What are VOCs?

And how do they affect me?

Wood floor refinishing restores scratched and faded hardwood floors. Unfortunately, many common products used to refinish wood flooring also contain harmful chemicals known as volatile organic compounds. VOCs reduce air quality within your home and pose both short- and long-term health effects. Understanding how long VOCs remain in your home after refinishing may help you decide what floor finishes and refinishing techniques are best for your family.

Do VOCs off-gas after completion of refinishing?

VOC off-gassing is most acute during application and the drying of hardwood floor finishes. Even long after oil-based finishes have dried, smaller amounts of VOCs continue to off-gas into the home. The length of the off-gassing period can vary significantly based on the type of finish used, conditions in the home, and how much ventilation is available. The U.S. Green Building Council reports off-gassing of oil-based finishes can last for months or even years. Some lower-VOC, water-based products largely finish off-gassing within a few days.

What are the dangers of using oil-based finishes?

Some VOCs in oil-based refinishing products include benzene, formaldehyde, toluene, xylene, and arsenic. All of these materials off-gas at normal room temperature, leading to dizziness, eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches and damage to liver, kidneys and the central nervous system, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Some VOCs, including benzene and formaldehyde, are suspected or known carcinogens.

What are my options?

The U.S. Green Building Council ranks varnish and lacquer as the worst offenders in terms of VOC off-gassing. Federal law requires varnishes to contain less than 450 grams of VOCs per liter, with lacquers limited to 350 grams per liter. The lower the VOC content, the fewer chemicals the product contains that will off-gas into your home. While oil-based products can off-gas for months or years, the most severe off-gassing occurs in the first few days after application. Using a greener alternative, such as water-based floor finishes, which contain around 50 to 250 grams of VOCs per liter reduces the amount of VOCs and the time they are present in your home. Products made from natural oils also contain relatively few VOCs. Both water-based finishes and those made from natural oils can off-gas like traditional oil-based finishes, but the severe off-gassing occurs much more rapidly, thanks to the faster drying time associated with these products.

How can I minimise the levels of VOCs in my home?

Reduce the impact of VOCs while refinishing your hardwood floors by taking these steps. Keep windows and doors open as much as possible for ventilation, and use fans to blow fumes outside. Turn up the heat to increase drying time and speed up off-gassing. Consider using air purifiers which help clean the air. Always use water-based finishes for final coats.