How To Get Rid of Polyurethane Smell

Polyurethane varnish is undoubtedly one of the most durable and beautiful finishes. But, if you don’t know how to remove polyurethane smell from the finished area, the toxic fumes can harm your household.

Polyurethane is made of isocyanates and volatile organic compounds. These components are what’s responsible for their durability as well as their harsh vapors. As a result, the polyurethane smell can linger around off-gassing for weeks after its application.

Discover how you can expel toxic polyurethane fumes faster.

How To Get Rid of Polyurethane Smell

Open the doors and windows to ventilate the place. Switch on fans and run an air purifier. Absorb the odor using Onion or lemon slices in water and white vinegar. Distribute paper plates containing baking soda, activated charcoal, and fumes absorbent granules.

If you stained your surfaces and it’s equally stinky, read our article for tips on how to get rid of stain smell.

Does polyurethane off gas?

Yes, polyurethane can off-gas, meaning it releases volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air. VOCs are chemicals that can evaporate at room temperature and contribute to indoor air pollution.

The off-gassing of polyurethane is most prominent when it is applied and during the initial curing process. Over time, as the polyurethane cures and hardens, the off-gassing decreases.

Adequate ventilation and allowing the area to air out can help mitigate the effects of polyurethane off-gassing. Note that different types and brands of polyurethane may have varying levels of VOC emissions.

Related read: Is oil-based polyurethane toxic?

13 Polyurethane Odor Removal Techniques

Discover 13 powerful techniques to eliminate polyurethane odor.

Whether from recent application or existing surfaces, learn how to get rid of the smell of polyurethane. From natural remedies to practical tips, say goodbye to lingering polyurethane odors and create a fresh, comfortable space.

1. Open the Windows and aerate the room

Ventilation should always be the first thing you do before, during, and after refinishing projects. Open the windows and doors to promote free airflow in the stinky room.

It disappears as soon as the fresh air mixes with the unbearable polyurethane smell. So ensure you leave air inlets for as long as necessary until clean air is restored.

2. Use Fans

Use overhead fans, table fans, or place a box fan into a window and let it run for as long as necessary to help banish polyurethane fumes. This will help to promote air circulation and get the bad air out.

If you plan to use the box fan temporarily, rent it from rental units, especially for the one-time polyurethane project. But if you prefer to own it, it is a worthy investment.

3. Run an Air filtration system to filter out toxins

Consider using an air filtration system for woodshop to help eliminate polyurethane odors from the room. Place it in the room where polyurethane is still off-gassing, and run it for as long as you need to until you have fresh air circulating in the space.

You can buy or rent one with an ozone or activated charcoal filter. The purifier will collect the stench, pass it through a filter that breaks down the chemical compounds and neutralize it.

4. Try Lampe Berger

Another tried-and-tested way to banish toxic fumes involves burning a Lampe Berger

Since we don’t want to mask the smell, put 90% alcohol and a few drops of essential oil into the glass container, light the wick and let it burn for at least 20 minutes.

The open flame will burn the toxic chemical compounds in the air without bursting into flames. Afterward, blow out the flame and let it diffuse.

You should notice the toxic fumes subsiding within 20 minutes. However, keep it running for longer until you are satisfied with the smell of air circulating indoors.

Later, you can use 100% essential oils to fill your interior space with scented air.

5. Onions or Lemons in a bowl of water

This common ingredient is a reliable remedy for banishing polyurethane smell from the space. Slice an onion in half. Put the halves in water bowls and space them on the floor to absorb the toxic polyurethane vapors.

Lemons also work similarly to onions. It has been used for ages to counter several types of odors within the house.

6. Use VAPORSORB Natural Fume Remover

Sprinkle VAPORSORB granules liberally on the finished floor with polyurethane. Leave them to sit for several hours, even overnight. These vapor-absorbent granules will draw out the remaining pungent vapors and absorb them. 

After a while, sweep up the granules and scatter them again until all the fumes have been eliminated.

7. Try using activated charcoal

Activated charcoal is another natural remedy that can help you deal with strong polyurethane odors. This product is super dry and excellent at absorbing and filtering contaminants in the air.

Put them in saucer plates and place them on the recently finished floors. Let them sit overnight or for a couple of days. Replace them every few days until the pungent smell dissipates completely.

8. Using baking soda in the room

Baking soda is another absorbent product that can help purify the air. Place them in paper plates or newspapers and distribute them in several areas of the affected room.

Paper and baking soda are absorbent and will suck the stubborn odors quickly.

9. Distilled white vinegar

White vinegar can also refresh the air in your entire house. Pour some of this vinegar into small containers and place them in the corners of the varnished floor. Let it sit overnight and replace them as necessary.

Alternatively, you can simmer some vinegar for about an hour. The acidic vapors will attract and break down the volatile compounds and, in turn, banish the annoying odors.

10. Turn up the Heat

Heat accelerates the drying process of varnish. Therefore, the sooner it dries, the sooner the space becomes habitable.

That said, close the windows during the day and raise the house’s temperature to help polyurethane cure faster. The house will certainly become unbearable, so keep pets and everyone out of the house throughout this process.

Maintain the temperature until the polyurethane cures fully. Then ventilate the house with all you can and use all the absorbent materials mentioned above.

11. Citrus peel solution

Simmering citrus peels in water release the natural oils from the peels, which help counteract the polyurethane smell.

This method adds a fresh citrus scent to the air while eliminating the polyurethane odor. It’s suitable for smaller spaces or specific areas.

Effectiveness: Citrus oils have strong aromas that can effectively mask unpleasant odors, including polyurethane fumes. They provide a refreshing scent to the environment.

Drawbacks: The effectiveness of this method may vary depending on the intensity of the polyurethane smell. It may not completely eliminate the odor in larger or more heavily affected areas.

12. Essential oil diffuser

An essential oil diffuser disperses aromatic oils into the air, creating a pleasant atmosphere and masking unwanted odors.

It’s ideal for continuous odor control and enhancing the overall ambiance of a room. It’s suitable for various spaces, including larger areas.

Effectiveness: Essential oils like peppermint, eucalyptus, or lavender have strong scents that effectively cover up polyurethane smells. They provide a long-lasting fragrance.

Drawbacks: Essential oils mainly mask the odor rather than neutralize it. They might require frequent refilling of the diffuser, and some people may have sensitivities or allergies to certain essential oils.

13. Activated carbon filters

Activated carbon filters are designed to trap and eliminate airborne particles, chemicals, and odors, including polyurethane fumes.

This method is highly recommended for continuous air purification and long-term odor removal. It’s suitable for larger spaces and rooms with HVAC systems.

Effectiveness: Activated carbon filters are highly effective in absorbing and neutralizing odors, providing excellent air purification. They can remove various volatile organic compounds, including polyurethane odors.

Drawbacks: Installing activated carbon filters in HVAC systems may require professional assistance and can be more expensive than other methods.

Standalone air purifiers with activated carbon filters are effective but might have limited coverage in larger spaces.

Polyurethane smell removal from portable furniture

Discover effective ways to eliminate polyurethane smell from portable furniture. Whether it’s a new piece or a refinishing project, dealing with the odor can be challenging.

Explore various techniques and tips to restore a pleasant environment.

Say goodbye to the lingering smell and enjoy your furniture odor-free.

Leave it on Up to the Attic

If you apply polyurethane on movable furniture, you are better off leaving it in the garage or your workshop away from the main house.

Resist the urge to put it under the sun; you might ruin your furniture.

Alternatively, you can leave it in the attic when the weather is warmer. The natural warmth will slowly cure the polyurethane and eliminate the fumes.

What Does Polyurethane Smell Like?

Polyurethane smell is unmistakable; it hits your face when you come into contact. It can trigger headaches and other allergic reactions.

Polyurethane finish is made of isocyanates and volatile organic compounds. When these ingredients are emitted into the air, they release an unrelenting toxic smell. The stench is most dominant in the oil-based polyurethane variety.

How Long Does it Take for Polyurethane to Stop Smelling?

The top factors determining how long the smell will linger around include the number of polyurethane coats applied and the weather conditions. (Find out how many coats of polyurethane you need to apply.)

Ideally, it should dissipate fully after three to six weeks. But the house can be habitable in 10-12 days if your family and pets aren’t allergic to such strong fumes.

What are the Dangers of Polyurethane Fumes?

Prolonged exposure to polyurethane fumes has been linked to several health complications, including asthma and pet cancer.

This product is a classified carcinogen that will trigger skin, eyes, and throat irritation. This irritation can develop into skin rash or hives, chest tightness, and possible difficulty in breathing.

Exposure to these fumes has also been linked to nausea, headaches, and dizziness.

How to Avoid Unbearable Polyurethane Smell

You can use safer alternatives to avoid toxic polyurethane smells: These are great alternatives.

Linseed Oil

Linseed oil is extracted from flaxseed. It is a natural, durable and non-toxic oil finish for treating wood. You can use it in its pure form or when mixed with other products.

Tung OIL

Tung oil is one of the eco-friendly finishes derived from the seeds of the Tung tree. It is all-natural, durable, and free of VOCs.


How to get rid of polyurethane smell fast

  1. Put some activated charcoal on several paper plates.
  2. Place the paper plates on the varnished surface.
  3. Let the activated charcoal absorb the toxic polyurethane smell for 24 hours.
  4. Replace the plates and the activated charcoal if necessary.

How long are polyurethane fumes toxic?

The toxic smell of polyurethane takes about five to seven days to decrease. However, you’ll still notice a bit of the odor here and there for about three weeks in the case of water-based polyurethane and four weeks for oil-based poly.

Is it safe to stay in house after polyurethane?

No, the house is inhabitable for at least two days after completion of the polyurethane. However, in scenarios where there are concerns about what to do when poly won’t dry, you need to stay out of the house for at least a week or longer. This waiting period allows the finished surface to thoroughly dry and lets the harsh fumes from the polyurethane subside, ensuring a safer and more comfortable environment.

Read more on whether you can sleep in the house after polyurethane.

Is polyurethane toxic after it dries?

No, polyurethane is no longer toxic once it has fully cured. However, while it’s still wet, polyurethane releases volatile organic compounds into the air: These VOCs are highly toxic and can trigger severe health problems.

How to air out house after floor refinishing

Open windows and doors for fresh air circulation. Use fans to create airflow and consider turning on exhaust fans in bathrooms and kitchens.

Timing refinishing during mild weather conditions can aid in faster air exchange. Use air purifiers with activated carbon filters to neutralize odors.

Clean surfaces and remove any leftover materials. Be patient as the fumes naturally dissipate, which can take varying amounts of time based on factors such as product type and ventilation.

Recommended read: Does polyurethane expire?

Is there polyurethane that doesn’t smell?

Yes, water-based polyurethane has a mild smell that dissipates soon after application. It’s a barely noticeable, non-toxic smell that won’t drown the air in the room. That’s because it has less volatile organic compounds.

How to get rid of polyurethane smell from floors

  1. Cut bulb onions in halves and put the cut side up in a water bowl.
  2. Place the bowls on the floor and let the onions absorb the toxic fumes from the air.
  3. You can use lemon slices in place of onions.

Does water-based polyurethane smell?

No, water-based poly finish almost has no smell. This product won’t fill the air with a notorious odor like oil-based polyurethane. It is safer because people and pets don’t have to evacuate the space while coatings are underway.

How long for polyurethane smell to go away

The duration of polyurethane smell varies based on factors like type, application, ventilation, and curing.

Typically, it lasts from a few days to several weeks as the polyurethane cures and VOCs decrease. Ventilation helps speed up the process. If the smell lingers excessively or intensifies, consult a professional or the manufacturer.

Final thoughts on getting rid of polyurethane smell

When you know how to get polyurethane smell out of your house, you can protect your family and indoor pets from the harmful effects of the toxic fumes.

When you can’t avoid the polyurethane odors, your best bet is to deal with it using a combination of methods; ventilate the house and use all the absorbent materials at your disposal.

What next? Read our article on tinting polyurethane with paint and discover effective techniques to achieve the desired color and tone for your woodworking projects.

Leave a Comment