What’s a safe product for staining and sealing the floors of my 84-year-old historic home?

Asked by Charlotte Black, Tuscaloosa, AL

I am redoing an 84-year-old historic home in Birmingham, Alabama. The house has hardwood floors throughout that need to be refinished. I am trying to find a safe product for staining and sealing these floors and a dealer close to Birmingham. Can you help me?


John Messerschmidt

Answered by John Messerschmidt

New York, NY

Four Points Consulting Group

July 6, 2009

A floor finish that is safe for your health and safe for the earth is easy to find.

  • Any water-based stain and polyurethane will have minimal offgassing of VOCs by the time you move in.
  • If you have the luxury of time, open the windows and let the house air out for a couple of days after the finish has cured.


Bona products are low-VOC and durable. They are easy to find, and most flooring contractors are using them.

Vermont Natural Coatings has a floor finish that is made with whey protein but still has some VOCs.

Finally, AFM Safecoat is a good alternative that is sold widely.

Use Tung oil instead? 

But why even use polyurethane? The manufacture of polyurethane products requires enough formulas and petrochemicals and other forms of plastic to make you sick just thinking about it. Why not go authentic?

When your house was built, they probably used tung oil to finish the floors.

  • Apply five coats of pure tung oil 50/50 with citrus solvent, and then another three coats with progressively less solvent.
  • Finally, apply two more coats with just tung oil.

You'll need long, long drying times in between the last coats, but the resulting finish should last another 84 years.

Tagged In: floor refinishing

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