IKEA, everyone's favourite Swedish superstore, is known worldwide for its affordable prices on everything from furniture and home decor to whole kitchens, bathrooms and even meatballs.
And while the retailer is generally known for its high-quality products and low prices, as with any vast emporium, not all treasures are created equal, and there are apparently a few IKEA items that are better left in the giant warehouses.
After working across various departments in the Swedish superstore from 2016 to 2022, former employee Alex* provided insight into the items that — in her experience as both an employee and a customer — are just not worth the price tag.
From big-ticket items like bed frames and chests of drawers to cheaper products like candles and pens, here's a look at the 11 items this former employee says to leave out of your cart next time you go shopping at IKEA.
LOTE three-drawer chest
The LOTE three-drawer chest from IKEA.
If you spot a yellow label on an item while shopping at IKEA, that means it's the cheapest item available in that product range, which is the case for this LOTE three-drawer chest.
It's pretty cheap at just $39.99, but according to Alex, the quality simply doesn't justify the price tag.
She told Narcity Quebec that the display model had to be constantly changed due to being "broken all the time."
She said that the product's drawers do not slide well and that the item is surprisingly difficult to assemble, too.
On IKEA Canada's website, some customers raised similar issues, with one review stating that the chest was "well thought out but poor quality. Drawers didn’t open from the beginning. Fell apart all the time."
Another review criticized similar flaws to Alex, stating, "Do not purchase. The assembly required for the price is insane not to mention it is literally made of garbage like material."
They added, "I could rip it with my hands. Sometimes the drawers get stuck due to the cheap design and construction and I got so frustrated trying to open it I just tore it apart with one swift pull. I would imagine it would be easier to store your socks in $35 of cash than this drawer." Ouch!
Despite this critical feedback, the product does score four out of five stars overall, according to 138 customer reviews online.
FYRESDAL daybed from IKEA.
However, Alex advises doing your research before picking up this specific IKEA daybed, as in her experience the transfer rods have a tendency to slip out of place, resulting in the bed falling apart.
"It was one of the beds we hated [dealing with] the most because if you pull the drawer out too far, it has like metal rods instead of wooden slats that fit together, and the rods would come out of their holes, so you couldn't close it," she explained.
"You can't do it on your own, it takes two people to try and put the rods back in," she added. "It's like every time you pull out the bed, you have to rebuild it."
Instead of opting for this metal model, which retails for $329 in Canada, she recommends choosing a wooden option, which could be more sturdy.
And it seems like others agree, with one online reviewer writing that "It's difficult to pull out and push back in whenever required. Takes far more effort and time with a bit of risk of injury."
Despite these criticisms, the product has been rated 4.7 stars out of five on average by customers, which is actually pretty good!
IKEA cabinet handles
IKEA NYDALA cabinet handles.
IKEA stocks a wide range of cabinet and door handles that can be used in kitchens, bathrooms, offices and on furniture.
And although Alex says the product quality is reasonable, in her opinion it's possible to get a better deal on similar products elsewhere.
"It's not so much that it's a bad product," she told Narcity Quebec. "It's just that you can buy three times as many for half the price online."
So, she recommends researching online before buying, just in case there's a better deal from another store.
NORDLI modular dresser
IKEA's NORDLI eight-drawer dresser.
With IKEA's NORDLI dresser, it's actually possible to mix and match drawer sizes and colours to build a custom chest of drawers, but Alex says doing so is not necessarily easy.
She told Narcity Quebec that although the concept is good, finding the different pieces needed can be quite a headache.
"Once you've assembled the drawers, there's a panel underneath and on top that clicks everything together. First off, they're really expensive," she said. "Secondly, the panel pieces that enclose the dresser — without which you essentially can't use it — are always out of stock."
"Yes, the customizable element is fun, but you're better off getting drawers that are already built and look how you want from the outset," she said.
SNITTA knife set
IKEA's SNITTA knife.
If it's important to you to have knives of excellent quality, consider shopping elsewhere, Alex advises.
She told Narcity Quebec that she once bought a set of four black SNITTA knives from IKEA, which retail for $6.99 but she found in the "as-is" discount section.
While the packaging says that the knives are dishwasher safe, in her experience they were not — as they went rusty after one wash.
"I put them in the dishwasher once and when I took them out, they were rusty, so I would stick to other stores for utensils," she said. "Utensils may not be IKEA's strong point when it comes to kitchen items."
Despite Alex's experience, the knives are rated four and a half stars out of five on average according to 891 IKEA customer reviews.
HASVAG spring mattress
HASVAG spring mattress from IKEA.
While many of IKEA's mattresses are super comfortable, there's one that Alex says she would probably steer clear of for her own home.
The HASVAG mattress model, priced at $249 for a queen, was apparently affectionately known as the "camping mattress" among IKEA employees as it's pretty cheap and uncomfortable, Alex said. She noted that many people would buy this product for their cottage, as opposed to their home.
As the product is composed of metal springs, Alex said the bed is not ideal for daily use and revealed she would often encourage customers to purchase another option if possible.
According to the online reviews, it's not just Alex who thinks the mattress should be left behind in the warehouse.
One shopper wrote, "This was the worst mattress I have ever laid on — it's almost the same as laying on the floor! Looking into returning this ASAP."
Another added, "It's too hard, it's like sleeping on the floor. I don't know if it will get better. Now I'm looking for a plush top. I did want a firm mattress but not like that, it's like sleeping on stones."
Despite these comments, the product does still score an average rating of 4.2 stars out of 5.
MALA felt-tip pens
MALA felt-tip pens from IKEA.
While these colouring pens might seem like an attractive deal at $6.99 for 24 pens, Alex says otherwise.
According to the former employee, these pens actually dry out surprisingly quickly, which means they're actually pretty poor value.
Explaining that she once worked in IKEA's daycare department, she said, "The felt-tip pens would last us, I think, a week and a half maximum."
She added, "The ink does not last long and they dry super fast, despite [the employees] trying to keep them working for as long as possible by keeping on the lids and taking care of them."
One reviewer agreed, leaving a one-star review entitled "Dry so fast."
Another left a review which read, "Most of them are dried out before even using them. But great."
Despite these negative comments, the pens are rated 4.7 stars out of 5 on average on IKEA's website.
TANANGER mattress topper
IKEA's TANANGER mattress topper.
"Often we would tell people to buy something else," she explained. "The mattress toppers at IKEA aren't much cheaper than just buying a whole new mattress."
"We would say to people, 'How badly do you want to keep your old mattress? At this point, you could just buy a new mattress for a little more and you’ll be much better off.'"
While a mattress topper can give older mattresses an extra touch of comfort, it might just make more sense to spend a little more and buy a new mattress that suits your needs better.
An IKEA scented candle.
While there are definitely some good-value options available, Alex suggests sticking to companies like Bath & Body Works if you want a candle's scent to remain strong for a while.
"It's really disappointing because IKEA candles smell so good," she explained. "I have plenty of them, but you burn them twice and then they don't smell of anything anymore. They smell good before they're lit, but when you light them they don't smell as much."
Although some of the candles have a burn time of up to 100 hours, Alex says it's almost pointless if they stop smelling nice after just a few hours.
It's worth keeping in mind that how an item performs can vary largely depending on factors like assembly, usage, personal opinion and sometimes luck.
It's always useful to check customer reviews and ask employees if you're unsure whether to purchase something, and it's usually possible to return faulty products for a refund or exchange.
*Names have been changed to maintain confidentiality. Narcity has verified their identity.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.