There’s a funny smell coming from my new La-Z-Boy sofa — can I get a refund?

Sofa, reinterpreted. / Photo by A. Golden – Flickr Creative Commons
Question: We recently bought at Gavin La-Z-Time reclining sofa in performance leather from the La-Z-Boy furniture galleries in Greenfield, Wis. The sofa looked great when they delivered it.

But within a few hours we noticed a putrid odor. The best way to describe it is a rotten dead animal smell with toxic undertones. My husband and I developed terrible headaches for the next few days and started developing sinus problems. I also have a serious concern as I have cancer in my sinuses, head, and lung and was afraid the fumes would irritate the cancer even more.

About a week later, I called the store and asked about the odor and if there was anything we could do about it and a representative said the smell should go away in a few days. We could no longer tolerate the odor so we moved the sofa into a different room to let it air out. That didn’t work.

A few days later, I emailed La-Z-Boy customer care and told them about the problem. Someone left us a phone message the next day, but did not leave a phone number and their name was not audible on voicemail, so my husband called customer care back. They told him that they would send a person out to our house to evaluate the problem.

The next week, a representative visited us, told us to fill out a bunch of paperwork and asked us a few questions. He said all he could smell was baking soda. We found that odd because baking soda does not have an odor. We have had several people in our home and they all can smell the odor. Our small four- and seven-year-old grandchildren don’t even want to go out in the room because it smells “yucky” in there.

La-Z-Boy has offered us store credit for the sofa, but they don’t have anything else that we want in the story. Can you help us get a refund? — Vicki Olszewski, New Berlin, Wis.

Answer: La-Z-Boy should have either quickly replaced your foul-smelling sofa or offered you a full refund. Instead, you seem to have gotten the runaround from the company.

La-Z-Boy doesn’t have a company-wide refund policy. Instead, its refund rules are set by each dealership. So it would have been up to the Greenfield store to decide when and how to replace your sofa.

The part of your story that troubles me the most is the exchange between you and the representative who visited your home. If I had a buck for every time an employee told me there was “nothing wrong” with a product I believed to be faulty, I’d be part of the 1 percent. And if I had a dollar for every time something turned out to be wrong with said product — I’d still be rich enough to quit this journalism racket.

Even if your furniture dealership has a strict no-refunds policy, it should stand behind its products instead of telling you something is wrong with your sense of smell. To me, that’s not good customer service. It’s more like bullying you into keeping a flawed product.

If you were as unhappy with that resolution as I am, you could have contacted someone higher up at La-Z-Boy. If you’re not getting anywhere through the “contact us” feature on the website, try someone higher up. Email addresses at La-Z-Boy are [email protected]

I contacted La-Z-Boy on your behalf. It offered you a full refund for the sofa, minus $262, which covered the delivery fee, the Guardsman fee and applicable taxes (the delivery and Guardsman fees are paid to third parties). La-Z-Boy is also waiving the restocking fee.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • TonyA_says

    Here’s the way La-Z-Boy in Connecticut explained it to us (at the store) when I paid for my order. We had 3 days (72 hours) to CANCEL our order without incurring fees.

    Now here is the kicker … La-Z-Boy usually delivers your furniture several days or a few weeks AFTER your order. That makes the 3-day cancellation policy quite irrelevant since you will only experience the strong smell AFTER delivery.

    In my opinion, the strong smell of NEW leather is NOT A DEFECT. It is characteristic or part of the leather.  It will disappear after a few weeks at most. The OP must have expected otherwise.

    Finally, it should be clear to people who buy La-Z-Boy furniture that the WARRANTY means they will come to your house and fix the problem. They may even REPLACE the furniture if need be. But you cannot just return the item to the store.

    My new leather La-Z-Boy had one tack that needed to be “hammered” in. I did not want to do it myself. So I called the store. A repairman was dispatched and he came and fixed it within a few days. I have owned La-Z-Boys since the 80’s; and from experience we have had more responsive service from them compared to Ethan Allen or Lillian August.

  • Raven_Altosk

     The way a company handles the bad speaks volumes about them in my book. I shouldn’t have had to go to a store and flip a couch to show these idiots how the hardware was supposed to be installed versus the one they sent me. :/

    Conversely, I had a custom shower installed recently and the glass was cut wrong. The owner himself called me and apologized, and then came to inspect the work of his people after the correct size was cut and installed. That shows he cared.

  • TonyA_says

    No Carver, I bought one (or two) from La-Z-Boy this summer and the chemical smell is real STRONG (but not as strong as the smell of Moroccan leather – think horse urine). I have 3 young sons so I know that gym socks smell you are talking about. The odor coming from a bacteria (or mold) is different from the chemically smell of the NEW leather. But I can tell you, the smell will disappear after a few weeks.

    This is a problem of expectation. When I buy real Italian leather from Parri’s in Firenze, it does not small bad. But I will pay a fortune for that leather. If I pay La-Z-Boy $1400 for a leather recliner and they have to use a lot of leather for the chair, I don’t expect it to smell as nice as Italian leather.

    Maybe it is a simple degassing process that is required since the furniture is sealed in huge plastic bags to protect it during storage. But the smell is certainly not one of a decaying animal. I assume it is from the chemicals used in leather processing or treatment.

  • IrishStubborn

    Just curious…why weren’t the taxes refunded?  If they are getting a refund, they should get a refund on the sales taxes they paid, shouldn’t they??  And sorry, but they should have refunded the other charges as well, as they are part of the couch they no longer own.  It means that the company has to eat the cost, but, well, that’s the cost of doing poor customer service.

  • RetiredNavyphotog

    Actually her illness does have a bearing on this story.  If she is being treated for cancer, why would she want to have an item in her house that has a terrible smell.  It could be a dead animal or it could be some nasty chemicals that cause cancer. 
    If you had cancer, you would feel differently.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HMW3OTJSBDWWRKIEKEKWWM7BEA bc

    Tony, I’m with you, I love the smell of leather. 
    Except this isn’t just a leather sofa. It appears that it’s bonded leather sofa. (When I read the description on the LazyBoy website it confirmed my suspicions). If you’re unfamiliar with bonded leather, they actually take leather scraps and then the fibers are macerated and then recombined with adhesives and binders and then mounted to a polyester backing to form a synthetic material. It then has a coating on top for protection. It’s embossed with animal hide grain to give the appearance of leather. It is most certainly not leather and it can have strong OVCs and strong chemical smells if it’s cheap. It is pretty  controversial calling it leather, in most countries you can’t even use the world leather in association with it. 
    If this was bonded leather there could most defiantly be a nauseating chemical smell associated with it. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JVORRILRMJBBK4PXEOPGG7HEIQ David D

    Exactly. It’s not always the initial transaction that is the key – it’s how that store or location handles those “glitches” that help define loyalty. Had a double-billing situation with 2 different hotel franchisees on one trip – one jumped right on the problem and got it fixed by the time I was ready to head out on the next leg of my trip while another basically said “too bad so sad I’m keeping the money” (I did obtain a refund from corporate, however).

  • Joe_D_Messina

    I had to read that part a couple times, but I think the only taxes not refunded were those on the Guardsman fee and/or the delivery. (Guessing the Guardsman must be a stain treatment that’d be figured into the purchase price and taxed, while the delivery would probably be a straight fee tacked on after taxes were applied. At least I think that’s the most common way of handling it, though I know some online stores tax on the total including shipping.)  At least that is my best guess because if the sofa was returned, there’d be no taxes collected on a purchase that never happened.

  • TonyA_says

    The showroom was full of this “cheaper” leather. I believe the idea was to offer a lower price point for folks who want a leather looking couch. While I did not smell the chemicals when I sat on the displays (meaning even the smell of the fake leather will disappear sometime), I noticed they did not feel anything close to my other leather coaches. So I asked the sales person why. He explained that it was “recycled” leather. That went over my head quickly so I asked him where I could find leather that just came directly from a cow and not from a recycling center. He took us to the back of the showroom where the real leather stuff was and the price tag was hidden below the cushions :-) The price difference was several hundred dollars for a chair.

    Anyway I gotta tell you that even the real leather had a noxious chemical smell when they delivered the sofa and chair. I think they must spray something (maybe an anti-fungal) before they put plastic over it. So the first time this thing breathes again is in your living room when they remove the plastic.

    The difference between me and the OP is that I was willing to put up with the smell. I have a couple of Vornado (air movers) and I kept them running “forever”. I recall the smell was completely gone after about 3 weeks.

    I think this is a case of you should have known better if you buy leather or faux leather. If you love leather (like my wife and I and you do) then you will be willing to put up with it. In winter, nothing is better than leather.

    In my opinion, the OP hate for the smell was more than her love of the leather couch. So the leather couch lost.

    I would be careful not to call the smell toxic since that may prejudice other would be buyers thinking of buying leather couches from La-Z-Boy. My mulch pile might smell bad when I forget to turn it but the smell is NOT TOXIC. Carbon Monoxide is clear and has no smell but it is toxic.

  • TonyA_says

    I am not understanding why the product is defective. If the OP bought faux leather and paid the price for faux leather then (as you explained about  bonded leather), wouldn’t the smell of plastic and glue be normal?

    I am not aware of any US consumer law that prohibits the use of “bonded” leather for upholstery. La-Z-Boy even explains what it is so buyers will know what they are buying. What the OP did not know is what NEW bonded leather will smell like. I assume she smelled an older sofa at the showroom.

    I hesitate to call a smelly leather product defective when by design they are smelly.

  • Ann Lamoy

    “taking it out for the weekends.”

    I’m picturing you putting it in the family car and taking it for a drive out into the country. For a picnic perhaps? *grin*

  • jennj99738

    In one word, no.  Caving to Chris Elliott does not mean that La-Z-Boy admits the product is toxic. It more likely means that they know the power of social media.  

    I don’t believe that a company would sell something it knows to be toxic in the case of a couch.  

  • Robert Karpel

    I’m having a hard time with this one since she didn’t want a replacement, only her money back.  And they did refund the money for the couch, minus non-refundable third party expenses.

  • http://www.facebook.com/judyserie.nagy Judy Serie Nagy

    Raven, you get my vote for the BEST so far this year.  You FLIPPED OVER A SOFA in the showroom?  I will be laughing about this for YEARS.  I think of more of us took action when customer service is run by martians maybe customer service would improve.  You are SO RIGHT, the problem should have been dealt with in a single phone call.  The more we consumers just suck it up and don’t get properly exercised when we’re treated like dirt, the more they get away with it.  I bought an HP laptop several years ago, I had 3 or 4 issues with it.  HP’s message to me, starting with the fact that I had to pay for the phone call, was essentially “Thanks for the money, now eff you”. They wouldn’t even answer simple questions for me.   I got lucky and ran into an HP big shot on a Nile cruise and the the CEO’s assistant called me two days after we got home!  I’m almost looking forward to buying some big expensive thing that isn’t acceptable so I can go turn over a sofa in their showroom.

  • http://www.facebook.com/judyserie.nagy Judy Serie Nagy

    The sofa smelled so bad it gave two people “terrible headaches” and she didn’t do anything about it FOR A WEEK?  This is an amazing story.  If the odor is that bad, put the thing out in the driveway.  Call the store, tell them to pick it up within 4 hours and just watch so nobody steals it.  But if it smells that bad, who would steal it?

  • http://www.facebook.com/Bunkin91 Sandy Young

    As soon as Chris mentioned ‘Guardsman’ I think its going to be a chemical sprayed, or, in the case of leather, wiped on. Runs about $4 in a can but they charge upwards of $100 for this ‘treatment’. Maybe too much was applied in this case. At the very least they could have offered to wipe it down and see if that helped.

  • Ronay

    LaZboy should have reimbursed the Olsewskis’ delivery fee as well, for the sake of good will. Then they could have duked it out with the franchise over the delivery charge, leaving the customer whole. After all, the Olsewskis rightfully had every expectation to receive their purchase in pristine condition, which they didn’t, so why should they have to be out ANY money at all? It’s as though they are being punished because they had the “temerity” to order the sofa in the first place!

  • rhonda

    bought a leather sectional from JcP, & I, my 9yr. old & 2.5 yr. old began having sinus, eye, & skin irritation. found out jcp’s leather comes from china, which means it has dimethyl fumarate in it. furniture from china is outlawed in europe now b/c of this chemical. europe calls it “couch sickness.’ there are more chemicals on/in the couch unassociated w/ the origin. i began w/ an email (paper trail) & asked them to send a chemical specialist, not an employee, to examine it. i also asked for the name of a doctor who specializes in chemical issues associated w/ furniture. they gave me a phone # to call @ JcP, b/c they needed more info. i again replied via email asking what info they wanted. they gave the info they wanted. then JcP told us they would completely refund the couch & pick it up feb. 2. it was a painless & mostly positive experience. i’ve found i need a paper trail. also, by writing instead of calling, my words are more concise. i asked to deal w/ ONLY ONE rep. JcP’s customer service has been very good to us.