Picture this: You’ve just applied some polyurethane to wood flooring and now you’re wondering how to get rid of that unmistakable polyurethane smell.
The good news is that there are many things that you can do to get rid of the polyurethane smell, and none of these methods are overly complicated or expensive.
So if you’re wondering how to get rid of polyurethane smell, let me show you exactly how to get rid of it!
The best way to remove the polyurethane smell is to open windows and use a number of fans. You can also use white vinegar, baking soda, lemons, limes, oranges, onions, or other natural odor removers. Additionally, you could use Vaporsorb, an engineered product that’s designed to remove toxic fumes and improve air quality.
How to Get Rid of Polyurethane Smell
Open the Windows
One of the simplest ways to get rid of the polyurethane smell is to open the windows. Doing so will create cross-ventilation, and this will speed up the smell-removal process.
Say, for example, you have two opposite windows in the room where you just applied a polyurethane coating to a piece of furniture. The outside air will come in through one window, pass through the room, and exit through the other open window.
As the fresh air moves through the room, it picks up the stale, static air—which at this point is rich with the smell of polyurethane—and sucks it out of the exit window.
If opening windows is going to be your primary means of ventilation, it’s best to apply the polyurethane varnish when the temperature outside isn’t that cold, otherwise getting rid of polyurethane fumes may come at the cost of significantly chilling your home.
But if you apply polyurethane in the summer or fall, make sure your open windows have screens on them, otherwise there’s a chance leaf pieces, dirt, and other fine particles enter the room with the outside air and eventually become stuck to the curing polyurethane.
And if you’re applying polyurethane when it’s especially humid out, consider this before opening the windows, as humidity can slow the drying process of some polyurethane.
Check out my post to see if you can sleep in a home after applying polyurethane!
Turn on Fans
If you have a box fan, now would be the time to use it. A ceiling fan can also help with eliminating the strong fumes polyurethane varnish creates.
But if you applied the polyurethane to some new wood flooring, obviously you can’t have the box fan sitting on the floor.
Therefore, put it in the window. In this position, it’ll be able to bring in a constant stream of fresh air. If there’s an air conditioner in one of the windows, this can be a big help too, so long as it’s set to “Fan” and not “Cool”.
If you make the room too cold, the polyurethane won’t dry properly.
Make sure you dust your fans off before you turn them on. Taking the time to do this ensures the polyurethane surface isn’t being constantly bombarded with dust particles, something that could reduce the soundness of the polyurethane coating as it dries.
If you have an oscillating tower fan, this will be a big help after you apply polyurethane to new wood flooring. Just position it in the doorway so it blows all the fumes out the open windows that are opposite it. You could also use a pedestal fan, table fan, or floor fan in the same way.
Having an exhaust fan would also be a big help. This would suck that distinct polyurethane smell right out of the room and release it into the outside world.
Use an Air Purifier
You can use an air purifier to remove toxic fumes and improve indoor air quality, so having one of these running while polyurethane cures is a smart move.
Even if you’ve coated multiple hardwood floors with polyurethane, having a large air purifier running will ensure your home doesn’t smell like polyurethane for long.
Air purifiers, especially those that have HEPA filters, essentially filter the impurities out of the air, and odors are one of the main things that air purifiers remove.
That said, the effectiveness of your air purifier is mainly determined by its size and the amount of polyurethane you used recently.
In other words, if you applied multiple coats of polyurethane and your air purifier isn’t all that big, chances are you’ll need to use another method discussed here in conjunction with the purifier to reach desired results.
Use Distilled Vinegar
That’s right, white vinegar can also be used to remove the smell of polyurethane in many cases.
You’d pour some in a few bowls or cans and place them in the corners of the room where polyurethane is drying.
Not only will the vinegar remove the offensive odor—it’ll also break down the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are emitted when polyurethane is off-gassing.
What is off-gassing? Well, as polyurethane cures (dries), it emits gases, and these contain harmful particles like carcinogens. That’s why if you’re exposed to polyurethane fumes for a while, you’ll start to feel lightheaded, nauseous, etc.
The only thing I don’t like about this method is it requires you to place cans on a few sections of the new wood floor, and as a result you could have marks when the floor completely dries.
Of course these marks could be easily sanded out, but in my opinion that’s an added step that can be avoided by not using this method to remove the polyurethane odor.
Try Activated Charcoal
Using activated charcoal can remove the toxic fumes emitted by curing polyurethane. This is a natural method, one that will also remove impurities from the air, thereby improving indoor air quality.
All you have to do is put the activated charcoal on a paper plate and then rest the plate on or nearby the curing polyurethane. It shouldn’t take long for the charcoal to produce a noticeable result, i.e. odor-free air.
Again, this isn’t one of my favorite methods because it requires you to put something on the polyurethane wood finish, mainly in the case of floors. But if you’re applying a polyurethane finish to some furniture or other wood items, this method, if executed properly, can yield good results.
Remove Polyurethane Odors with Onion and Lemon Slices
If you don’t like the smell of vinegar, you can try this method instead.
In addition to removing the smell of polyurethane, onions, lemons, oranges, and limes will also neutralize other offensive smells.
Take lemons for example. These emit such a strong smell, especially when cut, and this smell is strong enough to combat the unmistakable smell of polyurethane.
That said, a small bowl of cut lemons isn’t going to remove the smell of polyurethane from your house if you’ve just applied numerous coats to several wood floors. But a bowl of lemons WILL be effective on a smaller scale, like with a wood chair that’s recently been coated in polyurethane.
It’s best to use this method in conjunction with another one, like running fans, to maximize the effectiveness of these natural smell neutralizers.
Remove Polyurethane Smell with Air Fresheners
You can use air fresheners to mask the smell of polyurethane, but these alone won’t get rid of the smell.
Therefore, you should use air fresheners in conjunction with open windows, fans, or another method that ensures good air circulation.
The thing I don’t like about air fresheners is they don’t combat bad smells, rather they coexist with them, so what you’re left with (in this case) is a polyurethane smell mixed with whatever scent the air freshener is.
I’ll choose lemons over an air freshener every time because lemons smell good while combating the polyurethane smell all the while.
Pouring some baking soda on a few plates and then distributing these throughout the room where the polyurethane is drying is another way to remove the offensive odor from the air.
If you’re wondering how to get rid of polyurethane smell in a natural way, this method is worth considering.
I’ve tried this method before and found that it’s not very effective on its own, especially if there isn’t good air circulation. Therefore, you should use baking soda in conjunction with open windows and fans to remove the polyurethane smell.
Heat the Area
You can turn up the heat in the room where the polyurethane is drying, but you’ll need to be careful if you go this route to expedite the curing process.
Speeding things up with heat can cause the polyurethane to emit volatile organic compounds at a faster rate, and this should be avoided, especially if you’re going to be around the curing polyurethane for a while.
Plus, heating too much can cause the polyurethane to cure improperly, so refrain from using heat guns and hairdryers to directly heat the poly.
Letting in more sunlight can expedite the curing process, but this may lead to some sections—mainly the sections that were hit by hours of direct sunlight—to be drier than others, which can be problematic, especially in the case of wood floors.
Vaporsorb is a product you can use to remove many odors, even the strong ones emitted by polyurethane.
- SIMPLY SPRINKLE VAPORS & SPILLS AWAY: To clear the air, just scatter VAPORSORB on areas with fumes or spills. VAPORSORB absorbs VOCs & spills using natural ingredients. It draws in vapors plus spills…
According to the manufacturer, Vaporsorb granules can be applied directly to the polyurethane surface, but I don’t recommend doing this, for there’s a very good chance some of the granules will get stuck to the finish, which is the last thing you want.
Therefore, dump these onto a plastic plate or dish and rest the receptacle on or near the drying poly.
It usually takes several hours for Vaporsorb to remove the smell, so leave these around the poly overnight.
Vaporsorb is engineered to be stronger than the natural odor-removers discussed already, and a small container is less than $20.
Why Does Polyurethane Smell?
Polyurethane emits toxic fumes because it contains VOCs and isocyanates. These chemical compounds are released in gas form as the polyurethane cures, and they collectively create an unmistakable smell.
Polyurethane varnish isn’t the only varnish that emits fumes. Even oil-based paints emit paint fumes.
How strong the smell is has a lot to do with how many coats were applied and the type of indoor space you’re applying the polyurethane in.
Make sure the door to the room you’re applying polyurethane in creates a 100% seal when shut; this way the smell won’t permeate throughout the entire house.
What Does Polyurethane Smell Like?
The polyurethane smell can best be described as a chemically smell, one that is quite strong—so strong it can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness, and other adverse health effects instantly if you sniff it when it’s in viscous form.
Breathing in polyurethane fumes can irritate your nose and throat, and if these are especially strong they could irritate your eyes as well.
For all these reasons, you should wear proper safety gear when applying polyurethane. After you’re done with applying it, get away from it so you’re not overly exposed to the fumes.
How long does it take for polyurethane smell to go away?
It takes polyurethane about 30 days to completely cure. That said, the fumes will be strongest right after the poly is applied, and after a few hours the smell will be weaker but still noticeable. Generally, water-based polyurethane stops emitting fumes long before oil-based polyurethane, and this is something you should consider before using polyurethane.
Is the smell of polyurethane toxic?
Polyurethane fumes are toxic, which is why you could develop a range of unpleasant symptoms, like dizziness and nausea, if you’re exposed to these fumes for a long time. As polyurethane cures, the fumes get weaker, meaning they won’t affect you as acutely.
Can polyurethane fumes kill you?
Sustained exposure to polyurethane fumes is bad for a number of your vital organs, such as your brain and lungs, and over time can be lethal for extended exposure. These fumes are extremely flammable, which is why you should never have an open flame around drying polyurethane, as such could lead to a deadly explosion.
Final Thoughts on How to Get Rid of Polyurethane Smell
In the end, many things can be done to get rid of polyurethane smell, but the best methods by far are opening windows and using fans to remove the smell.
If you don’t want to deal with harsh fumes after applying polyurethane, go with a water-based polyurethane over an oil-based polyurethane, as water-based products don’t emit strong fumes.