If you want an all-natural non-toxic floor finish there are a few options:
- Natural drying oils include durable tung oil and linseed oil.
- Hemp oil and walnut oil can also be used but are not very durable.
- Shellac is a natural wax mixed with alcohol.
- Other natural waxes can be used over the oils or shellac.
- An unusual pure and natural finish is a Danish Soap finish for an invisible look.
- If you want a painted look, it is possible to use a 100% natural paint.
Natural finishes don’t look like your typical polyurethane coating. Oils darken wood but produce a matte look. The waxes add some more sheen. Shellac is naturally quite shiny. The soap finish will give you the most invisible look.
Milk Paint can look like a regular matte paint but since you need a topcoat over it you are not going to be able to get white floors with all-natural products.
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1. Tung and Linseed Oil
Tung and Linseed oil are the best natural penetrating oils for hardwood floors.
The technical term for these oils is drying oils because they polymerize, forming a long-lasting protective layer on wood and stone.
Tung provides the most durable finish of the oils and linseed is not far behind. Both of these oils perform well and can be considered in all homes without any major sacrifice.
Tung oil however is very thick so it is usually cut down with a solvent when used on wood. That can be harsh, even if natural. I prefer to use 100% natural tung oil without a solvent whenever possible.
Linseed also comes in different formulations. The natural and pure type is polymerized linseed oil from Tried and True. This does not contain driers, solvents, or any other additives.
It does come in variations that have added pigments if you want to get a darker hue.
Rubio Monocoat is linseed oil-based and comes in a much larger array of colors, however, we don’t know the full ingredient list.
2. Hemp and Walnut Oil
For some folks, tung and linseed oil have too strong of an odor. If you are chemically sensitive you will need to test the options yourself.
Hemp and walnut oil are milder in odor but they are also less durable. I did use hemp oil on my floors because I was so sensitive to chemicals and odors that the compromise was just fine by me. But normally you would not use hemp and walnut oil on floors, it just doesn’t hold up well enough
I love this walnut and beeswax finish and have used it on small projects like toys and decor items, but it’s the least durable of the natural oils for floors.
Shellac is a natural resin that comes from a beetle mixed into alcohol. You can buy it premixed, but it’s not clear if 100% of the ingredients are disclosed.
This is a shiny and at least slightly amber (depending on the resin color) traditional floor finish. It’s not used as much these days.
An oil and wax polish is often used over shellac like linseed and beeswax.
4. Natural Wax Finish
You can wax a floor that has already been treated with a natural penetrating oil or shellac. The wax can improve the protective properties of these finishes.
You can also wax unfinished floors.
Often a natural wax like beeswax or carnauba is mixed into the penetrating oil finish.
If the wax formulas are in a more solid form (not mixed with a penetrating oil) they are usually mixed with mineral oil. Mineral oil is technically natural. If it is deodorized it’s a fairly safe product (though not technically food safe).
5. Danish Soap Finish
Danish Soap finish is an unusual non-toxic way to finish floors. It is a process that uses pure soap as the finish.
You can either use just soap, or soap and lye.
Lye is quite toxic while it’s reacting, just make sure to let it dissipate fully.
When used in the making of soap the lye reacts with other components and in the end, you just have a safe soap product.
The look is similar to oil or wax, but without the sheen, darkening or yellowing. Oils are always at least a little bit yellow/amber and darken the wood. Both oil and wax add various levels of sheen, depending on which product is used.
Danish Soap finish is flat and has an invisible look.
It is high-maintenance though, significantly more than anything else on this list. You have to reapply the finish quite often to high-use areas.
6. Milk Paint
Milk Paint in powder form is an all-natural product. You just mix it with water to form the paint.
It’s made of milk protein (casein), limestone, clay, chalk, and natural pigments.
It works beautifully on raw wood. If the wood already has a finish on it then it needs a synthetic primer – in that case, I would likely skip Milk Paint.
It requires a topcoat to be durable otherwise the finish is quickly ruined.
You can use the natural penetrating oils and/or shellac above. I have used two coats of Milk Paint, plus two coats of tung oil, then shellac on some items. Others will coat over this with a synthetic polyurethane floor finish for more durability.
It’s not the most ideal floor finish but with a durable top coat this can work.
7. Linseed Oil Paint
Much more durable than milk paint is linseed oil based paint. This does not require a topcoat.
This is a natural oil-based paint. The binder is linseed oil, the other ingredients are all natural as well. Brands that I have tested include Allback and Earth+Flax.
Naturally Bleaching Agents for Wood – Hydrogen peroxide or oxalic acid can both be used to create a bleached look. You could also mix white pigments into a finish if you are brave.
Natural Pigments for Staining Wood – Mineral pigments can be used to stain wood, but mixed in water this does not work all that well. They are best when already mixed into an oil base. Some pigments can be mixed into shellac.
Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist Practitioner with 8 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.
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