Adam Sneed is a senior associate editor at CityLab, focusing on city life and culture. He was previously a technology reporter at Politico and a researcher at Future Tense, a project of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University.
Ikea is issuing a massive recall on this modern, unstable staple of apartments everywhere.
For any young American moving to a new city, it’s practically a rite of passage: The first weekend after finding an apartment, you trek to the nearest Ikea and get as many decent-looking, modernish furniture essentials as your meager budget will allow. Chances are good that those items will include something from the Malm line. At the very least, you’ll see that chest of drawers at a friend’s place, recognize it in bit parts on your favorite shows, and, when its glory days are through, you’ll bump into it on the sidewalk, slumped under a white banner declaring to passersby: “FREE.”
In their several forms, Malm dressers found success by being cheap, accessible, and ubiquitous—but as of Tuesday, they might also be a thing of the past. The dressers have been blamed in the deaths of three children since 2014. Now, facing pressure from consumer safety advocates, Ikea has issued a massive recall on 29 million dressers and discontinued the sale of all but its smallest nightstand version of the Malm line.
This follows a long campaign by consumer safety advocates to raise awareness of how unstable the dressers are. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, a 2-year-old and a 23-month-old were killed in separate incidents in 2014 when Malm units toppled over on them. In response, Ikea began telling customers to anchor their dressers to the wall to prevent them from falling—still, another toddler was killed in February. Ikea received 41 other reports of the dressers falling over, injuring 17 children up to 10 years old, according to federal regulators.
Consumer advocates threatened legal action, claiming the message wasn’t getting out to the public, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. They also pointed out that many renters might not be allowed to fasten furniture to the wall. As pressure started mounting from some members of Congress, Ikea relented and issued a recall.
If you own one of these dressers—even if you don’t have kids around—Ikea now wants you to do one of two things. You can contact the company to request a free toolkit to anchor your dresser to the wall, or you can request a refund. (There’s a sizeable list of other non-Malm furniture also being recalled, so even if you went with another kind of Ikea dresser, it’s worth checking to see if what you have in your home is considered unsafe.)
Given just how popular this line-up was, a lot of people stand to get their money back if they want to haul their products back to the store, according to the Wall Street Journal. Full refunds are available for units sold as early as 2002, and purchases before that are eligible for partial store credit.
Ikea is fertile ground for finding a cheap dresser or coffee table that can easily be tossed to the curb when it’s time to move again, or when something more desireable comes around. Anyone who lives in an expensive city surely knows that cost vs. quality debate well. Ikea has thrived by existing at that sweet spot. But if a good price comes at the cost of safety, maybe it’s time to reassess.