Q: I ordered a custom wardrobe and changing unit from a carpenter for my new baby’s nursery. It was just installed five days ago and it looks fantastic but smells bad. We have been airing out the room with a fan, but the smell is just as bad as the day it was installed. I am due with our first baby any day now and I am worried about the smell. I can’t even stand to be in the room. When I asked what was used on it the carpenter said “stain and lacquer.” I asked if it was totally dry and he said yes. I am worried about VOCs and toxic fumes around my new baby. What should I do?
A: First, if lacquer was used, you would most likely not smell it after five days. This suggests there is something else going on. The only smell that comes off lacquer after one day is the odor of the plasticizer, which is what is called “new car smell” in automobiles. It may not be pleasant, but it is not harmful. If I had to guess what is really going on, I would say that someone stained the interior with an oil based stain, then left it unsealed. Oils used in finishing can smell for weeks if they are not sealed, but again, while they may smell offensive, they are not harmful. After all, anchovies smell awful to some people, but they are not harmful either.
That brings us to what you can do about it. First, ascertain if the smell is coming solely from unsealed internal areas, such as drawer sides and case interiors. If so, you can seal all these interior areas with Zinsser SealCoat, which will block both the smell and any fumes that you can’t smell. If not, you may have to seal the entire piece, but before doing that, make sure you know for certain what was used and why it still smells. You did not provide me with enough information to troubleshoot this long distance, but your carpenter should be able to provide you with more precise information. If need be, you can call and I will be happy to consult on the issue, but make sure you have all the information before you call.