Stinky wood stain

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Forum topic by Belford posted 02-17-2018 01:15 AM 345 views 0 times favorited 6 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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76 posts in 444 days

02-17-2018 01:15 AM

Does anyone know of or use a wood stain that doesn’t stink up the entire shop including your clothes? I’ve been using Minwax wood stain, and it does a good job but the obnoxious smell stays around for three to four days. It even makes my sinus hurt
I wonder if a water based stain didn’t smell as bad and and still did a good job covering and penetrating the wood.

6 replies so far

View Walker's profile


112 posts in 408 days

#1 posted 02-17-2018 05:44 AM

most of the “stink” comes from chemical additives, and VOC’s. Look for products with more natural ingredients. Tried and True brand is the go to for such things. I only have personal experience with the danish oil, not the stains, but the smell is way less than the Watco stuff. Note that the nasty chemicals are usually added to speed up drying times, so products that smell less bad might be prone to longer drying times and higher application temperatures needed.

Surely you’re going to get a lot of responses saying you need better air flow and ventilation in your basement/garage/shop/wherever you’re doing this staining. Open windows help, as do fans. I believe “air exchange” is the technical term, but you need moving air in order for odors to dissipate more quickly. And now for the experts to chime in…

-- ~Walker

View Rich's profile


2481 posts in 525 days

#2 posted 02-17-2018 05:57 AM

Walker offers some great points. There are choices you can make to mitigate the fumes. I’d look into expanding your repertoire of finishing options. Water based dyes are an excellent option for coloring wood and highlighting the figure. When you need pigment, Mixol is a baseless product that you can mix in countless ways. Add it to water, shellac, oil.

I’m something of a finishing geek. When I’m not working on a particular project, I’m testing finishes. Most are crap, but at least when I have the next project ready, there’s a finish to go on it.

-- No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.

View CaptainKlutz's profile


193 posts in 1430 days

#3 posted 02-18-2018 10:06 PM

+1 for Walker’s comments - Tried and True finishes are low odor. Very pleasant to use.

Only note I want to add: find myself thinning T&T finishes with 10% turpentine sometimes as I want more penetration for initial coating on some tight grained woods? YMMV

Watco pigmented danish oil has a lessor amount of “stinky” solvent than MinWax. I use it on projects for a light weight rubbed on oil/varnish finish (where it doesn’t need a “kid proof” top coated surface).

I much prefer homemade dye stains (using Transtint) with water/alcohol solvent blend, or Behlen/Mowawk dye stains when I want a premixed color; as they do not hide the grain like a pigment stain. If I need a standard color heavy pigment stain, will use the General Finishes water based stains. With all these water based options there is an odor, but the type/ level of “stink” is not objectionable to most people.

+1 As Rich said, creating custom pigment stains using Mixol further opens up a world of possibilities.

Note: Living in dry AZ climate, I find 9 months out of the year that I need to slow the evaporation rate of most water/alcohol based stains; or I have challenges blending color across large surfaces.
Can add more water, but the only 100% effective solution I have found is adding ~10% retarder to the stain. Problem with this; most common water based finish retarder is “stinky” medium evaporation rate glycol ether solvent. Behlen/Mowhawk use a glycol ether/alcohol blend that stinks less than 100% glycol ether which is worse than regular hydrocarbon solvents. I use enough retarder that I found local paint supply house (where I get Mowhawk dye stains), that sells me a quart of “stinky” glycol ether retarder for less than Behlens wants for 8 ounces of retarder. :)

+1 ventilation:

Read the MSDS. Even the not “stinky” water/alcohol/glycol based finishes evolve out fumes that need to be properly ventilated. Applying an entire pint of undiluted water based Behlens stain in closed up garage gives me a headache, and reminds me that I need more ventilation. At least with “stinky” hydrocarbon solvent stains, your nose is telling you that you need ventilation (and should be using an organic filter respirator)

About only time I would consider using minimal ventilation when finishing wood, is when using pure 190 proof ethanol alcohol mixed with shellac flakes …....wink, wink…. :)

Be safe….

-- I'm an engineer not a woodworker, but I can randomly find useful tools and furniture inside a pile of lumber!

View Lazyman's profile


1820 posts in 1323 days

#4 posted 02-18-2018 10:28 PM

+1 on the Tried and True finishes, though I have not tried their new stains yet.

General Finishes water based stains have very little smell but you have to apply a finish on top. GF’s water based polyurethane dries quickly and loses its smell relatively quickly compared to the oil based poly. Even the Minwax water based poly will yield a lower smell top coat that will dissipate faster than their oil based stains and top coats.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View ArtMann's profile


902 posts in 752 days

#5 posted 02-19-2018 12:46 AM

The easy answer is to stop using stains and start using water or alcohol based dyes. They hardly smell at all. They are a little tricky to use and it takes the correct technique but dyes have advantages besides less odor.

View Rick's profile


9224 posts in 2969 days

#6 posted 02-24-2018 02:50 AM

I use nothing but Minwax Oil Based Stain for the past 20 or so years. I have NOT experienced any ODOR at all. Sometimes I wipe it on, sometimes brush it on.

I work it in well because I want it Completely Dry in 24 Hours or less to Topcoat it with Water Based Poly that I Brush on. My Workshop is in the Basement of My Home and there is no extra Ventilation. In fact the Furnace that heats my Home is in the same room.

I have no idea why yours smells so much.


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