eco-safe stains
Photo: Don Penny
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Eco-Safe Stains

These finishes are friendly to the environment—and your lungs. Stains are packed with solvents to ensure that their resins and pigments penetrate wood fibers. Problem is, the solvents in most oil-based stains contain VOCs, which pollute the air and are unhealthy to breathe. Many so-called "green" stains—those containing less than 100 grams of VOCs per liter—rely on waterborne resins and pigments that behave differently than traditional oils. Here's what to expect.

Faster Dry Time
Waterborne resins dry faster than oils, so you can get out on your deck sooner. But greater care is required during application to prevent lap marks; brush the finish on no more than two boards at a time, and be sure to cover their lengths in one pass. Also, stains should be applied in the shade when surface temperatures are above 50 degrees.

Slower to Soak In
The new formulas are more durable and abrasion resistant but don't penetrate as deeply or quickly as oil, so it's easy to overapply them and leave shiny spots. To avoid this, brush out the finish to a thin, even film. Wipe off any excess immediately.

Potentially Prone to Mildew
Nontoxic stains may not contain chemicals that prevent mildew. If these fungi are a problem where you live, you'll have to add mildewcide to the stain before application.

Shown: Messmer's low-VOC penetrating oil works on dense exotic hardwoods; Vermont Natural Coatings is made with nontoxic ingredients, such as milk whey; BioShield contains no VOCs or toxic chemicals. Comes in 17 colors; SafeCoat offers wood-tone colors with low odor;
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