The Ultimate Guide to Eco-Friendly Wood Finishes
Wood is one of the oldest building materials known to man. Because of that, we often underestimate the way quality woodwork--from wood flooring to furniture to trim—can elevate a room’s aesthetic. And when it comes to refreshing a room’s woodwork, there’s nothing quite like a nice coat of finish.
However, anyone who has ever worked with conventional wood stains and varnishes knows they can be difficult to work with, often being harsh to the nose and eyes. Fortunately, there are gentler options, namely water-based, eco-friendly finishes. To help you understand this option, here’s our ultimate guide to eco-friendly wood finishes.
The Dangers of Conventional Wood Finishes
As we mentioned, wood varnish can have an incredibly harsh smell. However, the drawbacks of typical wood finishes are more significant than this. They have such a strong scent because they’re typically loaded with harsh, toxic chemicals and volatile organic compounds, also known as VOCs. In large amounts, these VOCs can have an adverse effect on the environment, degrading air quality by contributing to smog and ozone depletion. Additionally, they can contribute to adverse health symptoms, including:
- Irritated eyes, nose, and mouth
- Chronic headaches
- Breathing troubles
- Rashes and skin conditions
Some research suggests that VOCs may even contribute to cancer and damage to the nervous system and internal organs.
What Is in Eco-Friendly Wood Finishes?
To counteract this, manufacturers began producing eco-friendly finishes made with more natural ingredients to create healthier wood-staining alternatives. A few examples of ingredients include:
- Linseed oil
- Walnut oil
- Tung oil
- Carnauba wax
Along with this, many eco-friendly wood finishes are water based. Therefore, consumers have the option to avoid VOCs with wood stains and varnishes that are less harsh and that won’t negatively affect the air quality of a space.
The Many Features of Eco-Friendly Finishes
When it comes to products such as wood finishes, there’s an unfortunate idea out there that people have to choose between eco-friendliness and a visually stunning option. However, these types of stains and varnishes offer a variety of features to fit your room’s style.
The point of wood stain isn’t to cover up a wood’s color but to enhance it. And eco-friendly wood stains come in a variety of tones to match the color of your wood. For example, the products in our collection of eco-friendly wood finishes offer everything from the warm undertones of cherry oak to the cool, classic look of black walnut.
Typically, people associate the idea of sheen with paints. However, wood varnishes can also bring a certain level of luster to your woodworking projects, and eco-friendly wood varnishes come in just as many varieties of sheen as options that are less environmentally conscious.
As with paint, wood varnishes come in several sheens. From the lowest level of gloss to the highest level of gloss, we have:
- Satin Varnish
- Semi-Gloss Varnish
- Gloss Varnish
Higher-gloss wood varnishes are popular, especially for tabletops, because of their shiny, glossy look. However, lower-gloss stains continue to be popular because they tend to be better at hiding imperfections in wood surfaces.
Benefits of Using Eco-Friendly Wood Finishes
No guide to eco-friendly wood finish is complete without addressing the many benefits of this product. We have already discussed the advantages of eco-friendly wood finishes as far as air quality goes. But these products offer a variety of other benefits on an environmental and lifestyle level.
Another often-under-considered effect of wood stains is the environmental impact they make once we’re finished using them. After we throw away a wood stain, it’s classified as industrial waste—a known contributor of toxins in soil and waterways. However, since eco-friendly wood stains typically use gentler ingredients, it has a less severe effect on its surroundings when we throw it away.
More Health Conscious
Non-toxic wood stain helps people avoid the myriad of symptoms associated with prolonged exposure to VOCs. Additionally, it’s safer to use for people with health conditions that more traditional wood stains aggravate. People with asthma, allergies, or chemical sensitivities are usually able to use eco-friendly stains with fewer consequences.
Additionally, these types of stains usually better protect other people who are more susceptible to VOC symptoms. Older individuals, young children, and animals who are in the area are less likely to experience symptoms such as nausea, headaches, and difficulty breathing.
Make Finishing Projects Easier
Because of the need for ventilation, wood-staining projects can become tricky to complete. Most of the time, you have to wait until the weather is warmer so that you can do the project outside. If not, you have to take the time to make sure the space is well-ventilated.
You should never do a wood-staining project with no ventilation, but using a non-toxic stain allows you to apply it in a wider range of settings.
Using an eco-friendly wood stain typically allows you to finish your project more quickly. This is because water-based finishes tend to dry more quickly than oil-based finishes, meaning you’ll be able to apply multiple coats more efficiently.
Caveats of Using Eco-Friendly Wood Finishes
As preferable as eco-friendly wood stains are, there are still several things to keep in mind to get the most out of their use. For instance, nontoxic, water-based wood stains work better on some types of wood than on others. For example, water-based stains typically don’t work well with oily woods, such as:
You should also avoid using these types of stain on places prone to pooling water. Outdoor projects such as decks or lawn furniture are good examples of this.
Nothing adds to a room’s style quite like woodwork. That’s why ECOS Paints wants to help you bring out the best in your home’s wood with a variety of non-toxic* wood stains and varnishes.
*Non-toxic: Conforms to ASTM-D4236, specifically concerning oral toxicity, skin irritation and respiratory effects.