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What clear finish is best for wood cabinets and protecting indoor air quality?

We are working very hard to get green cabinets from a custom woodworker. Air quality is our primary concern. We are confused about what type of finish should go on these cabinets--the cabinet fronts will be solid wood (walnut and oak).

I'm completely confused about what to ask for in terms of the finish. (Woodworker doesn't specialize in this green aspect-- but is willing to work with us on this.) What I don't understand, is whether something like an AFM Safecoat Polyureseal BP (110 g/L VOC) or Acrylacq (99 g/L VOC) are the best choice or whether a "water based" or "waterborne" finish is better -- something like Purity Interior Zero-VOC Wood Stain (7 g/l VOC) or Benwood Stays Clear Clear Finish (260 g/L VOC) or Target Clear Finishes (23 g/L VOC) -- these latter 3 are listed in your Product Guide under Interior Finishes.... The AFM Safecoat Polyureseal BP is listed in the Product Guide for floor finishing -- but it is not listed in the "Interior Finishes" section .....I guess I am wondering why the AFM safe coat products are not listed there as well.

I'm confused about the levels of VOCs in these products as well--there is a wide range (0-260 g/L). Safecoat seems to say there products off gas VERY little once cured. Does this make them just as good as the products with lower VOC content? So confused.

Is the issue that these are different types of products (lacquer vs. stain, etc.?) held to different standards for what is low-voc? At the end of the day I lean towards Safecoat because of its reputation for non-toxic-ness..... But...again, so confused.

Which do we use to get cabinets that will last and be healthy for the indoor air quality?

Thank you!

Asked by Melinda S
Posted Jun 22, 2014 1:19 AM ET


2 Answers

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You are probably overthinking this. Most people who choose a low-VOC product for finishing interior woodwork are happy with the air quality in their homes, and do not report any health problems attributable to the finish.

I'm sure that GBA readers who have used these products will post recommendations. But be aware that these recommendations probably have to do with ease of use and durability of the finish rather than IAQ concerns or measurements.

Answered by Martin Holladay
Posted Jun 22, 2014 5:37 AM ET


I've used the The Target water-based products with great results. They are low VOC.

Answered by shane claflin
Posted Jun 22, 2014 8:53 PM ET

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