It’s not too difficult to find a non toxic wood stain these days. With stronger regulations, health concerns and an eco-conscious market, most big brands have developed a non-toxic line of stain and paint products.
Rightly so; paints and other finishes are a major source of human created volatile organic chemicals, better known as VOCs.
VOCs are organic chemicals that have a high vapor pressure at room temperature. This means some of the chemicals in the stain essentially evaporate out of your wood and into the air that you’re breathing.
These chemicals won’t usually cause illness immediately, but they can have long-term health effects, though these haven’t been well studied.
Of course, it isn’t just VOCs; there are a number of other ingredients in stains also including pesticides and fungicides. Though these ingredients seem logical for some places such as a deck, they might not be ingredients your keen on having in the stain you use to finish a child’s toy.
Besides, not containing VOCs and other undesirable chemicals, there are a number of other benefits of non toxic wood stains:
- Easy clean up. These stains are water based, and therefore clean up involves some soap and warm water.
- Healthy for the environment. Besides better air quality in your home, reducing your use of toxic chemicals reduces the amount of toxic compounds being released into our waterways and our air, both in the end-product application and the manufacturing process.
- Happy nostrils. Non toxic wood stains are easier on the nasal passages. Best of all, you don’t have to live in a hotel for a week after your wood floors have been done, waiting for the fumes to dissipate.
So, how do you go about making a wood stain at home?
Homemade wood stains begin in the kitchen
It’s funny, when I started researching this section for the blog, I found an astounding number of similarities to my previous article about making natural food coloring. Essentially, you can use various plant-based materials to introduce colour to wood products.
The basis is to simmer some form of plant material in about a quart of water. The longer you simmer and steep, the richer the color. Here are potential colorants for steeping:
- Browns – tea (about 10 bags), coffee, and walnuts
- Reds – beets, grape skins, pomegranate
- Purples – blackberries, blueberries, elderberry, purple cabbage
- Yellow – saffron, turmeric
Once your concoction is complete, add a ½ teaspoon of alum, which can be found in the spice section of your grocery store and is used in pickling. This will work as a fixative.
It is wise to try your stain on a scrap piece of wood first to make sure it’s the colour you’re looking for and to also determine how many coats are required.
Of course, many people just want to bring out the natural hue of the wood and there’s a few ways of doing this:
- High exposure to UV – exposing wood to high intensity sunlight can cause a reaction in the wood, altering its colour for a desirable effect. The wood can then be sealed afterwards.
- Linseed oil works as a sealant and brings out the natural wood hues. There are also boiled varieties available, which have shorter drying times.
- This video gives a very detailed description on how to make a wood finish using bees wax and mineral oil:
Of course, if you are working at a bigger scale, boiling tea or saffron for your wood stain may not be time or cost effective.
Luckily, there are a number of commercially available brands:
- EcoDesign’s Bioshield is a solvent-free, water based wood stain that can be used for interior or exterior jobs. It contains zero VOCs and comes in a variety of colours including ebony, pine, teak, walnut, oak, white, cedar, and clear.
- J. W. Etc make a Craftsman’s Blend which is non-toxic. They also claim it dries in 15 minutes, which is pretty incredible.
- Soy Guard is another stain sealant and wood preservative, made from soybeans. It comes in a number of colours and is made for exterior wood.
Also, as stated above, most mainstream brands also have their own eco line of non toxic wood stain. If you’re looking for an eco-friendly alternative for adding some colour or bringing out the natural hues of your wood projects, you won’t be disappointed.