Staining Wood Floors

Are Floor Stain Fumes Toxic? 5 Important Facts

In Home Maintenance by Giovanni ValleLeave a Comment

Before you begin to restain your wood floors, there are some critical facts you need to understand about floor stain fumes. The strong, volatile fumes from the organic compounds in toluene, formaldehyde, and other solvents will make you very sick.

Floor stain fumes are toxic. They can cause flu-like symptoms, respiratory distress, and excruciating headaches. While the dangerous fumes will go away eventually, breathing them for days can lead to lingering health problems. Be sure to open all windows to allow the floor stain fumes to escape.

Preparing correctly for floor stain fumes will help to minimize the smell. This article will cover 5 essential facts you should know about floor stain fumes and how to protect yourself.

5 Important Facts To Know About Floor Stain Fumes

If you purchase a new home or want to update the current one, chances are there’s some floor refinishing in your future. You should make some preparations before refinishing or having the floor refinished. The good news is that you can get a new floor and protect yourself from the fumes, too.

1. Essential Ingredients Create Toxic Fumes

Aside from the harsh smell that can make you feel sick, there are compounds in the floor stain that can be toxic. As the floor stain sits on the floor, these fumes rise into the air and make the surroundings smell awful.

Unfortunately, the same compounds in floor stain that leave a gorgeous floor surface also can create toxic fumes that are dangerous when inhaled over time. Here are those compounds:

  • Petroleum: Petroleum is an oil with a similar thickness as motor oil. This oil acts as a solvent to allow the floor stain to penetrate and sink into the wood. When the oil sinks into the wood, it leaves a rich color that’s pleasing to the eye. This penetrating oil is durable and natural-looking, only needing a re-oiling every so often to boost the color tone.
  • Alcohol: While it might seem counterintuitive to have alcohol in the floor stain since alcohol by itself can damage the floors, the alcohol in the floor stain opens the wood’s pores to allow the stain to penetrate. This porosity is essential to having the stain penetrate the wood instead of sitting on top of the wood.
  • Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde is a colorless gas present in floor stains. It’s a bonding agent to help the stain cling to the wood flooring. Recent testing showed the levels of formaldehyde from floor stains and other wood-based flooring products don’t reach a dangerous level.
  • Sodium Hydroxide: Sodium hydroxide removes the current layer of stain from the wood flooring. It acts as a bleaching agent to remove the surface stains.
  • Glycol Ether: Glycol ether is a carrier that keeps the floor stain in a liquid form until you apply it. Then, the glycol ether evaporates to leave only the color behind.
2. Some Floor Stain Fumes Can Last Up to 5 Days

Floor stain fumes last between twenty-four to seventy-two hours, depending on the type of solvent in an oil-based floor stain. An oil-based floor stain has fumes that’ll linger for up to five days due to the strong solvent, while a water-based floor stain has almost no fumes.

The fumes from a water-based floor stain will evaporate within twenty-four hours. Most water-based floor stains have no organic compounds that create toxic fumes. However, water-based floor stain doesn’t last as long as oil-based and deteriorates faster under foot traffic.

3. Side Effects of Inhaling Floor Stain Fumes Increase Over Time

The side effects of inhaling floor stain fumes depend on the length of time you breathe them. Another factor in how the floor stain fumes affect you’ll depend on your sensitivity. Some people feel sick right away, while others can withstand some fumes longer.

Common side effects of floor stain fumes are:

  • Headaches are common after smelling floor stain fumes. Some people get a minor headache, while others trigger a migraine headache.
  • Nausea is another common side effect of being around floor stain fumes.
  • Breathing problems happen when you inhale the floor stain fumes repeatedly. The volatile organic compounds will irritate your eyes, nose, and mouth, making asthma worse.
  • Dizziness also accompanies nausea and will make you feel faint.

Prolonged exposure to wood stain fumes can cause blurred vision, burning in the nose, eyes, and throat, and fainting.

4. Protection Is Necessary When Using Floor Stains

Protecting yourself when around floor stain fumes is essential to preventing respiratory irritation, nausea, and headaches. Planning to wear protective gear and other preventive practices will help you reduce or eliminate the fumes. Here are the steps:

  1. Open all doors and windows when using the floor stain. The cross-ventilation will help remove the fumes from inside the house.
  2. Place a fan facing the back of the house in the doorway of your home. Place a second fan in the back door of your home to boost the movement of the fumes to the outdoors.
  3. Wear protective safety glasses to keep fumes out of the eyes.
  4. Wear nitrile gloves to protect the skin of your hands.

This YouTube video will outline the precautions for using floor stains:

5. You Should Wait 4 Days To Stay Inside After Staining a Floor

The ideal time to wait until you stay in your home after staining a floor is four days after the final floor staining. This gives time for the floor to dry and the fumes to dissipate and eliminates any risk of health effects. Humid weather can affect drying time, so take that into account when planning.


Floor stain fumes will make you feel sick due to the volatile organic compounds it emits. These compounds can cause dizziness, headaches, nausea, and respiratory irritation. Prolonged exposure can lead to fainting and lingering health effects.

You can protect yourself from these side effects by opening the windows and doors for cross-ventilation. Wearing protective gear for your eyes, nose, mouth, and hands will also minimize the impact of floor stain fumes.


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