Pine is one of the most difficult woods to stain. It is not often stained because the wood does not take most stains evenly, and when it is done it’s not usually a DIY project!
To really provide a conventional-looking stained look on pine most woodworkers use a dye (not a stain), and likely an alcohol soluble one. There are then a few more steps to get the final look.
Here are some more DIY friendly and eco-friendly ways to stain, paint, seal and finish pine.
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1. A DIY Stained Look on Pine
There is another option for staining pine which is far more user-friendly and is non-toxic too.
Natural oils with integrated pigments work for staining pine.
Rubio Monocoat (RMC)
RMC is a natural-based linseed oil plus stain in one.
You still get some variation in color. And it does matter which species pine you are using. Be sure to talk with Rubio Monocoat to get specific advice.
When you click on their website you can see some examples of which colors will work on pine. In the Gallary click on pine to see some real project results.
I like the tiger-striped look that you get with the Black color but be sure to make samples (you can buy sample sizes and the full sizes on Amazon or via their website).
I would say that talking with the company is required when staining a difficult wood like pine.
Linseed has some naturally occurring VOCs and we don’t know everything that is in Rubio Monocoat, however after my deep dive into this product I still use and recommend it.
Sealing Over an Oil Based Stain
Over that, you could put Zinsser Bullseye Shellac if you want to seal in odors of the linseed and/or of the pine itself (for those who are super sensitive to these natural odors). (Also available via Walmart).
Though shellac is rarely used on floors as it’s not an ideal finish for anything that gets wet a lot, it can be used on some wooden items like some furniture or toys.
Other than this optional (but unusual) step to seal in odors for those who are extremely sensitive, you do not normally add anything over Rubio.
2. A DIY Painted Look on Pine
If you want a really even finish on pine, you should probably go for a painted look.
First, A Stain Blocking Primer
Pine requires a stain-blocking primer – this is needed to block the natural tannins from bleeding through.
Usually, BIN Shellac is used here, but this is too high in VOCs for most chemically sensitive people. That is their white paint/primer version.
Shellac in it’s more pure version can also be used, which is just natural shellac wax and alcohol.
Zinsser Sanding Sealer is used as a safe and healthy stain-blocking primer but some zero-VOC paint brands make primers too.
Stain Blocking Acrylic Primer
You can use an eco-friendly stain-blocking primer then over that you can use ECOS non-toxic paints.
This is the easiest way to go if you are painting pine with eco-friendly products.
You will get a good block of the pine odor this way as well (both with shellac as the prime coat or stain blocking primer), if that is part of your goal.
ECOS is a good 0-VOC paint.
Using Chalk Paint
The other way to get the painted look would be to use Zinsser Shellac and then chalk paint.
The lowest toxicity chalk paint in my experience is Annie Sloan. You can go to their website and choose a stockist there to find where to buy it.
It’s a very low odor paint, it’s lower in VOCs (in my experience) than regular acrylic wall paint.
If you want a chalk paint that is less expensive and easier to source, Rustoleum Chalked has similar performance. It costs a lot less and you can buy it on Amazon or Walmart.
It’s not a washable surface, so be sure to read my post about chalk paint. I’m a huge fan of this paint for what it can do and how safe it is to use.
3. A Clear Finish for Pine
There are lots of non-toxic options for clear finishes on pine. It’s still best to seal the knots with Zinsser Sanding Sealer to prevent bleed out.
Then you can go over that with a low-VOC polyurethane or acrylic finish.
Depending on what the item is that you are sealing, I like AFM PolyBP (quite durable and works on floors too), AFM Acrylacq (for furniture and molding), ECOS for an all acrylic option, works well on furniture, not durable for the floors in my experience.
If you would like to look at more clear finish/varnish options I have a post where I tested and compared all of the eco-friendly brands.
If you are extremely sensitive, you can contact me to help figure out which finishes might be best for you.
Zinsser Bullseye shellac can be used if you want to block the pine-y smell of the wood and are not using another clear coat over it.
Shellac is not known for taking lots of water well so it’s rarely used on floors anymore. This version (the Bullseye) is also the most difficult to paint or seal over (though you can go over it with Chalk Paint).
It has a slight sweet smell for about 24-48 hours but you can bring it in as soon as it feels dry. Shellac is very safe it’s basically just alcohol and the natural resin from the beetle.
The Zinsser SealCoat can be coated over more easily with a clear finish (like polyurethane, or with special primers).
Natural Oil Finishes
You can use a drying oil as the final finish on pine. Tung oil is the most durable of the natural oils (this one is totally pure with no additives or solvents).
Linseed oil is the next most durable option (Tried and True is a rare pure version).
Other less pungent oils work as sealers but are less durable to wear and tear and scrubbing. I have used hemp oil and walnut oil and I like both of those finishes as well.
Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist Practitioner with 8 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.
Erina Love says
Hello, thanks for your website. We are finishing a live edge redwood slab for our dining table. Since it’s a soft wood, it needs a more durable varnish, since it’s where we will be eating I would love it to be as nontoxic as possible. What do you recommend?
A bit of a reverse question- we bought a pine bed base for my toddler which had a varnish on it which we didn’t like. My husband sanded the varnish off to achieve a more raw look – but now I can smell it whenever I enter my son’s room. I’m concerned if there is any harmful VOC being emitted. Do you know if this could be possible?
There is a post on sealing in offgassing
Thanks for this post! We are considering doing diy pine plank flooring. We used hemp oil upstairs in the bedrooms and it’s working fine but for kitchen, living laundry room downstairs would consider a low voc polyurethane finish for durability. Do you think I can paint the poly over the hemp oil, or I should just get a tinted poly? Thank u so much!!
Can’t do a water based poly over hemp oil and I would not consider an oil based poly for toxicity reasons.
Thank you for all of the great info and testing results you are sharing with the MCS public. Very helpful. I would like to buy you a bunch of coffees, but don’t have a paypal account. could I mail you a check? Thank you and all the best to you. Terry
oh thank you so much Terry! I know if you book a email consult you can bypass having a Paypal account and use a credit card not sure if Kofi does that too. Receiving checks is too difficult in the time of covid.
I tried that but the the only payment option I saw was Paypal.