5 On Your Side

Glass furniture can explode suddenly

Posted February 9, 2011
Updated February 10, 2011

A procedure to make broken glass safer sometimes causes glass products, including glass-topped furniture, to break without warning.

All glass furniture will likely soon be required to be made of tempered glass. However, the procedure that makes tempered glass safer can also make it suddenly shatter.

Jennifer Merritt recently woke up to the sound of breaking glass in the office of her Orange County home.

"We heard something like a gunshot," Merritt said. "(I) ran up here and saw that the glass top on my desk had exploded. ... It was on everything. It covered absolutely everything."

Merritt had bought the $130 Chinese-made desk from IKEA seven months earlier. She called the company after the explosion.

"They told me they'd never heard of anything like this happening," she said.

She asked for a refund, but three months later, she got a letter denying the warranty claim. The letter said that "tempered glass can shatter for no apparent reason," including "normal wear." Similar verbiage is included in the ad for the desk.

"It's just the way it is – a desk that could explode at any point from the day you bring into your house, and if it does explode, no one's responsible," Merritt said.

An Internet search turned up similar complaints about shattering glass products from IKEA and other companies.

Tempered glass is usually safer than other glass, because when it breaks, it usually shatters into small pieces, instead of large, sharp pieces. It's required to be used in car windows and shower and other glass doors.

However, experts say, because of the way tempered glass is made, it's essentially under high pressure, and the smallest nick or scratch can cause it to suddenly shatter. Manufacturing problems, such as compromised quality, or something as simple as a sudden temperature change can also cause a spontaneous shatter.

glass furniture Glass furniture can explode suddenly

An IKEA spokeswoman said that the company's "products are safe" and that it has "hundreds of auditors" checking its factories, including the many in China, to ensure they "comply with manufacturing standards."

After 5 on Your Side called IKEA, a representative immediately called Merritt and refunded the cost of the desk.

Merritt said that it's been a learning experience.

"I just didn't think this was something like that was possible. I didn't know that tempered glass could explode at any given time from normal wear and tear," she said.

Experts also said that given the millions of pieces of glass furniture, spontaneous shatters don't happen often.

The thicker the glass, the less likely it is to shatter. It's also important not to overload glass furniture.

Complaints about suddenly shattering glass products can be directed to the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission.

11 Comments

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  • IBleedRedandWhite Feb 14, 2011

    I actually had my driver's side window in my Jeep bust without warning driving down the highway one day. I figured that since I had wrecked it on that side that maybe the window had incurred some type of stress and just eventually burst. It was scary. I thought someone had shot at me (it was in Charlotte when it happened).

  • obs Feb 11, 2011

    The answer is not to buy cheap garbage, and boycott the places that see it. Tempered glass in and of itself is not the problem. Car side windows are made of tempered glass, and have been for many years.. They take lots of abuse without spontaneously shattering.

  • sandtran36 Feb 10, 2011

    We had an oven glass door explode, just as her desk did. We had only had it a few months so it was covered under warranty. The man who replaced and door said that was not the first time he had seen that happen. It was new to me and scary!

  • blackdog Feb 10, 2011

    By the way... my exploding glass panel was made in Illinois.

  • blackdog Feb 10, 2011

    I had a shower panel explode when I touched it in the shipping container. The tempering can occur too quickly, causing a severe brittleness. This glass is usually manufactured in the winter months. I almost had a go around with Lowes. Luckily, the manufacturer rep was in the store and told me to just get another one. He and I knew what happened and why. The Lowes manager however, was less informed.

  • LuvLivingInCary Feb 10, 2011

    i've always found ikea to run along the line of cheap chinese quality products. this article proves it.

  • quinnwizard Feb 10, 2011

    I own a glass business and we use tempered glass everyday. Building codes require tempered glass in doors and in windows beside doors (sidelites). It is also required in any window that is less than 24" off of the ground. The reason being, if you were to fall into the glass, you wouldn't be cut to pieces because tempered, like the story states, shatters into millions of little pieces that are not AS sharp as "plate" glass. That is also why shower doors are required to be tempered.

    The tempering process is done at the glass manufactureres facility and basically involves a piece of plate glass that is heat cured. The process however, is not able to go all the way to the edge of the glass. So, for table tops that do not have a protected edge, we usually recommend plate glass because with tempered, even a tiny tap on the edge can shatter it.

    Tempered glass is a good product considering that the tempering process is done correctly. It is NOT common for it to just shatter without

  • ncsd105 Feb 10, 2011

    "She asked for a refund, but three months later, she got a letter denying the warranty claim. The letter said that "tempered glass can shatter for no apparent reason," including "normal wear." Similar verbiage is included in the ad for the desk."
    Seems to me to be a case of buyer beware. I applaude IKEA for going above and beyond, but wouldn't have blamed them if they had stuck to their guns.

  • 68_dodge_polara Feb 10, 2011

    Made in China

  • SaveEnergyMan Feb 10, 2011

    A little better research would have been nice. Tempered glass is NOT used in windshields - that's laminated glass. After all, if it exploded into a million pieces when cracked you'd crash not being able to see where you were going.

    Tempered glass IS used in the side windows and in the back of cars. In general, tempered glass is safe, if it is done correctly. Like with everything else they make, the Chinese are far more concerned about profit, than safety.

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