GBA Logo horizontal Facebook LinkedIn Email Pinterest Twitter Instagram YouTube Icon Navigation Search Icon Main Search Icon Video Play Icon Plus Icon Minus Icon Picture icon Hamburger Icon Close Icon Sorted

Community and Q&A

Wood stain created big indoor AQ problem

gimmecleanair | Posted in General Questions on

Hello all, 

From a long term exposure to indoor air pollution in my condominium about 30 years ago I sustained a chemical injury and became chemically sensitive.  As in multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS).  What this means is my system is highly susceptible to indoor air pollution, whether it’s a toxic or non toxic pollutant.  The effects on me are usually it disrupts or prevents sleep, gives me a headache, and saps my energy.  Not sleeping well saps my energy.  I also acquired insomnia at the same time.  Through the years my insomnia has improved and the MCS has gotten worse.  

Last November (28th I believe) I had an experience which I would like to share.  The purpose of sharing it is so you can, if you so choose, avoid making the same mistake I made. 

I had built a cabinet to hold the sink in the bathroom.  I had searched at Lowe’s and didn’t find one which I liked.  All the ones I looked at were particle board, pressed wood, etc.  After this fiasco I found one on line which was mostly real wood and a little bit plywood.  I had been trying to avoid plywood too but it’s not as bad from an AQ point of view as particle board and pressed wood, which are loaded with toxic and maybe non toxic components such as glue.  Anyway at the time I was having my bathroom remodeled by a contractor.  He recommended I should stain the cabinet I had built.  I knew wood stain is a very toxic product.  But I believed I could use it safely by applying it outdoors, letting it dry outdoors, and then bringing it into the house.  It was not a great plan but if I had followed it it probably would not have created the disaster.  

The night I stained the cabinet with the wood stain, out on the driveway with the garage door closed, it was humid.  It was late November, the rainy season in Northern California.  When I was done staining it the contractor told me the humidity in the air would ruin the stain and recommended I should bring the cabinet into the garage.  Several problems with this idea.  First, there would actually not be any effect on the stain from humidity in the air.  Second, the humidity in the garage was probably 90% as high as it was outdoors.  It’s not an airtight garage.  Garages are not air tight, unless you go way out of your way and spend a ton of money to make it air tight.  Third, and the biggest problem, the wood stain was still wet.  I had JUST finished applying it.  It was offgassing, spreading, etc.  When I was outdoors this was not a problem.  But as soon as I brought it indoors it became an enormous problem. 

The wood stain was very toxic, as I said.  The label was full of warnings about adverse health effects and how to avoid breathing the vapors.  Use only with adequate ventilation, etc. 

I went to bed.  After an hour or so I thought it’s probably not a good idea to have the freshly stained cabinet in my garage.  The garage and house are the same airshed.  Air flows freely between them.  And I didn’t really believe the contractor’s warning about the humidity causing a problem.  He is not a carpenter and does not really know about wood stain.  So I took the cabinet outside onto the driveway again and closed the garage door. 

Too late.  The damage was already done. What I found out immediately was the wood stain is very volatile.  The vapors had quickly spread into the entire house, both the attic and the main story.  It is a one story house.  There was the smell but worse than the smell were the toxic effects.  Big headaches.  It was everywhere. 

Unfortunately I compounded the problem by having the contractor spray about 5 gallons of a non toxic sealer from a company in or near San Diego on the floor and ceiling of the attic.  I had used other sealers from this company before to solve air quality problems in the attic.  Other sealers.  Each time their non toxic sealer stunk up the house for several weeks but eventually solved the problem and I had clean air.  Meaning the air pollutant which was off gassing from the attic was sealed and no longer off gassing. 

After a week I had the contractor spray the rest, 4 gallons approximately, of the same non toxic sealer on the walls and ceiling of my house. It was a desperate measure intended to solve a desperate problem.  It did not work. The air in my house was so thick you could cut it with a knife.  Non toxic does not mean non polluting.  Then about 10 days later I had the contractor rip out the walls and ceiling of my house, in almost every room.  Not the office or the bathrooms, and he left a couple of walls in the guest bedroom.  He left the bathroom which he had been remodeling.  But everything else.  The reason was to get rid of the non toxic sealer and the wood stain vapors.  I didn’t see any other way. 

My message to all of you, whether or not you have chemical injury and sensitivity, is to beware of the toxicity and volatility of wood stain!  I will never use wood stain again.  I don’t need it, don’t want it.  Hate it.  This has been a very expensive, long and drawn out experience and very bad for my health. Who knows what the long term effects of being poisoned by this stuff will be.  Poisoned by wood stain and then polluted by the non toxic sealer.  

Lastly I learned you don’t have to use sheet rock, aka drywall, as the interior walls and ceiling of a house in California.  You can use several other materials including wood panels.  I am going with wood panels.  They cost about 8 times as much as sheet rock, the material itself, but the installation is faster and cheaper and does not involve as many steps.  Bare wood is what I want.  

I would say due to all the problems it created and how quickly it spread the wood stain (the wood stain vapors) was about as harmful to my house as a fire.  Fire would have probably not spread as quickly.  Yes, both are extremely damaging to a house.  Live and learn.  I hope this message is useful to you.  

Good luck in your search for a healthy home! 




GBA Prime

Join the leading community of building science experts

Become a GBA Prime member and get instant access to the latest developments in green building, research, and reports from the field.


Log in or create an account to post an answer.


Recent Questions and Replies

  • |
  • |
  • |
  • |