from inside, then you have no choice but to drive it off with heat and UV.

    Mike T from Corona, CA

  21. Jeffrey Randall February 26, 2015 at 11:04 pm #

    Heather, read you article and it is exactly the same nightmare I am going though now.
    My question is, did you ever find a recliner it any sofa or bedroom furniture you could sleep on without these symptoms?
    I live in South Florida and down here quality like your talking about in like a foreign language. I would pay anything just to have a bed, so if a sleeper sofa or bed without the contact dermatitis, eye conjunctivitis and other immunity issues you describe. Please advise if you resolved this issue and where and what you did. Thanks for your time. Jeffrey Randall.

  22. Jackie March 4, 2015 at 5:28 pm #

    We purchased a couch recliner several months ago from Lazy Boy. After waiting eight weeks for delivery, we were delighted to get it before Christmas. Our delight quickly turned to headaches, sore throats, sore eyes, bitter taste in our mouth and chest tightness within hours of sitting on the couch. The chemical smell was very strong. We thought at first it might be the stain guard we had put on it at the factory and called the store to see if that might be the problem. They said no one had ever complained about having health problems related to the new couch smell before and assured us that it was just that “new furniture smell”. Long story short, we continued to contact the store, they sent someone out to smell the couch, who said he didn’t smell anything! We finally ended up putting the couch in the garage. We continued to call the store, they would not return our money but would pick up the couch and either give us store credit or order us another couch assuring us that we should not have this problem again. Well after eight weeks our new couch arrived and again we had the same problem, so into the garage it sits. When is the EPA going to do something about this? I was told as long as we are not ingesting the product it is safe, are they kidding? Thank goodness for posts like these to inform people to the danger in the products we are bringing into our homes today. I wish we had done some research before we bought.

    • Joan September 5, 2015 at 1:30 pm #

      Jackie, We had our Lazy Boy recliner couch delivered the same time as you. It is now September and it still stinks. It has been sitting out on our 3 season porch since May. It still smells. I had the same experience as you, Lazy boy sent someone out, said they didn’t smell anything and that no one else complained! Nonsense! I was hoping that the summer hot weather would have completed the off-gassing but I guess not. I probably will get rid of the couch. I am so angry about this whole situation.

  23. Jackie March 4, 2015 at 6:42 pm #

    We purchased our recliner couch from Lazy Boy in October, 2014, it was delivered in eight weeks just before Christmas to our delight. By the end of the day we were suffering, sore throat, headache, burning eyes, chest tightness. We live in the northeast so opening windows was not an option. We thought at first it was the Ultra Shield furniture protection we had put on the fabric. After consulting with the sales person and the company we were assured that it has no odor or hazardous chemicals. We were told that we were the first people to ever complain about their furniture having a smell and causing the problems we were having, they even sent someone out to smell the couch, who then said he didn’t smell anything. Long story short, we moved the couch to the garage and asked for our money back. No can do they said maybe it was just a bad batch of foam and would order us a new one. So foolishly we did that, it was delivered last week and they took the other one back to be destroyed they said. The new couch has the same awful smell, same health problems so this one is now in the garage. I am so thankful for posts like this to inform the public since it seems the EPA is not doing enough to keep us safe. I wish we had done our homework before we bought. Thank goodness we did not give our very old, no odor couch away because its back in our house and we can breathe easy.

  24. Mary March 11, 2015 at 12:17 pm #

    Heather, I am so relieved (in a not so great way) to have found your letter here and all the ensuing comments it prompted. Your story is the same as mine, almost word-for-word. I had the same furniture for over 20 years and decided it was time for an upgrade. My husband and I searched and searched and found exactly what we wanted at Ashley Furniture and were soooo excited to get the big sectional couch from into our living room. It arrived last Wednesday, and I noticed the very strong chemical odor immediately but hoped it would dissipate quickly. Within 36 hours of the couch being in our house, my throat was sore and raw, my husband and 10yr old had headaches and my 8yr old was covered in hives. I called the Ashley store we bought it from on Monday and spoke to a nice man who assured me this is the first he’s heard of this problem and he’d have the manager call me. The couch is everything I wanted but I can’t live with it in my house. My 8yr old and I can’t even be in the same room with it because our symptoms (my throat and her hives) aren’t going away, but they get worse when we spend any amount of time in the room (without even SITTING on the couch!!!). I’m so discouraged and I’m not sure what the Ashley people will do (I haven’t heard back from anyone yet, so I called and left another message today). :-(

  25. Kim March 14, 2015 at 4:50 pm #

    I have a recliner couch I purchased from craigslist. It is a Lazy Boy. Whenever I set in it the top right side of my head burns terribly. Then, I get so sleepy. I am not sure if I get sleepy from the depressive state of the burn or what? I even went and had an MRI, trying to figure out the burn. It has taken me months to realize and narrow down everything in my home to understand that it is only when I sit the couch. I am so glad to come here and read you comments. Now, I need to decide what to replace it with?

  26. Julie March 16, 2015 at 10:25 pm #

    I purchased two Ashley Furniture couches a month ago. Within the first 24 hours I couldn’t breathe because my lungs were so tight. I do not have asthma but I sure felt like it! My eyes watered and my throat was sore.My skin itched a little when sitting on it and My dog even started coughing so I called the Vet. I tried to air out the house, use a fan but it was snowing like crazy out so I couldn’t leave the windows open all of the time. After 5 days I contacted the furniture store and requested they pick up the couches asap. They did and charged me the pick up charge and gave me a full refund. I would have paid anything to get these couches out of my house. While beautiful, they made me so sick. I had to see the doctor and take medication and use an inhaler for a few days. Once gone I aired out my house and in a few days I felt so much better and the dog stopped coughing. I have never written on a site like this before but wanted to let others know my experience. I moved the old couch back in and I am researching companies now. I have never had an experience like that before and I am so hesitant to purchase another couch

  27. Susanne Lypka April 2, 2015 at 2:33 pm #

    Sitting here waiting for Macy’s to come pick up my Lazio leather power recliner and they can’t get here soon enough. My story sounds like everyone else accept I am not paying restocking or delivery. And why should I. My husband and I have been sick ever since it got here. It smells so bad I try to leave the house when ever possible. Like every one else the sales staff say they have never heard of this problem. Well obviously with all of these posts there has to be a problem. I wish I had legal recourse because I already have an impaired immune system so this is just GREAT. Who knows how these chemicals are affecting my health. I just want it out of here!

  28. Sherre May 22, 2015 at 11:56 am #

    I decided to recover my 28 yr old sofa and loveseat because i love them. After endless searching i found the most perfect fabric. I bought it, brought it home and spread it out across the sofa to see how it would look. It was gorgeous. By the next morning the off gassing fumes were so horrid i took the whole piece of fabric outside and put on my deck benches to air out. Even though my backyard is large and completely open the fumes were horrible even when the fabric was outside. the fabric store very apologetically gave me a full refund.
    THAT is just one of the probs i’ve recently had. My entire upstairs was recarpeted with Mohawk wall to wall carpet; it was beautiful, and installed beautifully . Within one day i was living on an inhaler 4 times a day. I NEVER use an inhaler or meds for my asthma unless I inadvertently come in contact with a cat. After months of all windows open 24.7 the carpet had to be ripped out. Mohawk denied any chemicals of theirs cd cause the prob. The seller though took back the carpet and reinbursed me adequately for all the issues.
    I found this site because I am not confronted with materials used behind the new tile [paint on waterproofing membrane] in my little shower. The offgassing fumes have continued for 3 months and I cannot use the bathroom. I get dizzy, my nose runs and it’s awful. Friends have gone into the bathroom and come out immed complaining of the fumes. So it isn’t simply that I have a particular sensitity to it; of course, the company says, “oh, we’ve never had a problem before”.
    One thing I have learned in my research during the carpet issue is that if you do have allergies, not all Green products are good , e.g. jute is a natural product which i am very allergic to . However, sadly, i now realize that one must be prepared for offgassing toxic fumes in anything new.

  29. Ji Grace June 1, 2015 at 12:44 pm #

    My husband and I purchased a leather sofa from Macys 3 months ago, the Alyssia. When it was delivered, the air in my living room was so thick with a chemical smell that I would get a headache, my throat would itch and eyes would water. I thought the smell would dissipate as time went by, but after 3 months I still smell the chemical odor. What is worse is that whenever I sit on the sofa, my clothes end up smelling like chemicals. Upset and frustrated, I called Macys, and they sent a technician to “sniff” the couch. He admitted that it smelled unusually strong, but said there was nothing physically wrong with it. I was advised to put boxes of baking soda to essentially mask the odor. I then called Macys customer service and they told me that the smell is leather, not chemicals and that I could not get a refund. I’m so upset with Macys, and I will never buy anything from them again.

  30. Francine Long June 9, 2015 at 4:48 pm #

    This chemical odor thing has happened to me twice:

    The first time was with a couch I bought from Walmart on line about two years ago. It reeked of a strange overpowering chemical odor. It was very strong like formaldehyde is very strong, but it wasn’t formaldehyde because I know what formaldehyde smells like. It was something else. The closest thing I can come up with to compare it to is insecticide or some form of neurotoxin. I just don’t really know since I am not a chemist and I don’t own a mass spectrometer that I can analyse it with. I was not the only person who couldn’t stand the odor. My son , my husband, and three family friends also commented on the odor and how it was giving them a headache. I kept the couch for a week hoping it would air out but it didn’t. Bless their heart, Walmart took back the couch and gave me a full refund with no arguments. They even refunded the shipping costs. That does not seem to be the case with other retailers from the comments I read here.

    Fast forward to last week. I ordered a futon mattress cover from again only this time it was through a subvendor called Cymax. The mattress cover arrived last week and I smelled that same distinctive chemical odor that was on the couch two years before. I thought Oh no, not again! This time I decided to try to get the odor out myself since it was a just mattress cover that was not upholstered to a piece of furniture. I washed it in the washing machine with a mild detergent. It still reeked, so I washed it again, this time with 2 cups of “Febreeze Laundry Odor Eliminator.” I still didn’t notice even the slightest dent in the odor. My husband said it’s the same thing as two years ago. He made me box the thing up and put it in the garage.

    Since Cymax is a subvendor to Walmart, I am going through more of a challenge in getting my money back. I called Cymax and they made me call the mattress cover manufacturer, a place called Blazing Needles in Dallas TX. I called them and spoke to someone there who claimed to sell hundreds of these covers and “no one has ever complained about an odor before.” I know that sounds familiar to the other commenters on here. She said to tell Cymax that she said to give me a full refund. I called Cymax back and relayed her message. Cymax said they would process my complaint and email me about it within a week. Let’s hope they give me a refund.

    Anyway, it might be of interest to the people here that the fabric itself causes the noxious odor without any plywood, foam or batting involved. Also, that washing the fabric and treating it with an odor elimator does nothing. So I can’t imagine that just waiting for the odor to “air out” would happen within my life time.

    I am not an environmental freak looking for toxins around every corner by any means. But this whole thing has got me wondering just what is going on. I am 56 y. o. and did not ever have a problem with furniture or mattress covers oozing toxin fumes until now. What are they spraying on these fabrics that they didn’t used to? Is it a new fire retardant chemical like some have mentioned? Do they have to use it because the old (presumably non-odorous) ones have been outlawed? Is it some sort of mold /mildew inhibitor that is legal to use in China where I presume these fabrics are now all manufactured? Those factories in China are located in very humid climates and I bet there are a lot of damp un-air-conditioned warehouses where fabrics can quickly become rank with mildew. I am just speculating. I think this is a good topic for an investigative journalist somewhere.

  31. Della July 4, 2015 at 10:49 pm #

    We bought new furniture about a year ago… I’ve had NOTHING but body and lung problems since we bought it… Can anyone tell me who we turn to when the furniture we’re buying not ONLY cost’s us a good sum….but is doing such damage to our health?? WHO DO WE TURN TO…. Any suggestions????

Leave a Comment