Buyer’s Guide to Stains

September 4, 2009 By Green Home Guide Staff

This buyer’s guide summarizes the environmental pros and cons and durability of the three major categories of wood stains: natural oil (made with linseed and other oils as binders and petroleum-derived solvents as carriers), acrylic or urethane (made with acrylic or urethane as binders and petroleum-derived solvents as carriers), and water-based (made with acrylic or urethane as binders and water as a carrier).

Stains protect wood from water and abrasion to varying degrees when used alone; they can be sealed with a clear finish to increase durability. We recommend using a water-based sealer because of its low environmental and health impacts, quick drying time, and ease of clean-up. All leftover stain must be handled as hazardous waste when you dispose of it, so try not to buy more than you need.

Material Selection Tips Pros Cons
Natural Oils Many states limit VOC content to 250 g/L. Levels far below that start to sacrifice quality. Look for low-toxic and low-biocide products. * Minimally processed

* Derived from renewable materials (seeds and nuts)

* Few people are allergic or sensitive to these oils

* Long-lasting; no coating to flake off

* Don’t require sealer, saving resources
* Long drying times result in longer VOC exposure

* High levels of petroleum-derived and chemical solvents

* Clean-up requires high-VOC solvents
Acrylic/Urethane Many states limit VOC content to 250 g/L. Levels far below that start to sacrifice quality. Look for low-toxic and low-biocide products. * Slightly lower VOC content than natural oil stains

* More water resistant than water-based stains
* Manufacture of synthetic binders is polluting and energy intensive

* Solvents are derived from non-renewable petroleum

* Clean-up requires high-VOC solvents
Water-based Many states limit VOC content to 250 g/L, but levels down to 50 g/L are available. * Solvent is primarily water

* Low VOC content

* Quick drying; shorter VOC exposure

* Fewer toxic substances; easier to find nontoxic products

* Spills clean up with soap and water
* Manufacture of synthetic binders is polluting and energy intensive

* May contain toxic ethylene glycol solvent

* Can raise grain, requiring more preparation work

Tagged In: home air quality, natural wood finish, buyers guide

Green Home Guide Staff

Green Home Guide Staff

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