Make Floor Refinishing Greener and Safer

September 4, 2009 By Victoria Schomer


1. Use a high-quality dust mask and a respirator.

You can avoid exposure to toxic dust and fumes by using a good dust mask that filters out particulates and a respirator that filters out chemical emissions. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommends using a NIOSH-approved half-mask respirator.

2. Protect your heating and air conditioning system from sanding dust.

Don’t use your HVAC system during the job; seal all ducts within the area to be sanded; and seal all doorways leading to uninvolved areas. Shortly after the project is completed, replace your HVAC filter─inevitably, it will accumulate some sanding dust.

3. Minimize the dust particles that end up in your finished floor.

In order to get the best results, sanding is usually unavoidable. Old finishes, surface irregularities, and some stains can be removed by sanding with the correct sanding equipment. Consult the National Wood Flooring Association for guidance on what sanding equipment to use. Choose equipment that captures as much dust as possible during the sanding process─it will be worth any extra cost. After you’ve sanded the floor to the desired smoothness, vacuum thoroughly and give it a light mopping with warm water. This will prepare the surface for a smooth and even stain, and reduce dust specks in your finished floor.


1. Use natural oil-based stains for the best results.

Water-based stains are great for smaller projects like refinishing a piece of furniture, in which you apply small amounts of stain at a time and can control the overlap, but they just don’t work well for large surfaces. For wood floor refinishing, I recommend using natural oil stains derived from plants, although they can be pricey. Acrylic and urethane stains are full of chemicals that just are quite dangerous. For specific product recommendations, consult the GreenSpec Directory of environmentally preferable building products, available online at Green Building Advisor.

2. Choose water-based or natural oil-based finishes.

There are many water-based clear-coat products that wear well, are easy to apply, and produce low emissions. They do contain some toxic chemicals, but they are safer than the alternatives. Many water-based finishes have been around for decades and are available in different sheens. There are excellent clear natural oil finishes as well. These oil finishes often need reapplying over time, and might have lingering odors. Some do not afford the same level of wood protection as synthetic urethane finishes.

For specific product recommendations, consult the GreenSpec Directory.


Provide plenty of fresh air during floor refinishing.

It’s tricky to provide adequate ventilation while minimizing the amount of dust that settles on wet and drying floors. Use common sense: It’s a great idea to open the windows for cross-ventilation while you work, but don’t pick a windy day with a high pollen count to finish your floors.


Dispose of unused products and applicators properly.

After the job is done, treat all leftover stains and finishes─as well as sponges, rags, and applicators─as hazardous materials. And remember that even the rags used to apply natural oil stains and finishes can self-ignite if left in a pile.

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

Victoria Schomer

Victoria Schomer
Asheville, NC
Green Built Environments

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