Question

Can you give me information on low-VOC stains for hardwood floors?

Asked by Claudia
Pasadena, CA

Low-VOC is my main concern. I have concerns because I deal with chemical sensitivities. I want to find a product that is both healthy and looks great. So far I have info on Durostain by Safecoat (not enough colors), Woca oils (are they compatible with Vermont Natural finishing coat?), and Osmo (it contains petroleum, doesn't it?).

Answer

Florian Speier

Answered by Florian Speier

San Francisco, CA

Zeitgeist Sustainable Residential Design

March 21, 2011

Claudia,

The MSDS (materials safety data sheet) for Durostain shows a fairly long list of ingredients that you may not want to have in your house.

  • Osmo is sill petroleum-derived (according to its MSDS, 30-50% is made from petroleum).
  • Woca Oils ingredients seem to be much cleaner, and even the warnings under "ingestion" are very mild.
  • The Woca product would be my choice from your list, but for compatibility with Vermont Natural Finishing coats, it's best to call Woca and ask them.

Hardwax oils

In general, you would want to look for a hard oil or hardwax oil. This genre of natural wood finishing products is the best nature offers.

The deeper it penetrates the wood, the better for durability, and there are several ways to achieve that:

  • Applying it at high temperatures. Relatively rare in the U.S., and comes with higher risks at the time of application since the hot oil can cause burns.
  • Adding VOCs. This is the way companies like Bioshield go, as the VOCs make it thinner for application. Reputable companies tell you which VOC is in it, select a natural VOC, and don't process it to make it smell less. I believe that if you need to use VOCs, you are much better off with smelly ones, as you then know to open the windows and also know when the VOCs are gone. The recent trend to not smelling VOCs increases the health risks, in my opinion, as people are unaware of the danger.
  • Use it as-is, or first apply a primer oil that is thinner before applying the thicker finish product.

Currently only a handful of companies sell VOC-free hardwax oil in the U.S., including Stang-Lund and Oli-Natura HS.

More are coming to the U.S. this year, so I will update this article once the products are available. Stang-Lund provides an insightful and accurate description of these oils at their website.

Maintenance and repairs

A surface treated with a hardwax oil can then be maintained nicely with a completely natural Carnauba wax emulsion.

Another advantage of oil and wax treated floors is that spot repairs can be easily done and blend in perfectly.

Adding color

You mentioned color -- some of these products should be compatible with natural pigments.

For specific information, you need to contact the manufacturers directly as they will know which pigments may be added.

I hope this helps you towards your goal of a chemical and petroleum-free home. 

 

For more information:

Read "What's more sustainable: a longer-lasting floor finish, or one with lower VOC content?" a Q&A answered by J Neufeld.

Tagged In: floor refinishing

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