Is Swedish finish for hardwood floors toxic? 3 Answers

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Q: My builder’s wonderful flooring company installed red oak hardwood floors on the whole main floor of our house and now I hear that Europe banned the Swedish finish used on our floors almost 20 years ago. I need to know if Swedish finish for hardwood floors is toxic; if there’s a health risk. And is there a finish I can apply over the Swedish finish in order to seal in the gassing off?

A: I have not used these finishes in probably over 20 years. They are terrible to apply and require approved respirators which were not provided when I was an employee.

I will say this about them. They are the toughest finishes I have ever worked with. I attach a document that deals with your concerns and it will be up to you what you do with it from there.

What is formaldehyde and why is it in Swedish finish?
By Duane Bartel, President, Glitsa American – Part Two of Four

Dangers of Swedish finish
Dangers of Swedish finish

Could Swedish finish fumes harm our pets?

Related Q: We are having Swedish finish put on our floors. We have a pet rabbit in our attached garage. Just one wall between the living room and the garage. Should he be removed from the house while the floors are refinished? Could the fumes harm him?

A: The vapors off that type of coating are seriously nasty, at least the last time I used it they were. It is so bad, I wouldn’t choose to use this finish though it is very tough. Definitely move any pets and people away until you know there are no more fumes.

For anyone with cats, etc., see our post What is the appropriate amount of time for us to not be in the home (and our cats) because of toxic fumes (from Swedish finish)? I did hear an unverified story back in the 1980’s that an acid cure finish was applied on the main floor of a house. 2 dogs were in the basement. They both died!

Multiple chemical sensitivity from Swedish finish?

Related Q: Our family had our hardwood floors done with Swedish finish. I started getting sick shortly after and myself and 2 children now have a Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. I also have Mast Cell Activation Syndrome. This illness has been disabling and I know it was from the finish. We had the floors removed 9 months later and you could smell them 2 blocks away when they were outside. A darker stain was used for the upstairs bedrooms. The one set of stairs going to our lower level had a natural stain and did not smell, so we left them in. We were told it would be safe to move back in after 3 days.

I’m wondering how many people have had health issues as well after using Swedish finish. I would love to connect with others who have been affected by the finish. How easy is it for contractors to screw up the application of this stain and finish?

A: How do you know exposure to this finish is the cause of your illness? I’m not saying it may not contribute, but how do you know? We are exposed to toxins people didn’t face before the industrial revolution. Even some building supplies like plywood may use adhesives that off-gas formaldehyde forever. It may be a small amount, but when it is added to the same off-gassing from a Swedish finish it might cause a problem.

I used those finishes a few times years ago when I was an employee. They were really nasty. I would never use it when I started my own business. Even to sand it off some years later it would till burn the eyes and cause gagging. I have no idea what the formulation is now but it sounds like it hasn’t changed enough. Normal polyurethane isn’t as tough but it doesn’t off-gas forever. Once the solvent is evaporated out of the film, within 24 hours (generally mineral spirits) that is it. No more smell.

How were all these floors removed? How did they contain the dust? I assume they had to cut some of it into sections to get it up. It wouldn’t be helpful if tiny dust particles are all over the walls and into the ventilation system.

I’m not aware of any studies specifically for this type of finish on human health. Most companies have product data sheets that can be downloaded indicating what hazardous chemicals may be used.

There was a man with vast experience in all facets of wood flooring, including manufacturing who actually worked at Glitza and ran a web site for wood floor professionals. Bill Price Sr. ran Floormasters and died a few years back after many years of struggle with nasal cancer. He believes he got it from long term inhaling of certain types of wood dust. I’ve been exposed to much also including lead paint without a mask as an employee. I will be 66 on March 2, having finally closed my own business after more than 45 years in the trade, 25 of which I ran my own show. I invested in dust control.

I don’t know what mast cell activation syndrome is? I’m in over my pay grade, but if it was me, I think I’d be looking for a good doctor, and get on a high nutrition diet with supplements. Obviously, you will have to be very careful about any cleaning products, finishes and food toxins you are exposed to. I had an email from a woman who lives in Indiana last week. She is just getting over dealing with lead poisoning. She got sick from lipstick!

I hope you can find all the answers you need to help you health.

Swedish finish health risk: headaches, earaches and difficulty sleeping after Swedish finish was applied

Q: Our landlord has applied L***** Swedish floor finish upstairs (we live in the basement). We have had headaches, earaches and difficulty sleeping last week when we came home after 24 hours (when they said it was safe). The smell and headaches continued for 5 days after the first coat. This week they put on the second coat of toxic Swedish finish, and we are staying elsewhere for the first 3 days at great inconvenience. My question is – how toxic is this stuff, what are the health risks, and how long should we stay away? I would also appreciate studies about this product regarding safety.

A: Swedish finish? Sounds so exotic or European. It is also known as acid cured! I haven’t used an acid cure finish for years. They are tough coatings, but they are also very nasty to apply. They emit Formaldehyde and other solvents while drying. All the windows should be opened to thoroughly ventilate the house. Use a fan if needed to move the contaminated air out and draw fresh air in. I don’t use these finishes because of safety concerns, and would recommend nobody stay in the house until the smell has dissipated.

I don’t have any studies on L***** coatings but I have attached the material safety data sheet. There is a phone number on it which you might want to call. Even the “flash point” is very low at 40F. That is not safe. A spark from a thermostat during application could have caused an explosion. If your landlord did this coating himself, I would advise him to leave this work to professionals.

Follow-up Question: Thank you so much for your reply and the attachment. The contractor is saying there isn’t any danger. The smell hung around for 5 days very intensely after the first treatment on 1/15. The 2nd treatment was 1/22. This time we have stayed away. Should we wait to go back until all the smell is gone? It never went away entirely after the 1/15 treatment. I’m just trying to figure out what/when it is safe.

A: I would think you will want to wait until the smell is gone, otherwise it will still be burning your eyes, nose and throat. I would be very interested to know what would happen if somebody entered the house with an instrument that could measure what was in the air. Then you would know for sure. I’ve worked with this type of finish so I know you don’t want to be in there. It is nasty.

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