Is it safe to stain wood indoors: limit exposure to VOCs

Wood stain, especially oil-based wood stain, emits harmful materials called VOCs. It is ideal to stain wood outside in a well ventilated area while using a particulate mask. However, that may not always be possible. What if you have to stain wood indoors? Is it safe?


  1. How to limit exposure to VOCs
  2. What happens if you breathe in wood stain
  3. Is wood stain toxic after it dries
  4. How long after staining can you bring the wood inside

How to limit exposure to VOCs

Oil-based wood stain releases VOCs during the application, drying, and curing process. With the duration that oil-based stain can off-gas, it not recommended to stain wood indoors while the building is being inhabited. You can stain wood indoors if you follow proper ventilation measures and you evacuate the area during the most critical off-gas periods.

  1. Stain smaller projects
  2. Vacate during the dry time
  3. Ventilate
  4. Use PPE
  5. Use top coat

While it is not recommended to stain wood indoors, if you have to you can limit your exposure to VOCs. To limit your exposure you will need to take into account PPE, ventilation, the type of stain you are using, and the size of the project.

If you continue reading, I will discuss the implications you may face if you breathe in wood stain, how toxic is wood stain and is it toxic after it dries, and how long do you have to wait before bringing stained furniture inside.

Stain smaller projects

If you are staining larger items like flooring or kitchen cabinetry, then it will be essential to evacuate the area for at least 24 to 72 hours depending on the the stain manufactures recommendations.

Smaller projects, like a dresser, can be kept indoors as long as the room that the piece is in is not being inhabited. You will want to follow proper ventilation procedures and ensure that the VOCs are not spreading to nearby rooms in the home.

Vacate during the dry time

Most stain types will give a dry time of 12 to 48 hours. The dry time is how long it takes the wood to dry for light use. However, VOCs will still be emitted from the piece after the dry time. You should wait 24 to 72 hours to allow most of the VOCs to escape before inhabiting the room.


To keep the air in your home clean, you will need to follow proper ventilation procedures. The key steps are to change old air filters, use fans, turn on your air conditioning, and to open as many windows as possible. I also explain how to properly ventilate you home in the following article.


Using the correct PPE will greatly limit your exposure to wood stain toxicants. The most vital piece when staining wood is a particulate mask. An N95 and a surgical mask will not provide protection for VOCs. Those masks are used for dust particles. However, a particulate mask, or a gas mask with a filtration system will protect you from smaller particles like VOCs. The particulate mask that I use is the respirator by 3M. This is the only mask that I have tried and I am certain that there are better quality ones out there

Use a topcoat

If you use a water-based top coat over an oil-based stain, you can limit your exposures to VOCs. Water-based stain and polyurethane do not emit as much VOCs as oil-based products. Many people like how easy it is to work with oil-based stain. Moreover, water-based top coats apply differently and do not feel the same. However, you will not have as much off-gassing with oil-based products

What happens if you breathe in wood stain

Breathing in wood stain increases you exposure to VOCs. VOCs are known to be linked to certain forms of cancers and to cause respiratory and nervous system issues (Wu, Xiangmei (May) et al.). Even longer term exposure to less VOCs have been proven to cause the same negative side effects.

Short term and more immediate symptoms can include dizziness, sinus irritations and problems, skin irritation, and fatigue. Longer term issues can include the certain cancers as mentioned before and chronic respiratory and nervous system problems.

I painted my piano a black high gloss black in 2020. I used lacquer paint which is known to contain more VOCs than regular stain. I did one hour session without the correct mask for the job and had many of the short term effects, like sinus irritations, for at least a week.

While it may be slightly harder to get to that point with oil-based wood stain, however, VOCs will effect your body and you should be careful when working with higher concentrations.

Is wood stain toxic after it dries

On many oil stain containers, you will see the dry time. You may think “Oh, after this time I have nothing to worry about”. However, that is incorrect. Many furniture products off-gas for years and years. However, the most potent and critical off-gassing happens early in the stained furniture life span.

The cure time is how long the stain or paint will take to undergo the chemical reactions. It is recommended that you wait the cure time before daily use of the product. You may not find a cure time for most stains. However, it is recommended to wait at least 24 to 72 hours before normal use of your product.

If you use a top coat on your product, then you would need to look at that cure time. Most polyurethane products cure in 48 to 72 hours.

How long after staining can you bring the wood inside

You will want to wait until your wood has cured before bringing it inside. If you are just staining the wood, then for most stains you would want to wait 24 to 72 hours. If you are using a polyurethane top coat, then you will want to wait 48 to 72 hours. If you are using another top coat, then you will need to wait for the time according to the manufacturers instructions.

If you do have to however bring the wood inside earlier, then you can do so. You will need to make sure that the room that the piece is in has proper ventilation so that the VOCs will not spread to the other rooms of the house.

To learn more about ventilation and mitigation to VOC’s you should check out my article here.


In this article, we discussed how to limit your exposure to VOCs while staining wood, how long to wait for the VOC off-gassing concentration to lower after staining wood, and lastly if wood stain is toxic after it dries.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this article and I wish you luck on your woodworking journeys!


My name is Rachel Blanding and I am a woodworker. I started woodworking at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. I mainly create and refurbish furniture and create art. In this site I will share with you the knowledge I have gained over the years, and what worked for me and what didn't.

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