All You Need To Know About VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) in Polyurethane Floor Finishes

What are VOCs?

VOCs or Volatile Organic Compounds are carbon-containing chemicals that are labeled "volatile" because they evaporate easily at room temperature, thereby entering the air we breathe. VOCs can be naturally produced by plant and animal processes or manufactured by humans. Some of the better-known VOCs are benzene (in cigarette smoke), formaldehyde (in building materials), and ethyl acetate (in paint). Hardwood flooring polyurethanes contain chemical solvents (the materials that enable the other ingredients to blend together) and the chemical driers (the materials that allow the product to dry), which contain the VOCs: xylene, ethylbenzene and acetates.

Are VOCs harmful?

It's always best to avoid VOCs if at all possible, especially if there are pregnant women or infants in the home. Both the EPA and the American Lung Association have addressed the harmful effects of VOCs on humans. Not only are VOCs air pollutants, but they can also react with other gases to produce new forms of pollution. Breathing these compounds for long periods of time can have harmful effects on the nervous system, kidneys, and liver; you could also experience fatigue, dizziness, skin irritation to varying degrees, and frequent headaches.

How can I avoid VOCs in my hardwood flooring?

Lots of wood flooring and the chemicals that go along with them contain VOCs. While many say there's no way to completely rid yourself of them, I believe we can drastically decrease them, especially inside your home. It is possible to find lower VOC alternatives; choosing hardwood that has been pre-sealed is a great way to offset this content, as is using water based polyurethanes .

Are hardwood floor polyurethane finishes safe?

Yes. We utilize products that comply with state and federal mandated levels of VOCs. In general, your floor is considered to be safe, once its polyurethane finish has dried and cured.

During the drying and curing process, the floor's finish releases potentially harmful chemicals into the air via evaporation, a process called off-gassing. Off-gassing is heavy during the first two days after application, and the floor's finish can continue to emit small amounts of VOCs for up to thirty days. The best way to mitigate off-gassing is to follow a few steps:

  • Turn up the heat to speed up drying time.
  • Ventilate the room by opening windows and doors (and keep them open as long as possible).
  • Turn on multiple fans to blow fumes outside.
  • Use air purifiers to clean up the air (but note that VOCs can't be filtered out of the air).

Is there more I can learn about VOCs?

There's a lot of information about VOCs in polyurethane floor finishes on the internet - if you aren't satisfied with what you are finding or want a simplified, no-nonsense answer, check out my website: hardwoodfloorsllc.com or give me a call. I'm happy to help you understand this important information. To find out more, feel free to text or call me to talk more.