I unknowingly purchased a desk that is coated with nitrocellulose. Is there anything I can do other than return the desk?

Asked by Jill Richards
Miami, FL

I have a couple of questions. First, I have excellent air purifiers running throughout my house. is this enough to alleviate any health concerns? Also how long do the emissions continue? I have had the desk for several weeks. Thank you!


Edward Wright

Answered by Edward Wright

Cincinnati, OH

Wright Design, LLC

October 8, 2012


Nitrocellulose is a common lacquer finish for wooden furniture and instruments since the 1920s.

  • Music from Django Reinhardt to Les Paul and the Beatles was likely made from guitars with this or a similar wood finish.
  • It was developed by DuPont and used early on by Ford as a car body finish.

Nitrocellulose lacquers do not cure, but are evaporative finishes (high VOC content), which means that regardless of how long they have been solid they can be redissolved in the original solvents. Lacquers dry to the touch quickly, however they then take weeks, or even months to dry completely, leading to the misconception that they "cure".

Some currently produced nitrocellulose lacquer product labels indicate that 85% of the can's contents are VOCs. The VOCs present in lacquers include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects. Please consult the EPA's website (here) regarding steps to reduce exposure.

Good air circulation in the room where the furniture is now, will be most helpful in evaporating any remaining solvents. Options for fresh air are:

  • open windows for cross ventilation,
  • open a window in the room and turn on a bath fan.

If these options to do not work to your satisfaction, there is the possibility of renting an HEPA-Filtered Portable Air Scrubber.

Best of luck with your furniture,



For more information:

Read our better IAQ tips "Improving Your Home’s Indoor Air Quality: From Basic to Bigger and Better Steps."

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