Oils labeled as “teak oil” or “Danish oil” from hardware stores are usually a mix of oils like linseed and tung, solvents, and possibly resins, UV inhibitors, and mildewcides.
Tung oil is usually mixed with mineral spirits, odorless mineral spirits, or citrus solvent.
Linseed oil can come in formulas free of solvents, like polymerized linseed oil or Rubio Monocoat (without the part B), but you can also find linseed oil mixed with isoaliphate, mineral spirits, or other petroleum solvents.
However, there are also pure versions of both oils with absolutely no additives. So let’s look at how to get rid of the odor of both types.
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If You Used a Solvent-Based Oil
If you used a tung oil or linseed oil with a solvent added than I would promote offgassing until that solvent has flashed off completely.
To promote offgassing increase heat and decrease humidity while increasing ventilation.
Just be sure to check the temperature and humidity requirements for the product and maintain that during the full cure time.
While the solvent promotes the curing of the oil (so there will be lower natural VOCs) you will initially have higher VOCs due to the solvents themselves.
If You Used Pure Tung or Linseed Oil
Natural Offgassing from Tung and Linseed
There is a statement on Wikipedia that tung oil comes to a full cure whereas linseed continues to polymerize for years. I was not able to confirm that statement after looking through the scientific literature on tung oil and talking to many companies.
However, tung oil has a superior ability to polymerize due to its α-Eleostearic acid (77–82%) content. In theory, this gives it a greater chemical reactivity and excellent ability to polymerize (cure) (2, 3). Linseed oil, on the other hand, can take longer to polymerize and may not fully cross-link, resulting in a finish that is not as durable and one where the odor can come out for years.
Sensitive folks report that linseed based products like Marmoleum can release odor when heated up even after many years.
Both pure oils offgas similar natural VOCs while curing. During oxidation, aldehydes and hydrocarbons offgas. Peroxides, alcohols, ketones, and acids may also offgas during curing (1).
Raw linseed is slower to cure compared to polymerized linseed oil or modified oils with driers. Driers help speed up offgassing.
To get rid of the linseed or tung oil odor I would first wait 30 days if possible. The odor might not be completely gone in 30 days but it will be mostly gone.
You can speed up the offgassing odor by increasing temperature and decreasing humidity. Just be sure to check the temperature and humidity requirements for the product and maintain that during the full cure time.
Suppress the Odor if Necessary
If you need to suppress the odor while you are still in the house, you can lower the temperature.
Sealing in the Odor of Linseed and Tung oil
If you used linseed or tung oil and then found the odor is too strong for you we can mostly get rid of the linseed odor smell by sealing it in.
I would wait at least 30 days for both oils before sealing them. The longer you can promote natural offgassing before sealing it up the better.
Seal in the Smell of Linseed or Tung Oil
The best way to seal in the odor of these oils is to use a clear shellac coat over them. You can use 1-3 coats – just keep going until you feel that you have blocked the smell.
Zinsser Bullseye Shellac is a waxed shellac that is harder to coat over later but is the best seal in the fewest coats.
Zinsser Sanding Sealer is a dewaxed shellac, that is thinner, but will give you a decent seal with enough coats. It’s easier to use another polyurethane or paint over this in the future.
You can also mix your own shellac with pure shellac flakes and Everclear alcohol for the purest, additive free version. The chemically sensitive may want to go with this route.
Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist Practitioner with 8 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.