Finding a bookcase that won't pollute the does Ikea furniture stack up?
June 28, 2010 5:05 PM   Subscribe

Finding a bookcase that won't pollute the does Ikea furniture stack up?

I've been thinking about getting an Ikea Expedit bookcase for our soon to be kid's room. Not only is it cheap, but it gets rave reviews on practicality. But, I'm trying to avoid buying stuff that is nasty to the environment and pollutes our home. Particleboard and fiberboard seem to off-gas and release toxins into the air.

The Expedits are made of:
Main parts: Particleboard, Fiberboard, ABS plastic, Acrylic paint
Filling material: Paper
Fixed shelf: Particleboard, ABS plastic, Melamine foil
Suspension rail: Steel

Ideally, I would get a real wood shelving system that is used, but I've been searching Craigslist for weeks and can't find what I'm looking for. New wood shelves are hard to come by (either too expensive or not deep enough shelves or both).

So, do you think Ikea's Expedit is safe? For what its worth, the kid won't be sleeping in the room for a while...maybe a year or so, but still its all the same house.
posted by hazel to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think the premise of your question is silly ... you want a non-outgassing shelf for a room, and it won't be used for a year? Just get whatever, the outgassing will be long gone by the time the room will be used.

However, if you are committed to this path, just go to an unfinished furniture place and get an unfinished oak or poplar (pine is too sappy) bookshelf. Such stores are common, and bookshelves like that aren't usually very expensive. Craigslist is not the only solution for acquiring furniture, especially as you are apparently willing to buy new.

I'd finish it with shellac if you are committed to no-plastic, but it will have fumes for a couple weeks, followed by the best finish *ever*. Nice that you have a year.
posted by Invoke at 5:19 PM on June 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

We live in a world of pollutants, the off gassing of any furniture should be the least of your concerns, unless you are going to have it specially made and installed days before you insert child into room.

Do you drive a car? What will the negative effects of all that crap in the car be for your child?
posted by Max Power at 5:33 PM on June 28, 2010

The green thing to do would be to buy a secondhand bookcase, one made of solid wood. Far better quality, too. If craigslist isn't panning out right now, I'm sure you have nice secondhand furniture stores or good quality resale shops in the bay area?
posted by applemeat at 5:34 PM on June 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm a fan of Cost Plus World Market bookcases, often made of rubberwood, and reasonably priced. I have two tall, narrow "Riley" bookcases that I love, and have held up very well for the 2.5 years that I've had them. They don't seem to indicate the material for some of their bookcases, but just call and ask, or see if there's a store near you. Many/most of their bookshelves and other wood products are made of Rubberwood, which is considered an "environmentally friendly" wood. Instead of burning the trees after they can no longer be harvested for latex, the trees are "recycled" to be reused in other lasting ways.

On preview, I agree with applemeat to try again and see about purchasing second-hand, and give local stores a good look before buying new; that would be the most green option.
posted by raztaj at 5:41 PM on June 28, 2010

I bought boockcases with a very similar configuration but made of unfinished pine at my local... well, here it's B&Q, in the US it's Home Depot. They were really cheap, and I think they were sold as shop/garage utility housing.

I painted them white and put feet on them - from Ikea, actually - and they continue to be the best household object we've ever bought. I've had books, baskets, CDs, and AV equiptment in there. With enough feet, there is no sagging. (We added one more pair after that photo was taken, in the center of the left unit, and that supported our heavy old CRT telly fine.)

So consider looking around at other retailers for the wooden version.

Otherwise, I really would not be concerned about outgassing after one year.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:49 PM on June 28, 2010

My GF suggested finding something made of medex it's what her company uses when making cases for museums where long term off gassing may effect very fragile artifacts.

sorry for being so flippant earlier.
posted by Max Power at 5:57 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ikea IVAR is solid wood, though you don't really want to use it as a room divider (mine is currently installed short side to the wall. I don't really recommend it). If you wanted to create a somewhat similar effect to the expedit, you'd just have to buy a few uprights and lots of shelves (and a cross-brace or two; you can't really use them if you try to make it accessible from both sides, which is why mine is currently somewhat wobbly). And paint them with appropriately non-poisonous paint. I'd recommend knotting solution before the paint, to deal with the sappiness mentioned above.
posted by Lebannen at 6:01 PM on June 28, 2010

Here in D.C. there are always used Expedits on craigslist. But if you use craigslist, you might as well look for solid wood -- better by far.
posted by jgirl at 6:16 PM on June 28, 2010

Not sure what brought out the road rage above, but for the record, I feel you. I think what you're saying is twofold. One, you don't want your son's bedroom full of nasty particleboard outgassing, and two, you don't want to contribute one more smelly piece of furniture to the environment in general.

I am behind you on both of your concerns and suggest that you keep at Craigslist until you find either solid wood shelves or expedit that fits the room. You have a lot of time to work this out and not worry about getting it done before he arrives :)

We have 3 kids, and I don't know if you're expecting your first kid or not, but something to be aware of is that you can really take your time finding furniture for his room.

Have fun!
posted by thatone at 6:29 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: thanks for replies so far.

When I said maybe one year - I meant maybe. There is the chance that the baby could go in their sooner (we are going to try co-sleeping and we'll see how that goes). Plus, its not as though I'd like something to offgas in our house regardless of someone sleeping in that room.

I realize that I can't avoid all toxins-- just trying to minimize (especially with new purchases I can control). I've also looked at secondhand stores & unfinished wood places (like I said, wood & used would be ideal). But, I haven't found anything with the depth or as many shelves as the expedit. So, I was hoping for some specific info about ikea's furniture, the expedit in particular.
posted by hazel at 6:32 PM on June 28, 2010

I know that furniture can be GREENGUARD certified for very low emissions from the finish. That might be something to look for.
posted by five_dollars at 7:46 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you or anyone you know has some basic woodworking skills, you could possibly make something yourself easier than you'd expect - the rolling cubbies here look a LOT like the expedit bookcase, and it's all straight cuts, really pretty easy. Might be worth considering?
posted by lemniskate at 7:59 PM on June 28, 2010

Here is Ikea's info for the environmental and safety aspects of its furniture. I used to work at Ikea (and believe me, I have no special affinity for the place), but I was always under the impression that they took environmental issues fairly seriously. Back in 1992, a worldwide recall of Billy bookcases (pdf) due to formaldehyde emissions from the lacquer finish forced Ikea into having to address the use of chemicals in its furniture. They were also pretty aggressive about stopping the use of PBDEs, better known as poly-brominated flame retardants. Or at least that's what the training video told me!

I don't have an Expedit, but my friend does, and I find it to be a bit wobbly unless you've got heavier items on it; otherwise it's pretty functional.

Good luck!
posted by just_ducky at 8:22 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Consider talking to a local carpenter--you might find somebody who will make shelves to your specs for not a lot, using wood you pick out. Bookshelves are easy to make for anyone with carpentry skills + tools, and you can get exactly what you need.
posted by emjaybee at 9:05 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Whatever way you decide to go, please securely attache the bookcase to the wall. Many kids see the cases as ladders, and you really don't want to anyone crushed.
posted by Marky at 9:56 PM on June 28, 2010

Looks like you are in SF, we buy all our bookshelves at Books and Bookshelves on Sanchez St for pretty much the same reasons. They are solid wood and come unpainted, you can get them stained if you want. They have tons of sizes and configurations.

They also make things to custom order.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 12:29 AM on June 29, 2010

In my experience, all that stuff made of particleboard does offgas. I don't have that particular Ikea item, but the other Ikea furniture I have did stink of chemicals. (I don't know which chemicals, and it may be that they are not as bad as other companies.) Since it is summer, maybe you can install the bookcase, then open the windows and shut the bedroom door? Should be much better within a few weeks.
posted by Knowyournuts at 11:14 AM on June 29, 2010

The biggest concern with particleboard is generally formaldehyde. From googling "ikea formaldehyde", it looks like Ikea actually does a pretty good job.

From Ikea (see "improvement #42")
From (citing Oregon Natural Step)

I have bought my share of Ikea products, and I don't recall any off-gassing (and I am pretty sensitive to it). I would just buy whatever you want enough in advance of occupying the room to allow it to air out a bit. Honestly, the biggest problem we had with VOCs/off-gassing for our kid's stuff was the mattress -- super stinky.
posted by misterbrandt at 12:38 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

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