Lingering Odor in Enclosed Space

Odor and irritation issues come up for cabinets finished inside a small trailer. November 26, 2007

I have a company that manufactures living quarters inside of horse trailers. They were using pre-cat lacquer self sealing on the cabinets, and were allowing only 2-3 hours dry time before installing the boxes, closing the trailers up, and shipping them to a dealer's lot, where they may sit for 2 days or 2 months. Obviously the problem with odor comes from not allowing the finish to properly cure before installing the cabinets, and has been addressed. What we have are several trailers in the field that still have the odor, and in some cases, eye burning. I am convinced that this is the same phenomena we see in drawers, only on a much larger scale. To mask the odor in the trailers, I have suggested aggressive ventilation and complete washing of the interior with ammonia and water or orange oil based cleaners. I think this will reduce the odor. Does anyone else have suggestions that the trailer owners may try to knock the smell down?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor R:
Careful you don't open yourself up to a lawsuit. Put your foot down and explain the obvious, then have the lot sign a release letting you off the hook for anyone who drops dead from the fumes. Some companies put a little vanilla oil in the coating, but that's just masking the danger.

From contributor W:
It won't help the ones that are already done, but in the future, use water based like Target USL. Are you sure that the fumes are from the lacquer and not formaldehyde from the plywood glue?

From the original questioner:
We had cabinets installed without countertops and carpet in one trailer and the eye burning was vicious. I am sure it is the pre-cat. We tested the waterborne and while it worked very well (from Gemini, not Target), they would not invest the extra 30 dollars per five to eliminate the problem. Guess it's not as big a deal as they make it out to be, or they would have switched to waterbased. As far as a lawsuit, you know how people are, and if they want to sue, they'll do it regardless.

From contributor R:
$30 versus vicious eye burning? I guess I'm being judgmental.

From contributor W:
I was thinking the very same thing. Since you said it, would it really take the whole 5 gallons to spray the inside of a trailer? Maybe you should invest in some more efficient spray equipment.

From the original questioner:
Never said anything about using five gallons to spray one trailer, just that it is purchased in fives.

From contributor B:
I think that the vigorous ventilation is the key. I don't think that off-gassing is eliminated inside closed trailers, thereby leaving the finish to take longer to cure. I don't know much about chemistry or physics of that, but I've seen inside drawers where, if I couldn't get ventilation, it would take forever to dry, even in 90% temps.

From contributor W:
So, if you are using a couple of gallons per trailer, the smell could be eliminated for $10.

From contributor D:
Just as contributor B advises, ventilate. That's it. Nothing needs washing down. Open the items to fresh air and place small fans in each. The movement of air will solve and eliminate your problem.

You don't have to switch to waterborne to tackle this problem, although that's one answer. Switching to 2k polyurethane (Ilva Polimeri from will solve the problem much quicker than waterborne. Waterborne takes at least three weeks to reach full cure. 2K polyurethane takes a few hours and the smell is gone just as quickly. The cost of a sprayed gallon of 2k polyurethane is surprisingly cheap (maybe $30 a sprayed gallon when you factor in the hardener and reducer). The performance is superior to any pre-cat or waterborne.

In your situation, your immediate fix lies in getting some moving air to flow over your surfaces. Your stuff needs to off-gas. And maybe one or two days of this is all it will take to get your odors manageable.

From contributor J:
Adding a deodorant, like someone else suggested, is a way to hide the smell of leftover solvents, but burning of the eyes is probably caused by the free formaldehyde release when resin crosslinks. Air exchange is your only solution for this.