Furnishing a new home or apartment is expensive. Once you add up the cost of a few basics – a dresser, bed, couch, and dining table, for example – you could easily find yourself out a few thousand dollars. Unless you shop at Ikea, that is. The massive Swedish home furnishings retailer offers stylish, budget-friendly furniture and housewares to anyone willing to brave one of their labyrinthine stores. The crowds might be maddening and assembling items might be difficult, but when you’re able to outfit your entire apartment without breaking the bank (and pick up some fresh-baked cinnamon rolls while you’re at it), who’s going to complain?
Ikea’s flat-packing method helps keep prices low, as does tricks like not using solid wood in much of its furniture (the popular Lack side table is actually filled with cardboard and air). The catch, of course, is that quality is sometimes commensurate with price. Furniture that looks great in the store doesn’t always wear well. A lack of durability or other quality issues may not be a huge problem if your Ikea purchases are a short-term solution, but it can be frustrating to haul home (and put together) an item that quickly falls apart, no matter how much you paid for it.
Does that mean you need to eliminate Ikea from your shopping routine? Hardly. Old standbys like the Ribba picture frames and the Docksta table (a knockoff of the iconic Saarinen tulip table) are popular for a reason – they’re cheap, versatile, and attractive. But you do want to be smart about how you shop at Ikea so you can get your money’s worth.
Here are four Ikea products you might want to avoid during your next trip to the big blue box.
1. Dressers and chests of drawers
Ikea is recalling 29 million dressers and chests of drawers after at least three children died when furniture that was not anchored to the wall tipped over. The recall covers six models of Malm dressers sold between 2002 and 2016, as well as 21 million other dressers. Customers can either order a free wall-anchoring kit to safely secure their furniture or return it to the store for a full or partial refund. More information about the recall is available on the Ikea website.
New models of Ikea dressers currently sold in stores meet Consumer Products Safety Commission guidelines, Ikea U.S. President Lars Petersson told NPR, but even redesigned dressers should be anchored to the wall. If you come across an older-model Ikea dresser for sale somewhere, don’t buy it, and if you purchase a new one, make sure you can attach it to the wall, especially if you have young children in your home.
Safety issues combined with sub-par particleboard construction means dressers and similar items are not a great Ikea buy. If you do buy buy one of these pieces, they’re best for “areas where they won’t get a ton of everyday use, like a guest room,” said designer Jillian Grant Lavoie of J. Bean & Co.
2. Soft furniture
“When it comes to Ikea, you get what you paid for,” Victoria Stepanov, the founder of and lead designer for Sense of Space, an interior design firm based in Queens, New York, said. Though the chain’s couches, armchairs, and other soft furnishings are affordable, the quality matches the price point.
“Those pieces are very poorly made and are overpriced for the quality you get,” Stepanov said. The one exception is the Söderhamn line of sectionals and chairs, which won’t “sag and squeak” like other Ikea products, she said. “That’s the only line of soft seating I’d recommend buying there.”
Another item to skip at Ikea, according to Stepanov? Upholstered dining chairs. “An absolute no-no,” she said. “They’ll fall apart before your first dinner party!”
3. Sheets and towels
Ikea isn’t the best place to buy linens. Queen-size sheet sets may be a steal at under $50, but they won’t last long, warned Lavoie, and the towels aren’t much better.
“In general, the textures are scratchy and the quality is subpar,” she said. “The sheets do soften up after a few washes, but at that point, they often start to look dingy and frayed.”
If you’re trying to save money on sheets and towels, you’ll do better with products from Target’s Threshold Line, Lavoie said. For a splurge, she suggests opting for Parachute Home’s percale or linen sheet sets. “You spend about one-third of your life in bed, so I say go for the best bedding you can afford,” she added.
Curtains are one fabric item at Ikea that is a good buy, Lavoie said, particularly the Ritva and Aina lines. “They’re surprisingly heavyweight, look far more expensive than they are, and are sold in pairs, which is not the case with most retail curtains,” she said.
4. Algot closet system
Custom closets aren’t cheap, so it’s tempting to turn to a more budget-friendly solution for organizing your clothes and shoes. But Ikea’s Algot system may not be your best bet. Though it’s fairly inexpensive and contains different components to adapt to your space, assembling it is a headache, Consumer Reports discovered when it tested the product in 2014. Putting together the unit took nearly three hours, compared to the hour or so it took to assemble other closet systems.
“The directions are wrong, and it’s hard to achieve the correct spacing,” noted the magazine. “Screws aren’t included. Neither are wall anchors; we had to stop work and buy them. Drawers didn’t fit properly. A call to Ikea proved unhelpful. The upright width was listed wrong, and we had to re-drill. And the baskets didn’t roll back and forth smoothly.”