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Choose Environmentally Safe Varnish: Consider an Oil-Based Varnish

written by: ciel s cantoria•edited by: Sarah Malburg•updated: 5/27/2011

Pay heed to EPA's warnings about hazardous materials incorporated in most household products including paints & varnishes. Consider environmentally safe oil-based varnish, as a way to help in eliminating the harmful chemical gases emitted by VOCs that pose threats to health & to the environment.

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    What Makes a Varnish Environmentally Unsafe?

    Air pollutants, manufacture 

    Varnished wood looks classy and elegant because it allows the wood grains to come out beautifully as it creates a natural design of its own. However, it would be best if you used the environmentally safe oil based varnish as a way to eliminate the toxic chemical gases that tend leach inside your home and the environment as a whole.

    Different types of varnishes can be used on various types of wood. Even a kitchen cabinet made from plywood can look elegant if properly varnished. Still, others would prefer paint coatings, since their colors look brighter and cheerier than the somber hues that are typical in lacquer finishes.

    Nonetheless, it’s not so much as the color or the overall effect that we should be more concerned about. What we should give importance to is whether we will be using the eco-friendly types of varnish or paint.

    In order to determine if we are using an environmentally safe varnish coating, we should know what makes a varnish substance hazardous. This refers to the carbon-based chemicals used as solvents, which tend to emit Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs. These substances often have strong odors, although odor is not always the basis for their toxicity. There are so many of them to watch out for; hence, getting insights about the most harmful chemicals can help you choose the right type of varnish finish or paint coats to use for your home improvement.

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    formaldehyde 

    Formaldehyde has been established by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment as a cancer causing agent. A freshly applied coating of varnish has a strong pungent smell which partly belongs to the formaldehyde content.

    The smell may slowly wear off but the fumes do not actually disappear but will only combine with all other pollutants and gases present within your home and in the Earth’s atmosphere. In fact, the other pieces of furniture and parts of your house coated with varnish paint have been slowly leaching and emitting out VOC fumes.

    Formaldehyde is actually one of the pollutants found in most indoor air since this chemical is also present in the glue or adhesive substances applied to wallpapers, wood paneling, shelving, flooring and cabinetry, just to name a few. According to experts, formaldehyde fumes are being released because they were not bound tightly during its chemical processing. Thus, all products that make use of formaldehyde substances are bound to leach and its fumes will pervade within your homes.

    The problem is they do not dissipate but will stay within your homes and pollute your indoor air. Continuous exposure to this kind of volatile organic compound can cause skin, eye and respiratory tract irritations. In most cases, they worsen asthmatic conditions and or allergic reactions. In worst incidences, formaldehyde emissions also lead to cancer.

    Other hazardous materials like toluene and xylene can also be integrated as solvents in varnish coats and finishes, while verified carcinogens like beryllium, arsenic and cadmium are utilized as drying ingredients. They basically have the same leaching effect as the formaldehyde that emits VOCs in both indoor and outdoor air.

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    Know Your Choices for Environmentally Safe Varnish

    linseed oil 

    The elimination of formaldehyde and other hazardous materials as varnish ingredients were replaced by varnish coatings and finishes classified as "non-toxic" namely, Low VOC, Zero VOC and natural finish. You can still narrow down your choice of environmentally safe varnish by checking out the following information:,

    Zero-VOC- According to experts, paints and finishes labeled as Zero-VOC still contain small portions of toxic ingredients. Results of EPA tests revealed that despite the Zero VOC label, the paint or varnish can contain a measure of 5 grams/liter or less, which are used as biocide, fungicide or at times colorant. In fact, the more color that is added the greater the VOC it contains but still low compared to the traditional varnish.

    Low VOC- These are the so-called water based varnishes but may still contain very low levels of formaldehyde. If classified as Low Level, EPA regulates that the varnish should not contain more than 300 grams per liter of formaldehyde in order to be considered environmentally safe.

    Natural Finishes- these are oil-based varnish coats made from ingredients that were derived from natural sources such as plant oil, plant resins, plant dyes, mineral dyes, essential oils, clay, talcum, chalk, natural plant latex, milk casein and bees wax and make use of oil or citrus as basic compound. Natural finishes if maintained at its purest all natural composition are considered as environmentally safe varnish.

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    Examples of Environmentally Safe Varnish or Natural Finishes

    800px-Beeswax 

    Here are some great examples of all natural and oil based environmentally safe varnishes:

    Beeswax- The use of this material dates back from ancient times when Egyptians used it as a protective finishing for tombs. The ancient Greeks made use of beeswax in their dolls. Beeswax is an all natural material found in honeycombs,which is secreted out of worker bees' glands while constructing the honeycombs. As your choice of wood coating or finish, it will protect your wood material against moisture and stains. Application however, requires another form of natural liquid oil to soften the beeswax material. You may also find it necessary to re-apply since beeswax wears off in time.

    Tung Oil- The most expensive kinds of Tung Oil are those that were naturally derived from cold-pressed seeds or nuts of the Tung tree. Tung trees grow in abundance in far-off mountainous regions of China. A high grade quality of Tung Oil has finer color and dries up fast. In addition, they are said to have elasticity in the sense that the oil applied will seep into wood areas that have flexed or expanded. The lower quality Tung Oils on the other hand, are those that were derived from South American Tung trees.

    In using Tung oil, you have to combine it with a citrus solvent or thinner . The high grade quality will have a yellow color while the low grade kind will come as dark green. It produces a natural varnish-like finish and is said to settle well into the surface. The downside to this is that, it is rather expensive.

    Linseed Oil- is derived from flax seeds but should not be mistaken as having the same use as flaxseed oil. As wood finish, the raw linseed oil form is used by rubbing it onto the wooden surface. Linseed oil has to be applied in several coats and takes a lot of drying time in-between. Flaxseed oil, on the other hand, should not be considered as a substitute since it is intended as a dietary supplement.

    These natural and environmentally safe varnishes and finishes contain natural oil ingredients; hence, they tend to br more expensive than the Low VOC or Zero VOC varnishes, but as VOC free oil-based coatings, you are protecting and improving not only your home but the environment as well.

    References:

    http://www.realhazards.com/docs/ResEnviroHaz2005.pdf

    http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/indoorair/voc/

    http://www.realmilkpaint.com/oil.html

    http://www.honeyflowfarm.com/articles/beeswax.php

    http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/flaxseed-oil-000304.htm

    http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000774.htm

    http://www.woodbin.com/misc/eco_wood_finishes.htm

    http://greenhomeguide.com/know-how/article/selecting-healthy-and-environmentally-sound-finishes

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