We're expecting twins soon. How can we refinish our floors now with the least harm to air quality?

Asked by John Salerno, Hoboken, NJ

My wife is in her sixth month carrying twins. We have two rooms downstairs with floors that are in dire need of sanding and refinishing. Is it a bad idea to consider doing the floor refinishing now? We can get out of the building for maybe a week. Are there any natural floor finishes that are not dangerous to her and yet work very well?


Steve Rush

Answered by Steve Rush

Sherman Oaks, CA

Rush Quality Environments

May 24, 2007

This is quite a project to take on just before two new ones are coming into your life, but if it has to be done, I recommend before the twins are born.

You have three issues to contend with:

  1. Toxic dust from the sanding
  2. Toxic fumes from the material removed from the floor
  3. Fumes from the new material you will apply to the stripped floor

Separate work areas from living areas

The key to all three of these is separating the areas of the house that will be worked on from the areas that you and your expectant wife will be living in.

Of course, getting out of the house for a week (or more, if possible) will help, but if you do not have the correct “critical barriers,” the dust will get everywhere and will remain in the air after you have returned to the house.

  • Carefully separate the upstairs from the downstairs by placing plastic sheeting over the stairwell and in other areas between the two floors. This step is very important to avoid contaminating the entire house with toxic dust.
  • If possible, tape over cracks around doors, including the bottom.
  • Then set up an exhaust fan to constantly pull air out of the house at a location where it will not blow into a neighbor’s house or onto a passer-by.
  • Attach a furnace filter during the sanding part of the work to prevent as much dust as possible from escaping into the air.
  • You can further limit the amount of dust by using sanders attached to vacuum cleaners.

It is very important to protect yourself while doing the work. Always wear a respirator, at least a half-face respirator with a NIOSH rating of 95 or higher (these will usually have N-95 or N-100 written on the face mask). Also wear a Tyvek or similar suit that has attached booties and a hood, and of course, gloves.

Applying the new finish

Before applying the finish you choose, be sure that all of the dust from the ceiling, walls, and floors is gone. You can do this by:

  • Vacuuming all surfaces first then wiping them down with damp cloths.
  • Start with the ceilings, then do the walls, and finally the floors.

Newborns have very delicate systems, and using a low-toxicity product as the floor finish is very important. One finish that I recommend is Elements Zinc-free Floor Finish. Another good choice is Osmo Hardwax Oil.

The Osmo oil has a slight crayon-like odor for the first week or two after applying, but it has very low toxicity.


For more information:

Read Victoria Schomer's tips article "Make Floor Refinishing Greener and Safer".

Tagged In: home air quality, natural wood finish, floor refinishing

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