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Mine doesn't have a "smell" but I could see how some people think the fabric could have a chemical odor.
Compared to the Graco (for example) the fabric is really not "cloth"- it's more like a plastic-y fabric (almost like parachute fabric) so it's more easily cleaned (one of the reasons we selected it). The Graco seats just have a velveteen type plush cloth that's softer but harder to clean.
I will say that many of the negative reviews about the Chicco related to the material causing baby to sweat and sometimes get a rash. Overall though, it appears that Chicco has been willing to provide a new cover made with a different material when/if that happens to your baby.
They have a new model called "Keyfit 30 Magic" that uses a different fabric to try and avoid the issue. You might want to check that out. I could only find it through BRU and amazon though.
Justinlove:We used a Key Fit 30 with DD and this LO will as well. It never smelled. Also, yes, kids get warm in the seat, but DD also sweats in her Britax seats with different cloth. I think anytime a child is strapped in as tightly as they need to be, there is not a lot of "wiggle room" and they are bound to get warm. Adults are able to shift around to let the air circulate, but kids in carseats cannot. Never had a rash or any issues though.
This exactly, but sub DS instead of DD:)