How to Get Rid of Varnish Smell – Try These Simple Methods

Wood varnish is one of the most commonly used finishes in woodworking. It gives the furniture the classic glossy look, and it also has a protective function. If you ever happened to use it in one of your projects, you know how bad varnish smell is. It takes forever to go away, and it’s usually a cause for headaches if you need to stay in the same room as the varnished project. So you might ask yourself if there is a way to get rid of varnish smell.

Luckily, there are some ways to do that, or at least make it go away sooner. In short, these are the methods we are going to address in this article:

  • Keep the air flowing to make varnish dry faster and the smell go away. Use a fan and ventilate the room to achieve this;
  • Utilize a product that absorbs the odor, like baking soda or charcoal;
  • Use an air purifier to clean the air from varnish fumes.

Now we’ll discuss each one of them thoroughly.

How to Get Rid of Varnish Smell

“Materials: Fixatives and varnishes” by SeƱor Codo is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

1) Ventilate the Room

The first thing you want to do is increase the airflow. Open the windows to let clean air in, which in exchange will help push the varnish smell away. You should keep the windows open all the time the first couple of days after using the finish, for two reasons. It’s in the beginning that the odor is the strongest; plus, it will help the varnish dry faster. After 2/3 days, you could limit yourself to ventilating the room for a couple of hours a day, depending on your needs.

Make sure to keep the door closed, so that the smell won’t spread to the rest of your house. If you can, consider working outdoors. It will make dealing with varnish smell way easier.

2) Use a Fan

Maybe you can’t ventilate the place your varnished project is in for whatever reason. You are working in a room without windows, for example a basement; or maybe it’s wintertime, and you don’t want to freeze while working on other stuff. In that case, consider using a fan or even more than one. It will help the varnish dry quicker, and it will keep the air in motion too. Consider using a fan in combination with one of the methods that follow to make the smell leave even faster.

Ideally, you’d want to use a fan in combination with the earlier method too, to maximize airflow. Place a fan near the window to help the odor go out.

3) Air Purifier

Another good idea is using an air purifier. They utilize one or multiple HEPA (“high-efficiency particulate air“) filters, which collect particles up to 0.3 microns in diameter. That way, they make the quality of the air you breathe way better since they absorb fumes, odors, pollen, dust, to name a few. It’s nice to have one regardless: in our case, it will help get smartly rid of varnish smell.

Place it near the source of the odor. It will take some time to see a difference, depending on many factors such as room conditions, type of varnish used, project dimensions, and so on.

4) Baking Soda

Baking soda has many applications. It can be used for cooking and cleaning. It’s also commonly used to get rid of bad smells. For example, you could place a thin layer at the bottom of your cat litter to deal with unwanted odors. The same thing applies to varnish smell.

To make the most out of the absorbent power of baking soda, you should place a flat layer of it near the source of the smell. This way, you’ll maximize the transfer area.

Baking soda that has been used for odor absorption shouldn’t be reused afterward, especially for cooking. There’s a high chance it will contaminate your food, altering its taste and making you sick. If you use it for your laundry, it will transfer the odor to your clothes instead of removing it from them. The wisest thing to do is to throw used soda away and don’t reuse it.

5) Activated Charcoal

A good alternative to baking soda for smell absorption is activated charcoal. It’s used for many things, such as teeth whitening, skincare, cooking, and so on. It’s also good at absorbing odors: it takes advantage of its numerous pores, which can absorb any chemical.

To make the most out of it, place a flat layer of charcoal near your project and let it do its thing. It might take some days to see the effects. To maximize its impact, use it in powder form, such as in this 100% Activated Organic Charcoal. Same as with the soda, dispose of it properly when you are done.

6) Other Natural Methods

The most effective products to absorb varnish smell are baking soda and activated charcoal. They aren’t the only, though. There are many other natural alternatives that you could try. Let’s name a few:

  • Vinegar. This is an old-timer trick. Vinegar was vastly used for cleaning and to keep bad odors away. In our case, pour a cup of vinegar into a bowl and place it near the varnished furniture. Leave it there for a couple of days, at least.
  • Lemon juice. Put a bowl of hot water with sliced lemon in it near your project and leave it overnight. Then, according to the results, decide if it’s the case to place additional bowls to speed up the process. Same thing you should do when using vinegar.

FAQs [Frequently Asked Questions]

Here are some common questions about varnish smell. Let me know if you have any other in the comments below.

Is varnish smell harmful?

Yes, varnish smell is dangerous. This is due to the chemicals included in the product, which transform into VOCs (volatile organic compounds) when varnish dries. Varnish fumes can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, skin irritation, and so on. It can be particularly harmful to pregnant women since it can cause problems to the unborn.

You should limit exposure to varnish fumes at the lowest possible. If the varnished piece is placed in your workshop, consider moving it to another room until the odor goes away. If you can’t, try to limit the time you spend in your workshop. Keep the area ventilated and use a respirator while staying there.

How long does it take for varnish smell to go away?

“Varnishing Hardwood Parquet” by Rubber Dragon is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

While varnish doesn’t take that long until it’s dry to the touch, the smell can take very long until it completely disappears. It can take up to one or two weeks.

It’s difficult to give a more precise time frame since it will depend on many factors, such as room conditions and the type of varnish used. In dry conditions, varnish will dry faster and thus the odor will disappear sooner. The most important thing is maintaining good airflow all the time. Keep the windows open, and use a fan to point the faulty air in the right direction.

Another factor to keep into consideration is the product used for varnishing and the number of coats applied. The larger the quantity applied, the longer it will take for it to dry and for the odor to go away.

How to remove varnish smell from new furniture?

The same methods outlined earlier apply to freshly stained furniture: room ventilating, odor absorption using soda or activated charcoal, etc. It might take up to a couple of weeks for the smell to go away completely.

Consider placing the new furniture in a different room, such as a garage or basement. After the odor went away, move it where it is supposed to be. If that’s not possible, it’s important to minimize your exposure to it: keep the room doors closed, and try not to go in there so often.

If you are dealing with varnished floors, make sure you get one room done at a time; that way, you’ll be able to keep that room secluded from the rest of your house without intoxicating yourself.

Final Thoughts

Applying a layer of varnish to your project is a good idea for multiple reasons. It will protect it against the passing of time and any unwanted damage (if you have kids you know what I am talking about). On top of that, it enhances its appearance, giving it a glossy look.

Unfortunately, you’ll have to deal with the awful varnish smell. There’s no way to avoid it. Luckily, it will go away in a couple of weeks max. And as we’ve discussed in this article, there are a few methods to either speed things up (ventilating the room and using fans) or to get rid of some of the odor (air purifiers and a variety of products such as baking soda and charcoal).

The most important thing is to limit your exposure to varnish fumes, which we learned to be toxic. The best thing to do is place your project in a distinct room from your workshop or house until the odor went away.

In any case, make sure to be patient, and you’ll be able to enjoy your new furniture or project in no time.

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