How Long Does It Take For Furniture To Off-Gas?

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When you get new furniture, do you like the new smell, or does it give you a headache or make you feel sick?

The smell and the potential adverse reactions you might experience are caused by the chemicals used in furniture manufacturing releasing (or off-gassing) into the air in your home.

I’ve already covered mattress off-gassing in a previous article, and now I’ve dug a little further to find out how long does it take for furniture to off-gas.

It turns out that it varies widely due to numerous factors.

In this article, I’ll give you the lowdown on all things furniture off-gassing.

It’ll only take you five minutes to read, and you might just learn a thing or two to help protect your family from harmful chemicals.

So, read on as I discuss how long it takes for furniture to off-gas and what you can do to make the process as safe as possible!

What Is Off-Gassing?: Everything You Need To Know

why off gassing matters

Off-gassing is the process of chemicals being released into the air from a piece of furniture.

These chemicals can be harmful to your health, so it’s important to know what they are and how long they’ll be present in your home.

The chemicals that cause off-gassing include a large category of elements (known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs)).

VOCs and SVOCs include chemicals such as formaldehyde, benzene, ammonia, toluene, and polyurethane.

You can read more about VOCs, SVOCs, and other hazardous air pollutants here.

Factors That Determine Off-Gassing Levels

Materials

One of the most significant factors that can affect how long it takes for furniture to off-gas is the materials used in its construction.

The off-gassing from unprocessed natural materials is always going to be less than that of manmade materials.

For example, furniture containing artificial fabric such as polyester and cheap memory foam will off-gas more significantly than furniture containing sustainable fabric and CertiPUR-US certified foam.

Also, furniture made from engineered pressed wood such as MDF and particle board will off-gas more than furniture made from solid wood. This is because engineered wood is made up of many smaller strips stuck together with glue.

Coatings

Most furniture is made from wood or metal, and coatings are often used on the surface to give it a polished look.

Coatings such as paints, veneers, stains and sealers, melamine, and laminates are all popular among furniture manufacturers. All of which can contain high levels of volatile organic compounds and semi-volatile organic compounds.

Size

Another factor that can affect the off-gassing time is the size of the piece.

It stands to reason that usually (but not always) larger pieces of furniture off-gas longer than smaller pieces.

Temperature

The temperature of the room can also affect how long it takes for furniture to off-gas.

Warmer temperatures will cause the chemicals to off-gas faster than cooler temperatures.

Furniture Off-Gassing Time

One thing to keep in mind is that most furniture will suffer from off-gassing to some extent.

Furniture usually off-gases VOCs intensely for the first few months, and then the levels reduce steadily over time.

SVOCs off-gas at a slower and more consistent rate throughout the life of the furniture.

Some pieces of furniture will be fully off-gassed within a year. Others may take as long as five years. Some may never quite finish off-gassing.

It’s also worth noting that off-gassing continues even after the ‘new’ smell disappears.

What You Can Do To Speed Up The Off-Gassing Process

how to speed up furniture off-gas

If you are concerned about the off-gassing from your furniture, there are a few things you can do to speed up the process:

  • Open all packaging outside and then leave furniture in the fresh air and direct sunlight for as long as possible (taking care not to sun bleach delicate fabrics or colors). The UV rays of the sun will dramatically speed up the initial off-gassing, and having the furniture outside means the VOCs and SVOCs don’t enter your home.
  • Once the furniture is in the room it’s going to live in, ensure that all doors and windows are open as often as possible to improve circulation and indoor air quality.
  • Consider using air purifiers.
  • If you have an empty spare room and you don’t need to use the furniture straight away, leave it in the (well-ventilated) spare room to off-gas for a few weeks.
  • Sprinkle soft furnishing with baking soda, let it sit for half an hour, and then vacuum it up.
  • Buy second-hand or vintage furniture that’s at least five years old. This will ensure that the bulk of the off-gassing will have already taken place.
  • Buy non-toxic furniture with low VOCs and SVOCs levels.

Off-Gassing Health Concerns

The levels at which off-gassing furniture releases VOCs and SVOCs are not generally considered toxic.

However, they can potentially lead to a variety of short-term and long-term issues, including:

VOCs

  • Headaches
  • Eye irritation
  • Throat irritation
  • Nose irritation
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Cancer
  • Asthma
  • Central nervous system Damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Liver damage
  • Brain fog (lack of concentration)

SVOCs

  • Diabetes
  • Infertility
  • Attention deficit disorder (ADD)
  • Allergic reactions
  • Asthma
  • Cancer

These issues are often more common in the young and elderly but can affect anyone.

You can read more about the potential ill effects of a wide range of VOCs and SVOCs here.

Regulation And Certification

Because there is not much regulation around furniture off-gassing, unscrupulous manufacturers are free to employ greenwashing tactics to play down the level of chemicals coming off their products.

To help you navigate this minefield, look out for furniture approved and certified by respected independent third parties, such as:

  • Certified B Corporation (B Corp)
  • CertiPUR-US
  • Climate Neutral Certified
  • Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)
  • Formaldehyde Free
  • Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS)
  • Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
  • GREENGUARD
  • Leather Working Group
  • MADE SAFE
  • OEKO-TEX
  • Sustainable Forestry Initiative
  • Sustainable Furnishings Council (SFC)

See our ultimate list of green certifications to find out more about these (and many more).

It’s Not Just Furniture

Almost all new products around your home can off-gas and produce air pollution to some degree. Some you might want to keep an eye on include:

Paint

Wall paints have been known to be a household VOC off-gassing source for decades.

Thankfully, the paint industry has taken action, and you can now buy non-toxic paint with low (or even zero) VOC levels.

Carpeting

New carpets can also be a VOC source in your home.

The good news is that the CRI’s Green Label Plus program tests for and certifies low-emitting carpets.

So, if you’re in the market for new carpeting, look for the Green Label Plus logo.

Or, maybe consider a more eco-friendly floor covering option, such as bamboo or cork.

Building Materials (Insulation, Drywall, Adhesives, Etc.)

If you’re doing home renovations, be aware that many building materials are off-gas.

This includes insulation, drywall, adhesives, and more.

Look for green alternatives whenever possible (strawbale insulation, for example), and ensure you ventilate your home well during and after any renovations.

New Clothes

That new shirt or pair of pants might look great, but it could also be off-gassing chemicals.

The good news is that the problem is usually temporary. Just wash your new clothes and hang them out to dry in direct sunlight and clean air before wearing them to help air them out.

You’ll also dramatically reduce the off-gassing from your clothes if you avoid fast fashion labels and look for items made from sustainable fabrics.

New Cars

A new car has that ‘new car’ smell for a reason…it’s off-gassing chemicals (mainly from the upholstery).

You can help get fresh air into your car by regularly opening the windows and doors.

Bamboo charcoal bags placed around the car will help absorb the off-gassing chemicals. Place the bags outside in direct sunlight for two hours to refresh them and release the VOCs.

Mattresses

Many mattresses are made from synthetic materials that off-gas.

The good news is that there are now many eco-friendly and natural options available, such as sustainable wool, natural latex, and organic cotton.

You can also find some amazing non-toxic mattresses, made without harmful chemicals such as fire retardants.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Outgassing The Same As Off-Gassing?

Some companies use the terms interchangeably, but they actually mean different things.

Off-gassing refers to the tendency of many manufactured goods and furniture (particularly foam) to emit gasses after being opened or used.

When discussing indoor air quality, off-gassing is often referenced. On the other hand, outgassing is more frequently used in a manufacturing or laboratory environment.

How Long Does It Take For Formaldehyde To Dissipate From Furniture?

According to ATSDR, “most formaldehyde is released from products within two years”.

The Final Word

As you can see, there are a lot of factors to consider when it comes to off-gassing and furniture.

The best way to protect your family is to research before buying anything new for your home. Look for independent certifications, and avoid products made with harmful chemicals.

Whenever possible, opt for second-hand furniture or sustainable, eco-friendly options.

And, always remember to ventilate your home well to allow any off-gassing chemicals to dissipate quickly.

Get In Touch

Do you have any experience with off-gassing and furniture?

Do you favor solid wood products? Or are you okay with the off-gasses of MDF? Do you have any killer tips for improving indoor air quality? Drop me a line and let me know.

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James is a senior editor at The Roundup and has been in journalism for over 10 years. He was born in the UK but raised in Florida, where he currently lives with his wife and two daughters. James is passionate about sustainable living and environmental issues which are reflected by his work as an editor of TheRoundup.org.
James Miller
James is a senior editor at The Roundup and has been in journalism for over 10 years. He was born in the UK but raised in Florida, where he currently lives with his wife and two daughters. James is passionate about sustainable living and environmental issues which are reflected by his work as an editor of TheRoundup.org.

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