Is this finish flaking of 20 yr old floors toxic?

Q: We moved into a house that’s about 20 years old, as are the wood floors. The polyacrylic or polyurethane finish is in bad shape. It is scratched and chipping/ flaking. Over the past few months, I’ve noticed the clear chips are sticking to our feet from walking on the floor. It gets on our socks, on the couches, everywhere.

I have a 7-year-old and I’m concerned about the dangers of this. These pieces are so tiny it’s hard to see at times but I feel like it’s on everything at this point. If this is getting in our clothes, it’s getting in our laundry machine and dryer. Can these pieces melt and absorb into our skin and clothes?

A: A twenty-year-old house that probably had factory finished hardwood installed by the builder. Is that about correct? Not that it is related to your question, but chipping and peeling finish indicates a faulty product. It doesn’t matter how old the floors are, they should not be doing this unless the wood was soaked from a flood and the escaping moisture was pushing the finish off the wood.

I don’t know what finish type exactly was used on your floors, but generally, there should not be any active chemical components in the finish film. In other words, it is inert. So, I wouldn’t have a concern about anything absorbing into your skin. I still wouldn’t want to eat the stuff and I could see inhaling into one’s lungs very tiny bits or getting it in one’s eyes could present a real risk, because these little fragments would or could be sharp. You really should have these floors sanded to clean wood and finished again, preferably by a company that uses a reliable vacuum system for dust capture.

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