I like breathing formaldehyde as much as the next person, but...
February 28, 2008 6:41 AM   Subscribe

How do I get rid of that horrible new carpet smell?

My office had new carpet put down in the hallways last Thursday through Tuesday. It's industrial carpet glued to concrete floor. The glue smell gives me horrible headaches. Plus, I'm sure it's toxic.

My coworkers (there's only 2 of them) don't grok that this smell is causing a serious problem for me; somehow they can't smell it or it doesn't bother them. I had the hall windows open yesterday, but it's all of 20° today and they'll whine about it being cold if I open the windows again.

So, how can I get this horrible smell to go away? I'd prefer to eliminate or neutralize it instead of covering it up with something (Febreze also not an option because that gives me headaches too).
posted by misanthropicsarah to Grab Bag (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Fresh air is the enemy of carpet fumes. Talk to the facilities people in your office building and ask really nicely if they can do something to vent outside air or leave some doors open with industrial fans near them. If your office isn't that big, just do it yourself.
posted by phredgreen at 6:52 AM on February 28, 2008

Ah. silly me. one day I'll learn to read entire OPs and not give bad answers. See if you can get some space heaters for whiny co-workers.
posted by phredgreen at 6:54 AM on February 28, 2008

There are other brands of fabric deodorizer with less perfumey elements. Can't guarantee that they won't also give you headaches, but if you head down to your nearest large pet store, you can probably find a couple different brands. Try them first to make sure they don't cause the same problems. I have noticed that to get rid of strong smells requires a lot of deodorizer, whichever brand you use, and sometimes it requires repeated use, but I've successfully gotten rid of smells as strong as cat urine and as persistent as year's worth of smoking. I don't know how well they work on chemical smells, however. You may just have to wait until it fades naturally, taking lots of breaks and maybe even using a mask.
posted by ErWenn at 6:55 AM on February 28, 2008

The irony of someone displeased with a smell calling co-workers who don't want to work in sub-freezing temperatures "whiners" is interesting.

You could try to work something out where you leave the windows open for a few hours after closing time ... or you could just bring nose-plugs to work until the smell goes away on its own.
posted by toomuchpete at 7:07 AM on February 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: There's really nothing you can do; the glue and the carpet will outgas for several days/weeks. Circulation is the only thing that will help. Using deodorizer won't eliminate the chemicals that are outgassing.
posted by Doohickie at 7:16 AM on February 28, 2008

Can you work from home for a day or two? My office sent us home after putting down new carpet because the smell was so bad. In our case, it was a Friday so by Monday the smell was gone.

In terms of odor neutralizing solutions, you may want to try Oust or see if anyone nearby has an air filter/purifier that you can borrow for the day.
posted by ml98tu at 7:21 AM on February 28, 2008

If you're getting headaches from the stuff, it's definitely not good for you, and there shouldn't be humans in that part of the building until it clears out. Tell your boss, then relocate to fresh air, going home if necessary.

Then call OSHA. Occupational exposures to formaldehyde and other VOCs are serious business, and nobody should force you to work in an environment that makes you sick.

See if you can get the MSDS for the carpet glue. If you can't, tell OSHA that too.
posted by Myself at 7:57 AM on February 28, 2008

Best answer: It's likely the formaldehyde fumes, and not the smell per se, are causing your headaches. You either need to wait for the fumes to dissipate, or get some kind of remediative device installed. Here's a plant that allegedly removes formaldehyde fumes, for what it's worth. Also, ionizing devices including certain kinds of lightbulbs supposedly do this.
posted by beagle at 8:28 AM on February 28, 2008

In my not-very-extensive experience with new carpet installations, the outgassing will stop when there isn't any more gas to out. Covering up the smell won't solve the problem - the fumes that are making you sick will still be there. Ventilation will help disperse them.

Your only solution may be to ask if you can work from home, or see if there's another space in the building that you can work from (one that doesn't have new carpter, obviously).
posted by rtha at 8:29 AM on February 28, 2008

When they painted our office, I found that setting out dishes of white vinegar around the room (I used those large, flat Aluminum pie tin-type dishes) helped to get rid of the paint smell within about two days. Maybe give it a try?
posted by Oriole Adams at 8:38 AM on February 28, 2008

Maybe a well-stocked hardware store has those cotton mouth masks that contain activated charcoal, though I have no idea if a thin layer of activated charcoal can protect you from formaldehyde.

I agree that no one should be required to work there until the air is clear.
posted by PatoPata at 9:18 AM on February 28, 2008

I swear that the "new car smell" is stronger in my car on sunny days. Maybe blocking heat/light can help the new carpet smell.
posted by sixcolors at 9:24 AM on February 28, 2008

Nthing OSHA. A friend of mine once nearly died due to carpet fumes in his dorm room. They are serious business.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:58 AM on February 28, 2008

I think your best bet to protect yourself without making yourself a problem in the eyes of your employer is to buy an air purifier with at least 5 or 6 lbs. of activated carbon (which has to be specially treated to absorb formaldehyde well, by the way). A good one will reduce VOCs to low levels in a reasonably sized room.

But they are quite expensive. The only ones I know well enough to recommend for their performance are made by Austin Air and E. L. Foust, and their prices are in the $350-$450 range. The Foust 160R2 is the most economical-- I don't think I'd go for anything smaller.
posted by jamjam at 10:37 AM on February 28, 2008

Response by poster: looks like i'll just have to deal with it and take a few fresh air breaks throughout the day. which is what i've been doing.

it's not a "real" office with facilities or office managers. it's 3 of us in an old building above an old theater. while you would think working in an office of 3 would make it easier to deal with things like this, somehow it's not. especially when they totally don't seem to believe me about the formaldehyde and off-gassing. they look at me like i'm a crazy green freak.

thanks for the advice all.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 11:04 AM on February 28, 2008

The Voice of Experience here: This problem has a 2-part solution. 1) Starting Friday after work, close up the office and crank the heat WAY high. The purpose of this is to speed up the off-gassing. 2) Then, on late Sunday afternoon, go back over and open everything up to let in as much fresh air as possible and let it cool back down to normal. Repeat as necessary.

This is also the only effective method for dealing with fumes from paint and pressboard furniture. There is a certain amount of offgassing that they are going to do, and you can either let that happen over the next couple of months while you breathe it all in every day, or you can take matters into your own hands and make it happen over a more compressed time period.

I've never had to deal with asking an employer about cranking the heat over the weekend because I own my own business. Maybe you can offer to pay the difference in the heat bill. It shouldn't be all that much, and perhaps your offer alone will convince them that you really do have a problem and they'll decide to foot the bill. Good luck.
posted by Enroute at 7:46 PM on February 28, 2008

We had two rooms of the same size carpeted where I used to work. The out gassing was awful. I brought in a HEPA filter from home and put it in one room, and put a heavy duty ozone-producing "negative ion" type air cleaner in the other and left both over the weekend.

On Monday, the room with the HEPA filter had not improved at all, but the room with the ozone machine was tolerable to work in. It's a smaller version of the smoke-eater air cleaners they have bolted to the ceiling in bars. Ozone is its own problem, but once we turned the machine off it dissipated, and the carpet smell stayed gone.

New carpet smell is more than a smell. Not good.
posted by clownboat at 9:14 PM on February 28, 2008

Enviro-sensitive associate seconds ozone. Rubber plants are said to remove pollutants over time.
posted by pointilist at 10:06 AM on February 29, 2008

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