Wood floors smell months after refinishing

Q: I moved into an apartment with recently refinished floors done with oil-based polyurethane. I believe the landlord used a cheap Behr product. The floors are top-nailed, thin, and creaky with a lot of gaps. The home was built in the 1890’s. The floor was refinished during the winter without anyone inhabiting the space.

It is quite likely that the first month after the floor had been refinished the house sat at 50 degrees. The windows were definitely never opened during this time.

We were the first people to inhabit the space after the floors were finished and when we did the smell from the floors was so bad we could not stay. We spent over a month airing the place out with fans and open windows and keeping the thermostat about 75 degrees when the temperature dropped at night.

It has been more than 4 months since the polyurethane was applied. The place is inhabitable now but the wood floors smell. It is especially noticeable when the windows are closed and in areas with gaps in the floor (probably pooling). If you leave a shirt on the floor for a few hours it picks up a strong solvent, like odor from the floor.

The landlord is reluctant to acknowledge that there is an issue. I have been in other spaces where the same contractor used the same product and those spaces did not have any issues.

It has been at least 4 months since the floor was finished. Is this smell ever going to go away? Is there anything we can do? Shouldn’t we not be able to detect any odor even if we put our noses on the floor at this point?

Thanks for your time and input, and I apologize if this is a repeat question.

A: This would be a rare occurrence I would think because under ‘normal’ drying conditions the solvent in the finish (generally mineral spirits and/or kerosene) leaves the finish film as it dries. This can take a few hours to overnight. However, given the long period of low temps in the apartment would definitely slow this process down though it is certainly solved now. However, another potential issue could be larger than normal tiny gaps. If the finish seeps into these gaps, devoid of air exposure, it can stay soft for months, and therefore is still shedding solvent. (finishes generally dry by solvent evaporation). The only thing I can think of at this point is to have a fan blowing directly toward the floor itself. How long this might take is impossible to say. This is my best guess.

Follow-up Q: Thanks very much for your reply. My only follow up question is whether it is safe to be in the space? We can smell it, though it feels more of a nuisance at this point than a serious health hazard.

A: Safe? How does one answer that? The typical warning on a label for such products are against long term, occupational over exposure. If it isn’t causing your eyes to burn and respiratory issues you probably aren’t getting a large dose. Long term exposure, daily to minute amounts? There may be no issue if you are in good health. A lot of furniture items emit minute amounts of formaldehyde because of the adhesives used. There is no odour from such things but I don’t feel good knowing I may be breathing it in every day. I’d rather face the mineral spirits.

Floors have an odor 8 months after finishing

Similar Q: We had our hardwood floors refinished about 8 months ago. They still have an odor, not chemical, almost offensive. Almost rotten. Is it the finish? Is there something I should wipe it down with to freshen it?

A: Perhaps the smell is not coming from the floors. The finish itself off gasses any solvent within 24 hours, so as you say, it isn’t a chemical smell. A rotten smell? You don’t have a natural gas leak, do you?

There are odor eaters you can buy in a small tub. I would get a couple of those. There are polyurethane cleaners you can purchase from hardwood flooring retailers.

Poly smell months later

Q: I had hardwood floors sanded and poly applied months ago. The smell is noticeable. It’s been months. What product can I use to remove the smell?

A: There should not be any smell at all. If they are still available, I’ve seen small plastic tubs of odor eater sold at Home Depot. You simply remove the lid and give it time. Maybe an alternate is what we can use in our refrigerator or just about anywhere else: a box of baking soda.

One thought on “Wood floors smell months after refinishing”

  1. >This is on such a great block of Hull Avenue! I am so kicking mlesyf for not buying this house we bought our house for a little more two years ago. Our block is definitely not as nice as this block of Hull Avenue, too! Please, someone nice and community-oriented move in and maintain this beautiful house. It really has so much potential!

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