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How Long Does Varnish Smell Last?

If you're planning to have your wooden floors varnished, should you make arrangements to stay somewhere else until the varnish smell is gone? How long will the odor last anyway? That's what we asked the experts, and here's what they have to say.

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The varnish smell can last for 5 to 7 days. It could be shorter or longer depending on the formula used, the number of coats applied, the quality of the wooden surface, and temperature and humidity levels. Since these fumes are toxic, it is recommended to keep away from the newly varnished area in the meantime.

Keep on reading to know more about the length of time the varnish smell is expected to dissipate and why it is important to refrain from staying in this portion of your house until the toxic fumes are gone. We'll also give you tips on how to remove the smell of varnish faster. Let's get this started!

roller and varnish, restoration of old wooden parquet, How Long Does Varnish Smell Last?

How long until the varnish smell goes away?

Varnishing lacquering parquet floor by paintbrush

Wood gives your house a certain charm. It exudes timeless beauty and adds value to your home. But it is also more expensive compared to other materials. That's why it is wise to give it an added layer of protection so that it can maintain its beauty and quality for many years to come.

One of the ways to protect your wood floors, walls, and furniture is by giving them some coats of varnish. This finish will make them waterproof and shield them from water damage. Varnish also protects the wood from scratches and abrasions that threaten to ruin its look. It also enhances its appearance by giving it a natural and rich shine.

However, when you do decide to have a varnish applied to your wooden furniture and fixtures at home, know that it does emit a particular smell that could be harmful to your health.

If you're varnishing a significant portion of your home, it would be good to plan and make arrangements to stay somewhere else for about 5 to 7 days or at least until the irritating fumes are gone.

But if the varnish is confined to one area and you have other rooms in the house that aren't affected by the smell, you can just avoid staying in the newly varnished area in the meantime.

How long does varnish take to dry and cure?

Worker hand painting wooden door with paintbrush, linseed oil varnish paint on wood

The varnish smell will become tolerable when the varnish dries, but it will only be truly gone when the finish has fully cured. Yes, drying and curing are different. Drying time refers to the time it takes before you can apply another coat of varnish to the wooden surface. Curing time is the length of time you need to wait until the wood product is safe to subject to daily use.

Drying Time

The length of drying time depends on whether you used oil-based or water-based formula, the number of coats applied, the quality of the wooden surface, and the temperature.

  • Formula: Oil-based varnish emits stronger fumes that last longer, while the smell of water-based formula is said to be barely noticeable.
  • The number of coats: The more coats applied on the wooden surface, the longer time it'll take for the smell to last.
  • Quality of the wooden surface: If it is still raw, the varnish would dry faster. But if it has been stained before, drying time takes longer.
  • Temperature and humidity level: If the weather is hot, you can expect the wood stain to dry faster. But if the weather is cold, you can use fans to help with the drying process.

Take note that even if the wood stain is already dry, it still emits an irritating smell until it has fully cured. You can also check the product information provided by the manufacturer to know how fast their product dries after application. This would usually range from 6 to 12 hours. There are also quick-dry formula varnishes that you can look into.

However, most of the time, you would need to apply several coats of varnish to effectively protect your wooden surfaces. So, you have to multiply the number of hours by the number of coats that you make. 

Curing Time

Curing time is subject to prevailing temperature and humidity levels upon application of the product. The ideal condition is 70 degrees Fahrenheit with a humidity level of 70%. Under these conditions, the curing time for water-based varnish will take rheww weeks or 21 days. If you use oil-based products, it will take a month or 30 days to fully cure.

If the temperature is cooler, expect the curing time to take longer than the given time above.  

You can start using the newly varnished area a week after the application but do so lightly. If we're talking about wood floors, you can wear socks while you're there to avoid damaging the finished surface.

You would still smell some varnish odor, but it won't be as strong as before. In other words, it's more manageable. But know that it'll only be truly safe to use once the wood stain has cured fully. 

Are varnish fumes harmful?

Varnishing a wooden shelf. Paintbrush and can on the wooden surface

Varnish is made of resins and solvents. These ingredients contain harmful chemicals such as hydrocarbons. These are classified under VOCs or volatile organic compounds.

Upon application on the wood surface, they are also exposed to oxygen in the air, and the lacquer or varnish emits toxic fumes from the VOCs that make up this product.

When you inhale these fumes, you could experience dizziness, headache, and vomiting. Some also report episodes of convulsions and a reduced level of alertness to surroundings. Prolonged exposure to this smell can lead to brain damage and even death.

Pregnant women are more vulnerable to these fumes. They may be nauseous and constant exposure can induce early delivery or may even cause brain damage to the baby inside her womb.

Varnish is also poisonous when ingested. It can burn the gastrointestinal tract which could lead to the death of tissues along the way. In turn, there could be an infection or shock and this could also lead to death. So, be very careful where you put your varnish at home. Make sure it is out of reach of children. Label it properly to avoid confusion. It is better safe than sorry.

How To Remove The Smell Of Varnish

Side View Of Open Plan Kitchen With Living Room And Garden View From The Window

There are many ways for you to help make the smell of varnish go away sooner rather than later. These tips will help cut the time you will be exposed to these toxic fumes, which we all want, after all.  

Ventilate The Area

Open the windows and doors to allow air to flow continuously. You can also use your fans and HVAC system to help pull the toxic fumes out and push fresh air into your home.

If you refinish your furniture, you can put it outside until it dries as long as the weather allows. If there are removable parts, take them apart so that they can be air-dried separately. 

Baking Soda

This is a versatile product that makes it very useful for different household applications. It can naturally absorb foul odors in the air.  You can put baking soda in small bowls and place them in different portions of the newly varnished area to help remove the smell faster.

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Activated Charcoal

activated carbon pill in wood spoon on charcoal texture background

Activated charcoal or activated carbon is very effective in absorbing odors. It works like a vacuum cleaner and seals in the nasty smells inside their pores and pockets. You can put them in small containers or on newspaper sheets. Place them in the corners of the room so that they can do their thing.

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Distilled White Vinegar

Vinegar is also known for its odor absorption qualities. There are two ways to go about this. You can simmer some vinegar on your stove. As the acids evaporate, they will attract the toxic fumes and break them down until the annoying odor is gone. 

Or you can also do the same as the other products mentioned above. Put a small serving of white vinegar on small bowls and position them in different spots inside the room so that they can absorb the smell of the varnish.

Onions and Lemons

These will also help in removing the varnish smell inside your house. They can absorb toxic fumes so that your house will smell better in a shorter period.

Slice the onions in half and put them in bowls filled with water. Meanwhile, there's no need to add water to the bowl if you're using lemons. Put them in different areas so that they can help you get rid of the smell of varnish ASAP. 

We understand that you want to go back to your normal day-to-day activities at home, so you might as well follow these recommendations to help vanish the irritating smell of wood stains.

Final Thoughts

Staining Hardwood Patio Decking

It may take a week or more before the smell of varnish fully dissipates. Take this into consideration when you have your wooden fixtures and furniture refinished so that you can look for a place to stay until the toxic fumes vanish and it's safe for you to come back.

If you want to read more about wood stains, feel free to visit the following posts: 

How To Blend Stain On A Hardwood Floor

Does Wood Stain Protect Wood?